Volume II

Chapter X

Narrative of Alan Fairford

Walter Scott

THE reader ought, by this time, to have formed some idea of the character of Alan Fairford. He had a warmth of heart which the study of the law and of the world could not chill, and talents which they had rendered unusually acute. Deprived of the personal patronage enjoyed by most of his contemporaries, who assumed the gown under the protection of their aristocratic alliances and descents, he early saw that he should have that to achieve for himself which fell to them as a right of birth. He laboured hard in silence and solitude, and his labours were crowned with success. But Alan doted on his friend Darsie, even more than he loved his profession, and, as we have seen, threw everything aside when he thought Latimer in danger; forgetting fame and fortune, and hazarding even the serious displeasure of his father, to rescue him whom he loved with an elder brother’s affection. Darsie, though his parts were more quick and brilliant than those of his friend, seemed always to the latter a being under his peculiar charge, whom he was called upon to cherish and protect in cases where the youth’s own experience was unequal to the exigency; and now, when, the fate of Latimer seeming worse than doubtful, Alan’s whole prudence and energy were to be exerted in his behalf, an adventure which might have seemed perilous to most youths of his age had no terrors for him. He was well acquainted with the laws of his country, and knew how to appeal to them; and, besides his professional confidence, his natural disposition was steady, sedate, persevering, and undaunted. With these requisites he undertook a quest which, at that time, was not unattended with actual danger, and had much in it to appal a more timid disposition.

Fairford’s first inquiry concerning his friend was of the chief magistrate of Dumfries, Provost Crosbie, who had sent the information of Darsie’s disappearance. On his first application, he thought he discerned in the honest dignitary a desire to get rid of the subject. The provost spoke of the riot at the fishing station as an “outbreak among those lawless loons the fishermen, which concerned the sheriff,” he said, “more than us poor town council bodies, that have enough to do to keep peace within burgh, amongst such a set of commoners as the town are plagued with.”

“But this is not all, Provost Crosbie,” said Mr. Alan Fairford; “A young gentleman of rank and fortune has disappeared amongst their hands—you know him. My father gave him a letter to you—Mr. Darsie Latimer.”

“Lack-a-day, yes! lack-a-day, yes!” said the provost; “Mr. Darsie Latimer—he dined at my house—I hope he is well?”

“I hope so too,” said Alan, rather indignantly; “but I desire more certainty on that point. You yourself wrote my father that he had disappeared.”

“Troth, yes, and that is true,” said the provost. “But did he not go back to his friends in Scotland? it was not natural to think he would stay here.”

“Not unless he is under restraint,” said Fairford, surprised at the coolness with which the provost seemed to take up the matter.

“Rely on it, sir,” said Mr. Crosbie, “that if he has not returned to his friends in Scotland, he must have gone to his friends in England.”

“I will rely on no such thing,” said Alan; “if there is law or justice in Scotland, I will have the thing cleared to the very bottom.”

“Reasonable, reasonable,” said the provost, “so far as is possible; but you know I have no power beyond the ports of the burgh.”

“But you are in the commission besides, Mr. Crosbie; a justice of peace for the county.”

“True, very true—that is,” said the cautious magistrate, “I will not say but my name may stand on the list, but I cannot remember that I have ever qualified.”1

“Why, in that case,” said young Fairford, “there are ill-natured people might doubt your attachment to the Protestant line, Mr. Crosbie.”

“God forbid, Mr. Fairford! I who have done and suffered in the Forty-five. I reckon the Highlandmen did me damage to the amount of £100. Scots, forby all they ate and drank—no, no, sir, I stand beyond challenge; but as for plaguing myself with county business, let them that aught the mare shoe the mare. The commissioners of supply would see my back broken before they would help me in the burgh’s work, and all the world kens the difference of the weight between public business in burgh and landward. What are their riots to me? have we not riots enough of our own?—But I must be getting ready, for the council meets this forenoon. I am blithe to see your father’s son on the causeway of our ancient burgh, Mr. Alan Fairford. Were you a twelve-month aulder, we would make a burgess of you, man. I hope you will come and dine with me before you go away. What think you of to-day at two o’clock—just a roasted chucky and a drappit egg?”

Alan Fairford resolved that his friend’s hospitality should not, as it seemed the inviter intended, put a stop to his queries. “I must delay you for a moment,” he said, “Mr. Crosbie; this is a serious affair; a young gentleman of high hopes, my own dearest friend, is missing—you cannot think it will be passed over slightly, if a man of your high character and known zeal for the government do not make some active inquiry. Mr. Crosbie, you are my father’s friend, and I respect you as such—but to others it will have a bad appearance.”

The withers of the provost were not unwrung; he paced the room in much tribulation, repeating, “But what can I do, Mr. Fairford? I warrant your friend casts up again—he will come back again, like the ill shilling—he is not the sort of gear that tynes—a hellicat boy, running through the country with a blind fiddler and playing the fiddle to a parcel of blackguards, who can tell where the like of him may have scampered to?”

“There are persons apprehended, and in the jail of the town, as I understand from the sheriff-substitute,” said Mr. Fairford; “you must call them before you, and inquire what they know of this young gentleman.”

“Aye, aye—the sheriff-depute did commit some poor creatures, I believe—wretched ignorant fishermen bodies, that had been quarrelling with Quaker Geddes and his stake-nets, whilk, under favour of your gown be it spoken, Mr. Fairford, are not over and above lawful, and the town clerk thinks that they may be lawfully removed via facti—but that is by the by. But, sir, the creatures were a’ dismissed for want of evidence; the Quaker would not swear to them, and what could the sheriff and me do but just let them loose? Come awa, cheer up, Master Alan, and take a walk till dinner-time—I must really go to the council.”

“Stop a moment, provost,” said Alan; “I lodge a complaint before you as a magistrate, and you will find it serious to slight it over. You must have these men apprehended again.”

“Aye, aye—easy said; but catch them that can,” answered the provost; “they are ower the march by this time, or by the point of Cairn. Lord help ye! they are a kind of amphibious deevils, neither land nor water beasts neither English nor Scots—neither county nor stewartry, as we say—they are dispersed like so much quicksilver. You may as well try to whistle a sealgh out of the Solway, as to get hold of one of them till all the fray is over.”

“Mr. Crosbie, this will not do,” answered the young counsellor; “there is a person of more importance than such wretches as you describe concerned in this unhappy business—I must name to you a certain Mr. Herries.”

He kept his eye on the provost as he uttered the name, which he did rather at a venture, and from the connexion which that gentleman, and his real or supposed niece, seemed to have with the fate of Darsie Latimer, than from any distinct cause of suspicion which he entertained. He thought the provost seemed embarrassed, though he showed much desire to assume an appearance of indifference, in which he partly succeeded.

“Herries!” he said—“What Herries?—There are many of that name—not so many as formerly, for the old stocks are wearing out; but there is Herries of Heathgill, and Herries of Auchintulloch, and Herries——”

“To save you further trouble, this person’s designation is Herries of Birrenswork.”

“Of Birrenswork?” said Mr. Crosbie; “I have you now, Mr. Alan. Could you not as well have said, the Laird of Redgauntlet?”

Fairford was too wary to testify any surprise at this identification of names, however unexpected. “I thought,” said he, “he was more generally known by the name of Herries. I have seen and been in company with him under that name, I am sure.”

“Oh aye; in Edinburgh, belike. You know Redgauntlet was unfortunate a great while ago, and though he was maybe not deeper in the mire than other folk, yet, for some reason or other, he did not get so easily out.”

“He was attainted, I understand; and has no remission,” said Fairford.

The cautious provost only nodded, and said, “You may guess, therefore, why it is so convenient he should hold his mother’s name, which is also partly his own, when he is about Edinburgh. To bear his proper name might be accounted a kind of flying in the face of government, ye understand. But he has been long connived at—the story is an old story—and the gentleman has many excellent qualities, and is of a very ancient and honourable house—has cousins among the great folk—counts kin with the advocate and with the sheriff—hawks, you know, Mr. Alan, will not pike out hawks’ een—he is widely connected—my wife is a fourth cousin of Redgauntlet’s.”

Hinc illæ lachrymæ! thought Alan Fairford to himself; but the hint presently determined him to proceed by soft means and with caution. “I beg you to understand,” said Fairford, “that in the investigation I am about to make, I design no harm to Mr. Herries, or Redgauntlet—call him what you will. All I wish is, to ascertain the safety of my friend. I know that he was rather foolish in once going upon a mere frolic, in disguise, to the neighbourhood of this same gentleman’s house. In his circumstances, Mr. Redgauntlet may have misinterpreted the motives, and considered Darsie Latimer as a spy. His influence, I believe, is great among the disorderly people you spoke of but now?”

The provost answered with another sagacious shake of his head, that would have done honour to Lord Burleigh in the Critic.

“Well, then,” continued Fairford, “is it not possible that, in the mistaken belief that Mr. Latimer was a spy, he may, upon such suspicion, have caused him to be carried off and confined somewhere? Such things are done at elections, and on occasions less pressing than when men think their lives are in danger from an informer.”

“Mr. Fairford,” said the provost, very earnestly, “I scarce think such a mistake possible; or if, by any extraordinary chance, it should have taken place, Redgauntlet, whom I cannot but know well, being as I have said my wife’s first cousin (fourth cousin, I should say) is altogether incapable of doing anything harsh to the young gentleman—he might send him ower to Ailsay for a night or two, or maybe land him on the north coast of Ireland, or in Islay, or some of the Hebrides; but depend upon it, he is incapable of harming a hair of his head.”

“I am determined not to trust to that, provost,” answered Fairford firmly; “and I am a good deal surprised at your way of talking so lightly of such an aggression on the liberty of the subject. You are to consider, and Mr. Herries or Mr. Redgauntlet’s friends would do very well also to consider, how it would sound in the ears of an English Secretary of State, that an attainted traitor (for such is this gentleman) has not only ventured to take up his abode in this realm—against the king of which he has been in arms—but is suspected of having proceeded, by open force and violence, against the person of one of the lieges, a young man who is neither without friends nor property to secure his being righted.”

The provost looked at the young counsellor with a face in which distrust, alarm, and vexation seemed mingled. “A fashious job,” he said at last, “a fashious job; and it will be dangerous meddling with it. I should like ill to see your father’s son turn informer against an unfortunate gentleman.”

“Neither do I mean it,” answered Alan, “provided that unfortunate gentleman and his friends give me a quiet opportunity of securing my friend’s safety. If I could speak with Mr. Redgauntlet, and hear his own explanation, I should probably be satisfied. If I am forced, to denounce him to government, it will be in his new capacity of a kidnapper. I may not be able, nor is it my business, to prevent his being recognized in his former character of an attainted person, excepted from the general pardon.”

“Master Fairford,” said the provost, “would ye ruin the poor innocent gentleman on an idle suspicion?”

“Say no more of it, Mr. Crosbie; my line of conduct is determined—unless that suspicion is removed.”

“Weel, sir,” said the provost, “since so it be, and since you say that you do not seek to harm Redgauntlet personally, I’ll ask a man to dine with us to-day that kens as much about his matters as most folk. You must think, Mr. Alan Fairford, though Redgauntlet be my wife’s near relative, and though, doubtless, I wish him weel, yet I am not the person who is like to be intrusted with his incomings and outgoings. I am not a man for that—I keep the kirk, and I abhor Popery—I have stood up for the House of Hanover, and for liberty and property—I carried arms, sir, against the Pretender, when three of the Highlandmen’s baggage-carts were stopped at Ecclefechan; and I had an especial loss of a hundred pounds——”

“Scots,” interrupted Fairford. “You forget you told me all this before.”

“Scots or English, it was too much for me to lose,” said the provost; “so you see I am not a person to pack or peel with Jacobites, and such unfreemen as poor Redgauntlet.”

“Granted, granted, Mr. Crosbie; and what then?” said Alan Fairford.

“Why, then, it follows, that if I am to help you at this pinch, if cannot be by and through my ain personal knowledge, but through some fitting agent or third person.”

“Granted again,” said Fairford. “And pray who may this third person be?”

“Wha but Pate Maxwell of Summertrees—him they call Pate-in-Peril.”

“An old Forty-five man, of course?” said Fairford.

“Ye may swear that,” replied the provost—“as black a Jacobite as the auld leaven can make him; but a sonsy, merry companion, that none of us think it worth while to break wi’ for all his brags and his clavers. You would have thought, if he had had but his own way at Derby, he would have marched Charlie Stuart through between Wade and the Duke, as a thread goes through the needle’s ee, and seated him in Saint James’s before you could have said haud your hand. But though he is a windy body when he gets on his auld-warld stories, he has mair gumption in him than most people—knows business, Mr. Alan, being bred to the law; but never took the gown, because of the oaths, which kept more folk out then than they do now—the more’s the pity.”

“What! are you sorry, provost, that Jacobitism is upon the decline?” said Fairford.

“No, no,” answered the provost—“I am only sorry for folks losing the tenderness of conscience which they used to have. I have a son breeding to the bar, Mr. Fairford; and, no doubt, considering my services and sufferings, I might have looked for some bit postie to him; but if the muckle tykes come in—I mean a’ these Maxwells, and Johnstones, and great lairds, that the oaths used to keep out lang syne—the bits o’ messan doggies, like my son, and maybe like your father’s son, Mr. Alan, will be sair put to the wall.”

“But to return to the subject, Mr. Crosbie,” said Fairford, “do you really think it likely that this Mr. Maxwell will be of service in this matter?”

“It’s very like he may be, for he is the tongue of the trump to the whole squad of them,” said the provost; “and Redgauntlet, though he will not stick at times to call him a fool, takes more of his counsel than any man’s else that I am aware of. If Fate can bring him to a communing, the business is done. He’s a sharp chield, Pate-in-Peril.”

“Pate-in-Peril!” repeated Alan; “a very singular name.”

“Aye, and it was in as queer a way he got it; but I’ll say naething about that,” said the provost, “for fear of forestalling his market; for ye are sure to hear it once at least, however oftener, before the punch-bowl gives place to the teapot.—And now, fare ye weel; for there is the council-bell clinking in earnest; and if I am not there before it jows in, Bailie Laurie will be trying some of his manœuvres.”

The provost, repeating his expectation of seeing Mr. Fairford at two o’clock, at length effected his escape from the young counsellor, and left him at a considerable loss how to proceed. The sheriff, it seems, had returned to Edinburgh, and he feared to find the visible repugnance of the provost to interfere with this Laird of Birrenswork, or Redgauntlet, much stronger amongst the country gentlemen, many of whom were Catholics as well as Jacobites, and most others unwilling to quarrel with kinsmen and friends, by prosecuting with severity political offences which had almost run a prescription.

To collect all the information in his power, and not to have recourse to the higher authorities until he could give all the light of which the case was capable, seemed the wiser proceeding in a choice of difficulties. He had some conversation with the procurator-fiscal, who, as well as the provost, was an old correspondent of his father. Alan expressed to that officer a purpose of visiting Brokenburn, but was assured by him, that it would be a step attended with much danger to his own person, and altogether fruitless; that the individuals who had been ringleaders in the riot were long since safely sheltered in their various lurking-holes in the Isle of Man, Cumberland, and elsewhere; and that those who might remain would undoubtedly commit violence on any who visited their settlement with the purpose of inquiring into the late disturbances.

There were not the same objections to his hastening to Mount Sharon, where he expected to find the latest news of his friend; and there was time enough to do so, before the hour appointed for the provost’s dinner. Upon the road, he congratulated himself on having obtained one point of almost certain information. The person who had in a manner forced himself upon his father’s hospitality, and had appeared desirous to induce Darsie Latimer to visit England, against whom, too, a sort of warning had been received from an individual connected with and residing in his own family, proved to be a promoter of the disturbance in which Darsie had disappeared.

What could be the cause of such an attempt on the liberty of an inoffensive and amiable man? It was impossible it could be merely owing to Redgauntlet’s mistaking Darsie for a spy; for though that was the solution which Fairford had offered to the provost, he well knew that, in point of fact, he himself had been warned by his singular visitor of some danger to which his friend was exposed, before such suspicion could have been entertained; and the injunctions received by Latimer from his guardian, or him who acted as such, Mr. Griffiths of London, pointed to the same thing. He was rather glad, however, that he had not let Provost Crosbie into his secret further than was absolutely necessary; since it was plain that the connexion of his wife with the suspected party was likely to affect his impartiality as a magistrate.

When Alan Fairford arrived at Mount Sharon, Rachel Geddes hastened to meet him, almost before the servant could open the door. She drew back in disappointment when she beheld a stranger, and said, to excuse her precipitation, that “she had thought it was her brother Joshua returned from Cumberland.”

“Mr. Geddes is then absent from home?” said Fairford, much disappointed in his turn.

“He hath been gone since yesterday, friend,” answered Rachel, once more composed to the quietude which characterizes her sect, but her pale cheek and red eye giving contradiction to her assumed equanimity.

“I am,” said Fairford, hastily, “the particular friend of a young man not unknown to you, Miss Geddes—the friend of Darsie Latimer—and am come hither in the utmost anxiety, having understood from Provost Crosbie, that he had disappeared in the night when a destructive attack was made upon the fishing-station of Mr. Geddes.”

“Thou dost afflict me, friend, by thy inquiries,” said Rachel, more affected than before; “for although the youth was like those of the worldly generation, wise in his own conceit, and lightly to be moved by the breath of vanity, yet Joshua loved him, and his heart clave to him as if he had been his own son. And when he himself escaped from the sons of Belial, which was not until they had tired themselves with reviling, and with idle reproach, and the jests of the scoffer, Joshua, my brother, returned to them once and again, to give ransom for the youth called Darsie Latimer, with offers of money and with promise of remission, but they would not hearken to him. Also, he went before the head judge, whom men call the sheriff, and would have told him of the youth’s peril; but he would in no way hearken to him unless he would swear unto the truth of his words, which thing he might not do without sin, seeing it is written, Swear not at all—also, that our conversation shall be yea or nay. Therefore, Joshua returned to me disconsolate, and said, ‘Sister Rachel, this youth hath run into peril for my sake; assuredly I shall not be guiltless if a hair of his head be harmed, seeing I have sinned in permitting him to go with me to the fishing station when such evil was to be feared. Therefore, I will take my horse, even Solomon, and ride swiftly into Cumberland, and I will make myself friends with Mammon of Unrighteousness, among the magistrates of the Gentiles, and among their mighty men; and it shall come to pass that Darsie Latimer shall be delivered, even if it were at the expense of half my substance.’ And I said, ‘Nay, my brother, go not, for they will but scoff at and revile thee; but hire with thy silver one of the scribes, who are eager as hunters in pursuing their prey, and he shall free Darsie Latimer from the men of violence by his cunning, and thy soul shall be guiltless of evil towards the lad.’ But he answered and said, ‘I will not be controlled in this matter.’ And he is gone forth and hath not returned, and I fear me that he may never return; for though he be peaceful, as becometh one who holds all violence as offence against his own soul, yet neither the floods of water, nor the fear of the snare, nor the drawn sword of the adversary brandished in the path, will overcome his purpose. Wherefore the Solway may swallow him up, or the sword of the enemy may devour him—nevertheless, my hope is better in Him who directeth all things, and ruleth over the waves of the sea, and overruleth the devices of the wicked, and who can redeem us even as a bird from the fowler’s net.”

This was all that Fairford could learn from Miss Geddes; but he heard with pleasure that the good Quaker, her brother, had many friends among those of his own profession in Cumberland, and without exposing himself to so much danger as his sister seemed to apprehend, he trusted he might be able to discover some traces of Darsie Latimer. He himself rode back to Dumfries, having left with Miss Geddes his direction in that place, and an earnest request that she would forward thither whatever information she might obtain from her brother.

On Fairford’s return to Dumfries, he employed the brief interval which remained before dinner-time, in writing an account of what had befallen Latimer and of the present uncertainty of his condition, to Mr. Samuel Griffiths, through whose hands the remittances for his friend’s service had been regularly made, desiring he would instantly acquaint him with such parts of his history as might direct him in the search which he was about to institute through the border counties, and which he pledged himself not; to give up until he had obtained news of his friend, alive or dead, The young lawyer’s mind felt easier when he had dispatched this letter. He could not conceive any reason why his friend’s life should be aimed at; he knew Darsie had done nothing by which his liberty could be legally affected; and although, even of late years, there had been singular histories of men, and women also, who had been trepanned, and concealed in solitudes and distant islands in order to serve some temporary purpose, such violences had been chiefly practised by the rich on the poor, and by the strong on the feeble; whereas, in the present case, this Mr. Herries, or Redgauntlet, being amenable, for more reasons than one, to the censure of the law, must be the weakest in any struggle in which it could be appealed to. It is true, that his friendly anxiety whispered that the very cause which rendered this oppressor less formidable, might make him more desperate. Still, recalling his language, so strikingly that of the gentleman, and even of the man of honour, Alan Fairford concluded, that though, in his feudal pride, Redgauntlet might venture on the deeds of violence exercised by the aristocracy in other times, he could not be capable of any action of deliberate atrocity. And in these convictions he went to dine with Provost Crosbie, with a heart more at ease than might have been expected.2

1.    By taking the oaths to government.    [back]


Scotland, in its half-civilized state, exhibited too many examples of the exertion of arbitrary force and violence, rendered easy by the dominion which lairds exerted over their tenants and chiefs over their clans. The captivity of Lady Grange, in the desolate cliffs of Saint Kilda, is in the recollection of every one. At the supposed date of the novel also a man of the name of Merrilees, a tanner in Leith, absconded from his country to escape his creditors; and after having slain his own mastiff dog, and put a bit of red cloth in its mouth, as if it had died in a contest with soldiers, and involved his own existence in as much mystery as possible, made his escape into Yorkshire. Here he was detected by persons sent in search of him, to whom he gave a portentous account of his having been carried off and concealed in various places. Mr. Merrilees was, in short, a kind of male Elizabeth Canning, but did not trespass on the public credulity quite so long.    [back]

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