Narrative of Alan Fairford, Continued
THE room was no sooner deprived of Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees’s presence, than the provost looked very warily above, beneath, and around the apartment, hitched his chair towards that of his remaining guest, and began to speak In a whisper which could not have startled “the smallest mouse that creeps on floor.”
“Mr. Fairford,” said he, “you are a good lad; and, what is more, you are my auld friend your father’s son. Your father has been agent for this burgh for years, and has a good deal to say with the council; so there have been a sort of obligations between him and me; it may have been now on this side and now on that; but obligations there have been. I am but a plain man, Mr. Fairford; but I hope you understand me?”
“I believe you mean me well, provost; and I am sure,” replied Fairford, “you can never better show your kindness than on this occasion.”
“That’s it—that’s the very point I would be at, Mr. Alan,” replied the provost; “besides, I am, as becomes well my situation, a stanch friend to kirk and king, meaning this present establishment in church and state; and so, as I was saying, you may command my best—advice.”
“I hope for your assistance and co-operation also,” said the youth.
“Certainly, certainly,” said the wary magistrate. “Well, now, you see one may love the kirk, and yet not ride on the rigging of it; and one may love the king, and yet not be cramming him eternally down the throat of the unhappy folk that may chance to like another king better. I have friends and connexions among them, Mr. Fairford, as your father may have clients—they are flesh and blood like ourselves, these poor Jacobite bodies—sons of Adam and Eve, after all; and therefore—I hope you understand me?—I am a plain-spoken man.”
“I am afraid I do not quite understand you,” said Fairford; “and if you have anything to say to me in private, my dear provost, you had better come quickly out with it, for the Laird of Summertrees must finish his letter in a minute or two.”
“Not a bit, man—Pate is a lang-headed fellow, but his pen does not clear the paper as his greyhound does the Tinwald-furs. I gave him a wipe about that, if you noticed; I can say anything to Pate-in-Peril—Indeed, he is my wife’s near kinsman.”
“But your advice, provost,” said Alan, who perceived that, like a shy horse, the worthy magistrate always started off from his own purpose just when he seemed approaching to it.
“Weel, you shall have it in plain terms, for I am a plain man. Ye see, we will suppose that any friend like yourself were in the deepest hole of the Nith, sand making a sprattle for your life. Now, you see, such being the case, I have little chance of helping you, being a fat, short-armed man, and no swimmer, and what would be the use of my jumping in after you?”
“I understand you, I think,” said Alan Fairford. “You think that Darsie Latimer is in danger of his life?”
“Me!—I think nothing about it, Mr. Alan; but if he were, as I trust he is not, he is nae drap’s blood akin to you, Mr. Alan.”
“But here your friend, Summertrees,” said the young lawyer, “offers me a letter to this Redgauntlet of yours—What say you to that?”
“Me!” ejaculated the provost, “me, Mr. Alan? I say neither buff nor stye to it—But ye dinna ken what it is to look a Redgauntlet in the face;—better try my wife, who is but a fourth cousin, before ye venture on the laird himself—just say something about the Revolution, and see what a look she can gie you.”
“I shall leave you to stand all the shots from that battery, provost.” replied Fairford. “But speak out like a man—Do you think Summertrees means fairly by me?”
“Fairly—he is just coming—fairly? I am a plain man, Mr. Fairford—but ye said fairly?”
“I do so,” replied Alan, “and it is of importance to me to know, and to you to tell me if such is the case; for if you do not, you may be an accomplice to murder before the fact, and that under circumstances which may bring it near to murder under trust.”
“Murder!—who spoke of murder?” said the provost; “no danger of that, Mr. Alan—only, if I were you—to speak my plain mind——” Here he approached his mouth to the ear of the young lawyer, and, after another acute pang of travail, was safely delivered of his advice in the following abrupt words:—“Take a keek into Pate’s letter before ye deliver it.”
Fairford started, looked the provost hard in the face, and was silent; while Mr. Crosbie, with the self-approbation of one who has at length brought himself to the discharge of a great duty, at the expense of a considerable sacrifice, nodded and winked to Alan, as if enforcing his advice; and then swallowing a large glass of punch, concluded, with the sigh of a man released from a heavy burden, “I am a plain man, Mr. Fairford.”
“A plain man?” said Maxwell, who entered the room at that moment, with the letter in his hand,—“Provost, I never heard you make use of the word but when you had some sly turn of your own to work out.”
The provost looked silly enough, and the Laird of Summertrees directed a keen and suspicious glance upon Alan Fairford, who sustained it with professional intrepidity.—There was a moment’s pause.
“I was trying,” said the provost, “to dissuade our young friend from his wildgoose expedition.”
“And I,” said Fairford, “am determined to go through with it. Trusting myself to you, Mr. Maxwell, I conceive that I rely, as I before said, on the word of a gentleman.”
“I will warrant you,” said Maxwell, “from all serious consequences—some inconveniences you must look to suffer.”
“To these I shall be resigned,” said Fairford, “and stand prepared to run my risk.”
“Well then,” said Summertrees, “you must go——”
“I will leave you to yourselves, gentlemen,” said the provost, rising; “when you have done with your crack, you will find me at my wife’s tea-table.”
“And a more accomplished old woman never drank catlap,” said Maxwell, as he shut the door; “the last word has him, speak it who will—and yet because he is a whillywhaw body, and has a plausible tongue of his own, and is well enough connected, and especially because nobody could ever find out whether he is Whig or Tory, this is the third time they have made him provost!—But to the matter in hand. This letter, Mr. Fairford,” putting a sealed one into his hand, “is addressed, you observe, to Mr. H—— of B——, and contains your credentials for that gentlemen, who is also known by his family name of Redgauntlet, but less frequently addressed by it, because it is mentioned something invidiously in a certain Act of Parliament. I have little doubt he will assure you of your friend’s safety, and in a short time place him at freedom—that is, supposing him under present restraint. But the point is, to discover where he is—and, before you are made acquainted with this necessary part of the business, you must give me your assurance of honour that you will acquaint no one, either by word or letter, with the expedition which you now propose to yourself.”
“How, sir?” answered Alan; “can you expect that I will not take the precaution of informing some person of the route I am about to take, that in case of accident it may be known where I am, and with what purpose I have gone thither?”
“And can you expect,” answered Maxwell, in the same tone, “that I am to place my friend’s safety, not merely in your hands, but in those of any person you may choose to confide in, and who may use the knowledge to his destruction? Na—na—I have pledged my word for your safety, and you must give me yours to be private in the matter—giff-gaff, you know.”
Alan Fairford could not help thinking that this obligation to secrecy gave a new and suspicious colouring to the whole transaction; but, considering that his friend’s release might depend upon his accepting the condition, he gave it in the terms proposed, and with the purpose of abiding by it.
“And now, sir,” he said, “whither am I to proceed with this letter? Is Mr. Herries at Brokenburn?”
“He is not; I do not think he will come thither again until the business of the stake-nets be hushed up, nor would I advise him to do so—the Quakers, with all their demureness, can bear malice as long as other folk; and though I have not the prudence of Mr. Provost, who refuses to ken where his friends are concealed during adversity, lest, perchance, he should be asked to contribute to their relief, yet I do not think it necessary or prudent to inquire into Redgauntlet’s wanderings, poor man, but wish to remain at perfect freedom to answer, if asked at, that I ken nothing of the matter. You must, then, go to old Tom Trumbull’s at Annan,—Tam Turnpenny, as they call him,—and he is sure either to know where Redgauntlet is himself, or to find some one who can give a shrewd guess. But you must attend that old Turnpenny will answer no question on such a subject without you give him the passport, which at present you must do, by asking him the age of the moon; if he answers, “Not light enough to land a cargo,” you are to answer, “Then plague on Aberdeen Almanacks,” and upon that he will hold free intercourse with you. And now, I would advise you to lose no time, for the parole is often changed—and take care of yourself among these moonlight lads, for laws and lawyers do not stand very high in their favour.”
“I will set out this instant,” said the young barrister; “I will but bid the provost and Mrs. Crosbie farewell, and then get on horseback so soon as the ostler of the George Inn can saddle him;—as for the smugglers, I am neither gauger nor supervisor, and, like the man who met the devil, if they have nothing to say to me, I have nothing to say to them.”
“You are a mettled young man,” said Summertrees, evidently with increasing goodwill, on observing an alertness and contempt of danger, which perhaps he did not expect from Alan’s appearance and profession,—“a very mettled young fellow indeed! and it is almost a pity——” Here he stopped abort.
“What is a pity?” said Fairford.
“It is almost a pity that I cannot go with you myself, or at least send a trusty guide.”
They walked together to the bedchamber of Mrs. Crosbie, for it was in that asylum that the ladies of the period dispensed their tea, when the parlour was occupied by the punch-bowl.
“You have been good bairns to-night, gentlemen,” said Mrs. Crosbie; “I am afraid, Summertrees, that the provost has given you a bad browst; you are not used to quit the lee-side of the punch-bowl in such a hurry. I say nothing to you, Mr. Fairford, for you are too young a man yet for stoup and bicker; but I hope you will not tell the Edinburgh fine folk that the provost has scrimped you of your cogie, as the sang says?”
“I am much obliged for the provost’s kindness, and yours, madam,” replied Alan; “but the truth is, I have still a long ride before me this evening and the sooner I am on horse-back the better.”
“This evening?” said the provost, anxiously; “had you not better take daylight with you to-morrow morning?”
“Mr. Fairford will ride as well in the cool of the evening,” said Summertrees, taking the word out of Alan’s mouth.
The provost said no more, nor did his wife ask any questions, nor testify any surprise at the suddenness of their guest’s departure.
Having drunk tea, Alan Fairford took leave with the usual ceremony. The Laird of Summertrees seemed studious to prevent any further communication between him and the provost, and remained lounging on the landing-place of the stair while they made their adieus—heard the provost ask if Alan proposed a speedy return, and the latter reply that his stay was uncertain, and witnessed the parting shake of the hand, which, with a pressure more warm than usual, and a tremulous, “God bless and prosper you!” Mr. Crosbie bestowed on his young friend. Maxwell even strolled with Fairford as far as the George, although resisting all his attempts at further inquiry into the affairs of Redgauntlet, and referring him to Tom Trumbull, alias Turnpenny, for the particulars which he might find it necessary to inquire into.
At length Alan’s hack was produced—an animal long in neck, and high in bone, accoutred with a pair of saddle-bags containing the rider’s travelling wardrobe. Proudly surmounting his small stock of necessaries, and no way ashamed of a mode of travelling which a modern Mr. Silvertongue would consider as the last of degradations, Alan Fairford took leave of the old Jacobite, Pate-in-Peril, and set forward on the road to the loyal burgh of Annan. His reflections during his ride were none of the most pleasant. He could not disguise from himself that he was venturing rather too rashly into the power of outlawed and desperate persons; for with such only, a man in the situation of Redgauntlet could be supposed to associate. There were other grounds for apprehension, Several marks of intelligence betwixt Mrs. Crosbie and the Laird of Summertrees had not escaped Alan’s acute observation; and it was plain that the provost’s inclinations towards him, which he believed to be sincere and good, were not firm enough to withstand the influence of this league between his wife and friend. The provost’s adieus, like Macbeth’s amen, had stuck in his throat, and seemed to intimate that he apprehended more than he dared give utterance to.
Laying all these matters together, Alan thought, with no little anxiety on the celebrated lines of Shakespeare,
That in the ocean seeks another drop, &c.
But pertinacity was a strong feature in the young lawyer’s character. He was, and always had been, totally unlike the “horse hot at hand,” who tires before noon through his own over eager exertions in the beginning of the day. On the contrary, his first efforts seemed frequently inadequate to accomplishing his purpose, whatever that for the time might be; and it was only as the difficulties of the task increased, that his mind seemed to acquire the energy necessary to combat and subdue them. If, therefore, he went anxiously forward upon his uncertain and perilous expedition, the reader must acquit him of all idea, even in a passing thought, of the possibility of abandoning his search, and resigning Darsie Latimer to his destiny.
A couple of hours’ riding brought him to the little town of Annan, situated on the shores of the Solway, between eight and nine o’clock. The sun had set, but the day was not yet ended; and when he had alighted and seen his horse properly cared for at the principal inn of the place, he was readily directed to Mr. Maxwell’s friend, old Tom Trumbull, with whom everybody seemed well acquainted. He endeavoured to fish out from the lad that acted as a guide, something of this man’s situation and profession; but the general expressions of “a very decent man—”—“a very honest body”—“weel to pass in the world,” and such like, were all that could be extracted from him; and while Fairford was following up the investigation with closer interrogatories, the lad put an end to them by knocking at the door of Mr. Trumbull, whose decent dwelling was a little distance from the town, and considerably nearer to the sea. It was one of a little row of houses running down to the waterside, and having gardens and other accommodations behind. There was heard within the uplifting of a Scottish psalm; and the boy saying, “They are at exercise, sir,” gave intimation they might not be admitted till prayers were over.
When, however, Fairford repeated the summons with the end of his whip, the singing ceased, and Mr. Trumbull himself, with his psalm-book in his hand, kept open by the insertion of his forefinger between the leaves, came to demand the meaning of this unseasonable interruption.
Nothing could be more different than his whole appearance seemed to be from the confidant of a desperate man, and the associate of outlaws in their unlawful enterprises. He was a tall, thin, bony figure, with white hair combed straight down on each side of his face, and an iron-grey hue of complexion; where the lines, or rather, as Quin said of Macklin, the cordage, of his countenance were so sternly adapted to a devotional and even ascetic expression, that they left no room for any indication of reckless daring or sly dissimulation. In short, Trumbull appeared a perfect specimen of the rigid old Covenanter, who said only what he thought right, acted on no other principle but that of duty, and, if he committed errors, did so under the full impression that he was serving God rather than man.
“Do you want me, sir?” he said to Fairford, whose guide had slunk to the rear, as if to escape the rebuke of the severe old man,—“We were engaged, and it is the Saturday night.”
Alan Fairford’s preconceptions were so much deranged by this man’s appearance and manner, that he stood for a moment bewildered, and would as soon have thought of giving a cant password to a clergyman descending from the pulpit, as to the respectable father of a family just interrupted in his prayers for and with the objects of his care. Hastily concluding Mr. Maxwell had passed some idle jest on him, or rather that he had mistaken the person to whom he was directed, he asked if he spoke to Mr. Trumbull.
“To Thomas Trumbull,” answered the old man—“What may be your business, sir?” And he glanced his eye to the book he held in his hand, with a sigh like that of a saint desirous of dissolution.
“Do you know Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees?” said Fairford.
“I have heard of such a gentleman in the country-side, but have no acquaintance with him,” answered Mr. Trumbull; “he is, as I have heard, a Papist; for the whore that sitteth on the seven hills ceaseth not yet to pour forth the cup of her abomination on these parts.”
“Yet he directed me hither, my good friend,” said Alan. “Is there another of your name in this town of Annan?”
“None,” replied Mr. Trumbull, “since my worthy father was removed; he was indeed a shining light.—I wish you good even, sir.”
“Stay one single instant,” said Fairford; “this is a matter of life and death.”
“Not more than the casting the burden of our sins where they should be laid,” said Thomas Trumbull, about to shut the door in the inquirer’s face.
“Do you know,” said Alan Fairford, “the Laird of Redgauntlet?”
“Now Heaven defend me from treason and rebellion!” exclaimed Trumbull. “Young gentleman, you are importunate. I live here among my own people, and do not consort with Jacobites and mass-mongers.”
He seemed about to shut the door, but did NOT shut it, a circumstance which did not escape Alan’s notice.
“Mr. Redgauntlet is sometimes,” he said, “called Herries of Birrenswork; perhaps you may know him under that name.”
“Friend, you are uncivil,” answered Mr. Trumbull; “honest men have enough to do to keep one name undefiled. I ken nothing about those who have two. Good even to you, friend.”
He was now about to slam the door in his visitor’s face without further ceremony, when Alan, who had observed symptoms that the name of Redgauntlet did not seem altogether so indifferent to him as he pretended, arrested his purpose by saying, in a low voice, “At least you can tell me what age the moon is?”
The old man started, as if from a trance, and before answering, surveyed the querist with a keen penetrating glance, which seemed to say, “Are you really in possession of this key to my confidence, or do you speak from mere accident?”
To this keen look of scrutiny, Fairford replied by a smile of intelligence.
The iron muscles of the old man’s face did not, however, relax, as he dropped, in a careless manner, the countersign, “Not light enough to land a cargo.”
“Then plague of all Aberdeen Almanacks!”
“And plague of all fools that waste time,” said Thomas Trumbull, “Could you not have said as much at first? And standing wasting time, and encouraging; lookers-on, in the open street too? Come in by—in by.”
He drew his visitor into the dark entrance of the house, and shut the door carefully; then putting his head into an apartment which the murmurs within announced to be filled with the family, he said aloud, “A work of necessity and mercy—Malachi, take the book—You will sing six double verses of the hundred and nineteen—and you may lecture out of the Lamentations. And, Malachi,”—this he said in an undertone,—“see you give them a a creed of doctrine that will last them till I come back; or else these inconsiderate lads will be out of the house, and away to the publics, wasting their precious time, and, it may be, putting themselves in the way of missing the morning tide.”
An inarticulate answer from within intimated Malachi’s acquiescence in the commands imposed; and, Mr. Trumbull, shutting the door, muttered something about fast bind, fast find, turned the key, and put it into his pocket; and then bidding his visitor have a care of his steps, and make no noise, he led him through the house, and out at a back-door, into a little garden. Here a plaited alley conducted them, without the possibility of their being seen by any neighbour, to a door in the garden-wall, which being opened, proved to be a private entrance into a three-stalled stable; in one of which was a horse, that whinnied on their entrance. “Hush, hush!” cried the old man, and presently seconded his exhortations to silence by throwing a handful of corn into the manger, and the horse soon converted his acknowledgement of their presence into the usual sound of munching and grinding his provender.
As the light was now failing fast, the old man, with much more alertness than might have been expected from the rigidity of his figure, closed the window-shutters in an instant, produced phosphorus and matches, and lighted a stable-lantern, which he placed on the corn-bin, and then addressed Fairford. “We are private here, young man; and as some time has been wasted already, you will be so kind as to tell me what is your errand. Is it about the way of business, or the other job?”
“My business with you, Mr. Trumbull, is to request you will find me the means of delivering this letter, from Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees to the Laird of Redgauntlet.”
“Humph—fashious job! Pate Maxwell will still be the auld man—always Pate-in-Peril—Craig-in-Peril, for what I know. Let me see the letter from him.”
He examined it with much care, turning it up and down, and looking at the seal very attentively. “All’s right, I see; it has the private mark for haste and speed. I bless my Maker that I am no great man, or great man’s fellow; and so I think no more of these passages than just to help them forward in the way of business. You are an utter stranger in these parts, I warrant?”
Fairford answered in the affirmative.
“Aye—I never saw them make a wiser choice—I must call some one to direct you what to do—Stay, we must go to him, I believe. You are well recommended to me, friend, and doubtless trusty; otherwise you may see more than I would like to show, or am in the use of showing in the common line of business.”
Saying this, he placed his lantern on the ground, beside the post of one of the empty stalls, drew up a small spring bolt which secured it to the floor, and then forcing the post to one side, discovered a small trap-door. “Follow me,” he said, and dived into the subterranean descent to which this secret aperture gave access.
Fairford plunged after him, not without apprehensions of more kinds than one, but still resolved to prosecute the adventure.
The descent, which was not above six feet, led to a very narrow passage, which seemed to have been constructed for the precise purpose of excluding every one who chanced to be an inch more in girth than was his conductor. A small vaulted room, of about eight feet square, received them at the end of this lane. Here Mr. Trumbull left Fairford alone, and returned for an instant, as he said, to shut his concealed trap-door.
Fairford liked not his departure, as it left him in utter darkness; besides that his breathing was much affected by a strong and stifling smell of spirits, and other articles of a savour more powerful than agreeable to the lungs. He was very glad, therefore, when he heard the returning steps of Mr. Trumbull, who, when once more by his side, opened a strong though narrow door in the wall, and conveyed Fairford into an immense magazine of spirit-casks, and other articles of contraband trade.
There was a small, light at the end of this range of well-stocked subterranean vaults, which, upon a low whistle, began to flicker and move towards them. An undefined figure, holding a dark lantern, with the light averted, approached them, whom Mr. Trumbull thus addressed:—“Why were you not at worship, Job; and this Saturday at e’en?”
“Swanston was loading the Jenny, sir; and I stayed to serve out the article.”
“True—a work of necessity, and in the way of business. Does the Jumping Jenny sail this tide?”
“Aye, aye, sir; she sails for——”
“I did not ask you where she sailed for, Job,” said the old gentleman, interrupting him. “I thank my Maker, I know nothing of their incomings or outgoings. I sell my article fairly and in the ordinary way of business; and I wash my hands of everything else. But what I wished to know is, whether the gentleman called the Laird of the Solway Lakes is on the other side of the Border even now?”
“Aye, aye,” said Job, “the laird is something in my own line, you know—a little contraband or so, There is a statute for him—But no matter; he took the sands after the splore at the Quaker’s fish-traps yonder; for he has a leal heart, the laird, and is always true to the country-side. But avast—is all snug here?”
So saying, he suddenly turned on Alan Fairford the light side of the lantern he carried, who, by the transient gleam which it threw in passing on the man who bore it, saw a huge figure, upwards of six feet high, with a rough hairy cap on his head, and a set of features corresponding to his bulky frame. He thought also he observed pistols at his belt.
“I will answer for this gentleman,” said Mr. Trumbull; “he must be brought to speech of the laird.”
“That will be kittle steering,” said the subordinate personage; “for I understood that the laird and his folk were no sooner on the other side than the land-sharks were on them, and some mounted lobsters from Carlisle; and so they were obliged to split and squander. There are new brooms out to sweep the country of them, they say; for the brush was a hard one; and they say there was a lad drowned;—he was not one of the laird’s gang, so there was the less matter.”
“Peace! prithee, peace, Job Rutledge,” said honest, pacific Mr. Trumbull. “I wish thou couldst remember, man, that I desire to know nothing of your roars and splores, your brooms and brushes. I dwell here among my own people; and I sell my commodity to him who comes in the way of business; and so wash my hands of all consequences, as becomes a quiet subject and an honest man. I never take payment, save in ready money.”
“Aye, aye,” muttered he with the lantern, “your worship, Mr. Trumbull, understands that in the way of business.”
“Well, I hope you will one day know, Job,” answered Mr. Trumbull,—“the comfort of a conscience void of offence, and that fears neither gauger nor collector, neither excise nor customs. The business is to pass this gentleman to Cumberland upon earnest business, and to procure him speech with the Laird of the Solway Lakes—I suppose that can be done? Now I think Nanty Ewart, if he sails with the brig this morning tide, is the man to set him forward.”
“Aye, aye, truly is he,” said Job; “never man knew the Border, dale and fell, pasture and ploughland, better than Nanty; and he can always bring him to the laird, too, if you are sure the gentleman’s right. But indeed that’s his own look-out; for were he the best man in Scotland, and the chairman of the d—d Board to boot, and had fifty men at his back, he were as well not visit the laird for anything but good. As for Nanty, he is word and blow, a d—d deal fiercer than Cristie Nixon that they keep such a din about. I have seen them both tried, by——”
Fairford now found himself called upon to say something; yet his feelings, upon finding himself thus completely in the power of a canting hypocrite, and of his retainer, who had so much the air of a determined ruffian, joined to the strong and abominable fume which they snuffed up with indifference, while it almost deprived him of respiration, combined to render utterance difficult. He stated, however, that he had no evil intentions towards the laird, as they called him, but was only the bearer of a letter to him on particular business, from Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees.
“Aye, aye,” said Job, “that may be well enough; and if Mr. Trumbull is satisfied that the service is right, why, we will give you a cast in the Jumping Jenny this tide, and Nanty Ewart will put you on a way of finding the laird, I warrant you.”
“I may for the present return, I presume, to the inn where I left my horse?” said Fairford.
“With pardon,” replied Mr. Trumbull, “you have been ower far ben with us for that; but Job will take you to a place where you may sleep rough till he calls you. I will bring you what little baggage you can need—for those who go on such errands must not be dainty. I will myself see after your horse, for a merciful man is merciful to his beast—a matter too often forgotten in our way of business.”
“Why, Master Trumbull,” replied Job, “you know that when we are chased, it’s no time to shorten sail, and so the boys do ride whip and spur.” He stopped in his speech, observing the old man had vanished through the door by which he had entered—“That’s always the way with old Turnpenny,” he said to Fairford; “he cares for nothing of the trade but the profit—now, d—n me, if I don’t think the fun of it is better worth while. But come along, my fine chap; I must stow you away in safety until it is time to go aboard.”