Volume III

Chapter VI

Narrative of Darsie Latimer, Continued

Walter Scott

LEFT to his solitary meditations, Darsie (for we will still term Sir Arthur Darsie Redgauntlet of that Ilk by the name to which the reader is habituated) was surprised not only at the alteration of his own state and condition, but at the equanimity with which he felt himself disposed to view all these vicissitudes.

His fever-fit of love had departed like a morning’s dream, and left nothing behind but a painful sense of shame, and a resolution to be more cautious ere he again indulged in such romantic visions. His station in society was changed from that of a wandering, unowned youth, in whom none appeared to take an interest excepting the strangers by whom he had been educated, to the heir of a noble house, possessed of such influence and such property, that it seemed as if the progress or arrest of important political events were likely to depend upon his resolution. Even this sudden elevation, the more than fulfilment of those wishes which had haunted him ever since he was able to form a wish on the subject, was contemplated by Darsie, volatile as his disposition was, without more than a few thrills of gratified vanity.

It is true, there were circumstances in his present situation to counterbalance such high advantages. To be a prisoner in the hands of a man so determined as his uncle, was no agreeable consideration, when he was calculating how he might best dispute his pleasure and refuse to join him in the perilous enterprise which he seemed to meditate. Outlawed and desperate himself, Darsie could not doubt that his uncle was surrounded by men capable of anything—that he was restrained by no personal considerations—and therefore what degree of compulsion he might apply to his brother’s son, or in what manner he might feel at liberty to punish his contumacy, should he disavow the Jacobite cause, must depend entirely upon the limits of his own conscience; and who was to answer for the conscience of a heated enthusiast who considers opposition to the party he has espoused, as treason to the welfare of his country? After a short interval, Cristal Nixon was pleased to throw some light upon the subject which agitated him.

When that grim satellite rode up without ceremony close to Darsie’s side, the latter felt his very flesh creep with abhorrence, so little was he able to endure his presence, since the story of Lilias had added to his instinctive hatred of the man.

His voice, too, sounded like that of a screech-owl, as he said, “So, my young cock of the north, you now know it all, and no doubt are blessing your uncle for stirring you up to such an honourable action.”

“I will acquaint my uncle with my sentiments on the subject, before I make them known to any one else,” said Darsie, scarcely prevailing on his tongue to utter even these few words in a civil manner.

“Umph,” murmured Cristal betwixt his teeth. “Close as wax, I see; and perhaps not quite so pliable. But take care, my pretty youth,” he added, scornfully; “Hugh Redgauntlet will prove a rough colt-breaker—he will neither spare whipcord nor spur-rowel, I promise you.”

“I have already said, Mr. Nixon, answered Darsie, “that I will canvass those matters of which my sister has informed me, with my uncle himself, and with no other person.”

“Nay, but a word of friendly advice would do you no harm, young master,” replied Nixon. “Old Redgauntlet is apter at a blow than a word—likely to bite before he barks—the true man for giving Scarborough warning, first knock you down, then bid you stand. So, methinks, a little kind warning as to consequences were not amiss, lest they come upon you unawares.”

“If the warning is really kind, Mr. Nixon,” said the young man, “I will hear it thankfully; and indeed, if otherwise, I must listen to it whether I will or no, since I have at present no choice of company or of conversation.”

“Nay, I have but little to say,” said Nixon, affecting to give to his sullen and dogged manner the appearance of an honest bluntness; “I am as little apt to throw away words as any one. But here is the question—Will you join heart and hand with your uncle, or no?”

“What if I should say Aye?” said Darsie, determined, if possible, to conceal his resolution from this man.

“Why, then,” said Nixon, somewhat surprised at the readiness of his answer, “all will go smooth, of course—you will take share in this noble undertaking, and, when it succeeds, you will exchange your open helmet for an earl’s coronet perhaps.”

“And how if it fails?” said Darsie.

“Thereafter as it may be,” said Nixon; “they who play at bowls must meet with rubbers.”

“Well, but suppose, then, I have some foolish tenderness for my windpipe, and that when my uncle proposes the adventure to me I should say No—how then, Mr. Nixon?”

“Why, then, I would have you look to yourself, young master. There are sharp laws in France against refractory pupils—lettres de cachet are easily come by when such men as we are concerned with interest themselves in the matter.”

“But we are not in France,” said poor Darsie, through whose blood ran a cold shivering at the idea of a French prison.

“A fast-sailing lugger will soon bring you there though, snug stowed under hatches, like a cask of moonlight.”

“But the French are at peace with us,” said Darsie, “and would not dare——”

“Why, who would ever hear of you?” interrupted Nixon; “do you imagine that a foreign court would call you up for judgement, and put the sentence of imprisonment in the Courrier de l’Europe, as they do at the Old Bailey? No, no, young gentleman—the gates of the Bastille, and of Mont Saint Michel, and the Castle of Vincennes, move on d—d easy hinges when they let folk in—not the least jar is heard. There are cool cells there for hot heads—as calm, and quiet, and dark, as you could wish in Bedlam—and the dismissal comes when the carpenter brings the prisoner’s coffin, and not sooner.”

“Well, Mr. Nixon,” said Darsie, affecting a cheerfulness which he was far from feeling, “mine is a hard case—a sort of hanging choice, you will allow—since I must either offend our own government here and run the risk of my life for doing so, or be doomed to the dungeons of another country, whose laws I have never offended since I have never trod its soil—Tell me what you would do if you were in my place.

“I’ll tell you that when I am there,” said Nixon, and, checking his horse, fell back to the rear of the little party.

“It is evident,” thought the young man, “that the villain believes me completely noosed, and perhaps has the ineffable impudence to suppose that my sister must eventually succeed to the possessions which have occasioned my loss of freedom, and that his own influence over the destinies of our unhappy family may secure him possession of the heiress; but he shall perish by my hand first!—I must now be on the alert to make my escape, if possible, before I am forced on shipboard. Blind Willie will not, I think, desert me without an effort on my behalf, especially if he has learned that I am the son of his late unhappy patron. What a change is mine! Whilst I possessed neither rank nor fortune, I lived safely and unknown, under the protection of the kind and respectable friends whose hearts Heaven had moved towards me. Now that I am the head of an honourable house, and that enterprises of the most daring character await my decision, and retainers and vassals seem ready to rise at my beck, my safety consists chiefly in the attachment of a blind stroller!”

While he was revolving these things in his mind, and preparing himself for the interview with his uncle which could not but be a stormy one, he saw Hugh Redgauntlet come riding slowly back to meet them without any attendants. Cristal Nixon rode up as he approached, and, as they met, fixed on him a look of inquiry.

“The fool, Crackenthorp,” said Redgauntlet, “has let strangers into his house. Some of his smuggling comrades, I believe; we must ride slowly to give him time to send them packing.”

“Did you see any of your friends?” said Cristal.

“Three, and have letters from many more. They are unanimous on the subject you wot of—and the point must be conceded to them, or, far as the matter has gone, it will go no further.”

“You will hardly bring the father to stoop to his flock,” said Cristal, with a sneer.

“He must and shall!” answered Redgauntlet, briefly. “Go to the front, Cristal—I would speak with my nephew. I trust, Sir Arthur Redgauntlet, you are satisfied with the manner in which I have discharged my duty to your sister?”

“There can be no fault found to her manners or sentiments,” answered Darsie; “I am happy in knowing a relative so amiable.”

“I am glad of it,” answered Mr. Redgauntlet. “I am no nice judge of women’s qualifications, and my life has been dedicated to one great object; so that since she left France she has had but little opportunity of improvement. I have subjected her, however, as little as possible to the inconveniences and privations of my wandering and dangerous life. From time to time she has resided for weeks and months with families of honour and respectability, and I am glad that she has, in, your opinion, the manners and behaviour which become her birth.”

Darsie expressed himself perfectly satisfied, and there was a little pause, which Redgauntlet broke by solemnly addressing his nephew.

“For you, my nephew, I also hoped to have done much. The weakness and timidity of your mother sequestered you from my care, or it would have been my pride and happiness to have trained up the son of my unhappy brother in those paths of honour in which our ancestors have always trod.”

“Now comes the storm,” thought Darsie to himself, and began to collect his thoughts, as the cautious master of a vessel furls his sails and makes his ship snug when he discerns the approaching squall.

“My mother’s conduct in respect to me might be misjudged,” he said, “but it was founded on the most anxious affection.”

“Assuredly,” said his uncle, “and I have no wish to reflect on her memory, though her mistrust has done so much injury, I will not say to me, but to the cause of my unhappy country. Her scheme was, I think, to have made you that wretched pettifogging being, which they still continue to call in derision by the once respectable name of a Scottish Advocate; one of those mongrel things that must creep to learn the ultimate decision of his causes to the bar of a foreign court, instead of pleading before the independent and august Parliament of his own native kingdom.”

“I did prosecute the study of law for a year or two, said Darsie, “but I found I had neither taste nor talents for the science.”

“And left it with scorn, doubtless,” said Mr. Redgauntlet. “Well, I now hold up to you, my dearest nephew, a more worthy object of ambition. Look eastward—do you see a monument standing on yonder plain, near a hamlet?”

Darsie replied that he did,

“The hamlet is called Burgh-upon-Sands, and yonder monument is erected to the memory of the tyrant Edward I. The just hand of Providence overtook him on that spot, as he was leading his bands to complete the subjugation of Scotland whose civil dissensions began under his accursed policy. The glorious career of Bruce might have been stopped in its outset; the field of Bannockburn might have remained a bloodless turf, if God had not removed, in the very crisis, the crafty and bold tyrant who had so long been Scotland’s scourge. Edward’s grave is the cradle of our national freedom. It is within sight of that great landmark of our liberty that I have to propose to you an undertaking, second in honour and importance to none since the immortal Bruce stabbed the Red Comyn, and grasped with his yet bloody hand the independent crown of Scotland.”

He paused for an answer; but Darsie, overawed by the energy of his manner, and unwilling to commit himself by a hasty explanation, remained silent.

“I will not suppose,” said Hugh Redgauntlet, after a pause, “that you are either so dull as not to comprehend the import of my words—or so dastardly as to be dismayed by my proposal—or so utterly degenerate from the blood and sentiments of your ancestors, as not to feel my summons as the horse hears the war-trumpet.”

“I will not pretend to misunderstand you, sir,” said Darsie; “but an enterprise directed against a dynasty now established for three reigns requires strong arguments, both in point of justice and of expediency, to recommend it to men of conscience and prudence.”

“I will not,” said Redgauntlet, while his eyes sparkled with anger,—“I will not hear you speak a word against the justice of that enterprise, for which your oppressed country calls with the voice of a parent, entreating her children for aid—or against that noble revenge which your father’s blood demands from his dishonoured grave. His skull is yet standing over the Rikargate,1 and even its bleak and mouldered jaws command you to be a man. I ask you, in the name of God and of your country, will you draw your sword and go with me to Carlisle, were it but to lay your father’s head, now the perch of the obscene owl and carrion crow and the scoff of every ribald clown, in consecrated earth as befits his long ancestry?”

Darsie, unprepared to answer an appeal urged with so much passion, and not doubting a direct refusal would cost him his liberty or life, was again silent.

“I see,” said his uncle, in a more composed tone, “that it is not deficiency of spirit, but the grovelling habits of a confined education, among the poor-spirited class you were condemned to herd with, that keeps you silent. You scarce yet believe yourself a Redgauntlet; your pulse has not yet learned the genuine throb that answers to the summons of honour and of patriotism.”

“I trust,” replied Darsie, at last, “that I shall never be found indifferent to the call of either; but to answer them with effect—even were I convinced that they now sounded in my ear—I must see some reasonable hope of success in the desperate enterprise in which you would involve me. I look around me, and I see a settled government—an established authority—a born Briton on the throne—the very Highland mountaineers, upon whom alone the trust of the exiled family reposed, assembled into regiments which act under the orders of the existing dynasty.2 France has been utterly dismayed by the tremendous lessons of the last war, and will hardly provoke another. All without and within the kingdom is adverse to encountering a hopeless struggle, and you alone, sir, seem willing to undertake a desperate enterprise.”

“And would undertake it were it ten times more desperate; and have agitated it when ten times the obstacles were interposed. Have I forgot my brother’s blood? Can I—dare I even now repeat the Pater Noster, since my enemies and the murderers remain unforgiven? Is there an art I have not practised—a privation to which I have not submitted, to bring on the crisis, which I now behold arrived? Have I not been a vowed and a devoted man, forgoing every comfort of social life, renouncing even the exercise of devotion unless when I might name in prayer my prince and country, submitting to everything to make converts to this noble cause? Have I done all this, and shall I now stop short?” Darsie was about to interrupt him, but he pressed his hand affectionately upon his shoulder, and enjoining, or rather imploring, silence, “Peace,” he said, “heir of my ancestors’ fame—heir of all my hopes and wishes. Peace, son of my slaughtered brother! I have sought for thee, and mourned for thee, as a mother for an only child. Do not let me again lose you in the moment when you are restored to my hopes. Believe me, I distrust so much my own impatient temper, that I entreat you, as the dearest boon, do naught to awaken it at this crisis.”

Darsie was not sorry to reply that his respect for the person of his relation would induce him to listen to all which he had to apprise him of, before he formed any definite resolution upon the weighty subjects of deliberation which he proposed to him.

“Deliberation!” repeated Redgauntlet, impatiently; “and yet it is not ill said. I wish there had been more warmth in thy reply, Arthur; but I must recollect, were an eagle bred in a falcon’s mew and hooded like a reclaimed hawk, he could not at first gaze steadily on the sun. Listen to me, my dearest Arthur. The state of this nation no more implies prosperity, than the florid colour of a feverish patient is a symptom of health. All is false and hollow. The apparent success of Chatham’s administration has plunged the country deeper in debt than all the barren acres of Canada are worth, were they as fertile as Yorkshire—the dazzling lustre of the victories of Minden and Quebec have been dimmed by the disgrace of the hasty peace—by the war, England, at immense expense, gained nothing but honour, and that she has gratuitously resigned. Many eyes, formerly cold and indifferent, are now looking towards the line of our ancient and rightful monarchs, as the only refuge in the approaching storm—the rich are alarmed—the nobles are disgusted—the populace are inflamed—and a band of patriots, whose measures are more safe than their numbers are few, have resolved to set up King Charles’s standard.”

“But the military,” said Darsie—“how can you, with a body of unarmed and disorderly insurgents, propose to encounter a regular army. The Highlanders are now totally disarmed.”

“In a great measure, perhaps,” answered Redgauntlet; “but the policy which raised the Highland regiments has provided for that. We have already friends in these corps; nor can we doubt for a moment what their conduct will be when the white cockade is once more mounted. The rest of the standing army has been greatly reduced since the peace; and we reckon confidently on our standard being joined by thousands of the disbanded troops.”

“Alas!” said Darsie, “and is it upon such vague hopes as these, the inconstant humour of a crowd or of a disbanded soldiery, that men of honour are invited to risk their families, their property, their life?”

“Men of honour, boy,” said Redgauntlet, his eyes glancing with impatience, “set life, property, family, and all at stake, when that honour commands it! We are not now weaker than when seven men, landing in the wilds of Moidart, shook the throne of the usurper till it tottered—won two pitched fields, besides overrunning one kingdom and the half of another, and, but for treachery, would have achieved what their venturous successors are now to attempt in their turn.”

“And will such an attempt be made in serious earnest?” said Darsie. “Excuse me, my uncle, if I can scarce believe a fact so extraordinary. Will there really be found men of rank and consequence sufficient to renew the adventure of 1745?”

“I will not give you my confidence by halves, Sir Arthur,” replied his uncle—“Look at that scroll—what say you to these names?—Are they not the flower of the western shires—of Wales of Scotland?”

“The paper contains indeed the names of many that are great and noble,” replied Darsie, after perusing it; “but——”

“But what?” asked his uncle, impatiently; “do you doubt the ability of those nobles and gentlemen to furnish the aid in men and money at which they are rated?”

“Not their ability certainly,” said Darsie, “for of that I am no competent judge; but I see in this scroll the name of Sir Arthur Darsie Redgauntlet of that Ilk, rated at a hundred men and upwards—I certainly am ignorant how he is to redeem that pledge.”

“I will be responsible for the men,” replied Hugh Redgauntlet.

“But, my dear uncle,” added Darsie, “I hope for your sake that the other individuals whose names are here written, have had more acquaintance with your plan than I have been indulged with.”

“For thee and thine I can be myself responsible,” said Redgauntlet; “for if thou hast not the courage to head the force of thy house, the leading shall pass to other hands, and thy inheritance shall depart from thee like vigour and verdure from a rotten branch. For these honourable persons, a slight condition there is which they annex to their friendship—something so trifling that it is scarce worthy of mention. This boon granted to them by him who is most interested, there is no question they will take the field in the manner there stated.”

Again Darsie perused the paper, and felt himself still less inclined to believe that so many men of family and fortune were likely to embark in an enterprise so fatal. It seemed as if some rash plotter had put down at a venture the names of all whom common report tainted with Jacobitism; or if it was really the act of the individuals named, he suspected that they must be aware of some mode of excusing themselves from compliance with its purport. It was impossible, he thought, that Englishmen, of large fortune, who had failed to join Charles when he broke into England at the head of a victorious army, should have the least thoughts of encouraging a descent when circumstances were so much less propitious. He therefore concluded the enterprise would fall to pieces of itself, and that his best way was, in the meantime, to remain silent, unless the actual approach of a crisis (which might, however, never arrive) should compel him to give a downright refusal to his uncle’s proposition; and if, in the interim, some door for escape should be opened, he resolved within himself not to omit availing himself of it.

Hugh Redgauntlet watched his nephew’s looks for some time, and then, as if arriving from some other process of reasoning at the same conclusion, he said, “I have told you, Sir Arthur, that I do not urge your immediate accession to my proposal; indeed the consequences of a refusal would be so dreadful to yourself, so destructive to all the hopes which I have nursed, that I would not risk, by a moment’s impatience, the object of my whole life. Yes, Arthur, I have been a self-denying hermit at one time—at another, the apparent associate of outlaws and desperadoes—at another, the subordinate agent of men whom I felt in every way my inferiors—not for any selfish purpose of my own, no, not even to win for myself the renown of being the principal instrument in restoring my king and freeing my country. My first wish on earth is for that restoration and that freedom—my next, that my nephew, the representative of my house and of the brother of my love, may have the advantage and the credit of all my efforts in the good cause. But,” he added, darting on Darsie one of his withering frowns, “if Scotland and my father’s house cannot stand and flourish together, then perish the very name of Redgauntlet! perish the son of my brother, with every recollection of the glories of my family, of the affections of my youth, rather than my country’s cause should be injured in the tithing of a barley-corn! The spirit of Sir Alberick is alive within me at this moment,” he continued, drawing up his stately form and sitting erect in his saddle, while he pressed his finger against his forehead; “and if you yourself crossed my path in opposition, I swear, by the mark that darkens my brow, that a new deed should be done—a new doom should be deserved!”

He was silent, and his threats were uttered in a tone of voice so deeply resolute, that Darsie’s heart sank within him, when he reflected on the storm of passion which he must encounter, if he declined to join his uncle in a project to which prudence and principle made him equally adverse. He had scarce any hope left but in temporizing until he could make his escape, and resolved to avail himself for that purpose of the delay which his uncle seemed not unwilling to grant. The stern, gloomy look of his companion became relaxed by degrees, and presently afterwards he made a sign to Miss Redgauntlet to join the party, and began a forced conversation on ordinary topics; in the course of which Darsie observed that his sister seemed to speak under the most cautious restraint, weighing every word before she uttered it, and always permitting her uncle to give the tone to the conversation, though of the most trifling kind. This seemed to him (such an opinion had he already entertained of his sister’s good sense and firmness) the strongest proof he had yet received of his uncle’s peremptory character, since he saw it observed with so much deference by a young person whose sex might have given her privileges, and who seemed by no means deficient either in spirit or firmness.

The little cavalcade was now approaching the house of Father Crackenthorp, situated, as the reader knows, by the side of the Solway, and not far distant front a rude pier, near which lay several fishing-boats, which frequently acted in a different capacity. The house of the worthy publican was also adapted to the various occupations which he carried on, being a large scrambling assemblage of cottages attached to a house of two stories, roofed with flags of sandstone—the original mansion, to which the extensions of Mr. Crackenthorp’s trade had occasioned his making many additions. Instead of the single long watering-trough which usually distinguishes the front of the English public-house of the second class, there were three conveniences of that kind, for the use, as the landlord used to say, of the troop-horses when the soldiers came to search his house; while a knowing leer and a nod let you understand what species of troops he was thinking of. A huge ash-tree before the door, which had reared itself to a great size and height, in spite of the blasts from the neighbouring Solway, overshadowed, as usual, the ale-bench, as our ancestors called it, where, though it was still early in the day, several fellows, who seemed to be gentlemen’s servants, were drinking beer and smoking. One or two of them wore liveries which seemed known to Mr. Redgauntlet, for he muttered between his teeth, “Fools, fools! were they on a march to hell, they must have their rascals in livery with them, that the whole world might know who were going to be damned.”

As he thus muttered, he drew bridle before the door of the place, from which several other lounging guests began to issue, to look with indolent curiosity as usual, upon an arrival.

Redgauntlet sprang from his horse, and assisted his niece to dismount; but, forgetting, perhaps, his nephew’s disguise, he did not pay him the attention which his female dress demanded.

The situation of Darsie was indeed something awkward; for Cristal Nixon, out of caution perhaps to prevent escape, had muffled the extreme folds of the riding-skirt with which he was accoutred, around his ankles and under his feet, and there secured it with large corking-pins. We presume that gentlemen-cavaliers may sometimes cast their eyes to that part of the person of the fair equestrians whom they chance occasionally to escort; and if they will conceive their own feet, like Darsie’s, muffled in such a labyrinth of folds and amplitude of robe, as modesty doubtless induces the fair creatures to assume upon such occasions, they will allow that, on a first attempt, they might find some awkwardness in dismounting. Darsie, at least, was in such a predicament, for, not receiving adroit assistance from the attendant of Mr. Redgauntlet, he stumbled as he dismounted from the horse, and might have had a bad fall, had it not been broken by the gallant interposition of a gentleman, who probably was, on his part, a little surprised at the solid weight of the distressed fair one whom he had the honour to receive in his embrace. But what was his surprise to that of Darsie, when the hurry of the moment and of the accident, permitted him to see that it was his friend Alan Fairford in whose arms he found himself! A thousand apprehensions rushed on him, mingled with the full career of hope and joy, inspired by the unexpected appearance of his beloved friend at the very crisis, it seemed, of his fate.

He was about to whisper in his ear, cautioning him at the same time to be silent; yet he hesitated for a second or two to effect his purpose, since, should Redgauntlet take the alarm from any sudden exclamation on the part of Alan, there was no saying what consequences might ensue.

Ere he could decide what was to be done, Redgauntlet, who had entered the house, returned hastily, followed by Cristal Nixon. “I’ll release you of the charge of this young lady, sir;” he said, haughtily, to Alan Fairford, whom he probably did not recognize.

“I had no desire to intrude, sir,” replied Alan; “the lady’s situation seemed to require assistance—and—but have I not the honour to speak to Mr. Herries of Birrenswork?”

“You are mistaken, sir,” said Redgauntlet, turning short off, and making a sign with his hand to Cristal, who hurried Darsie, however unwillingly, into the house, whispering in his ear, “Come, miss, let us have no making of acquaintance from the windows. Ladies of fashion must be private. Show us a room, Father Crackenthorp.”

So saying, he conducted Darsie into the house, interposing at the same time his person betwixt the supposed young lady and the stranger of whom he was suspicious, so as to make communication by signs impossible. As they entered, they heard the sound of a fiddle in the stone-floored and well-sanded kitchen, through which they were about to follow their corpulent host, and where several people seemed engaged in dancing to its strains.

“D—n thee,” said Nixon to Crackenthorp, “would you have the lady go through all the mob of the parish? Hast thou no more private way to our sitting-room?”

“None that is fit for my travelling,” answered the landlord, laying his hand on his portly stomach. “I am not Tom Turnpenny, to creep like a lizard through keyholes.”

So saying, he kept moving on through the revellers in the kitchen; and Nixon, holding Darsie by his arm, as if to offer the lady support but in all probability to frustrate any effort at escape, moved through the crowd, which presented a very motley appearance, consisting of domestic servants, country fellows, seamen, and other idlers, whom Wandering Willie was regaling with his music.

To pass another friend without intimation of his presence would have been actual pusillanimity; and just when they were passing the blind man’s elevated seat, Darsie asked him with some emphasis, whether he could not play a Scottish air? The man’s face had been the instant before devoid of all sort of expression, going through his performance like a clown through a beautiful country, too much accustomed to consider it as a task, to take any interest in the performance, and, in fact, scarce seeming to hear the noise that he was creating. In a word, he might at the time have made a companion to my friend Wilkie’s inimitable blind crowder. But with Wandering Willie this was only an occasional and a rare fit of dullness, such as will at times creep over all the professors of the fine arts, arising either from fatigue, or contempt of the present audience, or that caprice which so often tempts painters and musicians and great actors, in the phrase of the latter, to walk through their part, instead of exerting themselves with the energy which acquired their fame. But when the performer heard the voice of Darsie, his countenance became at once illuminated, and showed the complete mistake of those who suppose that the principal point of expression depends upon the eyes. With his face turned to the point from which the sound came, his upper lip a little curved, and quivering with agitation, and with a colour which surprise and pleasure had brought at once into his faded cheek, he exchanged the humdrum hornpipe which he had been sawing out with reluctant and lazy bow, for the fine Scottish air,

You’re welcome, Charlie Stuart,

which flew from his strings as if by inspiration and after a breathless pause of admiration among the audience, was received with a clamour of applause, which seemed to show that the name and tendency, as well as the execution of the tune, was in the highest degree acceptable to all the party assembled.

In the meantime, Cristal Nixon, still keeping hold of Darsie, and following the landlord, forced his way with some difficulty through the crowded kitchen, and entered a small apartment on the other side of it, where they found Lilias Redgauntlet already seated. Here Nixon gave way to his suppressed resentment, and turning sternly on Crackenthorp, threatened him with his master’s severest displeasure, because things were in such bad order to receive his family, when he had given such special advice that he desired to be private. But Father Crackenthorp was not a man to be brow-beaten.

“Why, brother Nixon, thou art angry this morning,” he replied; “hast risen from thy wrong side, I think. You know, as well as I, that most of this mob is of the squire’s own making—gentlemen that come with their servants, and so forth, to meet him in the way of business, as old Tom Turnpenny says—the very last that came was sent down with Dick Gardener from Fairladies.”

“But the blind scraping scoundrel yonder,” said Nixon, “how dared you take such a rascal as that across your threshold at such a time as this? If the squire should dream you have a thought of peaching—I am only speaking for your good, Father Crackenthorp.”

“Why, look ye, brother Nixon,” said Crackenthorp, turning his quid with great composure, “the squire is a very worthy gentleman, and I’ll never deny it; but I am neither his servant nor his tenant, and so he need send me none of his orders till he hears I have put on his livery. As for turning away folk from my door, I might as well plug up the ale-tap, and pull down the sign—and as for peaching, and such like, the squire will find the folk here are as honest to the full as those he brings with him.”

“How, you impudent lump of tallow,” said Nixon, “what do you mean by that?”

“Nothing,” said Crackenthorp, “but that I can tour out as well as another—you understand me—keep good lights in my upper story—know a thing or two more than most folk in this country. If folk will come to my house on dangerous errands, egad they shall not find Joe Crackenthorp a cat’s-paw. I’ll keep myself clear, you may depend on it, and let every man answer for his own actions—that’s my way. Anything wanted, Master Nixon?”

“No—yes—begone!” said Nixon, who seemed embarrassed with the landlord’s contumacy, yet desirous to conceal the effect it produced on him.

The door was no sooner closed on Crackenthorp, than Miss Redgauntlet, addressing Nixon, commanded him to leave the room and go to his proper place.

“How, madam?” said the fellow sullenly, yet with an air of respect, “Would you have your uncle pistol me for disobeying his orders?”

“He may perhaps pistol you for some other reason, if you do not obey mine,” said Lilias, composedly.

“You abuse your advantage over me, madam—I really dare not go—I am on guard over this other miss here; and if I should desert my post, my life were not worth five minutes’ purchase.”

“Then know your post, sir,” said Lilias, “and watch on the outside of the door. You have no commission to listen to our private conversation, I suppose? Begone, sir, without further speech or remonstrance, or I will tell my uncle that which you would have reason to repent he should know.”

The fellow looked at her with a singular expression of spite, mixed with deference. “You abuse your advantages, madam,” he said, “and act as foolishly in doing so as I did in affording you such a hank over me. But you are a tyrant; and tyrants have commonly short reigns.”

So saying, he left the apartment.

“The wretch’s unparalleled insolence,” said Lilias to her brother, “has given me one great advantage over him. For knowing that my uncle would shoot him with as little remorse as a woodcock, if he but guessed at his brazen-faced assurance towards me, he dares not since that time assume, so far as I am concerned, the air of insolent domination which the possession of my uncle’s secrets, and the knowledge of his most secret plans, have led him to exert over others of his family.”

“In the meantime,” said Darsie, “I am happy to see that the landlord of the house does not seem so devoted to him as I apprehended; and this aids the hope of escape which I am nourishing for you and for myself. O Lilias! the truest of friends, Alan Fairford, is in pursuit of me, and is here at this moment. Another humble, but, I think, faithful friend, is also within these dangerous walls.”

Lilias laid her finger on her lips, and pointed to the door. Darsie took the hint, lowered his voice, and informed her in whispers of the arrival of Fairford, and that he believed he had opened a communication with Wandering Willie. She listened with the utmost interest, and had just begun to reply, when a loud noise was heard in the kitchen, caused by several contending voices, amongst which Darsie thought he could distinguish that of Alan Fairford.

Forgetting how little his own condition permitted him to become the assistant of another, Darsie flew to the door of the room, and finding it locked and bolted on the outside, rushed against it with all his force, and made the most desperate efforts to burst it open, notwithstanding the entreaties of his sister that he would compose himself and recollect the condition in which he was placed. But the door, framed to withstand attacks from excisemen, constables, and other personages, considered as worthy to use what are called the king’s keys,3 “and therewith to make lockfast places open and patent,” set his efforts at defiance. Meantime the noise continued without, and we are to give an account of its origin in our next chapter.

1.    The northern gate of Carlisle was long garnished with the heads of the Scottish rebels executed in 1746.    [back]

2.    The Highland regiments were first employed by the celebrated Earl of Chatham, who assumed to himself no small degree of praise for having called forth to the support of the country and the government, the valour which had been too often directed against both.    [back]

3.    In common parlance, a crowbar and hatchet.    [back]

Redgauntlet - Contents    |     Volume III - Chapter VII

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