Narrative of Darsie Latimer, Continued
JOE CRACKENTHORP’S public-house had never, since it first reared its chimneys on the banks of the Solway, been frequented by such a miscellaneous group of visitors as had that morning become its guests. Several of them were persons whose quality seemed much superior to their dresses and modes of travelling. The servants who attended them contradicted the inferences to be drawn from the garb of their masters, and, according to the custom of the knights of the rainbow, gave many hints that they were not people to serve any but men of first-rate consequence. These gentlemen, who had come thither chiefly for the purpose of meeting with Mr. Redgauntlet, seemed moody and anxious, conversed and walked together apparently in deep conversation, and avoided any communication with the chance travellers whom accident brought that morning to the same place of resort.
As if Fate had set herself to confound the plans of the Jacobite conspirators, the number of travellers was unusually great, their appearance respectable, and they filled the public tap-room of the inn, where the political guests had already occupied most of the private apartments.
Amongst others, honest Joshua Geddes had arrived, travelling, as he said, in the sorrow of the soul, and mourning for the fate of Darsie Latimer as he would for his first-born child. He had skirted the whole coast of the Solway, besides making various trips into the interior, not shunning, on such occasions, to expose himself to the laugh of the scorner, nay, even to serious personal risk, by frequenting the haunts of smugglers, horse-jockeys, and other irregular persons, who looked on his intrusion with jealous eyes, and were apt to consider him as an exciseman in the disguise of a Quaker. All this labour and peril, however, had been undergone in vain. No search he could make obtained the least intelligence of Latimer, so that he began to fear the poor lad had been spirited abroad—for the practice of kidnapping was then not infrequent, especially on the western coasts of Britain—if indeed he had escaped a briefer and more bloody fate.
With a heavy heart, he delivered his horse, even Solomon, into the hands of the ostler, and walking into the inn, demanded from the landlord breakfast and a private room. Quakers, and such hosts as old Father Crackenthorp, are no congenial spirits; the latter looked askew over his shoulder, and replied, “If you would have breakfast here, friend, you are like to eat it where other folk eat theirs.”
“And wherefore can I not,” said the Quaker, “have an apartment to myself, for my money?”
“Because, Master Jonathan, you must wait till your betters be served, or else eat with your equals.”
Joshua Geddes argued the point no further, but sitting quietly down on the seat which Crackenthorp indicated to him, and calling for a pint of ale, with some bread, butter, and Dutch cheese, began to satisfy the appetite which the morning air had rendered unusually alert.
While the honest Quaker was thus employed, another stranger entered the apartment, and sat down near to the table on which his victuals were placed. He looked repeatedly at Joshua, licked his parched and chopped lips as he saw the good Quaker masticate his bread and cheese, and sucked up his thin chops when Mr. Geddes applied the tankard to his mouth, as if the discharge of these bodily functions by another had awakened his sympathies in an uncontrollable degree. At last, being apparently unable to withstand his longings, he asked, in a faltering tone, the huge landlord, who was tramping through the room in all corpulent impatience, whether he could have a plack-pie?”
“Never heard of such a thing, master,” said the landlord, and was about to trudge onward; when the guest, detaining him, said, in a strong Scottish tone, “Ya will maybe have nae whey then, nor buttermilk, nor ye couldna exhibit a souter’s clod?”
“Can’t tell what ye are talking about, master,” said Crackenthorp.
“Then ye will have nae breakfast that will come within the compass of a shilling Scots?”
“Which is a penny sterling,” answered Crackenthorp, with a sneer. “Why, no, Sawney, I can’t say as we have—we can’t afford it; But you shall have a bellyful for love, as we say in the bull-ring.”
“I shall never refuse a fair offer,” said the poverty-stricken guest; “and I will say that for the English, if they were deils, that they are a ceeveleesed people to gentlemen that are under a cloud.”
“Gentlemen!—humph!” said Crackenthorp—“not a blue-cap among them but halts upon that foot.” Then seizing on a dish which still contained a huge cantle of what had been once a princely mutton pasty, he placed it on the table before the stranger, saying, “There, master gentleman; there is what is worth all the black pies, as you call them, that were ever made of sheep’s head.”
“Sheep’s head is a gude thing, for a’ that,” replied the guest; but not being spoken so loud as to offend his hospitable entertainer, the interjection might pass for a private protest against the scandal thrown out against the standing dish of Caledonia.
This premised, he immediately began to transfer the mutton and pie-crust from his plate to his lips, in such huge gobbets, as if he was refreshing after a three days’ fast, and laying in provisions against a whole Lent to come.
Joshua Geddes in his turn gazed on him with surprise, having never, he thought, beheld such a gaunt expression of hunger in the act of eating. “Friend,” he said, after watching him for some minutes, “if thou gorgest thyself in this fashion, thou wilt assuredly choke. Wilt thou not take a draught out of my cup to help down all that dry meat?”
“Troth,” said the stranger, stopping and looking at the friendly propounder, “that’s nae bad overture, as they say in the General Assembly. I have heard waur motions than that frae wiser counsel.”
Mr. Geddes ordered a quart of home-brewed to be placed before our friend Peter Peebles; for the reader must have already conceived that this unfortunate litigant was the wanderer in question.
The victim of Themis had no sooner seen the flagon, than he seized it with the same energy which he had displayed in operating upon the pie—puffed off the froth with such emphasis, that some of it lighted on Mr. Geddes’s head—and then said, as if with it sudden recollection of what was due to civility, “Here’s to ye, friend. What! are ye ower grand to give me an answer, or are ye dull o’ hearing?”
“I prithee drink thy liquor, friend,” said the good Quaker; “thou meanest it in civility, but we care not for these idle fashions.”
“What! ye are a Quaker, are ye?” said Peter; and without further ceremony reared the flagon to his head, from which he withdrew it not while a single drop of “barley-broo” remained. “That’s done you and me muckle gude,” he said, sighing as he set down his pot; “but twa mutchkins o’ yill between twa folk is a drappie ower little measure. What say ye to anither pot? or shall we cry in a blithe Scots pint at ance? The yill is no amiss.”
“Thou mayst call for what thou wilt on thine own charges, friend,” said Geddes; “for myself, I willingly contribute to the quenching of thy natural thirst; but I fear it were no such easy matter to relieve thy acquired and artificial drought.”
“That is to say, in plain terms, ye are for withdrawing your caution with the folk of the house? You Quaker folk are but fause comforters; but since ye have garred me drink sae muckle cauld yill—me that am no used to the like of it in the forenoon—I think ye might as weel have offered me a glass of brandy or usquabae—I’m nae nice body—I can drink onything that’s wet and toothsome.”
“Not a drop at my cost, friend,” quoth Geddes. “Thou art an old man, and hast perchance a heavy and long journey before thee. Thou art, moreover, my countryman, as I judge from thy tongue; and I will not give thee the means of dishonouring thy grey hairs in a strange land.”
“Grey hairs, neighbour!” said Peter, with a wink to the bystanders, whom this dialogue began to interest, and who were in hopes of seeing the Quaker played off by the crazed beggar, for such Peter Peebles appeared to be. “Grey hairs! The Lord mend your eyesight, neighbour, that disna ken grey hairs frae a tow wig!”
This jest procured a shout of laughter, and, what was still more acceptable than dry applause, a man who stood beside called out, “Father Crackenthorp, bring a nipperkin of brandy. I’ll bestow a dram on this fellow, were it but for that very word.”
The brandy was immediately brought by a wench who acted as barmaid; and Peter, with a grin of delight, filled a glass, quaffed it off, and then saying, “God bless me! I was so unmannerly as not to drink to ye—I think the Quaker has smitten me wi’ his ill-bred havings,”—he was about to fill another, when his hand was arrested by his new friend; who said at the same time, “No, no, friend—fair play’s a jewel—time about, if you please.” And filling a glass for himself, emptied it as gallantly as Peter could have done. “What say you to that, friend?” he continued, addressing the Quaker.
“Nay, friend,” answered Joshua, “it went down thy throat, not mine; and I have nothing to say about what concerns me not; but if thou art a man of humanity, thou wilt not give this poor creature the means of debauchery. Bethink thee that they will spurn him from the door, as they would do a houseless and masterless dog, and that he may die on the sands or on the common. And if he has through thy means been rendered incapable of helping himself, thou shalt not be innocent of his blood.”
“Faith, Broadbrim, I believe thou art right, and the old gentleman in the flaxen jazy shall have no more of the comforter. Besides, we have business in hand to-day, and this fellow, for as mad as he looks, may have a nose on his face after all. Hark ye, father,—what is your name, and what brings you into such an out-of-the-way corner?”
“I am not just free to condescend on my name,” said Peter; “and as for my business—there is a wee dribble of brandy in the stoup—it would be wrang to leave it to the lass—it is learning her bad usages.”
“Well, thou shalt have the brandy, and be d—d to thee, if thou wilt tell me what you are making here.”
“Seeking a young advocate chap that they ca’ Alan Fairford, that has played me a slippery trick, and ye maun ken a’ about the cause,” said Peter.
“An advocate, man!” answered the captain of the Jumping Jenny—for it was he, and no other, who had taken compassion on Peter’s drought; “why, Lord help thee, thou art on the wrong side of the Firth to seek advocates, whom I take to be Scottish lawyers, not English.”
“English lawyers, man!” exclaimed Peter, “the deil a lawyer’s in a’ England.”
“I wish from my soul it were true,” said Ewart; “but what the devil put that in your head?”
“Lord, man, I got a grip of ane of their attorneys in Carlisle, and he tauld me that there wasna a lawyer in England ony mair than himsell that kend the nature of a multiple-poinding! And when I told him how this loopy lad, Alan Fairford, had served me, he said I might bring an action on the case—just as if the case hadna as mony actions already as one case can weel carry. By my word, it is a gude case, and muckle has it borne, in its day, of various procedure—but it’s the barley-pickle breaks the naig’s back, and wi’ my consent it shall not hae ony mair burden laid upon it.”
“But this Alan Fairford?” said Nanty—“come—sip up the drop of brandy, man, and tell me some more about him, and whether you are seeking him for good or for harm.”
“For my ain gude, and for his harm, to be sure,” said Peter. “Think of his having left my cause in the dead-thraw between the tyneing and the winning, and capering off into Cumberland here, after a wild loup-the-tether lad they ca’ Darsie Latimer.”
“Darsie Latimer!” said Mr. Geddes, hastily; “do you know anything of Darsie Latimer?”
“Maybe I do, and maybe I do not,” answered Peter; “I am no free to answer every body’s interrogatory, unless it is put judicially, and by form of law—specially where folk think so much of a caup of sour yill, or a thimblefu’ of brandy. But as for this gentleman, that has shown himself a gentleman at breakfast, and will show himself a gentleman at the meridian, I am free to condescend upon any points in the cause that may appear to bear upon the question at issue.”
“Why, all I want to know from you, my friend, is, whether you are seeking to do this Mr. Alan Fairford good or harm; because if you come to do him good, I think you could maybe get speech of him—and if to do him harm, I will take the liberty to give you a cast across the Firth, with fair warning not to come back on such an errand, lest worse come of it.”
The manner and language of Ewart were such that Joshua Geddes resolved to keep cautious silence, till he could more plainly discover whether he was likely to aid or impede him in his researches after Darsie Latimer. He therefore determined to listen attentively to what should pass between Peter and the seaman, and to watch for an opportunity of questioning the former, so soon as he should be separated from his new acquaintance.
“I wad by no means,” said Peter Peebles, “do any substantial harm to the poor lad Fairford, who has had mony a gowd guinea of mine, as weel as his father before him; but I wad hae him brought back to the minding of my business and his ain; and maybe I wadna insist further in my action of damages against him, than for refunding the fees, and for some annual rent on the principal sum due frae the day on which he should have recovered it for me, plack and bawbee, at the great advising; for ye are aware, that is the least that I can ask nomine damni; and I have nae thought to break down the lad bodily a’thegither—we maun live and let live—forgie and forget.”
“The deuce take me, friend Broadbrim,” said Nanty Ewart, looking to the Quaker, “if I can make out what this old scarecrow means. If I thought it was fitting that Master Fairford should see him, why perhaps it is a matter that could be managed. Do you know anything about the old fellow?—you seemed to take some charge of him just now.”
“No more than I should have done by any one in distress,” said Geddes, not sorry to be appealed to; “but I will try what I can do to find out who he is, and what he is about in this country. But are we not a little too public in this open room?”
“It’s well thought of,” said Nanty; and at his command the barmaid ushered the party into a side-booth, Peter attending them in the instinctive hope that there would be more liquor drunk among them before parting. They had scarce sat down in their new apartment, when the sound of a violin was heard in the room which they had just left.
“I’ll awa back yonder,” said Peter, rising up again; “yon’s the sound of a fiddle, and when there is music, there’s ay something ganging to eat or drink.”
“I am just going to order something here,” said the Quaker; “but in the meantime, have you any objection, my good friend, to tell us your name?”
“None in the world, if you are wanting to drink to me by name and surname,” answered Peebles; “but, otherwise, I would rather evite your interrogatories.”
“Friend,” said the Quaker, “it is not for thine own health, seeing thou hast drunk enough already—however—here, handmaiden—bring me a gill of sherry.”
“Sherry’s but shilpit drink, and a gill’s a sma’ measure for twa gentlemen to crack ower at their first acquaintance. But let us see your sneaking gill of sherry,” said Poor Peter, thrusting forth his huge hand to seize on the diminutive pewter measure, which, according to the fashion of the time, contained the generous liquor freshly drawn from the butt.
“Nay, hold, friend,” said Joshua, “thou hast not yet told me what name and surname I am to call thee by.”
“D—d sly in the Quaker,” said Nanty, apart, “to make him pay for his liquor before he gives it him. Now, I am such a fool, that I should have let him get too drunk to open his mouth, before I thought of asking him a question.”
“My name is Peter Peebles, then,” said the litigant, rather sulkily, as one who thought his liquor too sparingly meted out to him; “and what have you to say to that?”
“Peter Peebles?” repeated Nanty Ewart and seemed to muse upon something which the words brought to his remembrance, while the Quaker pursued his examination.
“But I prithee, Peter Peebles, what is thy further designation? Thou knowest, in our country, that some men are distinguished by their craft and calling, as cordwainers, fishers, weavers, or the like, and some by their titles as proprietors of land (which savours of vanity)—now, how may you be distinguished from others of the same name?”
“As Peter Peebles of the great plea of Poor Peter Peebles against Plainstanes, et per contra—if I am laird of naething else, I am ay a dominus litis.”
“It’s but a poor lairdship, I doubt,” said Joshua.
“Pray, Mr. Peebles,” said Nanty, interrupting the conversation abruptly, “were not you once a burgess of Edinburgh?”
“Was I a burgess!” said Peter indignantly, “and am I not a burgess even now? I have done nothing to forfeit my right, I trow—once provost and ay my lord.”
“Well, Mr. Burgess, tell me further, have you not some property in the Gude Town?” continued Ewart.
“Troth have I—that is, before my misfortunes, I had twa or three bonny bits of mailings amang the closes and wynds, forby the shop and the story abune it. But Plainstanes has put me to the causeway now. Never mind though, I will be upsides with him yet.”
“Had not you once a tenement in the Covenant Close?” again demanded Nanty.
“You have hit it, lad, though ye look not like a Covenanter,” said Peter; “we’ll drink to its memory—(Hout! the heart’s at the mouth o’ that ill-faur’d bit stoup already!)—it brought a rent, reckoning from the crawstep to the groundsill, that ye might ca’ fourteen punds a year, forby the laigh cellar that was let to Lucky Littleworth.”
“And do you not remember that you had a poor old lady for your tenant, Mrs. Cantrips of Kittlebasket?” said Nanty, suppressing his emotion with difficulty.
“Remember! G—d, I have gude cause to remember her,” said Peter, “for she turned a dyvour on my hands, the auld besom! and after a’ that the law could do to make me satisfied and paid, in the way of poinding and distrenzieing and sae forth, as the law will, she ran awa to the charity workhouse, a matter of twenty punds Scots in my debt—it’s a great shame and oppression that charity workhouse, taking in bankrupt dyvours that canna pay their honest creditors.”
“Methinks, friend,” said the Quaker, “thine own rags might teach thee compassion for other people’s nakedness.”
“Rags!” said Peter, taking Joshua’s words literally; “does ony wise body put on their best coat when they are travelling, and keeping company with Quakers, and such other cattle as the road affords?”
“The old lady died, I have heard,” said Nanty, affecting a moderation which was belied by accents that faltered with passion.
“She might live or die, for what I care,” answered Peter the Cruel; “what business have folk to do to live that canna live as law will, and satisfy their just and lawful creditors?”
“And you—you that are now yourself trodden down in the very kennel, are you not sorry for what you have done? Do you not repent having occasioned the poor widow woman’s death?”
“What for should I repent?” said Peter; “the law was on my side—a decreet of the bailies, followed by poinding, and an act of warding—a suspension intented, and the letters found orderly proceeded. I followed the auld rudas through twa courts—she cost me mair money than her lugs were worth.”
“Now, by Heaven!” said Nanty, “I would give a thousand guineas, if I had them, to have you worth my beating! Had you said you repented, it had been between God and your conscience; but to hear you boast of your villany—Do you think it little to have reduced the aged to famine, and the young to infamy—to have caused the death of one woman, the ruin of another, and to have driven a man to exile and despair? By Him that made me, I can scarce keep hands off you!
“Off me? I defy ye!” said Peter. “I take this honest man to witness that if ye stir the neck of my collar, I will have my action for stouthreif, spulzie, oppression, assault and battery. Here’s a bra’ din, indeed, about an auld wife gaun to the grave, a young limmer to the close-heads and causeway, and a sticket stibbler1 to the sea instead of the gallows!”
“Now, by my soul,” said Nanty, “this is too much! and since you can feel no otherwise, I will try if I cannot beat some humanity into your head and shoulders.”
He drew his hanger as he spoke, and although Joshua, who had in vain endeavoured to interrupt the dialogue to which he foresaw a violent termination, now threw himself between Nanty and the old litigant, he could not prevent the latter from receiving two or three sound slaps over the shoulder with the flat side of the weapon.
Poor Peter Peebles, as inglorious in his extremity as he had been presumptuous in bringing it on, now ran and roared, and bolted out of the apartment and house itself, pursued by Nanty, whose passion became high in proportion to his giving way to its dictates, and by Joshua, who still interfered at every risk, calling upon Nanty to reflect on the age and miserable circumstances of the offender, and upon Poor Peter to stand and place himself under his protection. In front of the house, however, Peter Peebles found a more efficient protector than the worthy Quaker.
1. A student of divinity who has not been able to complete his studies on theology. [back]