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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Part One: The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Chapter I: Taking en Passant

1. The English Opening

I wonder who Jonathan Crouch is...

He is listed among the characters as a former officer of the Royal Household and prisoner of war. That's all we know except Lymond wants to find him.


Translation into modern English of the last line of the epigram:

"...and if it be in time of war, they ought not open the gates by night to any man." ...even if he seems to be one of yours.

We meet Lymond's band of merry and not so merry men, in particular Turkey Mat and Johnnie Bullo. What I find interesting about this group, which is undoubtedly made up of rough men with rougher backgrounds, is that they are not ruffians. Turkey Mat is a former soldier, a veteran of some serious battles, including at least three against the Ottomans. Johnnie is a gypsy (we'll learn more about him as time goes on). 


During the conversation between Johnnie and Turkey Mat, Turkey says that Lymond's men met an English messenger carrying dispatches from "The Protector" to his commander in Annan. 


Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England
The Protector refers to the Lord Protector of England, Edward, Duke of Somerset, King Edward's uncle. He is also called Somerset. He is waging war on Scotland, again.

Not only did Lymond not capture or kill the messenger, he sent one of his men to make sure the messenger, who we later learn is named Bannister, gets to Annan with his message.  

More clues to Lymond's character: Johnnie Bullo notes Francis's appearance as he arrives at camp: "...the dairy-maid skin, the gilded hair, the long hands jewelled to display their beauty." Francis's appearance is in stark contrast both to that of his men and to the setting. He is like a butterfly flitting among horseflies. Also, DD's descriptions of characters' hands are revealing. Pay attention to how she describes Lymond's and certain other personage's hands. 


Enter Will Scott, who is the young man Janet Buccleuch and Sybilla are discussing at Midculter. What sets Will apart from Lymond's men is that he is of Francis Crawford's social class, with a classical education and formal training in the arts of weaponry and war. When he offers a Latin quotation, "flat incomprehension informed every face" except, of course, Lymond's. Will is something new: a potential rival to Lymond.


But Will has a long way to go to challenge Francis, whose own men describe him as "the devil" with a "tongue like a thorn tree." Lymond certainly demonstrates on Will his ability to humiliate, going so far as to call him "infant" and, hilariously, listing "wetting the bed at night" as one reason for Will wanting to join the band. 


Francis uses Will to punish one Oyster Charlie, who has been giving Lymond "a little trouble." Francis warns Oyster, whose "hearing is sensational," that an attack is coming, so Will proves his willingness to kill and Oyster gets a painful but less than fatal lesson. 


Lymond also quotes from Thomas More's A Merry Jest, how a Serjeant would learn to play the Friar, "When a hatter/will go smatter..."


This quotation is interesting on several levels. In the poem a sergeant disguises himself as a friar to get into the house of a thief who is pretending to be sick in bed. Unfortunately for the sergeant, even though the ruse works, he ends up getting the beating of his life. The point of the poem, written when More was a young man, is that people should stick to what they know and to their own profession. 


The moral of the story applies both to Will Scott, who wants to become an outlaw, and to Lymond himself, who is clearly operating outside his milieu and given to using ruses and disguises ("I propose to appear in one of my twenty-two incarnations"). Francis knows he is playing a dangerous game. It is unclear if Will also realizes the potential pitfalls and dangers of the life he proposes to lead.


The mortification of Will Scott is painful to read, so thorough is it, culminating in the disclosure that Francis knew all along who Will is. The humiliation is Will's hazing ritual, to test if he is serious about joining Lymond and if he can be trusted not to betray him. Maybe Francis really does think he can trust Will, or maybe he simply wants to use him to his advantage, which is immediately borne out by Lymond taking Will with him to Annan.


2. Pins and Counterpins


Lymond is going to Annan, this time playing the part of an English soldier, to look for the mysterious Jonathan Crouch. Thus far we do not know why he seeks Crouch. 


Nothing seems to go right at Annan. First, Lymond discovers Crouch has been taken prisoner on the battlefield, but by whom the English commander does not know. Next, the commander, who is not entirely without his suspicions about these two men who suddenly appear at the city gates, insists on taking Lymond to see Wharton, who has threatened to gut him publicly. Wharton may not recognize Lymond, but Lennox will. 


Just as Francis and Will seemingly have extricated themselves from this deadly danger, what does Lymond do but force Wharton's son to take him to his father, much to Will's shock and dismay. 


"The events which followed were always to have for Will Scott of Kincurd the curious narcotic quality of a bout of fever." Such a vivid and apt description! It rings true to anyone who has ever had the surreal experience of horror and fear tinged with the chilling thrill of walking on the knife edge of disaster.


The wordplay between Lennox and Lymond, which says so much and yet leaves so much unanswered, is a beautiful thing to behold. What we learn:

  1. Lennox and Lymond have a history.
  2. Lennox stole a shipload of gold from the Scottish Queen Dowager (Mary of Guise) and took off for England.
  3. Lennox was responsible at some point for freeing Francis from "his stinking oars," which indicates Francis was trapped in a very bad situation, yet to be explained.
  4. Francis hits Lennox below the belt with this curious comment, which alludes to Lennox's wife, Margaret: "I was brought up in bad company. From oar to oar, you might say."
  5. Francis and Margaret Douglas, Lady Lennox, also have a history.
Lymond tells Wharton and Lennox the (purported) contents of the Protector's dispatch Bannister is carrying. Furthermore, Francis plays to the Englishmen's vanity and ambition, saying that the Protector wants to talk to Lennox at Stirling about putting him on the throne of Scotland and Wharton on the Privy Council. 

Continuing in his role as rogue, outlaw, and thief, Lymond liberates Wharton's gold, which will help Francis finance his activities, and, in what seems to be a wanton act of cruelty, drops a helmet that has been heating in the fire onto the head of Wharton's son Henry. However, it's important to remember a few things. 

  1. Henry Wharton is 25 years old, hardly a child.
  2. Henry is "already a leader of horse," meaning he is a military commander and thus involved in the sacking of Annan.
  3. Annan has been burned and pillaged. Many innocent men, women, and children have died or lost everything in this English attack on their town.
Lymond's action of dropping the flaming helmet on Henry's head is symbolic payback for the cruelty inflicted on Annan, which suffered by fire. It also serves the important purpose of creating a distraction that allows Francis and Will to escape.

3. Capture of a King's Pawn


In the aftermath of the terrible defeat at Pinkie, Richard Crawford (Lord Culter) and Tom Erskine, with their beaten and tattered men, are going to try to stop the English from moving north to Stirling, where the Scottish Court and other noblewomen with their children have been sent for safety.


Into their arms walks Charlie Bannister, the English messenger bound for Annan. Bannister destroys the message he is carrying and refuses to give up the contents, which he has unwisely let the Scots know he has read. Faced with a terrible dilemma of whether to stay put or go north to try to protect Stirling, Richard decides to do just that. 


Richard sends his man to get Erskine so they can join forces and move towards Stirling when Lymond's men descend on Culter and his company. Lymond's aim is to free Bannister and send him on his way to deliver his message. Francis infuriates his brother and his brother's men with his outrageous behavior and language.


Recurring theme: "After all, I'm on the horse, like the frog in the story..."  

From "The Battle of the Frogs and Mice"

Frogs and mice are first alluded to in Opening Gambit when Francis says "and tonight the frogs and mice fight, eh, Mungo?" 

This may be an allusion to Batrachomyomachia or "The Battle of  Mice," a parody of the Iliad, something a person of Francis's education would know. Or it may refer to "The Ballad of the Frog and the Mouse," which is included in The Lymond Poetry, an anthology compiled by Dunnett herself. Most likely, Francis is thinking of both.


However, in the scene with Richard, Francis, sitting on his horse looking down at his brother, clearly alludes to the latter ballad.

"When upon his [the frog's] high horse sat
Humble-dum, humble-dum
His boots they shone as black as jet..."

This version is actually by Thomas Ravenscroft, originally titled "The Marriage of the Frogge and the Mouse,"
published in 1611. But there is an older Scottish version that first appeared in print in 1548, which means the ballad would have been part of popular culture for some time before appearing in print. The Scottish version is from The Complaynt of Scotland, written in reaction to England's "Rough Wooing" of Mary, Queen of Scots by Henry VIII.

Why would Francis evoke this children's song when talking to his brother? There are many possible explanations, but I think perhaps the primary reason is to remind Richard in a subtle way of their shared childhood experiences and familial ties. Think about the stories and songs you shared as a child with siblings and how they make a lifelong mark on you. It takes only a word or two for all the associated memories to come flooding back into your mind the way the smell of a madeleine evoked Proust's childhood for him.


Richard, as the elder brother, may have sung this to his little brother. Or perhaps, as was the case in my own family, it was a grandparent who sang the ballad to them both.


Lymond is rude, obnoxious, and vulgar in addressing Richard. He comments on Richard having put on weight, mentions the fire that could have killed his wife and mother ("encaramelled" them...what an image!), asks crudely if Marriota is pregnant ("am I superseded yet?"), and admits that he has taken money from Wharton ("Well, he's certainly paying me." Ha, ha). Francis also tells Richard that the Protector is to the north in or near Stirling, where the Court and the women were placed for protection, and Wharton will be heading that way as soon as Bannister delivers his message at Annan.


As Erskine's men arrive, Richard takes his opportunity to lash out at his brother, accusing him of wanting to claim his baronetcy and his wife. In response, Francis backhandedly challenges Richard to a shooting contest (the Popinjay) in Stirling, betting his elder brother will not be able to resist such a goad.


Questions to Ponder

  1. Francis's appearance is clearly important to him. Why does he play up his beauty, his wealth, his glamour? Does he have a motive or is he merely vain?
  2. Why does Francis tell Wharton and Lennox the Protector wants them to go north to Stirling?
  3. Why does Francis tell Richard the message orders the English troops north to Stirling?
  4. Why does Francis want Richard to meet him at the Popinjay challenge at the Wapenshaw in Stirling?
Favorite Line

"Oyster is not dead; merely lightly boiled in the shell."


Words that Describe Lymond in Taking en Passant

  • duplicitous
  • hot-tempered
  • treacherous
  • daring
  • cruel
  • condescending
  • rude
  • clever
  • vain
  • funny (e.g., favorite line above)

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