On the Rialto, every night at twelve,|
I take my evening’s walk of meditation:
There we two will meet.
I never was what is properly called superstitious; but I suppose that all men, in situations of peculiar doubt and difficulty, when they have exercised their reason to little purpose, are apt, in a sort of despair, to abandon the reins to their imagination, and be guided altogether by chance, or by those whimsical impressions which take possession of the mind, and to which we give way as if to involuntary impulses. There was something so singularly repulsive in the hard features of the Scotch trader, that I could not resolve to put myself into his hands without transgressing every caution which could be derived from the rules of physiognomy; while, at the same time, the warning voice, the form which flitted away like a vanishing shadow through those vaults, which might be termed “the valley of the shadow of death,” had something captivating for the imagination of a young man, who, you will farther please to remember, was also a young poet.
If danger was around me, as the mysterious communication intimated, how could I learn its nature, or the means of averting it, but by meeting my unknown counsellor, to whom I could see no reason for imputing any other than kind intentions. Rashleigh and his machinations occurred more than once to my remembrance;—but so rapid had my journey been, that I could not suppose him apprised of my arrival in Glasgow, much less prepared to play off any stratagem against my person. In my temper also I was bold and confident, strong and active in person, and in some measure accustomed to the use of arms, in which the French youth of all kinds were then initiated. I did not fear any single opponent; assassination was neither the vice of the age nor of the country; the place selected for our meeting was too public to admit any suspicion of meditated violence. In a word, I resolved to meet my mysterious counsellor on the bridge, as he had requested, and to be afterwards guided by circumstances. Let me not conceal from you, Tresham, what at the time I endeavoured to conceal from myself—the subdued, yet secretly-cherished hope, that Diana Vernon might—by what chance I knew not—through what means I could not guess—have some connection with this strange and dubious intimation conveyed at a time and place, and in a manner so surprising. She alone—whispered this insidious thought—she alone knew of my journey; from her own account, she possessed friends and influence in Scotland; she had furnished me with a talisman, whose power I was to invoke when all other aid failed me; who then but Diana Vernon possessed either means, knowledge, or inclination, for averting the dangers, by which, as it seemed, my steps were surrounded? This flattering view of my very doubtful case pressed itself upon me again and again. It insinuated itself into my thoughts, though very bashfully, before the hour of dinner; it displayed its attractions more boldly during the course of my frugal meal, and became so courageously intrusive during the succeeding half-hour (aided perhaps by the flavour of a few glasses of most excellent claret), that, with a sort of desperate attempt to escape from a delusive seduction, to which I felt the danger of yielding, I pushed my glass from me, threw aside my dinner, seized my hat, and rushed into the open air with the feeling of one who would fly from his own thoughts. Yet perhaps I yielded to the very feelings from which I seemed to fly, since my steps insensibly led me to the bridge over the Clyde, the place assigned for the rendezvous by my mysterious monitor.
Although I had not partaken of my repast until the hours of evening church-service were over,—in which, by the way, I complied with the religious scruples of my landlady, who hesitated to dress a hot dinner between sermons, and also with the admonition of my unknown friend, to keep my apartment till twilight,—several hours had still to pass away betwixt the time of my appointment and that at which I reached the assigned place of meeting. The interval, as you will readily credit, was wearisome enough; and I can hardly explain to you how it passed away. Various groups of persons, all of whom, young and old, seemed impressed with a reverential feeling of the sanctity of the day, passed along the large open meadow which lies on the northern bank of the Clyde, and serves at once as a bleaching-field and pleasure-walk for the inhabitants, or paced with slow steps the long bridge which communicates with the southern district of the county. All that I remember of them was the general, yet not unpleasing, intimation of a devotional character impressed on each little party—formally assumed perhaps by some, but sincerely characterising the greater number—which hushed the petulant gaiety of the young into a tone of more quiet, yet more interesting, interchange of sentiments, and suppressed the vehement argument and protracted disputes of those of more advanced age. Notwithstanding the numbers who passed me, no general sound of the human voice was heard; few turned again to take some minutes’ voluntary exercise, to which the leisure of the evening, and the beauty of the surrounding scenery, seemed to invite them: all hurried to their homes and resting-places. To one accustomed to the mode of spending Sunday evenings abroad, even among the French Calvinists, there seemed something Judaical, yet, at the same time striking and affecting, in this mode of keeping the Sabbath holy. Insensibly I felt my mode of sauntering by the side of the river, and crossing successively the various persons who were passing homeward, and without tarrying or delay, must expose me to observation at least, if not to censure; and I slunk out of the frequented path, and found a trivial occupation for my mind in marshalling my revolving walk in such a manner as should least render me obnoxious to observation. The different alleys lined out through this extensive meadow, and which are planted with trees, like the Park of St. James’s in London, gave me facilities for carrying into effect these childish manœuvres.
As I walked down one of these avenues, I heard, to my surprise, the sharp and conceited voice of Andrew Fairservice, raised by a sense of self-consequence to a pitch somewhat higher than others seemed to think consistent with the solemnity of the day. To slip behind the row of trees under which I walked was perhaps no very dignified proceeding; but it was the easiest mode of escaping his observation, and perhaps his impertinent assiduity, and still more intrusive curiosity. As he passed, I heard him communicate to a grave-looking man, in a black coat, a slouched hat, and Geneva cloak, the following sketch of a character, which my self-love, while revolting against it as a caricature, could not, nevertheless, refuse to recognise as a likeness.
“Ay, ay, Mr. Hammorgaw, it’s e’en as I tell ye. He’s no a’thegither sae void o’ sense neither; he has a gloaming sight o’ what’s reasonable—that is anes and awa’—a glisk and nae mair; but he’s crack-brained and cockle-headed about his nipperty-tipperty poetry nonsense—He’ll glowr at an auld-warld barkit aik-snag as if it were a queezmaddam in full bearing; and a naked craig, wi’ a bum jawing ower’t, is unto him as a garden garnisht with flowering knots and choice pot-herbs. Then he wad rather claver wi’ a daft quean they ca’ Diana Vernon (weel I wet they might ca’ her Diana of the Ephesians, for she’s little better than a heathen—better? she’s waur—a Roman, a mere Roman)—he’ll claver wi’ her, or any ither idle slut, rather than hear what might do him gude a’ the days of his life, frae you or me, Mr. Hammorgaw, or ony ither sober and sponsible person. Reason, sir, is what he canna endure—he’s a’ for your vanities and volubilities; and he ance tell’d me (puir blinded creature!) that the Psalms of David were excellent poetry! as if the holy Psalmist thought o’ rattling rhymes in a blether, like his ain silly clinkum-clankum things that he ca’s verse. Gude help him!—twa lines o’ Davie Lindsay would ding a’ he ever clerkit.”
While listening to this perverted account of my temper and studies, you will not be surprised if I meditated for Mr. Fairservice the unpleasant surprise of a broken pate on the first decent opportunity. His friend only intimated his attention by “Ay, ay!” and “Is’t e’en sae?” and suchlike expressions of interest, at the proper breaks in Mr. Fairservice’s harangue, until at length, in answer to some observation of greater length, the import of which I only collected from my trusty guide’s reply, honest Andrew answered, “Tell him a bit o’my mind, quoth ye? Wha wad be fule then but Andrew? He’s a red-wad deevil, man—He’s like Giles Heathertap’s auld boar;—ye need but shake a clout at him to make him turn and gore. Bide wi’ him, say ye?—Troth, I kenna what for I bide wi’ him mysell. But the lad’s no a bad lad after a’; and he needs some carefu’ body to look after him. He hasna the right grip o’ his hand—the gowd slips through’t like water, man; and it’s no that ill a thing to be near him when his purse is in his hand, and it’s seldom out o’t. And then he’s come o’ guid kith and kin—My heart warms to the poor thoughtless callant, Mr. Hammorgaw—and then the penny fee”—
In the latter part of this instructive communication, Mr. Fairservice lowered his voice to a tone better beseeming the conversation in a place of public resort on a Sabbath evening, and his companion and he were soon beyond my hearing. My feelings of hasty resentment soon subsided, under the conviction that, as Andrew himself might have said, “A harkener always hears a bad tale of himself,” and that whoever should happen to overhear their character discussed in their own servants’-hall, must prepare to undergo the scalpel of some such anatomist as Mr. Fairservice. The incident was so far useful, as, including the feelings to which it gave rise, it sped away a part of the time which hung so heavily on my hand.
Evening had now closed, and the growing darkness gave to the broad, still, and deep expanse of the brimful river, first a hue sombre and uniform—then a dismal and turbid appearance, partially lighted by a waning and pallid moon. The massive and ancient bridge which stretches across the Clyde was now but dimly visible, and resembled that which Mirza, in his unequalled vision, has described as traversing the valley of Bagdad. The low-browed arches, seen as imperfectly as the dusky current which they bestrode, seemed rather caverns which swallowed up the gloomy waters of the river, than apertures contrived for their passage. With the advancing night the stillness of the scene increased. There was yet a twinkling light occasionally seen to glide along by the stream, which conducted home one or two of the small parties, who, after the abstinence and religious duties of the day, had partaken of a social supper—the only meal at which the rigid Presbyterians made some advance to sociality on the Sabbath. Occasionally, also, the hoofs of a horse were heard, whose rider, after spending the Sunday in Glasgow, was directing his steps towards his residence in the country. These sounds and sights became gradually of more rare occurrence; at length they altogether ceased, and I was left to enjoy my solitary walk on the shores of the Clyde in solemn silence, broken only by the tolling of the successive hours from the steeples of the churches.
But as the night advanced my impatience at the uncertainty of the situation in which I was placed increased every moment, and became nearly ungovernable. I began to question whether I had been imposed upon by the trick of a fool, the raving of a madman, or the studied machinations of a villain, and paced the little quay or pier adjoining the entrance to the bridge, in a state of incredible anxiety and vexation. At length the hour of twelve o’clock swung its summons over the city from the belfry of the metropolitan church of St. Mungo, and was answered and vouched by all the others like dutiful diocesans. The echoes had scarcely ceased to repeat the last sound, when a human form—the first I had seen for two hours—appeared passing along the bridge from the southern shore of the river. I advanced to meet him with a feeling as if my fate depended on the result of the interview, so much had my anxiety been wound up by protracted expectation. All that I could remark of the passenger as we advanced towards each other, was that his frame was rather beneath than above the middle size, but apparently strong, thick-set, and muscular; his dress a horseman’s wrapping coat. I slackened my pace, and almost paused as I advanced in expectation that he would address me. But to my inexpressible disappointment he passed without speaking, and I had no pretence for being the first to address one who, notwithstanding his appearance at the very hour of appointment, might nevertheless be an absolute stranger. I stopped when he had passed me, and looked after him, uncertain whether I ought not to follow him. The stranger walked on till near the northern end of the bridge, then paused, looked back, and turning round, again advanced towards me. I resolved that this time he should not have the apology for silence proper to apparitions, who, it is vulgarly supposed, cannot speak until they are spoken to. “You walk late, sir,” said I, as we met a second time.
“I bide tryste,” was the reply; “and so I think do you, Mr. Osbaldistone.”
“You are then the person who requested to meet me here at this unusual hour?”
“I am,” he replied. “Follow me, and you shall know my reasons.”
“Before following you, I must know your name and purpose,” I answered.
“I am a man,” was the reply; “and my purpose is friendly to you.”
“A man!” I repeated;—“that is a very brief description.”
“It will serve for one who has no other to give,” said the stranger. “He that is without name, without friends, without coin, without country, is still at least a man; and he that has all these is no more.”
“Yet this is still too general an account of yourself, to say the least of it, to establish your credit with a stranger.”
“It is all I mean to give, howsoe’er; you may choose to follow me, or to remain without the information I desire to afford you.”
“Can you not give me that information here?” I demanded.
“You must receive it from your eyes, not from my tongue—you must follow me, or remain in ignorance of the information which I have to give you.”
There was something short, determined, and even stern, in the man’s manner, not certainly well calculated to conciliate undoubting confidence.
“What is it you fear?” he said impatiently. “To whom, think ye, is your life of such consequence, that they should seek to bereave ye of it?”
“I fear nothing,” I replied firmly, though somewhat hastily. “Walk on—I attend you.”
We proceeded, contrary to my expectation, to re-enter the town, and glided like mute spectres, side by side, up its empty and silent streets. The high and gloomy stone fronts, with the variegated ornaments and pediments of the windows, looked yet taller and more sable by the imperfect moonshine. Our walk was for some minutes in perfect silence. At length my conductor spoke.
“Are you afraid?”
“I retort your own words,” I replied: “wherefore should I fear?”
“Because you are with a stranger—perhaps an enemy, in a place where you have no friends and many enemies.”
“I neither fear you nor them; I am young, active, and armed.”
“I am not armed,” replied my conductor: “but no matter, a willing hand never lacked weapon. You say you fear nothing; but if you knew who was by your side, perhaps you might underlie a tremor.”
“And why should I?” replied I. “I again repeat, I fear nought that you can do.”
“Nought that I can do?—Be it so. But do you not fear the consequences of being found with one whose very name whispered in this lonely street would make the stones themselves rise up to apprehend him—on whose head half the men in Glasgow would build their fortune as on a found treasure, had they the luck to grip him by the collar—the sound of whose apprehension were as welcome at the Cross of Edinburgh as ever the news of a field stricken and won in Flanders?”
“And who then are you, whose name should create so deep a feeling of terror?” I replied.
“No enemy of yours, since I am conveying you to a place, where, were I myself recognised and identified, iron to the heels and hemp to the craig would be my brief dooming.”
I paused and stood still on the pavement, drawing back so as to have the most perfect view of my companion which the light afforded me, and which was sufficient to guard against any sudden motion of assault.
“You have said,” I answered, “either too much or too little—too much to induce me to confide in you as a mere stranger, since you avow yourself a person amenable to the laws of the country in which we are—and too little, unless you could show that you are unjustly subjected to their rigour.”
As I ceased to speak, he made a step towards me. I drew back instinctively, and laid my hand on the hilt of my sword.
“What!” said he—“on an unarmed man, and your friend?”
“I am yet ignorant if you are either the one or the other,” I replied; “and to say the truth, your language and manner might well entitle me to doubt both.”
“It is manfully spoken,” replied my conductor; “and I respect him whose hand can keep his head.—I will be frank and free with you—I am conveying you to prison.”
“To prison!” I exclaimed—“by what warrant or for what offence?—You shall have my life sooner than my liberty—I defy you, and I will not follow you a step farther.”
“I do not,” he said, “carry you there as a prisoner; I am,” he added, drawing himself haughtily up, “neither a messenger nor sheriff’s officer. I carry you to see a prisoner from whose lips you will learn the risk in which you presently stand. Your liberty is little risked by the visit; mine is in some peril; but that I readily encounter on your account, for I care not for risk, and I love a free young blood, that kens no protector but the cross o’ the sword.”
While he spoke thus, we had reached the principal street, and were pausing before a large building of hewn stone, garnished, as I thought I could perceive, with gratings of iron before the windows.
“Muckle,” said the stranger, whose language became more broadly national as he assumed a tone of colloquial freedom—“Muckle wad the provost and bailies o’ Glasgow gie to hae him sitting with iron garters to his hose within their tolbooth that now stands wi’ his legs as free as the red-deer’s on the outside on’t. And little wad it avail them; for an if they had me there wi’ a stane’s weight o’ iron at every ankle, I would show them a toom room and a lost lodger before to-morrow—But come on, what stint ye for?”
As he spoke thus, he tapped at a low wicket, and was answered by a sharp voice, as of one awakened from a dream or reverie,—“Fa’s tat?—Wha’s that, I wad say?—and fat a deil want ye at this hour at e’en?—Clean again rules—clean again rules, as they ca’ them.”
The protracted tone in which the last words were uttered, betokened that the speaker was again composing himself to slumber. But my guide spoke in a loud whisper—“Dougal, man! hae ye forgotten Ha nun Gregarach?”
“Deil a bit, deil a bit,” was the ready and lively response, and I heard the internal guardian of the prison-gate bustle up with great alacrity. A few words were exchanged between my conductor and the turnkey in a language to which I was an absolute stranger. The bolts revolved, but with a caution which marked the apprehension that the noise might be overheard, and we stood within the vestibule of the prison of Glasgow,—a small, but strong guard-room, from which a narrow staircase led upwards, and one or two low entrances conducted to apartments on the same level with the outward gate, all secured with the jealous strength of wickets, bolts, and bars. The walls, otherwise naked, were not unsuitably garnished with iron fetters, and other uncouth implements, which might be designed for purposes still more inhuman, interspersed with partisans, guns, pistols of antique manufacture, and other weapons of defence and offence.
At finding myself so unexpectedly, fortuitously, and, as it were, by stealth, introduced within one of the legal fortresses of Scotland, I could not help recollecting my adventure in Northumberland, and fretting at the strange incidents which again, without any demerits of my own, threatened to place me in a dangerous and disagreeable collision with the laws of a country which I visited only in the capacity of a stranger.
|1. This I believe to be an anachronism, as Saint Enoch’s Church was not built at the date of the story. [It was founded in 1780, and has since been rebuilt.] [back]|