---I'll play the eavesdropper.
_Richard III., Act V., Scene 3_.
James had no sooner resumed his seat at the council-board than he
began to hitch in his chair, cough, use his handkerchief, and make
other intimations that he meditated a long speech. The council
composed themselves to the beseeming degree of attention. Charles, as
strict in his notions of decorum, as his father was indifferent to it,
fixed himself in an attitude of rigid and respectful attention, while
the haughty favourite, conscious of his power over both father and
son, stretched himself more easily on his seat, and, in assuming an
appearance of listening, seemed to pay a debt to ceremonial rather
than to duty.
"I doubt not, my lords," said the Monarch, "that some of you may be
thinking the hour of refection is past, and that it is time to ask
with the slave in the comedy--_Quid de symbolo?_--Nevertheless, to do
justice and exercise judgment is our meat and drink; and now we are to
pray your wisdom to consider the case of this unhappy youth, Lord
Glenvarloch, and see whether, consistently with our honour, any thing
can be done in his favour."
"I am surprised at your Majesty's wisdom making the inquiry," said the
Duke; "it is plain this Dalgarno hath proved one of the most insolent
villains on earth, and it must therefore be clear, that if Lord
Glenvarloch had run him through the body, there would but have been
out of the world a knave who had lived in it too long. I think Lord
Glenvarloch hath had much wrong; and I regret that, by the persuasions
of this false fellow, I have myself had some hand in it."
"Ye speak like a child, Steenie--I mean my Lord of Buckingham,"
answered the king, "and as one that does not understand the logic of
the schools; for an action may be inconsequential or even meritorious,
_quoad hominem_, that is, as touching him upon _whom_ it is acted; and
yet most criminal, _quoad locum_, or considering the place _wherein_
it is done; as a man may lawfully dance Chrighty Beardie or any other
dance in a tavern, but not _inter parietes ecclesiae_. So that, though
it may have been a good deed to have sticked Lord Dalgarno, being such
as he has shown himself, anywhere else, yet it fell under the plain
statute, when violence was offered within the verge of the Court. For,
let me tell you, my lords, the statute against striking would be of no
small use in our Court, if it could be eluded by justifying the person
stricken to be a knave. It is much to be lamented that I ken nae Court
in Christendom where knaves are not to be found; and if men are to
break the peace under pretence of beating them, why, it will rain
Jeddart staves [Footnote: The old-fashioned weapon called the Jeddart
staff was a species of battle-axe. Of a very great tempest, it is
said, in the south of Scotland, that it rains Jeddart staffs, as in
England the common people talk of its raining cats and dogs.] in our
"What your Majesty says," replied Prince Charles, "is marked with your
usual wisdom--the precincts of palaces must be sacred as well as the
persons of kings, which are respected even in the most barbarous
nations, as being one step only beneath their divinities. But your
Majesty's will can control the severity of this and every other law,
and it is in your power, on consideration of his case, to grant the
rash young man a free pardon."
"_Rem acu tetigisti, Carole, mi puerule,_" answered the king; "and
know, my lords, that we have, by a shrewd device and gift of our own,
already sounded the very depth of this Lord Glenvarloch's disposition.
I trow there be among you some that remember my handling in the
curious case of my Lady Lake, and how I trimmed them about the story
of hearkening behind the arras. Now this put me to cogitation, and I
remembered me of having read that Dionysius, King of Syracuse, whom
historians call Tyrannos, which signifieth not in the
Greek tongue, as in ours, a truculent usurper, but a royal king who
governs, it may be, something more strictly than we and other lawful
monarchs, whom the ancients termed Basileis--Now this Dionysius of
Syracuse caused cunning workmen to build for himself a _lugg_--D'ye
ken what that is, my Lord Bishop?"
"A cathedral, I presume to guess," answered the Bishop.
"What the deil, man--I crave your lordship's pardon for swearing--but
it was no cathedral--only a lurking-place called the king's _lugg_, or
_ear_, where he could sit undescried, and hear the converse of his
prisoners. Now, sirs, in imitation of this Dionysius, whom I took for
my pattern, the rather that he was a great linguist and grammarian,
and taught a school with good applause after his abdication, (either
he or his successor of the same name, it matters not whilk)--I have
caused them to make a _lugg_ up at the state-prison of the Tower
yonder, more like a pulpit than a cathedral, my Lord Bishop--and
communicating with the arras behind the Lieutenant's chamber, where we
may sit and privily hear the discourse of such prisoners as are pent
up there for state-offences, and so creep into the very secrets of our
The Prince cast a glance towards the Duke, expressive of great
vexation and disgust. Buckingham shrugged his shoulders, but the
motion was so slight as to be almost imperceptible.
"Weel, my lords, ye ken the fray at the hunting this morning--I shall
not get out of the trembling exies until I have a sound night's sleep-
-just after that, they bring ye in a pretty page that had been found
in the Park. We were warned against examining him ourselves by the
anxious care of those around us; nevertheless, holding our life ever
at the service of these kingdoms, we commanded all to avoid the room,
the rather that we suspected this boy to be a girl. What think ye, my
lords?--few of you would have thought I had a hawk's eye for sic gear;
but we thank God, that though we are old, we know so much of such toys
as may beseem a man of decent gravity. Weel, my lords, we questioned
this maiden in male attire ourselves, and I profess it was a very
pretty interrogatory, and well followed. For, though she at first
professed that she assumed this disguise in order to countenance the
woman who should present us with the Lady Hermione's petition, for
whom she professed entire affection; yet when we, suspecting _anguis
in herba_, did put her to the very question, she was compelled to own
a virtuous attachment for Glenvarlochides, in such a pretty passion of
shame and fear, that we had much ado to keep our own eyes from keeping
company with hers in weeping. Also, she laid before us the false
practices of this Dalgarno towards Glenvarlochides, inveigling him
into houses of ill resort, and giving him evil counsel under pretext
of sincere friendship, whereby the inexperienced lad was led to do
what was prejudicial to himself, and offensive to us. But, however
prettily she told her tale, we determined not altogether to trust to
her narration, but rather to try the experiment whilk we had devised
for such occasions. And having ourselves speedily passed from
Greenwich to the Tower, we constituted ourselves eavesdropper, as it
is called, to observe what should pass between Glenvarlochides and his
page, whom we caused to be admitted to his apartment, well judging
that if they were of counsel together to deceive us, it could not be
but something of it would spunk out--And what think ye we saw, my
lords?--Naething for you to sniggle and laugh at, Steenie--for I
question if you could have played the temperate and Christian-like
part of this poor lad Glenvarloch. He might be a Father of the Church
in comparison of you, man.--And then, to try his patience yet farther,
we loosed on him a courtier and a citizen, that is Sir Mungo
Malagrowther and our servant George Heriot here, wha dang the poor lad
about, and didna greatly spare our royal selves.--You mind, Geordie,
what you said about the wives and concubines? but I forgie ye, man--
nae need of kneeling, I forgie ye--the readier, that it regards a
certain particular, whilk, as it added not much to Solomon's credit,
the lack of it cannot be said to impinge on ours. Aweel, my lords, for
all temptation of sore distress and evil ensample, this poor lad never
loosed his tongue on us to say one unbecoming word--which inclines us
the rather, acting always by your wise advice, to treat this affair of
the Park as a thing done in the heat of blood, and under strong
provocation, and therefore to confer our free pardon on Lord
"I am happy your gracious Majesty," said the Duke of Buckingham, "has
arrived at that conclusion, though I could never have guessed at the
road by which you attained it."
"I trust," said Prince Charles, "that it is not a path which your
Majesty will think it consistent with your high dignity to tread
"Never while I live again, Baby Charles, that I give you my royal word
on. They say that hearkeners hear ill tales of themselves--by my saul,
my very ears are tingling wi' that auld sorrow Sir Mungo's sarcasms.
He called us close-fisted, Steenie--I am sure you can contradict that.
But it is mere envy in the auld mutilated sinner, because he himself
has neither a noble to hold in his loof, nor fingers to close on it if
he had." Here the king lost recollection of Sir Mungo's irreverence in
chuckling over his own wit, and only farther alluded to it by saying--
"We must give the old maunderer _bos in linguam_--something to stop
his mouth, or he will rail at us from Dan to Beersheba.--And now, my
lords, let our warrant of mercy to Lord Glenvarloch be presently
expedited, and he put to his freedom; and as his estate is likely to
go so sleaveless a gate, we will consider what means of favour we can
show him.--My lords, I wish you an appetite to an early supper--for
our labours have approached that term.--Baby Charles and Steenie, you
will remain till our couchee.--My Lord Bishop, you will be pleased to
stay to bless our meat.--Geordie Heriot, a word with you apart."
His Majesty then drew the citizen into a corner, while the
counsellors, those excepted who had been commanded to remain, made
their obeisance, and withdrew. "Geordie," said the king, "my good and
trusty servant"--Here he busied his fingers much with the points and
ribbons of his dress,--"Ye see that we have granted, from our own
natural sense of right and justice, that which yon long-backed fallow,
Moniplies I think they ca' him, proffered to purchase from us with a
mighty bribe; whilk we refused, as being a crowned king, who wad
neither sell our justice nor our mercy for pecuniar consideration.
Now, what think ye should be the upshot of this?"
"My Lord Glenvarloch's freedom, and his restoration to your Majesty's
favour," said Heriot.
"I ken that," said the king, peevishly. "Ye are very dull to-day. I
mean, what do you think this fallow Moniplies should think about the
"Surely that your Majesty is a most good and gracious sovereign,"
"We had need to be gude and gracious baith," said the king, still more
pettishly, "that have idiots about us that cannot understand what we
mint at, unless we speak it out in braid Lowlands. See this chield
Moniplies, sir, and tell him what we have done for Lord Glenvarloch,
in whom he takes such part, out of our own gracious motion, though we
refused to do it on ony proffer of private advantage. Now, you may put
it till him, as if of your own mind, whether it will be a gracious or
a dutiful part in him, to press us for present payment of the two or
three hundred miserable pounds for whilk we were obliged to opignorate
our jewels? Indeed, mony men may think ye wad do the part of a good
citizen, if you took it on yourself to refuse him payment, seeing he
hath had what he professed to esteem full satisfaction, and
considering, moreover, that it is evident he hath no pressing need of
the money, whereof we have much necessity."
George Heriot sighed internally. "O my Master," thought he--"my dear
Master, is it then fated you are never to indulge any kingly or noble
sentiment, without its being sullied by some afterthought of
The king troubled himself not about what he thought, but taking him by
the collar, said,--"Ye ken my meaning now, Jingler--awa wi' ye. You
are a wise man--manage it your ain gate--but forget not our present
straits." The citizen made his obeisance, and withdrew.
"And now, bairns," said the king, "what do you look upon each other
for--and what have you got to ask of your dear dad and gossip?"
"Only," said the Prince, "that it would please your Majesty to command
the lurking-place at the prison to be presently built up--the groans
of a captive should not be brought in evidence against him."
"What! build up my lugg, Baby Charles? And yet, better deaf than hear
ill tales of oneself. So let them build it up, hard and fast, without
delay, the rather that my back is sair with sitting in it for a whole
hour.--And now let us see what the cooks have been doing for us, bonny
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