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Chapter 24

This is the time--Heaven's maiden sentinel
Hath quitted her high watch--the lesser spangles
Are paling one by one; give me the ladder
And the short lever--bid Anthony
Keep with his carabine the wicket-gate;
And do thou bare thy knife and follow me,
For we will in and do it--darkness like this
Is dawning of our fortunes.
_Old Play._

When Duke Hildebrod had withdrawn, Nigel's first impulse was an
irresistible feeling to laugh at the sage adviser, who would have thus
connected him with age, ugliness, and ill-temper; but his next thought
was pity for the unfortunate father and daughter, who, being the only
persons possessed of wealth in this unhappy district, seemed like a
wreck on the sea-shore of a barbarous country, only secured from
plunder for the moment by the jealousy of the tribes among whom it had
been cast. Neither could he help being conscious that his own
residence here was upon conditions equally precarious, and that he was
considered by the Alsatians in the same light of a godsend on the
Cornish coast, or a sickly but wealthy caravan travelling through the
wilds of Africa, and emphatically termed by the nations of despoilers
through whose regions it passes _Dummalafong_, which signifies a thing
given to be devoured--a common prey to all men.

Nigel had already formed his own plan to extricate himself, at
whatever risk, from his perilous and degrading situation; and, in
order that he might carry it into instant execution, he only awaited
the return of Lowestoffe's messenger. He expected him, however, in
vain, and could only amuse himself by looking through such parts of
his baggage as had been sent to him from his former lodgings, in order
to select a small packet of the most necessary articles to take with
him, in the event of his quitting his lodgings secretly and suddenly,
as speed and privacy would, he foresaw, be particularly necessary, if
he meant to obtain an interview with the king, which was the course
his spirit and his interest alike determined him to pursue.

While he was thus engaged, he found, greatly to his satisfaction, that
Master Lowestoffe had transmitted not only his rapier and poniard, but
a pair of pistols, which he had used in travelling; of a smaller and
more convenient size than the large petronels, or horse pistols, which
were then in common use, as being made for wearing at the girdle or in
the pockets. Next to having stout and friendly comrades, a man is
chiefly emboldened by finding himself well armed in case of need, and
Nigel, who had thought with some anxiety on the hazard of trusting his
life, if attacked, to the protection of the clumsy weapon with which
Lowestoffe had equipped him, in order to complete his disguise, felt
an emotion of confidence approaching to triumph, as, drawing his own
good and well-tried rapier, he wiped it with his handkerchief,
examined its point, bent it once or twice against the ground to prove
its well-known metal, and finally replaced it in the scabbard, the
more hastily, that he heard a tap at the door of his chamber, and had
no mind to be found vapouring in the apartment with his sword drawn.

It was his old host who entered, to tell him with many cringes that
the price of his apartment was to be a crown per diem; and that,
according to the custom of Whitefriars, the rent was always payable
per advance, although he never scrupled to let the money lie till a
week or fortnight, or even a month, in the hands of any honourable
guest like Master Grahame, always upon some reasonable consideration
for the use. Nigel got rid of the old dotard's intrusion, by throwing
down two pieces of gold, and requesting the accommodation of his
present apartment for eight days, adding, however, he did not think he
should tarry so long.

The miser, with a sparkling eye and a trembling hand, clutched fast
the proffered coin, and, having balanced the pieces with exquisite
pleasure on the extremity of his withered finger, began almost
instantly to show that not even the possession of gold can gratify for
more than an instant the very heart that is most eager in the pursuit
of it. First, the pieces might be light--with hasty hand he drew a
small pair of scales from his bosom, and weighed them, first together,
then separately, and smiled with glee as he saw them attain the due
depression in the balance--a circumstance which might add to his
profits, if it were true, as was currently reported, that little of
the gold coinage was current in Alsatia in a perfect state, and that
none ever left the Sanctuary in that condition.

Another fear then occurred to trouble the old miser's pleasure. He had
been just able to comprehend that Nigel intended to leave the Friars
sooner than the arrival of the term for which he had deposited the
rent. This might imply an expectation of refunding, which, as a Scotch
wag said, of all species of funding, jumped least with the old
gentleman's humour. He was beginning to enter a hypothetical caveat on
this subject, and to quote several reasons why no part of the money
once consigned as room-rent, could be repaid back on any pretence,
without great hardship to the landlord, when Nigel, growing impatient,
told him that the money was his absolutely, and without any intention
on his part of resuming any of it--all he asked in return was the
liberty of enjoying in private the apartment he had paid for. Old
Trapbois, who had still at his tongue's end much of the smooth
language, by which, in his time, he had hastened the ruin of many a
young spendthrift, began to launch out upon the noble and generous
disposition of his new guest, until Nigel, growing impatient, took the
old gentleman by the hand, and gently, yet irresistibly, leading him
to the door of the chamber, put him out, but with such decent and
moderate exertion of his superior strength, as to render the action in
no shape indecorous, and, fastening the door, began to do that for his
pistols which he had done for his favourite sword, examining with care
the flints and locks, and reviewing the state of his small provision
of ammunition.

In this operation he was a second time interrupted by a knocking at
the door--he called upon the person to enter, having no doubt that it
was Lowestoffe's messenger at length arrived. It was, however, the
ungracious daughter of old Trapbois, who, muttering something about
her father's mistake, laid down upon the table one of the pieces of
gold which Nigel had just given to him, saying, that what she retained
was the full rent for the term he had specified. Nigel replied, he had
paid the money, and had no desire to receive it again.

"Do as you will with it, then," replied his hostess, "for there it
lies, and shall lie for me. If you are fool enough to pay more than is
reason, my father shall not be knave enough to take it."

"But your father, mistress," said Nigel, "your father told me--"

"Oh, my father, my father," said she, interrupting him,--"my father
managed these affairs while he was able--I manage them now, and that
may in the long run be as well for both of us."

She then looked on the table, and observed the weapons.

"You have arms, I see," she said; "do you know how to use them?"

"I should do so mistress," replied Nigel, "for it has been my

"You are a soldier, then?" she demanded.

"No farther as yet, than as every gentleman of my country is a

"Ay, that is your point of honour--to cut the throats of the poor--a
proper gentlemanlike occupation for those who should protect them!"

"I do not deal in cutting throats, mistress," replied Nigel; "but I
carry arms to defend myself, and my country if it needs me."

"Ay," replied Martha, "it is fairly worded; but men say you are as
prompt as others in petty brawls, where neither your safety nor your
country is in hazard; and that had it not been so, you would not have
been in the Sanctuary to-day."

"Mistress," returned Nigel, "I should labour in vain to make you
understand that a man's honour, which is, or should be, dearer to him
than his life, may often call on and compel us to hazard our own
lives, or those of others, on what would otherwise seem trifling

"God's law says nought of that," said the female; "I have only read
there, that thou shall not kill. But I have neither time nor
inclination to preach to you--you will find enough of fighting here if
you like it, and well if it come not to seek you when you are least
prepared. Farewell for the present--the char-woman will execute your
commands for your meals."

She left the room, just as Nigel, provoked at her assuming a superior
tone of judgment and of censure, was about to be so superfluous as to
enter into a dispute with an old pawnbroker's daughter on the subject
of the point of honour. He smiled at himself for the folly into which
the spirit of self-vindication had so nearly hurried him.

Lord Glenvarloch then applied to old Deborah the char-woman, by whose
intermediation he was provided with a tolerably decent dinner; and the
only embarrassment which he experienced, was from the almost forcible
entry of the old dotard his landlord, who insisted upon giving his
assistance at laying the cloth. Nigel had some difficulty to prevent
him from displacing his arms and some papers which were lying on a
small table at which he had been sitting; and nothing short of a stern
and positive injunction to the contrary could compel him to use
another board (though there were two in the room) for the purpose of
laying the cloth.

Having at length obliged him to relinquish his purpose, he could not
help observing that the eyes of the old dotard seemed still anxiously
fixed upon the small table on which lay his sword and pistols; and
that, amidst all the little duties which he seemed officiously anxious
to render to his guest, he took every opportunity of looking towards
and approaching these objects of his attention. At length, when
Trapbois thought he had completely avoided the notice of his guest,
Nigel, through the observation of one of the cracked mirrors, oh which
channel of communication the old man had not calculated, beheld him
actually extend his hand towards the table in question. He thought it
unnecessary to use further ceremony, but telling his landlord, in a
stern voice, that he permitted no one to touch his arms, he commanded
him to leave the apartment. The old usurer commenced a maundering sort
of apology, in which all that Nigel distinctly apprehended, was a
frequent repetition of the word _consideration_, and which did not
seem to him to require any other answer than a reiteration of his
command to him to leave the apartment, upon pain of worse

The ancient Hebe who acted as Lord Glenvarloch's cup-bearer, took his
part against the intrusion of the still more antiquated Ganymede, and
insisted on old Trapbois leaving the room instantly, menacing him at
the same time with her mistress's displeasure if he remained there any
longer. The old man seemed more under petticoat government than any
other, for the threat of the char-woman produced greater effect upon
him than the more formidable displeasure of Nigel. He withdrew
grumbling and muttering, and Lord Glenvarloch heard him bar a large
door at the nearer end of the gallery, which served as a division
betwixt the other parts of the extensive mansion, and the apartment
occupied by his guest, which, as the reader is aware, had its access
from the landing-place at the head of the grand staircase.

Nigel accepted the careful sound of the bolts and bars as they were
severally drawn by the trembling hand of old Trapbois, as an omen that
the senior did not mean again to revisit him in the course of the
evening, and heartily rejoiced that he was at length to be left to
uninterrupted solitude.

The old woman asked if there was aught else to be done for his
accommodation; and, indeed, it had hitherto seemed as if the pleasure
of serving him, or more properly the reward which she expected, had
renewed her youth and activity. Nigel desired to have candles, to have
a fire lighted in his apartment, and a few fagots placed beside it,
that he might feed it from time to time, as he began to feel the
chilly effects of the damp and low situation of the house, close as it
was to the Thames. But while the old woman was absent upon his errand,
he began to think in what way he should pass the long solitary evening
with which he was threatened.

His own reflections promised to Nigel little amusement, and less
applause. He had considered his own perilous situation in every light
in which it could be viewed, and foresaw as little utility as comfort
in resuming the survey. To divert the current of his ideas, books
were, of course, the readiest resource; and although, like most of us,
Nigel had, in his time, sauntered through large libraries, and even
spent a long time there without greatly disturbing their learned
contents, he was now in a situation where the possession of a volume,
even of very inferior merit, becomes a real treasure. The old
housewife returned shortly afterwards with fagots, and some pieces of
half-burnt wax-candles, the perquisites, probably, real or usurped, of
some experienced groom of the chambers, two of which she placed in
large brass candlesticks, of different shapes and patterns, and laid
the others on the table, that Nigel might renew them from time to time
as they burnt to the socket. She heard with interest Lord
Glenvarloch's request to have a book--any sort of book--to pass away
the night withal, and returned for answer, that she knew of no other
books in the house than her young mistress's (as she always
denominated Mistress Martha Trapbois) Bible, which the owner would not
lend; and her master's Whetstone of Witte, being the second part of
Arithmetic, by Robert Record, with the Cossike Practice and Rule of
Equation; which promising volume Nigel declined to borrow. She
offered, however, to bring him some books from Duke Hildebrod--"who
sometimes, good gentleman, gave a glance at a book when the State
affairs of Alsatia left him as much leisure."

Nigfil embraced the proposal, and his unwearied Iris scuttled away on
this second embassy. She returned in a short time with a tattered
quarto volume under her arm, and a bottle of sack in her hand; for the
Duke, judging that mere reading was dry work, had sent the wine by way
of sauce to help it down, not forgetting to add the price to the
morning's score, which he had already run up against the stranger in
the Sanctuary.

Nigel seized on the book, and did not refuse the wine, thinking that a
glass or two, as it really proved to be of good quality, would be no
bad interlude to his studies. He dismissed, with thanks and assurance
of reward, the poor old drudge who had been so zealous in his service;
trimmed his fire and candles, and placed the easiest of the old arm-
chairs in a convenient posture betwixt the fire and the table at which
he had dined, and which now supported the measure of sack and the
lights; and thus accompanying his studies with such luxurious
appliances as were in his power, he began to examine the only volume
with which the ducal library of Alsatia had been able to supply him.

The contents, though of a kind generally interesting, were not well
calculated to dispel the gloom by which he was surrounded. The book
was entitled "God's Revenge against Murther;" not, as the
bibliomaniacal reader may easily conjecture, the work which Reynolds
published under that imposing name, but one of a much earlier date,
printed and sold by old Wolfe; and which, could a copy now be found,
would sell for much more than its weight in gold.[Footnote: Only three
copies are known to exist; one in the library at Kennaquhair, and two-
-one foxed and cropped, the other tall and in good condition--both in
the possession of an eminent member of the Roxburghe Club.--_Note by_
CAPTAIN CLUTTERBUCK.] Nigel had soon enough of the doleful tales which
the book contains, and attempted one or two other modes of killing the
evening. He looked out at window, but the night was rainy, with gusts
of wind; he tried to coax the fire, but the fagots were green, and
smoked without burning; and as he was naturally temperate, he felt his
blood somewhat heated by the canary sack which he had already drank,
and had no farther inclination to that pastime. He next attempted to
compose a memorial addressed to the king, in which he set forth his
case and his grievances; but, speedily stung with the idea that his
supplication would be treated with scorn, he flung the scroll into the
fire, and, in a sort of desperation, resumed the book which he had
laid aside.

Nigel became more interested in the volume at the second than at the
first attempt which he made to peruse it. The narratives, strange and
shocking as they were to human feeling, possessed yet the interest of
sorcery or of fascination, which rivets the attention by its awakening
horrors. Much was told of the strange and horrible acts of blood by
which men, setting nature and humanity alike at defiance, had, for the
thirst of revenge, the lust of gold, or the cravings of irregular
ambition, broken into the tabernacle of life. Yet more surprising and
mysterious tales were recounted of the mode in which such deeds of
blood had come to be discovered and revenged. Animals, irrational
animals, had told the secret, and birds of the air had carried the
matter. The elements had seemed to betray the deed which had polluted
them--earth had ceased to support the murderer's steps, fire to warm
his frozen limbs, water to refresh his parched lips, air to relieve
his gasping lungs. All, in short, bore evidence to the homicide's
guilt. In other circumstances, the criminal's own awakened conscience
pursued and brought him to justice; and in some narratives the grave
was said to have yawned, that the ghost of the sufferer might call for

It was now wearing late in the night, and the book was still in
Nigel's hands, when the tapestry which hung behind him flapped against
the wall, and the wind produced by its motion waved the flame of the
candles by which he was reading. Nigel started and turned round, in
that excited and irritated state of mind which arose from the nature
of his studies, especially at a period when a certain degree of
superstition was inculcated as a point of religious faith. It was not
without emotion that he saw the bloodless countenance, meagre form,
and ghastly aspect of old Trapbois, once more in the very act of
extending his withered hand towards the table which supported his
arms. Convinced by this untimely apparition that something evil was
meditated towards him, Nigel sprung up, seized his sword, drew it, and
placing it at the old man's breast, demanded of him what he did in his
apartment at so untimely an hour. Trapbois showed neither fear nor
surprise, and only answered by some imperfect expressions, intimating
he would part with his life rather than with his property; and Lord
Glenvarloch, strangely embarrassed, knew not what to think of the
intruder's motives, and still less how to get rid of him. As he again
tried the means of intimidation, he was surprised by a second
apparition from behind the tapestry, in the person of the daughter of
Trapbois, bearing a lamp in her hand. She also seemed to possess her
father's insensibility to danger, for, coming close to Nigel, she
pushed aside impetuously his naked sword, and even attempted to take
it out of his hand.

"For shame," she said, "your sword on a man of eighty years and more!-
=this the honour of a Scottish gentleman!--give it to me to make a
spindle of!"

"Stand back," said Nigel; "I mean your father no injury--but I _will_
know what has caused him to prowl this whole day, and even at this
late hour of night, around my arms."

"Your arms!" repeated she; "alas! young man, the whole arms in the
Tower of London are of little value to him, in comparison of this
miserable piece of gold which I left this morning on the table of a
young spendthrift, too careless to put what belonged to him into his
own purse."

So saying, she showed the piece of gold, which, still remaining on the
table, where she left it, had been the bait that attracted old
Trapbois so frequently to the spot; and which, even in the silence of
the night, had so dwelt on his imagination, that he had made use of a
private passage long disused, to enter his guest's apartment, in order
to possess himself of the treasure during his slumbers. He now
exclaimed, at the highest tones of his cracked and feeble voice--

"It is mine--it is mine!--he gave it to me for a consideration--I will
die ere I part with my property!"

"It is indeed his own, mistress," said Nigel, "and I do entreat you to
restore it to the person on whom I have bestowed it, and let me have
my apartment in quiet."

"I will account with you for it, then,"--said the maiden, reluctantly
giving to her father the morsel of Mammon, on which he darted as if
his bony fingers had been the talons of a hawk seizing its prey; and
then making a contented muttering and mumbling, like an old dog after
he has been fed, and just when he is wheeling himself thrice round for
the purpose of lying down, he followed his daughter behind the
tapestry, through a little sliding-door, which was perceived when the
hangings were drawn apart.

"This shall be properly fastened to-morrow," said the daughter to
Nigel, speaking in such a tone that her father, deaf, and engrossed by
his acquisition, could not hear her; "to-night I will continue to
watch him closely.--I wish you good repose."

These few words, pronounced in a tone of more civility than she had
yet made use of towards her lodger, contained a wish which was not to
be accomplished, although her guest, presently after her departure,
retired to bed.

There was a slight fever in Nigel's blood, occasioned by the various
events of the evening, which put him, as the phrase is, beside his
rest. Perplexing and painful thoughts rolled on his mind like a
troubled stream, and the more he laboured to lull himself to slumber,
the farther he seemed from attaining his object. He tried all the
resources common in such cases; kept counting from one to a thousand,
until his head was giddy--he watched the embers of the wood fire till
his eyes were dazzled--he listened to the dull moaning of the wind,
the swinging and creaking of signs which projected from the houses,
and the baying of here and there a homeless dog, till his very ear was

Suddenly, however, amid this monotony, came a sound which startled him
at once. It was a female shriek. He sat up in his bed to listen, then
remembered he was in Alsatia, where brawls of every sort were current
among the unruly inhabitants. But another scream, and another, and
another, succeeded so close, that he was certain, though the noise was
remote and sounded stifled, it must be in the same house with himself.

Nigel jumped up hastily, put on a part of his clothes, seized his
sword and pistols, and ran to the door of his chamber. Here he plainly
heard the screams redoubled, and, as he thought, the sounds came from
the usurer's apartment. All access to the gallery was effectually
excluded by the intermediate door, which the brave young lord shook
with eager, but vain impatience. But the secret passage occurred
suddenly to his recollection. He hastened back to his room, and
succeeded with some difficulty in lighting a candle, powerfully
agitated by hearing the cries repeated, yet still more afraid lest
they should sink into silence.

He rushed along the narrow and winding entrance, guided by the noise,
which now burst more wildly on his ear; and, while he descended a
narrow staircase which terminated the passage, he heard the stifled
voices of men, encouraging, as it seemed, each other. "D--n her,
strike her down--silence her--beat her brains out!"--while the voice
of his hostess, though now almost exhausted, was repeating the cry of
"murder," and "help." At the bottom of the staircase was a small door,
which gave way before Nigel as he precipitated himself upon the scene
of action,--a cocked pistol in one hand, a candle in the other, and
his naked sword under his arm.

Two ruffians had, with great difficulty, overpowered, or, rather, were
on the point of overpowering, the daughter of Trapbois, whose
resistance appeared to have been most desperate, for the floor was
covered with fragments of her clothes, and handfuls of her hair. It
appeared that her life was about to be the price of her defence, for
one villain had drawn a long clasp-knife, when they were surprised by
the entrance of Nigel, who, as they turned towards him, shot the
fellow with the knife dead on the spot, and when the other advanced to
him, hurled the candlestick at his head, and then attacked him with
his sword. It was dark, save some pale moonlight from the window; and
the ruffian, after firing a pistol without effect, and fighting a
traverse or two with his sword, lost heart, made for the window,
leaped over it, and escaped. Nigel fired his remaining pistol after
him at a venture, and then called for light.

"There is light in the kitchen," answered Martha Trapbois, with more
presence of mind than could have been expected. "Stay, you know not
the way; I will fetch it myself.--Oh! my father--my poor father!--I
knew it would come to this--and all along of the accursed gold!--They
have _murdered_ him!"

Sir Walter Scott