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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Friday, September 5, 2014

Part One: The Play for Jonathan Crouch, Chapter II. Blindfold Play


Chapter II. Blindfold Play


The scene shifts to Boghall Castle, where the residents are nervously awaiting Wharton's English troops moving north from Annan. This is the location from which Richard Crawford and Christian Stewart saw the fire at Midculter, a little more than half-way between Annan and Edinburgh.


As the stress-filled morning drags on, Christian's servant Sym finds a man in an English cloak lying unconscious in the bog. We do not know who he is or how he came to be injured and to lie in this place.


Christian continues to stand out as an unusual person, not because she is blind but because of her striking personality. How does she react to Sym finding what appears to be an enemy in the bog? She is calm and humorous and willing to go along with what sounds like Sym's pipe dream of securing a large ransom for this anonymous person behind the back of Hugh the Warden.


Why doesn't Christian, who has every reason not to help an Englishman, turn the man over to Hugh? As she sits by the bed waiting for the mystery man to wake, she considers that their prisoner might by Scottish. Why? All she knows at this point is the man is young and very well dressed. Does Christian suspect who he might be from her exploration of the man using "hypertactile fingers"? We know she felt the injury at his nape, and it would be highly unlikely she would not also have felt his face. That is one way she knows he is a young man (the skin is taut and smooth).


When he wakes and speaks, she notes the voice is cultured and hard to place by accent and inflection, although it would not be out of place north of the Tyne (northern England). No clear clue to his identity here.


At this point, we do not know for sure who the young man with the injured head is, but his way of speaking is a clue...literary and historical allusions flow from his tongue. Nonetheless, he claims he has no idea who he is. 


Gradually it is revealed that the injured man is Francis Crawford, but Dunnett gives us multiple clues before that. Lymond repeats Will Scott's poetry quotation--"This officer, but doubt, is callit Deid"--for example, and cannot remember the next day that he had said it.

Something to remember: Francis suffers a head injury serious enough to cause a prolonged blackout and memory loss. 


When I first read this chapter I did not believe Lymond had actually lost his memory but rather was engaging in yet another ruse. However, given how the story with Christian unfolds, I believe he did suffer a bout of amnesia. He seems genuinely injured and befuddled and, as a result, the person we meet in this chapter is very, very different from the Francis we have seen thus far. 

During his recovery at Boghall, Francis is vulnerable, polite, kind, generous, charming, even sweet. If he truly does not remember who he is, this is his genuine persona because you cannot pretend to be someone else if you don't know who you. 


His merciless lack of self pity is something else he shares with Christian, who in no way feels sorry for herself because of her blindness. They instantaneously recognize each other as kindred spirits. She notes how he treats her blindness as a fact and not a tragedy. He delights in her quick wit and verbal acuity. Christian is one of the few people who can keep up with Francis's silver tongue and throw "his own quotations back at him." 

With Christian, we first experience Francis's passion for and skill with music. He not only plays a variety of musical styles magnificently, he also sings beautifully and can discourse on music theory. So completely does he enter Christian's world of sound that she almost loses herself there until conscience reminds her she does not know this man and his intentions.


Christian catches Lymond unawares with the mention of Jonathan Crouch, and his honest reply supports the belief he really does not remember who he is, or he would have dissembled. I think hearing Crouch's name pushes the door to Francis's memory ajar, and the next song he sings fully opens the portal.


Francis's reaction as he sings the frog and mouse song is exactly what I would expect if he had used it as a spur to Richard's childhood memories. This silly song breaks the logjam of Lymond's memories and allows them to flood back, painfully, into his conscious mind: "What aspect of the bold, ill-fated frog had opened the gates" of memory? Dunnett doesn't say, but she does tell us what Francis finds at the bottom of that well of memory: the Truth about who he is and what he is doing. 


It is not surprising that Francis will not give Christian his name once he recovers it, but why does Christian not insist on knowing who she is saving? Is she afraid of being disillusioned? Is she afraid of becoming a co-conspirator in a criminal enterprise? If she learns who he is, she may feel compelled to turn him in to authorities. Or maybe she already suspects who her mystery man is. Her one condition for letting Lymond go is to know why he is interested in Crouch. 


Ultimately, Francis tells Christian that Crouch is an Englishman he knows little about but who, ironically, he'll find if it takes him "to Hell and back." Why is Lymond so determined to find Crouch? Neither Christian nor we know as of yet.


Note on Shahrazad (Scheherazade): As a polyglot and someone who has traveled widely, Francis might well be familiar with this traditional Persian tale, but Christian almost certainly would not. It's a little anachronism. However, what does Lymond mean by calling Christian Shahrazad? Shahrazad used story telling to save not only her life but also the lives of many future wives of the murderous king. I think that is Francis's point: Christian has already been "telling stories" (lying and deceiving) to save Francis's life, and she is willing to continue to do so in order to protect and assist him.

When Tom Erskine arrives he brings "miraculous" news on the English retreat across the border. Remember: Francis told Richard the English were heading north to Stirling just as he had earlier told Wharton and Lennox that the Protector wanted them to come north to meet him. Instead, they went back south into England. Richard gambled that what Francis had told him was a lie and, as it turned out, it was.

The closing scene of the chapter has Sym guiding Christian to the cave, where they find not only Francis but also another man, who turns out to be Johnnie Bullo. To Christian, he is perceived only by his "long, wiry fingers" (hands, again, as an identifier) and garlic on his breath. Christian does not merely offer to help her mystery man, she positively insists on doing so. 


A note on the significance of the garlic on Johnnie's breath. Garlic was not generally used in English or Scottish cuisine in the 16th century. Bullo's garlic breath is a give-away that he is from a lower class, or possibly even that he is a gypsy because their cuisine is distinctive.
Christian's behavior is extremely risky and, on the face of it, irrational. Her prisoner could be anyone with any number of nefarious motives. Just because he is cultured, witty, and intelligent does not mean he is not a scoundrel--or worse. After all, he has every reason to behave well when he is a prisoner in the castle. If he turns out to be a wanted man and Christian's role in hiding him and helping him escape is discovered, she is in serious trouble. Christian is a very sensible woman whose head would not be turned by a charming rogue, no matter how refined his sensibilities or glib his tongue. When she does find herself beguiled by his musical skill, her better angels land on her shoulder to break the spell.

All of which means that, as with Francis, we do not really know or understand Christian Stewart's motives.


Questions
  1. Christian Stewart is a neighbor of the Crawford's (she was the one who smelled the smoke emanating from Midculter). Why wasn't she at the gathering at Midculter Hall? Wouldn't Sybilla have invited her?
  2. How did Lymond end up unconscious in the bog? Who or what hit him on the head?
  3. Why is Christian protecting and actively helping a man she presumably knows nothing about and who may well be an enemy?
  4. What do you think Lymond would have done had Christian decided not to let him go?
Favorite Line

"With humble and rather touching delight, she entered into her own world; the world of sound, and was happy until Conscience put a hand on her shoulder."


Words that Describe Lymond in Blindfold Play

  • vulnerable
  • polite
  • kind 
  • generous
  • charming
  • sweet
  • young
  • amusing
  • cautious
  • manipulative

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