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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Monday, October 13, 2014

Part One. The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Chapter VII. A Variety of Mating Replies 1. Play with a Rook Proves Dangerous

Stirling Castle
This chapter is filled with challenges, discoveries, mysteries revealed and mysteries concealed. It is also a chapter that perplexes many Dunnett readers, so here we go with part one (in which Lymond does not appear but makes his presence known)...

1. Play with a Rook Proves Dangerous

It is the morning of the Wapenshaw and Sybilla is having her portrait painted in miniature by the roguish goldsmith Patey Liddell. Sybilla had hoped, of course, that this year's Wapenshaw (remember: a count of arms and a troop review that is also an excuse for a fair) might be called off given the defeat at Pinkie Cleugh occurred so recently (September 10, and it is now mid-October). But it was not and so Sybilla chooses this morning to continue sitting for her miniature, surely in part to take her mind off the potential danger to her son (or sons, perhaps) at the papingo shoot. We learn a couple of things during the conversation with Patey. Sybilla is 60 years old; Richard and Patey had occasion recently to meet, but where or why we do not know. 

Once Andrew Hunter and George Douglas show up in the shop, things get more interesting because Dandy confesses the truth to Douglas about what happened to his face. He also asks George if he knows the two names that Black-mask and his men threw out: Gideon Somerville and Samuel Harvey. Douglas says he does not know them, but with George, one must wonder if he is telling the truth. We know Hunter came to fetch the brooch he was having Patey alter, presumably the same one his mother had rejected as vulgar. Sybilla saw the brooch as it was being altered and admired it, so Patey did a good job of transforming the gaudy bauble into something more refined. I assume the alteration includes the removal of Henri and Diane's initials. I wonder if Sybilla saw the brooch before or after the initials came off? 

The scene abruptly shifts to a conversation later that day with Christian and Richard in which Sybilla reveals that the story Dandy Hunter had told them about how he sustained his injuries was untrue. She also learns from Richard that Hunter did not get the money for the brooch from ransoming an English prisoner, so how he paid for it and its alteration remains a mystery.

Richard, remember, overheard Dandy and George arranging for Hunter to take Crouch from Douglas (Ch. IV) to exchange for his cousin being held by the English. (George Douglas does get around, doesn't he?). Sybilla is openly skeptical of the "favorite cousin" story. 

She is also worried about Richard, who has barely spent any time with Mariotta for weeks and who somehow has completed the tasks she had surreptitiously planned to keep him busy -- and away from the Wapenshaw. Using her most imperious style and a substantial quantity of alcohol, Sybilla almost succeeds in keeping Richard (and Wat Scott) away from the papingo shoot until the ubiquitous Dandy Hunter shows up to insist Richard must compete because, well, because everyone expects it. And Richard is not about to avoid the shoot because to do so would make him look the coward, something Richard would never do.

Notice "the briefest possible" look that passes between Buccleuch and Andrew Hunter. This is Dunnett letting us in on the fact that Dandy and Wat Scott conspired to have Wat go get Richard for the papingo shoot, probably because Wat is a very close friend of the Crawfords. Dandy only shows up at Bogle House when Wat fails to appear with Richard.

And Christian once again shows herself as both perspicacious and direct by her comment that "the crowd" is eager for the entertainment of a bloody assassination, not a parrot shoot.

By the way, Sybilla again mentions that Lymond is "at the horn." This is a peculiarly Scottish tradition. Letters of horning were issued denouncing a person as a rebel. They were traditionally announced with three blasts of a horn; thus, the person was said to be "at the horn."

We are again treated to the special charm of Agnes Herries, who says too much and says it too loudly. Unaware of the challenge Lymond made to Richard (and all the attendant intrigue), Agnes expounds on the shoot with vigor, undoubtedly to Mariotta and Tom's extreme discomfort.

The Papingo "winking blue and yellow"
Tom Erskine has drawn the unhappy duty of escorting Agnes and Mariotta to the Wapenshaw. As Mariotta's escort, he acutely feels the embarrassment of Richard's absence and the potential danger to Culter. The whole mess with Lymond has become fodder for public gossip and humor, largely at Richard's expense, and Tom, being the thoroughly decent chap he is, intensely dislikes the whole ugly turn of events. Tom is relieved when Andrew Hunter shows up, jovially explaining why he isn't joining the parrot shoot: no bow and "I'm a fool at perch shooting." The parrot is hoisted high on a crossbar at the top of a tall pole, so the shot must be made at a very sharp, almost vertical, angle.

Tom takes off on an errand in town, leaving Mariotta and Agnes in Dandy's care. Mariotta is suddenly in a much better mood and even Agnes seems to have quieted down for the moment. Dunnett's description of the crowd is masterful and her comparison of protocol to a fancy jelly is priceless. One particularly interesting member of the crowd that Mariotta sees is "the one-eyed man who had called at Bogle House selling fumigating pans." Is this important? Who might he be? 

Regarding the Culter motto: I am just going to tell you what the Companion, vol. 1 says because this is an old and unsolvable controversy. It means something like:

“Despite the (misleading) evidence of ours lives, we die honest” or 
“We die honest, despite Life’s efforts to thwart us.”
Both impart the idea of overcoming life's travails not to gain worldly glory and success but to "die honest." An interesting motto, and worth watching to see if it is relevant for the Culter family.

Tom Erskine rushes off to look for his "loved one" Christian, who will soon leave Bogle House to resume her duties at Boghall. Tom is unaware that Richard is going to compete in the papingo shoot or he would not have left the Wapenshaw, but Christian persuades him to escort her and Sybilla around the fair until the shoot is over. Sybilla isn't "tolling the passing bell" (to announce a death) but she is understandably anxious. Tom is shocked by Christian's reaction when he says she seems as upset as Sybilla. Christian's remarks about the Culters and Tom are revealing: she loves and reveres Sybilla; she likes Mariotta and admires her spirit. Notice she does not mention Richard -- or Francis. But she does make a scathing remark about Tom, referring to his penchant for games and horses rather than serious pursuits. 

Also, Christian's comments about her closeness to Sybilla make Christian's absence from the welcoming party for Mariotta all the more perplexing. Theirs seems a friendship of longstanding.

The scene with Sybilla buying out the fair is hilarious (Dunnett-style humor in the midst of a deadly serious business), especially the bit about the leaky ox feet (yuck). Also notice that Sybilla throws out quotations in a fashion similar to Lymond's: erudite, pointed, and often over people's heads (Tom isn't sure if she is making fun of him with the quote about music making men effeminate).

The gypsies who performed at Midculter in August (when Lymond robs the guests and sets fire to the hall) are also at the fair offering a variety of entertainments, including fortune telling. Christian recognizes the voice of the gypsy who takes her by the arm: Johnnie Bullo, Lymond's go-between. He must have a message for Christian, but she is unable to get away from Tom and Sybilla to hear it.

As the trio are heading home, they are met by Dandy Hunter, who is not with Mariotta and Agnes. Sybilla instantly senses something is wrong.

The next scene is set before the end of the previous one in which the Dowager Culter proclaims something is wrong.

Most of the first part of this section is devoted to a rather long and involved discussion of marriage, first by Agnes and then joined by Dandy and Mariotta. Recall the chapter title: "a variety of mating replies," which has the delightfully ambiguous meaning of marriage and a chess game. It is fascinating if a bit odd to have this discussion during the papingo shoot. It is also fascinating to listen to 13-year-old Agnes Herries' remarkably astute analysis of the arranged marriage game, of which she wants no part. Agnes may be loud and indiscreet but she is quick and bright. The start of the shoot shuts her up momentarily.

Who could help loving the swearing parrot with the Aberdeen accent?

Of course Dandy Hunter cannot control his mouth any more than Agnes can as he starts speculating about where Lymond will shoot from. He seems terribly eager to see if he can find Lymond and stop him, perhaps to impress Mariotta? Mariotta will have none of it.

Agnes starts up her complaints against forced marriages again, making a number of cogent observations. She doesn't see the point in getting married unless you get something you don't have, presumably to include lovers, which she concludes in her matter-of-fact style one could get nine times out of ten without marriage. 

What do we learn about Dandy Hunter and Mariotta's attitudes towards marriage (their "mating replies")? He still believes in a romantic notion of marriage (a man who puts his wife before business or politics), but he is too keenly aware of the enormous financial and emotional burden ("claims and duties" of friends and family -- his mother). He wants Agnes (and Mariotta) to understand that men just as much as women are often forced to marry where they must instead of where they will. And Mariotta's opinions? They are few and rather trite. She is keeping her own council on the subject. What must Mariotta be thinking after the unauspicious start to her own marriage?

Dandy uses the excitement over Menteith's attempts to hit the parrot as an opportunity to slip away without Mariotta noticing it. 

Richard steps up to shoot and confusion reigns. There are four arrows, not three:

  1. Richard's arrow (shot vertically from below the pole) is aimed at the parrot.
  2. The second arrow (shot from "the farthest suburbs of the crowd") hits the crossbar and frees the bird.
  3. The third arrow (called the second arrow by Dunnett) hits the parrot in flight.
  4. The fourth arrow (called the third arrow by Dunnett) hits Richard.
There is a lot of speculation as to why Dunnett does not count the arrow loosed by Richard, but I assume she is only counting the "extra, unscheduled" arrows, not that she is purposely misleading us. But that is a possibility. We do not know exactly where the third and fourth arrows come from, but the third seems to come from the same direction as the second. All we know about the fourth arrow, which hits Richard, is that it could not have been shot from below because it "arched in the air, a gleaming parabola."

After the third arrow (which kills the parrot) but before the fourth (which hits Richard) Dandy rushes up to higher ground, presumably to where Lymond is hiding and shooting. The fourth and last arrow fells Lord Culter. 

Now we are back to the point in time when Sybilla, Tom, and Christian encounter Andrew Hunter and Sybilla says "something's wrong."


  1. Why is George Douglas at Patey Liddell's shop? 
  2. What does Richard mean when he says to his mother he'll teach her the "proper meaning of Moral Philosophy"?
  3. Why won't Mariotta let Andrew Hunter try to find Lymond and stop him? Is it only because she doesn't want him to risk his life to save Richard? 
  4. Why does Sybilla invite the gypsies to perform at Bogle House? Is it purely for entertainment or could she have an ulterior motive?
  5. Andrew Hunter wanted to find Lymond and stop him, but we see him soon after the last arrow hits Richard. If he were searching for Francis Crawford, why did he give up when he seemed so close?
Favorite Line
"Reduced, singlehanded, to coping with so much potential gunpowder, he felt himself, like the bird which cleans crocodiles' teeth, assailed by hideous doubts."
Words that Describe Lymond in A Variety of Mating Replies 1. Play with a Rook Proves Dangerous
  • dangerous 
  • crafty
  • possibly a shirker (but proven not to be)
  • reliable (he shows up at the papingo shoot as promised)
  • treacherous
  • murderous
  • vindictive
  • expert archer
  • elusive
  • very dangerous

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