Volume II

Chapter II

Walter Scott

HAD our friend Alexander Fairford known the consequences of his son’s abrupt retreat from the court, which are mentioned in the end of the last chapter, it might have accomplished the prediction of the lively old judge, and driven him utterly distracted. As it was, he was miserable enough. His son had risen ten degrees higher in his estimation than ever by his display of juridical talents, which seemed to assure him that the applause of the judges and professors of the law, which, in his estimation, was worth that of all mankind besides, authorized to the fullest extent the advantageous estimate which even his parental partiality had been induced to form of Alan’s powers. On the other hand, he felt that he was himself a little humbled, from a disguise which he had practised towards this son of his hopes and wishes.

The truth was, that on the morning of this eventful day, Mr. Alexander Fairford had received from his correspondent and friend, Provost Crosbie of Dumfries, a letter of the following tenor:

“DEAR SIR,—Your respected favour of 25th ultimo, per favour of Mr. Darsie Latimer, reached me in safety, and I showed to the young gentleman such attention as he was pleased to accept of. The object of my present writing is twofold. First, the council are of opinion that you should now begin to stir in the thirlage cause; and they think they will be able, from evidence noviter repertum, to enable you to amend your condescendence upon the use and wont of the burgh, touching the grana invecta et illata. So you will please consider yourself as authorized to speak to Mr. Pest, and lay before him the papers which you will receive by the coach. The council think that a fee of two guineas may be sufficient on this occasion, as Mr. Pest had three for drawing the original condescendence.

“I take the opportunity of adding that there has been a great riot among the Solway fishermen, who have destroyed, in a masterful manner, the stake-nets set up near the mouth of this river; and have besides attacked the house of Quaker Geddes, one of the principal partners of the Tide-net Fishing Company, and done a great deal of damage. Am sorry to add, young Mr. Latimer was in the fray and has not since been heard of. Murder is spoke of, but that may be a word of course. As the young gentleman has behaved rather oddly while in these parts, as in declining to dine with me more than once, and going about the country with strolling fiddlers and such-like, I rather hope that his present absence is only occasioned by a frolic; but as his servant has been making inquiries of me respecting his master, I thought it best to acquaint you in course of post. I have only to add that our sheriff has taken a precognition, and committed one or two of the rioters. If I can be useful in this matter, either by advertising for Mr. Latimer as missing, publishing a reward, or otherwise, I will obey your respected instructions, being your most obedient to command, WILLIAM CROSBIE.”            

When Mr. Fairford received this letter, and had read it to an end, his first idea was to communicate it to his son, that an express might be instantly dispatched, or a king’s messenger sent with proper authority to search after his late guest.

The habits of the fishers were rude; as he well knew, though not absolutely sanguinary or ferocious; and there had been instances of their transporting persons who had interfered in their smuggling trade to the Isle of Man and elsewhere, and keeping them under restraint for many weeks. On this account, Mr. Fairford was naturally led to feel anxiety concerning the fate of his late inmate; and, at a less interesting moment, would certainly have set out himself, or licensed his son to go in pursuit of his friend.

But, alas! he was both a father and an agent. In the one capacity, he looked on his son as dearer to him than all the world besides; in the other, the lawsuit which he conducted was to him like an infant to its nurse, and the case of Poor Peter Peebles against Plainstanes was, he saw, adjourned, perhaps sine die, should this document reach the hands of his son. The mutual and enthusiastical affection betwixt the young men was well known to him; and he concluded that if the precarious state of Latimer were made known to Alan Fairford, it would render him not only unwilling, but totally unfit, to discharge the duty of the day to which the old gentleman attached such ideas of importance.

On mature reflection, therefore, he resolved, though not without some feelings of compunction, to delay communicating to his son the disagreeable intelligence which he had received, until the business of the day should be ended. The delay, he persuaded himself, could be of little consequence to Darsie Latimer, whose folly, he dared to say, had led him into some scrape which would meet an appropriate punishment in some accidental restraint, which would be thus prolonged for only a few hours longer. Besides, he would have time to speak to the sheriff of the county—perhaps to the King’s Advocate—and set about the matter in a regular manner, or, as he termed it, as summing up the duties of a solicitor, to agé as accords.1

The scheme, as we have seen, was partially successful, and was only ultimately defeated, as he confessed to himself with shame, by his own very unbusiness-like mistake of shuffling the provost’s letter, in the hurry and anxiety of the morning, among some papers belonging to Peter Peebles’s affairs, and then handing it to his son, without observing the blunder. He used to protest, even till the day of his death, that he never had been guilty of such an inaccuracy as giving a paper out of his hand without looking at the docketing, except on that unhappy occasion, when, of all others, he had such particular reason to regret his negligence.

Disturbed by these reflections, the old gentleman had, for the first time in his life, some disinclination, arising from shame and vexation, to face his own son; so that to protract for a little the meeting, which he feared would be a painful one, he went to wait upon the sheriff-depute, who he found had set off for Dumfries in great haste to superintend in person the investigation which had been set on foot by his substitute. This gentleman’s clerk could say little on the subject of the riot, excepting that it had been serious, much damage done to property, and some personal violence offered to individuals; but, as far as he had yet heard, no lives lost on the spot.

Mr. Fairford was compelled to return home with this intelligence; and on inquiring at James Wilkinson where his son was, received for answer, that “Maister Alan was in his own room, and very busy.”

“We must have our explanation over,” said Saunders Fairford to himself. “Better a finger off, as ay wagging;” and going to the door of his son’s apartment, he knocked at first gently—then more loudly—but received no answer. Somewhat alarmed at this silence, he opened the door of the chamber it was empty—clothes lay mixed in confusion with the law-books and papers, as if the inmate had been engaged in hastily packing for a journey. As Mr. Fairford looked around in alarm, his eye was arrested by a sealed letter lying upon his son’s writing-table, and addressed to himself. It contained the following words:—

“MY DEAREST FATHER, You will not, I trust, be surprised, nor perhaps very much displeased, to learn that I am on my way to Dumfriesshire, to learn, by my own personal investigation, the present state of my dear friend, and afford him such relief as may be in my power, and which, I trust, will be effectual. I do not presume to reflect upon you, dearest sir, for concealing from me information of so much consequence to my peace of mind and happiness; but I hope your having done so will be, if not an excuse, at least some mitigation of my present offence, in taking a step of consequence without consulting your pleasure; and, I must further own, under circumstances which perhaps might lead to your disapprobation of my purpose. I can only say, in further apology, that if anything unhappy, which Heaven forbid! shall have occurred to the person who, next to yourself, is dearest to me in this world, I shall have on my heart, as a subject of eternal regret, that being in a certain degree warned of his danger and furnished with the means of obviating it, I did not instantly hasten to his assistance, but preferred giving my attention to the business of this unlucky morning. No view of personal distinction, nothing, indeed, short of your earnest and often expressed wishes, could have detained me in town till this day; and having made this sacrifice to filial duty, I trust you will hold me excused if I now obey the calls of friendship and humanity. Do not be in the least anxious on my account; I shall know, I trust, how to conduct myself with due caution in any emergence which may occur, otherwise my legal studies for so many years have been to little purpose. I am fully provided with money, and also with arms, in case of need; but you may rely on my prudence in avoiding all occasions of using the latter, short of the last necessity. God almighty bless you, my dearest father! and grant that you may forgive the first, and, I trust, the last act approaching towards premeditated disobedience, of which I either have now, or shall hereafter have, to accuse myself. I remain, till death, your dutiful and affectionate son, ALAN FAIRFORD.”            

P.S.—I shall write with the utmost regularity, acquainting you with my motions, and requesting your advice. I trust my stay will be very short, and I think it possible that I may bring back Darsie along with me.”

“The paper dropped from the old man’s hand when he was thus assured of the misfortune which he apprehended. His first idea was to get a postchaise and pursue the fugitive; but he recollected that, upon the very rare occasions when Alan had shown himself indocile to the patria potestas, his natural ease and gentleness of disposition seemed hardened into obstinacy, and that now, entitled, as arrived at the years of majority and a member of the learned faculty, to direct his own motions, there was great doubt, whether, in the event of his overtaking his son, he might be able to prevail upon him to return back. In such a risk of failure he thought it wiser to desist from his purpose, especially as even his success in such a pursuit would give a ridiculous éclat to the whole affair, which could not be otherwise than prejudicial to his son’s rising character.

Bitter, however, were Saunders Fairford’s reflections, as again picking up the fatal scroll, he threw himself into his son’s leathern easy-chair, and bestowed upon it a disjointed commentary, “Bring back Darsie? little doubt of that—the bad shilling is sure enough to come back again. I wish Darsie no worse ill than that he were carried where the silly fool, Alan, should never see him again. It was an ill hour that he darkened my doors in, for, ever since that, Alan has given up his ain old-fashioned mother-wit for the tother’s capernoited maggots and nonsense. Provided with money? you must have more than I know of, then, my friend, for I trow I kept you pretty short, for your own good. Can he have gotten more fees? or, does he think five guineas has neither beginning nor end? Arms! What would he do with arms, or what would any man do with them that is not a regular soldier under government, or else a thief-taker? I have had enough of arms, I trow, although I carried them for King George and the government. But this is a worse strait than Falkirk field yet. God guide us, we are poor inconsistent creatures! To think the lad should have made so able an appearance, and then bolted off this gate, after a glaiket ne’er-do-weel, like a hound upon a false scent! Las-a-day! it’s a sore thing to see a stunkard cow kick down the pail when it’s reaming fou. But, after all, it’s an ill bird that defiles its ain nest. I must cover up the scandal as well as I can. What’s the matter now, James?”

“A message, sir,” said James Wilkinson, “from my Lord President; and he hopes Mr. Alan is not seriously indisposed.”

“From the Lord President? the Lord preserve us!—I’ll send an answer this instant; bid the lad sit down, and ask him to drink, James. Let me see,” continued he, taking a sheet of gilt paper “how we are to draw our answers.”

Ere his pen had touched the paper, James was in the room again.

“What now, James?”

“Lord Bladderskate’s lad is come to ask how Mr. Alan is, as he left; the court——”

“Aye, aye, aye,” answered Saunders, bitterly; “he has e’en made a moonlight flitting, like my lord’s ain nevoy.”

“Shall I say sae, sir?” said James, who, as an old soldier, was literal in all things touching the service.

“The devil! no, no!—Bid the lad sit down and taste our ale. I will write his lordship an answer.”

Once more the gilt paper was resumed, and once more the door was opened by James.

“Lord —— sends his servitor to ask after Mr. Alan.”

“Oh, the deevil take their civility!” said poor Saunders, “set him down to drink too—I will write to his lordship.”

“The lads will bide your pleasure, sir, as lang as I keep the bicker fou; but this ringing is like to wear out the bell, I think; there are they at it again.”

He answered the fresh summons accordingly, and came back to inform Mr. Fairford that the Dean of Faculty was below, inquiring for Mr. Alan. “Will I set him down to drink, too?” said James.

“Will you be an idiot, sir?” said Mr. Fairford. “Show Mr. Dean into the parlour.”

In going slowly downstairs, step by step, the perplexed man of business had time enough to reflect, that if it be possible to put a fair gloss upon a true story, the verity always serves the purpose better than any substitute which ingenuity can devise. He therefore told his learned visitor, that although his son had been incommoded by the heat of the court, and the long train of hard study, by day and night, preceding his exertions, yet he had fortunately so far recovered, as to be in condition to obey upon the instant a sudden summons which had called him to the country, on a matter of life and death.

“It should be a serious matter indeed that takes my young friend away at this moment,” said the good-natured dean. “I wish he had stayed to finish his pleading, and put down old Tough. Without compliment, Mr. Fairford, it was as fine a first appearance as I ever heard. I should be sorry your son did not follow it up in a reply. Nothing like striking while the iron is hot.”

Mr. Saunders Fairford made a bitter grimace as he acquiesced in an opinion which was indeed decidedly his own; but he thought it most prudent to reply, “that the affair which rendered his son Alan’s presence in the country absolutely necessary, regarded the affairs of a young gentleman of great fortune, who was a particular friend of Alan’s, and who never took any material step in his affairs without consulting his counsel learned in the law.”

“Well, well, Mr. Fairford, you know best,” answered the learned dean; “if there be death or marriage in the case, a will or a wedding is to be preferred to all other business. I am happy Mr. Alan is so much recovered as to be able for travel, and wish you a very good morning.”

Having thus taken his ground to the Dean of Faculty, Mr. Fairford hastily wrote cards in answer to the inquiry of the three judges, accounting for Alan’s absence in the same manner. These, being properly sealed and addressed, he delivered to James with directions to dismiss the particoloured gentry, who, in the meanwhile, had consumed a gallon of twopenny ale, while discussing points of law, and addressing each other by their masters’ titles.2

The exertion which these matters demanded, and the interest which so many persons of legal distinction appeared to have taken in his son, greatly relieved the oppressed spirit of Saunders Fairford, who continued, to talk mysteriously of the very important business which had interfered with his son’s attendance during the brief remainder of the session. He endeavoured to lay the same unction to his own heart; but here the application was less fortunate, for his conscience told him that no end, however important, which could be achieved in Darsie Latimer’s affairs, could be balanced against the reputation which Alan was like to forfeit by deserting the cause of Poor Peter Peebles.

In the meanwhile, although the haze which surrounded the cause, or causes, of that unfortunate litigant had been for a time dispelled by Alan’s eloquence, like a fog by the thunder of artillery, yet it seemed once more to settle down upon the mass of litigation, thick as the palpable darkness of Egypt, at the very sound of Mr. Tough’s voice, who, on the second day after Alan’s departure, was heard in answer to the opening counsel. Deep-mouthed, long-breathed, and pertinacious, taking a pinch of snuff betwixt every sentence, which otherwise seemed interminable—the veteran pleader prosed over all the themes which had been treated so luminously by Fairford: he quietly and imperceptibly replaced all the rubbish which the other had cleared away, and succeeded in restoring the veil of obscurity and unintelligibility which had for many years darkened the case of Peebles against Plainstanes; and the matter was once more hung up by a remit to an accountant, with instruction to report before answer. So different a result from that which the public had been led to expect from Alan’s speech gave rise to various speculations.

The client himself opined, that it was entirely owing, first, to his own absence during the first day’s pleading, being, as he said, deboshed with brandy, usquebaugh, and other strong waters, at John’s Coffee-house, per ambages of Peter Drudgeit, employed to that effect by and through the device, counsel, and covyne of Saunders Fairford, his agent, or pretended agent. Secondly by the flight and voluntary desertion of the younger Fairford, the advocate; on account of which, he served both father and son with a petition and complaint against them, for malversation in office. So that the apparent and most probable issue of this cause seemed to menace the melancholy Mr. Saunders Fairford, with additional subject for plague and mortification; which was the more galling, as his conscience told him that the case was really given away, and that a very brief resumption of the former argument, with reference to the necessary authorities and points of evidence, would have enabled Alan, by the mere breath, as it were, of his mouth, to blow away the various cobwebs with which Mr. Tough had again invested the proceedings. But it went, he said, just like a decreet in absence, and was lost for want of a contradictor.

In the meanwhile, nearly a week passed over without Mr. Fairford hearing a word directly from his son. He learned, indeed, by a letter from Mr. Crosbie, that the young counsellor had safely reached Dumfries, but had left that town upon some ulterior researches, the purpose of which he had not communicated. The old man, thus left to suspense, and to mortifying recollections, deprived also of the domestic society to which he had been habituated, began to suffer in body as well as in mind. He had formed the determination of setting out in person for Dumfriesshire, when, after having been dogged, peevish, and snappish to his clerks and domestics, to an unusual and almost intolerable degree, the acrimonious humours settled in a hissing-hot fit of the gout, which is a well-known tamer of the most froward spirits, and under whose discipline we shall, for the present, leave him, as the continuation of this history assumes, with the next division, a form somewhat different from direct narrative and epistolary correspondence, though partaking of the character of both.

1.    A Scots law phrase, of no very determinate import, meaning, generally, to do what is fitting.    [back]

2.    The Scottish judges are distinguished by the title of lord prefixed to their own temporal designation. As the ladies of these official dignitaries do not bear any share in their husbands’ honours, they are distinguished only by their lords’ family name. They were not always contented with this species of Salique law, which certainly is somewhat inconsistent. But their pretensions to title are said to have been long since repelled by James V, the sovereign who founded the College of Justice. “I,” said he, “made the carles lords, but who the devil made the carlines ladies?”    [back]

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