Narrative of Alan Fairford, Continued
ALAN FAIRFORD’S spirit was more ready to encounter labour than his frame was adequate to support it. In spite of his exertions, when he awoke, after five or six hours’ slumber, he found that he was so much disabled by dizziness in his head and pains in his limbs, that he could not raise himself without assistance. He heard with some pleasure that they were now running right for the Wampool river, and that he would be put on shore in a very short time. The vessel accordingly lay to, and presently showed a weft in her ensign, which was hastily answered by signals from on shore. Men and horses were seen to come down the broken path which leads to the shore; the latter all properly tackled for carrying their loading. Twenty fishing barks were pushed afloat at once, and crowded round the brig with much clamour, laughter, cursing, and jesting. Amidst all this apparent confusion there was the essential regularity. Nanty Ewart again walked his quarter-deck as if he had never tasted spirits in his life, issued the necessary orders with precision, and saw them executed with punctuality. In half an hour the loading of the brig was in a great measure disposed in the boats; in a quarter of an hour more, it was landed on the beach, and another interval of about the same duration was sufficient to distribute it on the various strings of packhorses which waited for that purpose, and which instantly dispersed, each on its own proper adventure. More mystery was observed in loading the ship’s boat with a quantity of small barrels, which seemed to contain ammunition. This was not done until the commercial customers had been dismissed; and it was not until this was performed that Ewart proposed to Alan, as he lay stunned with pain and noise, to accompany him ashore.
It was with difficulty that Fairford could get over the side of the vessel, and he could not seat himself on the stern of the boat without assistance from the captain and his people. Nanty Ewart, who saw nothing in this worse than an ordinary fit of sea-sickness, applied the usual topics of consolation. He assured his passenger that he would be quite well by and by, when he had been half an hour on terra firma, and that he hoped to drink a can and smoke a pipe with him at Father Crackenthorp’s, for all that he felt a little out of the way for riding the wooden horse.
“Who is Father Crackenthorp?” said Fairford, though scarcely able to articulate the question.
“As honest a fellow as is of a thousand,” answered Nanty. “Ah, how much good brandy he and I have made little of in our day! By my soul, Mr. Fairbird, he is the prince of skinkers, and the father of the free trade—not a stingy hypocritical devil like old Turnpenny Skinflint, that drinks drunk on other folk’s cost, and thinks it sin when he has to pay for it—but a real hearty old cock;—the sharks have been at and about him this many a day, but Father Crackenthorp knows how to trim his sails—never a warrant but he hears of it before the ink’s dry. He is bonus socius with headborough and constable. The king’s exchequer could not bribe a man to inform against him. If any such rascal were to cast up, why, he would miss his ears next morning, or be sent to seek them in the Solway. He is a statesman,1 though he keeps a public; but, indeed, that is only for convenience and to excuse his having cellarage and folk about him; his wife’s a canny woman—and his daughter Doll too. Gad, you’ll be in port there till you get round again; and I’ll keep my word with you, and bring you to speech of the laird.
Gad, the only trouble I shall have is to get you out of the house; for Doll is a rare wench, and my dame a funny old one, and Father Crackenthorp the rarest companion! He’ll drink you a bottle of rum or brandy without starting, but never wet his lips with the nasty Scottish stuff that the canting old scoundrel Turnpenny has brought into fashion. He is a gentleman, every inch of him, old Crackenthorp; in his own way, that is; and besides, he has a share in the Jumping Jenny, and many a moonlight outfit besides. He can give Doll a pretty penny, if he likes the tight fellow that would turn in with her for life.”
In the midst of this prolonged panegyric on Father Crackenthorp, the boat touched the beach, the rowers backed their oars to keep her afloat, whilst the other fellows lumped into the surf, and, with the most rapid dexterity, began to hand the barrels ashore.
“Up with them higher on the beach, my hearties,” exclaimed Nanty Ewart—“High and dry—high and dry—this gear will not stand wetting. Now, out with our spare hand here—high and dry with him too. What’s that?—the galloping of horse! Oh, I hear the jingle of the packsaddles—they are our own folk.”
By this time all the boat’s load was ashore, consisting of the little barrels; and the boat’s crew, standing to their arms, ranged themselves in front, waiting the advance of the horses which came clattering along the beach. A man, overgrown with corpulence, who might be distinguished in the moonlight panting with his own exertions, appeared at the head of the cavalcade, which consisted of horses linked together, and accommodated with packsaddles, and chains for securing the kegs which made a dreadful clattering.
“How now, Father Crackenthorp?” said Ewart—“Why this hurry with your horses? We mean to stay a night with you, and taste your old brandy, and my dame’s homebrewed. The signal is up, man, and all is right.”
“All is wrong, Captain Nanty,” cried the man to whom he spoke; “and you are the lad that is like to find it so, unless you bundle off—there are new brooms bought at Carlisle yesterday to sweep the country of you and the like of you—so you were better be jogging inland.
“How many rogues are the officers? If not more than ten, I will make fight.”
“The devil you will!” answered Crackenthorp. “You were better not, for they have the bloody-backed dragoons from Carlisle with them.”
“Nay, then,” said Nanty, “we must make sail. Come, Master Fairlord, you must mount and ride. He does not hear me—he has fainted, I believe—What the devil shall I do? Father Crackenthorp, I must leave this young fellow with you till the gale blows out—hark ye—goes between the laird and the t’other old one; he can neither ride nor walk—I must send him up to you.”
“Send him up to the gallows!” said Crackenthorp; “there is Quartermaster Thwacker, with twenty men, up yonder; an he had not some kindness for Doll, I had never got hither for a start—but you must get off, or they will be here to seek us, for his orders are woundy particular; and these kegs contain worse than whisky—a hanging matter, I take it.”
“I wish they were at the bottom of Wampool river, with them they belong to,” said Nanty Ewart. “But they are part of cargo; and what to do with the poor young fellow—”
“Why, many a better fellow has roughed it on the grass with a cloak o’er him,” said Crackenthorp. “If he hath a fever, nothing is so cooling as the night air.”
“Yes, he would be cold enough in the morning, no doubt; but it’s a kind heart and shall not cool so soon if I can help it,” answered the captain of the Jumping Jenny.
“Well, captain, an ye will risk your own neck for another man’s, why not take him to the old girls at Fairladies?”
“What, the Miss Arthurets! The Papist jades! But never mind; it will do—I have known them take in a whole sloop’s crew that were stranded on the sands.”
“You may run some risk, though, by turning up to Fairladies; for I tell you they are all up through the country.”
“Never mind—I may chance to put some of them down again,” said Nanty, cheerfully. “Come, lads, bustle to your tackle. Are you all loaded?”
“Aye, aye, captain; we will be ready in a jiffy,” answered the gang.
“D—n your captains! Have you a mind to have me hanged if I am taken? All’s hail-fellow, here.”
“A sup at parting,” said Father Crackenthorp, extending a flask to Nanty Ewart.
“Not the twentieth part of a drop,” said Nanty. “No Dutch courage for me—my heart is always high enough when there’s a chance of fighting; besides, if I live drunk, I should like to die sober. Here, old Jephson—you are the best-natured brute amongst them—get the lad between us on a quiet horse, and we will keep him upright, I warrant.”
As they raised Fairford from the ground, he groaned heavily, and asked faintly where they were taking him to.
“To a place where you will be as snug and quiet as a mouse in his hole,” said Nanty, “if so be that we can get you there safely. Good-bye, Father Crackenthorp—poison the quartermaster, if you can.”
The loaded horses then sprang forward at a hard trot, following each other in a line, and every second horse being mounted by a stout fellow in a smock frock, which served to conceal the arms with which most of these desperate men were provided. Ewart followed in the rear of the line, and, with the occasional assistance of old Jephson, kept his young charge erect in the saddle. He groaned heavily from time to time; and Ewart, more moved with compassion for his situation than might have been expected from his own habits, endeavoured to amuse him and comfort him, by some account of the place to which they were conveying him—his words of consolation being, however, frequently interrupted by the necessity of calling to his people, and many of them being lost amongst the rattling of the barrels, and clinking of the tackle and small chains by which they are secured on such occasions.
“And you see, brother, you will be in safe quarters at Fairladies—good old scrambling house—good old maids enough, if they were not Papists,—Hollo, you Jack Lowther; keep the line, can’t ye, and shut your rattle-trap, you broth of a——? And so, being of a good family, and having enough, the old lasses have turned a kind of saints, and nuns, and so forth. The place they live in was some sort of nun-shop long ago, as they have them still in Flanders; so folk call them the Vestals of Fairladies—that may be, or may not be; and I care not whether it be or no.—Blinkinsop, hold your tongue, and be d—d!—And so, betwixt great alms and good dinners, they are well thought of by rich and poor, and their trucking with Papists is looked over. There are plenty of priests, and stout young scholars, and such-like, about the house it’s a hive of them. More shame that government send dragoons out after-a few honest fellows that bring the old women of England a drop of brandy, and let these ragamuffins smuggle in as much papistry and—Hark!—was that a whistle? No, it’s only a plover. You, Jem Collier, keep a look-out ahead—we’ll meet them at the High Whins, or Brotthole bottom, or nowhere. Go a furlong ahead, I say, and look sharp.—These Misses Arthurets feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and such-like acts—which my poor father used to say were filthy rags, but he dressed himself out with as many of them as most folk.—D—n that stumbling horse! Father Crackenthorp should be d—d himself for putting an honest fellow’s neck in such jeopardy.”
Thus, and with much more to the same purpose, Nanty ran on, increasing, by his well-intended annoyance, the agony of Alan Fairford, who, tormented by a racking pain along the back and loins, which made the rough trot of the horse torture to him, had his aching head still further rended and split by the hoarse voice of the sailor, close to his ear. Perfectly passive, however, he did not even essay to give any answer; and indeed his own bodily distress was now so great and engrossing, that to think of his situation was impossible, even if he could have mended it by doing so.
Their course was inland; but in what direction, Alan had no means of ascertaining. They passed at first over heaths and sandy downs; they crossed more than one brook, or beck, as they are called in that country—some of them of considerable depth—and at length reached a cultivated country, divided, according to the English fashion of agriculture, into very small fields or closes, by high banks, overgrown with underwood, and surmounted by hedge-row trees, amongst which winded a number of impracticable and complicated lanes, where the boughs projecting from the embankments on each side, intercepted the light of the moon, and endangered the safety of the horsemen. But through this labyrinth the experience of the guides conducted them without a blunder, and without even the slackening of their pace. In many places, however, it was impossible for three men to ride abreast; and therefore the burden of supporting Alan Fairford fell alternately to old Jephson and to Nanty; and it was with much difficulty that they could keep him upright in his saddle.
At length, when his powers of sufferance were quite worn out, and he was about to implore them to leave him to his fate in the first cottage or shed—or under a haystack or a hedge—or anywhere, so he was left at ease, Collier, who rode ahead, passed back the word that they were at the avenue to Fairladies—“Was he to turn up?”
Committing the charge of Fairford to Jephson, Nanty dashed up to the head of the troop, and gave his orders.—“Who knows the house best?”
“Sam Skelton’s a Catholic,” said Lowther.
“A d—d bad religion,” said Nanty, of whose Presbyterian education a hatred of Popery seemed to be the only remnant. “But I am glad there is one amongst us, anyhow. You, Sam, being a Papist, know Fairladies and the old maidens I dare say; so do you fall out of the line, and wait here with me; and do you, Collier, carry on to Walinford bottom, then turn down the beck till you come to the old mill, and Goodman Grist the Miller, or old Peel-the-Causeway, will tell you where to stow; but I will be up with you before that.”
The string of loaded horses then struck forward at their former pace, while Nanty, with Sam Skelton, waited by the roadside till the rear came up, when Jephson and Fairford joined them, and, to the great relief of the latter, they began to proceed at an easier pace than formerly, suffering the gang to precede them, till the clatter and clang attending their progress began to die away in the distance. They had not proceeded a pistol-shot from the place where they parted, when a short turning brought them in front of an old mouldering gateway, whose heavy pinnacles were decorated in the style of the seventeenth century, with clumsy architectural ornaments; several of which had fallen down from decay, and lay scattered about, no further care having been taken than just to remove them out of the direct approach to the avenue. The great stone pillars, glimmering white in the moonlight, had some fanciful resemblance to supernatural apparitions, and the air of neglect all around, gave an uncomfortable idea of the habitation to those who passed its avenue.
“There used to be no gate here,” said Skelton, finding their way unexpectedly stopped.
“But there is a gate now, and a porter too,” said a rough voice from within. “Who be you, and what do you want at this time of night?”
“We want to come to speech of the ladies—of the Misses Arthuret,” said Nanty; “and to ask lodging for a sick man.”
“There is no speech to be had of the Miss Arthurets at this time of night, and you may carry your sick man to the doctor,” answered the fellow from within, gruffly; “for as sure as there is savour in salt, and scent in rosemary, you will get no entrance—put your pipes up and be jogging on.”
“Why, Dick Gardener,” said Skelton, “be thou then turned porter?”
“What, do you know who I am?” said the domestic sharply.
“I know you, by your by-word,” answered the other; “What, have you forgot little Sam Skelton, and the brock in the barrel?”
“No, I have not forgotten you,” answered the acquaintance of Sam Skelton; “but my orders are peremptory to let no one up the avenue this night, and therefore——”
“But we are armed, and will not be kept back,” said Nanty. “Hark ye, fellow, were it not better for you to take a guinea and let us in, than to have us break the door first, and thy pate afterwards? for I won’t see my comrade die at your door be assured of that.”
“Why, I dunna know,” said the fellow; “but what cattle were those that rode by in such hurry?”
“Why, some of our folk from Bowness, Stoniecultrum, and thereby,” answered Skelton; “Jack Lowther, and old Jephson, and broad Will Lamplugh, and such like.”
“Well,” said Dick Gardener, “as sure as there is savour in salt, and scent in rosemary, I thought it had been the troopers from Carlisle and Wigton, and the sound brought my heart to my mouth.”
“Had thought thou wouldst have known the clatter of a cask from the clash of a broadsword, as well as e’er a quaffer in Cumberland,” said Skelton.
“Come, brother, less of your jaw and more of your legs, if you please,” said Nanty; “every moment we stay is a moment lost. Go to the ladies, and tell them that Nanty Ewart, of the Jumping Jenny, has brought a young gentleman, charged with letters from Scotland to a certain gentleman of consequence in Cumberland—that the soldiers are out, and the gentleman is very ill and if he is not received at Fairladies he must be left either to die at the gate, or to be taken, with all his papers about him, by the redcoats.”
Away ran Dick Gardener with this message; and, in a few minutes, lights were seen to flit about, which convinced Fairford, who was now, in consequence of the halt, a little restored to self-possession, that they were traversing the front of a tolerably large mansion-house.
“What if thy friend, Dick Gardener, comes not back again?” said Jephson to Skelton.
“Why, then,” said the person addressed, “I shall owe him just such a licking as thou, old Jephson, had from Dan Cooke, and will pay as duly and truly as he did.”
The old man was about to make an angry reply, when his doubts were silenced by the return of Dick Gardener, who announced that Miss Arthuret was coming herself as far as the gateway to speak with them.
Nanty Ewart cursed in a low tone the suspicions of old maids and the churlish scruples of Catholics, that made so many obstacles to helping a fellow creature, and wished Miss Arthuret a hearty rheumatism or toothache as the reward of her excursion; but the lady presently appeared, to cut short further grumbling. She was attended by a waiting-maid with a lantern, by means of which she examined the party on the outside, as closely as the imperfect light, and the spars of the newly-erected gate, would permit.
“I am sorry we have disturbed you so late, Madam Arthuret,” said Nanty; “but the case is this——”
“Holy Virgin,” said she, “why do you speak so loud? Pray, are you not the captain of the Sainte Genevieve?”
“Why, aye, ma’am,” answered Ewart, “they call the brig so at Dunkirk, sure enough; but along shore here, they call her the Jumping Jenny.”
“You brought over the holy Father Buonaventure, did you not?”
“Aye, aye, madam, I have brought over enough of them black cattle,” answered Nanty.
“Fie! fie! friend,” said Miss Arthuret; “it is a pity that the saints should commit these good men to a heretic’s care.”
“Why, no more they would, ma’am,” answered Nanty, “could they find a Papist lubber that knew the coast as I do; then I am trusty as steel to owners, and always look after cargo—live lumber, or dead flesh, or spirits, all is one to me; and your Catholics have such d—d large hoods, with pardon, ma’am, that they can sometimes hide two faces under them. But here is a gentleman dying, with letters about him from the Laird of Summertrees to the Laird of the Lochs, as they call him, along Solway, and every minute he lies here is a nail in his coffin.”
“Saint Mary! what shall we do?” said Miss Arthuret; “we must admit him, I think, at all risks. You, Richard Gardener, help one of these men to carry the gentleman up to the Place; and you, Selby, see him lodged at the end of the long gallery. You are a heretic, captain, but I think you are trusty, and I know you have been trusted—but if you are imposing on me——”
“Not I, madam—never attempt to impose on ladies of your experience—my practice that way has been all among the young ones. Come, cheerly, Mr. Fairford—you will be taken good care of—try to walk.”
Alan did so; and, refreshed by his halt, declared himself able to walk to the house with the sole assistance of the gardener.
“Why, that’s hearty. Thank thee, Dick, for lending him thine arm——” and Nanty slipped into his hand the guinea he had promised.—“Farewell, then, Mr. Fairford, and farewell, Madam Arthuret, for I have been too long here.”
So saying, he and his two companions threw themselves on horseback, and went off at a gallop. Yet, even above the clatter of their hoofs did the incorrigible Nanty hollo out the old ballad—
A lovely lass to a friar came,
“Holy Virgin!” exclaimed Miss Seraphina, as the unhallowed sounds reached her ears; “what profane heathens be these men, and what frights and pinches we be put to among them! The saints be good to us, what a night has this been!—the like never seen at Fairladies. Help me to make fast the gate, Richard, and thou shalt come down again to wait on it, lest there come more unwelcome visitors—Not that you are unwelcome, young gentleman, for it is sufficient that you need such assistance as we can give you, to make you welcome to Fairladies—only, another time would have done as well—but, hem! I dare say it is all for the best. The avenue is none of the smoothest, sir, look to your feet. Richard Gardener should have had it mown and levelled, but he was obliged to go on a pilgrimage to Saint Winifred’s Well, in Wales.” (Here Dick gave a short dry cough, which, as if he had found it betrayed some internal feeling a little at variance with what the lady said, he converted into a muttered Sancta Winifreda, ora pro nobis. Miss Arthuret, meantime, proceeded) “We never interfere with our servants’ vows or penances, Master Fairford—I know a very worthy father of your name, perhaps a relation—I say, we never interfere with our servants vows. Our Lady forbid they should not know some difference between our service and a heretic’s.—Take care, sir, you will fall if you have not a care. Alas! by night and day there are many stumbling-blocks in our paths!”
With more talk to the same purpose, all of which tended to show a charitable and somewhat silly woman with a strong inclination to her superstitious devotion, Miss Arthuret entertained her new guest, as, stumbling at every obstacle which the devotion of his guide, Richard, had left in the path, he at last, by ascending some stone steps decorated on the side with griffins, or some such heraldic anomalies, attained a terrace extending in front of the Place of Fairladies; an old-fashioned gentleman’s house of some consequence, with its range of notched gable-ends and narrow windows, relieved by here and there an old turret about the size of a pepper-box. The door was locked during the brief absence of the mistress; a dim light glimmered through the sashed door of the hall, which opened beneath a huge stone porch, loaded with jessamine and other creepers. All the windows were dark as pitch.
Miss Arthuret tapped at the door. “Sister, sister Angelica.”
“Who is there?” was answered from within; “is it you, sister Seraphina?”
“Yes, yes, undo the door; do you not know my voice?”
“No doubt, sister,” said Angelica, undoing bolt and bar; “but you know our charge, and the enemy is watchful to surprise us—incedit sicut leo vorans, saith the breviary. Whom have you brought here? Oh, sister, what have you done?”
“It is a young man,” said Seraphina, hastening to interrupt her sister’s remonstrance, “a relation, I believe, of our worthy Father Fairford; left at the gate by the captain of that blessed vessel the Sainte Genevieve—almost dead—and charged with dispatches to ——”
She lowered her voice as she mumbled over the last words.
“Nay, then, there is no help,” said Angelica; “but it is unlucky.”
During this dialogue between the vestals of Fairladies, Dick Gardener deposited his burden in a chair, where the young lady, after a moment of hesitation, expressing a becoming reluctance to touch the hand of a stranger, put her finger and thumb upon Fairford’s wrist, and counted his pulse.
“There is fever here, sister,” she said; “Richard must call Ambrose, and we must send some of the febrifuge.”
Ambrose arrived presently, a plausible and respectable-looking old servant, bred in the family, and who had risen from rank to rank in the Arthuret service till he was become half-physician, half-almoner, half-butler, and entire governor; that is, when the Father Confessor, who frequently eased him of the toils of government, chanced to be abroad. Under the direction, and with the assistance of this venerable personage, the unlucky Alan Fairford was conveyed to a decent apartment at the end of a long gallery, and, to his inexpressible relief, consigned to a comfortable bed. He did not attempt to resist the prescription of Mr. Ambrose, who not only presented him with the proposed draught, but proceeded so far as to take a considerable quantity of blood from him, by which last operation he probably did his patient much service.