So, while the Goose, of whom the fable told,
Incumbent, brooded o’er her eggs of gold,
With hand outstretched, impatient to destroy,
Stole on her secret nest the cruel Boy,
Whose gripe rapacious changed her splendid dream,
—For wings vain fluttering, and for dying scream.
The Loves of the Sea-weeds.
In this mood, if any one endeavoured to bring Sir Arthur down to the regions of common life, his replies were in the vein of Ancient Pistol—
A fico for the world, and worldlings base|
I speak of Africa and golden joys!
The reader may conceive the amazement of Miss Wardour, when, instead of undergoing an investigation concerning the addresses of Lovel, as she had expected from the long conference of her father with Mr. Oldbuck, upon the morning of the fated day when the treasure was discovered, the conversation of Sir Arthur announced an imagination heated with the hopes of possessing the most unbounded wealth. But she was seriously alarmed when Dousterswivel was sent for to the Castle, and was closeted with her father—his mishap condoled with—his part taken, and his loss compensated. All the suspicions which she had long entertained respecting this man became strengthened, by observing his pains to keep up the golden dreams of her father, and to secure for himself, under various pretexts, as much as possible out of the windfall which had so strangely fallen to Sir Arthur’s share.
Other evil symptoms began to appear, following close on each other. Letters arrived every post, which Sir Arthur, as soon as he had looked at the directions, flung into the fire without taking the trouble to open them. Miss Wardour could not help suspecting that these epistles, the contents of which seemed to be known to her father by a sort of intuition, came from pressing creditors. In the meanwhile, the temporary aid which he had received from the treasure dwindled fast away. By far the greater part had been swallowed up by the necessity of paying the bill of six hundred pounds, which had threatened Sir Arthur with instant distress. Of the rest, some part was given to the adept, some wasted upon extravagances which seemed to the poor knight fully authorized by his full-blown hopes,—and some went to stop for a time the mouths of such claimants as, being weary of fair promises, had become of opinion with Harpagon, that it was necessary to touch something substantial. At length circumstances announced but too plainly, that it was all expended within two or three days after its discovery; and there appeared no prospect of a supply. Sir Arthur, naturally impatient, now taxed Dousterswivel anew with breach of those promises through which he had hoped to convert all his lead into gold. But that worthy gentleman’s turn was now served; and as he had grace enough to wish to avoid witnessing the fall of the house which he had undermined, he was at the trouble of bestowing a few learned terms of art upon Sir Arthur, that at least he might not be tormented before his time. He took leave of him, with assurances that he would return to Knockwinnock the next morning, with such information as would not fail to relieve Sir Arthur from all his distresses.
“For, since I have consulted in such matters, I ave never,” said Mr. Herman Dousterswivel, “approached so near de arcanum, what you call de great mystery,—de Panchresta—de Polychresta—I do know as much of it as Pelaso de Taranta, or Basilius—and either I will bring you in two and tree days de No. III. of Mr. Mishdigoat, or you shall call me one knave myself, and never look me in de face again no more at all.”
The adept departed with this assurance, in the firm resolution of making good the latter part of the proposition, and never again appearing before his injured patron. Sir Arthur remained in a doubtful and anxious state of mind. The positive assurances of the philosopher, with the hard words Panchresta, Basilius, and so forth, produced some effect on his mind. But he had been too often deluded by such jargon, to be absolutely relieved of his doubt, and he retired for the evening into his library, in the fearful state of one who, hanging over a precipice, and without the means of retreat, perceives the stone on which he rests gradually parting from the rest of the crag, and about to give way with him.
The visions of hope decayed, and there increased in proportion that feverish agony of anticipation with which a man, educated in a sense of consequence, and possessed of opulence,—the supporter of an ancient name, and the father of two promising children,—foresaw the hour approaching which should deprive him of all the splendour which time had made familiarly necessary to him, and send him forth into the world to struggle with poverty, with rapacity, and with scorn. Under these dire forebodings, his temper, exhausted by the sickness of delayed hope, became peevish and fretful, and his words and actions sometimes expressed a reckless desperation, which alarmed Miss Wardour extremely. We have seen, on a former occasion, that Sir Arthur was a man of passions lively and quick, in proportion to the weakness of his character in other respects; he was unused to contradiction, and if he had been hitherto, in general, good-humoured and cheerful, it was probably because the course of his life had afforded no such frequent provocation as to render his irritability habitual.
On the third morning after Dousterswivel’s departure, the servant, as usual, laid on the breakfast table the newspaper and letters of the day. Miss Wardour took up the former to avoid the continued ill-humour of her father, who had wrought himself into a violent passion, because the toast was over-browned.
“I perceive how it is,” was his concluding speech on this interesting subject,—“my servants, who have had their share of my fortune, begin to think there is little to be made of me in future. But while I am the scoundrel’s master I will be so, and permit no neglect—no, nor endure a hair’s-breadth diminution of the respect I am entitled to exact from them.”
“I am ready to leave your honour’s service this instant,” said the domestic upon whom the fault had been charged, “as soon as you order payment of my wages.”
Sir Arthur, as if stung by a serpent, thrust his hand into his pocket, and instantly drew out the money which it contained, but which was short of the man’s claim. “What money have you got, Miss Wardour?” he said, in a tone of affected calmness, but which concealed violent agitation.
Miss Wardour gave him her purse; he attempted to count the bank notes which it contained, but could not reckon them. After twice miscounting the sum, he threw the whole to his daughter, and saying, in a stern voice, “Pay the rascal, and let him leave the house instantly!” he strode out of the room.
The mistress and servant stood alike astonished at the agitation and vehemence of his manner.
“I am sure, ma’am, if I had thought I was particularly wrang, I wadna hae made ony answer when Sir Arthur challenged me. I hae been lang in his service, and he has been a kind master, and you a kind mistress, and I wad like ill ye should think I wad start for a hasty word. I am sure it was very wrang o’ me to speak about wages to his honour, when maybe he has something to vex him. I had nae thoughts o’ leaving the family in this way.”
“Go down stair, Robert,” said his mistress—“something has happened to fret my father—go down stairs, and let Alick answer the bell.”
When the man left the room, Sir Arthur re-entered, as if he had been watching his departure. “What’s the meaning of this?” he said hastily, as he observed the notes lying still on the table—“Is he not gone? Am I neither to be obeyed as a master or a father?”
“He is gone to give up his charge to the housekeeper, sir,—I thought there was not such instant haste.”
“There is haste, Miss Wardour,” answered her father, interrupting her;—“What I do henceforth in the house of my forefathers, must be done speedily, or never.”
He then sate down, and took up with a trembling hand the basin of tea prepared for him, protracting the swallowing of it, as if to delay the necessity of opening the post-letters which lay on the table, and which he eyed from time to time, as if they had been a nest of adders ready to start into life and spring upon him.
“You will be happy to hear,” said Miss Wardour, willing to withdraw her father’s mind from the gloomy reflections in which he appeared to be plunged, “you will be happy to hear, sir, that Lieutenant Taffril’s gun-brig has got safe into Leith Roads—I observe there had been apprehensions for his safety—I am glad we did not hear them till they were contradicted.”
“And what is Taffril and his gun-brig to me?”
“Sir!” said Miss Wardour in astonishment; for Sir Arthur, in his ordinary state of mind, took a fidgety sort of interest in all the gossip of the day and country.
“I say,” he repeated in a higher and still more impatient key, “what do I care who is saved or lost? It’s nothing to me, I suppose?”
“I did not know you were busy, Sir Arthur; and thought, as Mr. Taffril is a brave man, and from our own country, you would be happy to hear”—
“Oh, I am happy—as happy as possible—and, to make you happy too, you shall have some of my good news in return.” And he caught up a letter. “It does not signify which I open first—they are all to the same tune.”
He broke the seal hastily, ran the letter over, and then threw it to his daughter. “Ay—I could not have lighted more happily!—this places the copestone.”
Miss Wardour, in silent terror, took up the letter. “Read it—read it aloud!” said her father; “it cannot be read too often; it will serve to break you in for other good news of the same kind.”
She began to read with a faltering voice, “Dear Sir.”
“He dears me too, you see, this impudent drudge of a writer’s office, who, a twelvemonth since, was not fit company for my second table—I suppose I shall be ‘Dear Knight’ with him by and by.”
“Dear Sir,” resumed Miss Wardour; but, interrupting herself, “I see the contents are unpleasant, sir—it will only vex you my reading them aloud.”
“If you will allow me to know my own pleasure, Miss Wardour, I entreat you to go on—I presume, if it were unnecessary, I should not ask you to take the trouble.”
“Having been of late taken into copartnery,” continued Miss Wardour, reading the letter, “by Mr. Gilbert Greenhorn, son of your late correspondent and man of business, Girnigo Greenhorn, Esq., writer to the signet, whose business I conducted as parliament-house clerk for many years, which business will in future be carried on under the firm of Greenhorn and Grinderson (which I memorandum for the sake of accuracy in addressing your future letters), and having had of late favours of yours, directed to my aforesaid partner, Gilbert Greenhorn, in consequence of his absence at the Lamberton races, have the honour to reply to your said favours.”
“You see my friend is methodical, and commences by explaining the causes which have procured me so modest and elegant a correspondent. Go on—I can bear it.”
And he laughed that bitter laugh which is perhaps the most fearful expression of mental misery. Trembling to proceed, and yet afraid to disobey, Miss Wardour continued to read—“I am for myself and partner, sorry we cannot oblige you by looking out for the sums you mention, or applying for a suspension in the case of Goldiebirds’ bond, which would be more inconsistent, as we have been employed to act as the said Goldiebirds’ procurators and attorneys, in which capacity we have taken out a charge of horning against you, as you must be aware by the schedule left by the messenger, for the sum of four thousand seven hundred and fifty-six pounds five shillings and sixpence one-fourth of a penny sterling, which, with annual-rent and expenses effeiring, we presume will be settled during the currency of the charge, to prevent further trouble. Same time, I am under the necessity to observe our own account, amounting to seven hundred and sixty-nine pounds ten shillings and sixpence, is also due, and settlement would be agreeable; but as we hold your rights, title-deeds, and documents in hypothec, shall have no objection to give reasonable time—say till the next money term. I am, for myself and partner, concerned to add, that Messrs. Goldiebirds’ instructions to us are to proceed peremptorie and sine mora, of which I have the pleasure to advise you, to prevent future mistakes, reserving to ourselves otherwise to agé as accords. I am, for self and partner, dear sir, your obliged humble servant, Gabriel Grinderson, for Greenhorn and Grinderson.”
“Ungrateful villain!” said Miss Wardour.
“Why, no—it’s in the usual rule, I suppose; the blow could not have been perfect if dealt by another hand—it’s all just as it should be,” answered the poor Baronet, his affected composure sorely belied by his quivering lip and rolling eye—“But here’s a postscript I did not notice—come, finish the epistle.”
“I have to add (not for self but partner) that Mr. Greenhorn will accommodate you by taking your service of plate, or the bay horses, if sound in wind and limb, at a fair appreciation, in part payment of your accompt.”
“G—d confound him!” said Sir Arthur, losing all command of himself at this condescending proposal: “his grandfather shod my father’s horses, and this descendant of a scoundrelly blacksmith proposes to swindle me out of mine! But I will write him a proper answer.”
And he sate down and began to write with great vehemence, then stopped and read aloud:—“Mr. Gilbert Greenhorn,—in answer to two letters of a late date, I received a letter from a person calling himself Grinderson, and designing himself as your partner. When I address any one, I do not usually expect to be answered by deputy—I think I have been useful to your father, and friendly and civil to yourself, and therefore am now surprised—And yet,” said he, stopping short, “why should I be surprised at that or anything else? or why should I take up my time in writing to such a scoundrel?—I shan’t be always kept in prison, I suppose; and to break that puppy’s bones when I get out, shall be my first employment.”
“In prison, sir?” said Miss Wardour, faintly.
“Ay, in prison to be sure. Do you make any question about that? Why, Mr. what’s his name’s fine letter for self and partner seems to be thrown away on you, or else you have got four thousand so many hundred pounds, with the due proportion of shillings, pence, and half-pence, to pay that aforesaid demand, as he calls it.”
“I, sir? O if I had the means!—But where’s my brother?—why does he not come, and so long in Scotland? He might do something to assist us.”
“Who, Reginald?—I suppose he’s gone with Mr. Gilbert Greenhorn, or some such respectable person, to the Lamberton races—I have expected him this week past; but I cannot wonder that my children should neglect me as well as every other person. But I should beg your pardon, my love, who never either neglected or offended me in your life.”
And kissing her cheek as she threw her arms round his neck, he experienced that consolation which a parent feels, even in the most distressed state, in the assurance that he possesses the affection of a child.
Miss Wardour took the advantage of this revulsion of feeling, to endeavour to soothe her father’s mind to composure. She reminded him that he had many friends.
“I had many once,” said Sir Arthur; “but of some I have exhausted their kindness with my frantic projects; others are unable to assist me—others are unwilling. It is all over with me. I only hope Reginald will take example by my folly.”
“Should I not send to Monkbarns, sir?” said his daughter.
“To what purpose? He cannot lend me such a sum, and would not if he could, for he knows I am otherwise drowned in debt; and he would only give me scraps of misanthropy and quaint ends of Latin.”
“But he is shrewd and sensible, and was bred to business, and, I am sure, always loved this family.”
“Yes, I believe he did. It is a fine pass we are come to, when the affection of an Oldbuck is of consequence to a Wardour! But when matters come to extremity, as I suppose they presently will—it may be as well to send for him. And now go take your walk, my dear—my mind is more composed than when I had this cursed disclosure to make. You know the worst, and may daily or hourly expect it. Go take your walk—I would willingly be alone for a little while.”
When Miss Wardour left the apartment, her first occupation was to avail herself of the half permission granted by her father, by despatching to Monkbarns the messenger, who, as we have already seen, met the Antiquary and his nephew on the sea-beach.
Little recking, and indeed scarce knowing, where she was wandering, chance directed her into the walk beneath the Briery Bank, as it was called. A brook, which in former days had supplied the castle-moat with water, here descended through a narrow dell, up which Miss Wardour’s taste had directed a natural path, which was rendered neat and easy of ascent, without the air of being formally made and preserved. It suited well the character of the little glen, which was overhung with thickets and underwood, chiefly of larch and hazel, intermixed with the usual varieties of the thorn and brier. In this walk had passed that scene of explanation between Miss Wardour and Lovel which was overheard by old Edie Ochiltree. With a heart softened by the distress which approached her family, Miss Wardour now recalled every word and argument which Lovel had urged in support of his suit, and could not help confessing to herself, it was no small subject of pride to have inspired a young man of his talents with a passion so strong and disinterested. That he should have left the pursuit of a profession in which he was said to be rapidly rising, to bury himself in a disagreeable place like Fairport, and brood over an unrequited passion, might be ridiculed by others as romantic, but was naturally forgiven as an excess of affection by the person who was the object of his attachment. Had he possessed an independence, however moderate, or ascertained a clear and undisputed claim to the rank in society he was well qualified to adorn, she might now have had it in her power to offer her father, during his misfortunes, an asylum in an establishment of her own. These thoughts, so favourable to the absent lover, crowded in, one after the other, with such a minute recapitulation of his words, looks, and actions, as plainly intimated that his former repulse had been dictated rather by duty than inclination. Isabella was musing alternately upon this subject, and upon that of her father’s misfortunes, when, as the path winded round a little hillock covered with brushwood, the old Blue-Gown suddenly met her.
With an air as if he had something important and mysterious to communicate, he doffed his bonnet, and assumed the cautious step and voice of one who would not willingly be overheard. “I hae been wishing muckle to meet wi’ your leddyship—for ye ken I darena come to the house for Dousterswivel.”
“I heard indeed,” said Miss Wardour, dropping an alms into the bonnet—“I heard that you had done a very foolish, if not a very bad thing, Edie—and I was sorry to hear it.”
“Hout, my bonny leddy—fulish? A’ the world’s fules—and how should auld Edie Ochiltree be aye wise?—And for the evil—let them wha deal wi’ Dousterswivel tell whether he gat a grain mair than his deserts.”
“That may be true, Edie, and yet,” said Miss Wardour, “you may have been very wrong.”
“Weel, weel, we’se no dispute that e’ennow—it’s about yoursell I’m gaun to speak. Div ye ken what’s hanging ower the house of Knockwinnock?”
“Great distress, I fear, Edie,” answered Miss Wardour; “but I am surprised it is already so public.”
“Public!—Sweepclean, the messenger, will be there the day wi’ a’ his tackle. I ken it frae ane o’ his concurrents, as they ca’ them, that’s warned to meet him; and they’ll be about their wark belyve; whare they clip, there needs nae kame—they shear close eneugh.”
“Are you sure this bad hour, Edie, is so very near?—come, I know, it will.”
“It’s e’en as I tell you, leddy. But dinna be cast down—there’s a heaven ower your head here, as weel as in that fearful night atween the Ballyburghness and the Halket-head. D’ye think He, wha rebuked the waters, canna protect you against the wrath of men, though they be armed with human authority?”
“It is indeed all we have to trust to.”
“Ye dinna ken—ye dinna ken: when the night’s darkest, the dawn’s nearest. If I had a gude horse, or could ride him when I had him, I reckon there wad be help yet. I trusted to hae gotten a cast wi’ the Royal Charlotte, but she’s coupit yonder, it’s like, at Kittlebrig. There was a young gentleman on the box, and he behuved to drive; and Tam Sang, that suld hae mair sense, he behuved to let him, and the daft callant couldna tak the turn at the corner o’ the brig; and od! he took the curbstane, and he’s whomled her as I wad whomle a toom bicker—it was a luck I hadna gotten on the tap o’ her. Sae I came down atween hope and despair, to see if ye wad send me on.”
“And, Edie—where would ye go?” said the young lady.
“To Tannonburgh, my leddy” (which was the first stage from Fairport, but a good deal nearer to Knockwinnock), “and that without delay—it’s a’ on your ain business.”
“Our business, Edie? Alas! I give you all credit for your good meaning; but”—
“There’s nae buts about it, my leddy, for gang I maun,” said the persevering Blue-Gown.
“But what is it that you would do at Tannonburgh?—or how can your going there benefit my father’s affairs?”
“Indeed, my sweet leddy,” said the gaberlunzie, “ye maun just trust that bit secret to auld Edie’s grey pow, and ask nae questions about it. Certainly if I wad hae wared my life for you yon night, I can hae nae reason to play an ill pliskie t’ye in the day o’ your distress.”
“Well, Edie, follow me then,” said Miss Wardour, “and I will try to get you sent to Tannonburgh.”
“Mak haste then, my bonny leddy—mak haste, for the love o’ goodness!”—and he continued to exhort her to expedition until they reached the Castle.