Volume II

Chapter IX

Latimer’s Journal, in Continuation

Walter Scott

THERE is at length a halt—at length I have gained so much privacy as to enable me to continue my journal. It has become a sort of task of duty to me, without the discharge of which I do not feel that the business of the day is performed. True, no friendly eye may ever look upon these labours, which have amused the solitary hours of an unhappy prisoner. Yet, in the meanwhile, the exercise of the pen seems to act as a sedative upon my own agitated thoughts and tumultuous passions. I never lay it down but I rise stronger in resolution, more ardent in hope. A thousand vague fears, wild expectations, and indigested schemes, hurry through one’s thoughts in seasons of doubt and of danger. But by arresting them as they flit across the mind, by throwing them on paper, and even by that mechanical act compelling ourselves to consider them with scrupulous and minute attention, we may perhaps escape becoming the dupes of our own excited imagination; just as a young horse is cured of the vice of starting by being made to stand still and look for some time without any interruption at the cause of its terror.

There remains but one risk, which is that of discovery. But besides the small characters, in which my residence in Mr. Fairford’s house enabled me to excel, for the purpose of transferring as many scroll sheets as possible to a huge sheet of stamped paper, I have, as I have elsewhere intimated, had hitherto the comfortable reflection that if the record of my misfortunes should fall into the hands of him by whom they are caused, they would, without harming any one, show him the real character and disposition of the person who has become his prisoner—perhaps his victim. Now, however, that other names, and other characters, are to be mingled with the register of my own sentiments, I must take additional care of these papers, and keep them in such a manner that, in case of the least hazard of detection, I may be able to destroy them at a moment’s notice. I shall not soon or easily forget the lesson I have been taught, by the prying disposition which Cristal Nixon, this man’s agent and confederate, manifested at Brokenburn, and which proved the original cause of my sufferings.

My laying aside the last sheet of my journal hastily was occasioned by the unwonted sound of a violin, in the farmyard beneath my windows. It will not appear surprising to those who have made music their study, that, after listening to a few notes, I became at once assured that the musician was no other than the itinerant, formerly mentioned as present at the destruction of Joshua Geddes’s stake-nets, the superior delicacy and force of whose execution would enable me to swear to his bow amongst a whole orchestra. I had the less reason to doubt his identity, because he played twice over the beautiful Scottish air called Wandering Willie; and I could not help concluding that he did so for the purpose of intimating his own presence, since what the French called the nom de guerre of the performer was described by the tune.

Hope will catch at the most feeble twig for support in extremity. I knew this man, though deprived of sight, to be bold, ingenious, and perfectly capable of acting as a guide. I believed I had won his goodwill, by having, in a frolic, assumed the character of his partner; and I remembered that in a wild, wandering, and disorderly course of life, men, as they become loosened from the ordinary bonds of civil society, hold those of comradeship more closely sacred; so that honour is sometimes found among thieves, and faith and attachment in such as the law has termed vagrants. The history of Richard Coeur de Lion and his minstrel, Blondel, rushed, at the same time, on my mind, though I could not even then suppress a smile at the dignity of the example when applied to a blind fiddler and myself. Still there was something in all this to awaken a hope that, if I could open a correspondence with this poor violer, he might be useful in extricating me from my present situation.

His profession furnished me with some hope that this desired communication might be attained; since it is well known that, in Scotland, where there is so much national music, the words and airs of which are generally known, there is a kind of freemasonry amongst performers, by which they can, by the mere choice of a tune, express a great deal to the hearers. Personal allusions are often made in this manner, with much point and pleasantry; and nothing is more usual at public festivals, than that the air played to accompany a particular health or toast, is made the vehicle of compliment, of wit, and sometimes of satire.1

While these things passed through my mind rapidly, I heard my friend beneath recommence, for the third time, the air from which his own name had been probably adopted, when he was interrupted by his rustic auditors.

“If thou canst play no other spring but that, mon, ho hadst best put up ho’s pipes and be jogging. Squoire will be back anon, or Master Nixon, and we’ll see who will pay poiper then.”

Oho, thought I, if I have no sharper ears than those of my friends Jan and Dorcas to encounter, I may venture an experiment upon them; and, as most expressive of my state of captivity, I sang two or three lines of the 137th Psalm—

By Babel’s streams we sat and wept.

The country people listened with attention, and when I ceased, I heard them whisper together in tones of commiseration, “Lack-a-day, poor soul! so pretty a man to be beside his wits!”

“An he be that gate,” said Wandering Willie, in a tone calculated to reach my ears, “I ken naething will raise his spirits like a spring.” And he struck up, with great vigour and spirit, the lively Scottish air, the words of which instantly occurred to me—

Oh whistle and I’ll come t’ye, my lad,
Oh whistle and I’ll come t’ye, my lad;
Though father and mother and a’ should gae mad,
Oh whistle and I’ll come t’ye, my lad.

I soon heard a clattering noise of feet in the courtyard, which I concluded to be Jan and Dorcas dancing a jig in their Cumberland wooden clogs. Under cover of this din, I endeavoured to answer Willie’s signal by whistling, as loud as I could——

Come back again and loe me
When a’ the lave are gane.

He instantly threw the dancers out, by changing his air to

There’s my thumb, I’ll ne’er beguile thee.

I no longer doubted that a communication betwixt us was happily established, and that, if I had an opportunity of speaking to the poor musician, I should find him willing to take my letter to the post, to invoke the assistance of some active magistrate, or of the commanding-officer of Carlisle Castle, or, in short, to do whatever else I could point out, in the compass of his power, to contribute to my liberation. But to obtain speech of him, I must have run the risk of alarming the suspicions of Dorcas, if not of her yet more stupid Corydon. My ally’s blindness prevented his receiving any communication by signs from the window—even if I could have ventured to make them, consistently with prudence—so that notwithstanding the mode of intercourse we had adopted was both circuitous and peculiarly liable to misapprehension, I saw nothing I could do better than to continue it, trusting my own and my correspondent’s acuteness in applying to the airs the meaning they were intended to convey. I thought of singing the words themselves of some significant song, but feared I might, by doing so, attract suspicion. I endeavoured, therefore, to intimate my speedy departure from my present place of residence, by whistling the well-known air with which festive parties in Scotland usually conclude the dance:—

Good night and joy be wi’ ye a’,
For here nae langer maun I stay;
There’s neither friend nor foe, of mine
But wishes that I were away.

It appeared that Willie’s powers of intelligence were much more active than mine, and that, like a deaf person accustomed to be spoken to by signs, he comprehended, from the very first notes, the whole meaning I intended to convey; and he accompanied me in the air with his violin, in such a manner as at once to show he understood my meaning, and to prevent my whistling from being attended to.

His reply was almost immediate, and was conveyed in the old martial air of “Hey, Johnnie lad, cock up your beaver.” I ran over the words, and fixed on the following stanza, as most applicable to my circumstances:—

Cock up your beaver, and cock it fu’ sprush;
We’ll over the Border and give them a brush;
There’s somebody there we’ll teach better behaviour,
Hey, Johnnie lad, cock up your beaver.

If these sounds alluded, as I hope they do, to the chance of assistance from my Scottish friends, I may indeed consider that a door is open to hope and freedom. I immediately replied with:—

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands! farewell to the North!
The birth-place of valour, the cradle of worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Willie instantly played, with a degree of spirit which might have awakened hope in Despair herself, if Despair could be supposed to understand Scotch music, the fine old Jacobite air,

For a’ that, and a’ that,
And twice as much as a’ that.

I next endeavoured to intimate my wish to send notice of my condition to my friends; and, despairing to find an air sufficiently expressive of my purpose, I ventured to sing a verse, which, in various forms, occurs so frequently in old ballads—

Whare will I get a bonny boy
    That will win hose and shoon:
That will gae down to Durisdeer,
    And bid my merry men come?

He drowned the latter part of the verse by playing, with much emphasis,

Kind Robin loes me.

Of this, though I ran over the verses of the song in my mind, I could make nothing; and before I could contrive any mode of intimating my uncertainty, a cry arose in the courtyard that Cristal Nixon was coming. My faithful Willie was obliged to retreat; but not before he had half played, half hummed, by way of farewell,

Leave thee—leave thee, lad—
    I’ll never leave thee;
The stars shall gae withershins
    Ere I will leave thee.

I am thus, I think, secure of one trusty adherent in my misfortunes; and, however whimsical it may be to rely much on a man of his idle profession and deprived of sight withal, it is deeply impressed on my mind that his services may be both useful and necessary. There is another quarter from which I look for succour, and which I have indicated to thee, Alan, in more than one passage of my journal. Twice, at the early hour of daybreak, I have seen the individual alluded to in the court of the farm, and twice she made signs of recognition in answer to the gestures by which I endeavoured to make her comprehend my situation; but on both occasions she pressed her finger on her lips, as expressive of silence and secrecy.

The manner in which G.M. entered upon the scene for the first time, seems to assure me of her goodwill, so far as her power may reach; and I have many reasons to believe it is considerable. Yet she seemed hurried and frightened during the very transitory moments of our interview, and I think was, upon the last occasion, startled by the entrance of some one into the farmyard, just as she was on the point of addressing me. You must not ask whether I am an early riser, since such objects are only to be seen at daybreak; and although I have never again seen her, yet I have reason to think she is not distant. It was but three nights ago, that, worn out by the uniformity of my confinement, I had manifested more symptoms of despondence than I had before exhibited, which I conceive may have attracted the attention of the domestics, through whom the circumstance might transpire. On the next morning, the following lines lay on my table; but how conveyed there, I cannot tell. The hand in which they were written is a beautiful Italian manuscript:—

As lords their labourers’ hire delay,
    Fate quits our toil with hopes to come,
Which, if far short of present pay,
    Still, owns a debt and names a sum.

Quit not the pledge, frail sufferer, then,
    Although a distant date be given;
Despair is treason towards man,
    And blasphemy to Heaven.

That these lines were written with the friendly purpose of inducing me to keep up my spirits, I cannot doubt; and I trust the manner in which I shall conduct myself may show that the pledge is accepted.

The dress is arrived in which it seems to be my self-elected guardian’s pleasure that I shall travel; and what does it prove to be?—A skirt, or upper-petticoat of camlet, like those worn by country ladies of moderate rank when on horseback, with such a riding-mask as they frequently use on journeys to preserve their eyes and complexion from the sun and dust, and sometimes, it is suspected, to enable then to play off a little coquetry. From the gayer mode of employing the mask, however, I suspect I shall be precluded; for instead of being only pasteboard, covered with black velvet, I observe with anxiety that mine is thickened with a plate of steel, which, like Quixote’s visor, serves to render it more strong and durable.

This apparatus, together with a steel clasp for securing the mask behind me with a padlock, gave me fearful recollections of the unfortunate being, who, never being permitted to lay aside such a visor, acquired the well-known historical epithet of the Man in the Iron Mask. I hesitated a moment whether I should, so far submit to the acts of oppression designed against me as to assume this disguise, which was, of course, contrived to aid their purposes. But when I remembered Mr. Herries’s threat, that I should be kept close prisoner in a carriage, unless I assumed the dress which should be appointed for me; and I considered the comparative degree of freedom which I might purchase by wearing the mask and female dress as easily and advantageously purchased. Here, therefore, I must pause for the present, and await what the morning may bring forth.

[To carry on the story from the documents before us, we think it proper here to drop the journal of the captive Darsie Latimer, and adopt, instead, a narrative of the proceedings of Alan Fairford in pursuit of his friend, which forms another series in this history.]

1.    Every one must remember instances of this festive custom, in which the adaptation of the tune to the toast was remarkably felicitous. Old Neil Gow, and his son Nathaniel, were peculiarly happy on such occasions.    [back]

Redgauntlet - Contents    |     Volume II - Chapter X

Back    |    Words Home    |    Walter Scott Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback