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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Monday, October 27, 2014

Part One. The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Chapter VII. A Variety of Mating Replies. 2. Check and Cross Check

Item 7. is the shooting glove, formed to protect
the three fingers used in drawing the string.
Here we have Dunnett's three arrows again: the one that freed the parrot, the one that hit the parrot, the one that hit Richard. This last is remarked on: 
For the arrow which struck Richard came from a great distance and had to fly over many heads to an almost invisible mark. Unlike the first two it was not faultless.
I added the emphasis. Remember: Dunnett never says anything that is extraneous or pointless.

What do we learn about the archery equipment? 

  • The bow is English (Richard assumes Lymond got it as part of his Annan booty).
  • The arrows are all from the same source (they are all made from the same wood and feathers, I assume).
  • They are barbed (which is, judging by Richard's comment, highly inappropriate in a perch contest).
  • The glove is high-quality white buckskin, perfumed and jeweled and expensive.
  • The glove is new because it shows no signs of repeated usage.
In short, everything seems to fit into a neat package of damning evidence against Lymond. Richard's ire against his brother is understandably growing stronger. And Mariotta's comment will only help fan the flames of hatred ("He [Lymond] seems able to do almost anything he wants.") What husband could bear such a comment about any man, especially a handsome, rougish younger brother?

Notice that Agnes jumps on this comment by diverting the attention away from Mariotta to herself as she looks (longingly) at Richard and heaves a sigh. She is not impressed by Lymond. She is focused on the true hero: Richard.

Sybilla, exercising her "own brand of humane genius" diverts everyone from the papingo shoot disaster with the very conveniently arranged gypsy entertainment. The scene focuses not on the players but on the audience. We know:
  • Mariotta is relaxing and getting her color back.
  • Tom Erskine is providing commentary for Christian.
  • Christian is trying to restrain Agnes, with limited success.
  • Andrew Hunter is helping Christian keep Agnes's enthusiasm in check.
  • Richard is watching the gypsies while half asleep.
  • Sybilla is watching Richard while she is having a "long and intermittent" discussion with Johnnie Bullo.
  • Wat Scott is the only member of the audience not mentioned.
And Sybilla uses that as an excuse to remove Wat from the scene to ask him about the bloodhounds. Once again Sybilla proves herself preternaturally insightful. She knew immediately what Richard was planning:
"I always could interpret these silences, you know, more easily than half an hour of his brother's chatter."
Oh, my! Isn't that interesting? Lymond's mother claims she has trouble seeing through his elaborate deceptions. He uses language as a disguise just as surely as he uses wigs and clothing and accents. We do get a sense here that Lymond loves to talk and loves to hear himself talk. 

Now we have the treat of watching Sybilla in action--something very similar to watching Francis work his will on others. The exchange between Sybilla and Wat Scott might be a tad confusing, so here's what is going on.

Lord Grey, who was humiliated by Lymond at Hume when he came to rescue Will Scott, has "invited" Wat to Norham to assure the English of his continued assistance along the border. Wat has so far pleaded illness to avoid the summons, but the word is bound to get back to Grey very soon that Wat is quite well enough to attend the papingo shoot, among other activities. Wat realizes that he has two equally terrible choices regarding his son. 

On the one hand, he can disown Will and hope Lord Grey believes him. Wat doubts this will work because Grey knows it was Will at Hume and because the English troops from the supply train ended up "bound and frozen" and half naked ("cutty sarks") on his land. Also, if Wat disowns Will and he is caught, he'll suffer the same punishment as Lymond, that is, as a traitor. 

On the other hand, if Will comes home, as Wat has people praying he will, the English will surely burn his property to the ground in the next cross-border raid. (Wat's irreverence is as touching as it is amusing. He's ordered the clergy to pray for Will's return, but he calls them "baw-heids" or, basically, idiots.)

Add to this Richard Crawford's energetic request that Wat use his bloodhounds to track Lymond and you have a pretty good idea of the stress Wat is under. Sybilla gives Wat the way out of this particular quandary (using the bloodhounds) by promising that she will catch Will before anyone else, English or Scottish, gets hold of him, but we do not know how. Wat is quick to assent to her request.

Notice how quickly and smoothly Sybilla shifts the conversation to Johnnie Bullo and the Philosopher's Stone as the others enter the room. Johnnie clearly wants the ladies to leave Bogle House and come to his tent for some reason, and Sybilla does not hesitate to agree to the jaunt to the Fair even though it is now night and the fair has undoubtedly deteriorated into an event highly inappropriate for ladies and girls, even those with an armed escort.

It is always a matter of speculation among Dunnett readers about whom Sybilla is speaking when, alone with the sleeping Richard, she says, "Oh, my darling...I do hope I've done the best thing!" It could be Richard; it could be Lymond; it could conceivably be someone else. We cannot tell for sure. Nor can we be sure what she has done that worries and possibly even frightens her. We do know she has had a long conversation with Johnnie Bullo earlier this night, right before she asks Wat not to use his hounds to find Lymond, and she plans to meet with Johnnie again at Midculter.

First Johnnie Bullo as Lymond's go-between with Christian. Is he now Lymond's go-between with his mother? 

We "see" the day's events and the fair at night through Christian, and the images are disquieting and repulsive. The "uncouth" and "coarse" and "mindless, ganting" noises of the day have unfolded into an even worse "Saturnalia" of the night, filled with "sottish, leering voices" and the smells, the horrible smells, of stale beer and sweaty bodies and rancid food and the sharp odor of blood. It is not just nighttime, it is a nightmare for Christian, whose sensitive nature is assailed not only by the noises and odors but also by the "blundering bodies" and "grasping hands" all around her. And the stresses and anxieties of the day prey upon her mind all the while. We can feel the near panic she is trying hard to conceal.

Gypsies at a Fair
When Christian finally is guided by Johnnie Bullo inside his tent, the tension is hardly eased by the cold, enveloping silence. 

Then comes the "mothlike" voice, which immediately describes the surroundings to Christian so as to give her the comfort of bearings. Notice Lymond instantly detects Christian's fear (he is very sensitive to the emotions of others). Christian is eager to tell Lymond how the varieties of violence disgust her, with the day's events providing further examples of how human beings enjoy cruelty and inflicting pain. 

Aside: Christian mentions a kind of violence that "amuses itself by stuffing women and children into a cave and smoking them to death." I found almost that same language here:
Speaking of the clan system, more particularly during the middle ages, the Duke [of Argyll] says, "It was a rude and barbarous history--a history of almost utter barbarism--and whole tribes smothered, men, women, and children smoked to death in caves..." [my emphasis] from Bishop Carswell and His Times, The Celtic Magazine, April 1882, accessed via Electric Scotland.
John Carswell was born around 1522 and is closely associated with Mary Queen of Scots. He also translated a Gaelic edition of John Knox's liturgy. The language here and in The Game of Kings seems too close to have been coincidental. There are other sources that refer to the same kind of barbaric act (Wild Scottish Clans, by Arthur Griffiths, published 1910). It seems to me that Christian is referring not to English barbarity but to how the Scots themselves have been guilty of perpetrating horrors on each other. After all, who are the people at the fair but her fellow countrymen and women?

Why does Christian want to go to the fair? Remember Johnnie Bullo tried to get a message to her earlier that day but was unsuccessful. She wants to find out what that message is. 
Also, Christian wants to pass along information of her own, that is, about Jonathan Crouch. Lymond has his own motive for meeting Christian in the tent. Even though Lymond asks Christian how Richard is faring, this is more courtesy than necessity. Johnnie Bullo, after all, has been in Culter's company all evening and is a reliable reporter. Lymond's main motive is to let Christian know that he did not try to kill Richard: "I haven't tried to kill anybody today, I give you my word." However, he does not actually deny shooting Richard, only not trying to kill his brother. He could just as easily said, "I did not shoot anyone today."

All this almost certainly means that Christian knows who Lymond is by now, and perhaps knew all along. Why do she and Lymond continue the charade of his anonymity? I think it is mainly because he is a wanted man, a man accused of treason, and her openly acknowledging that she knows his identity is very dangerous. To use the current vernacular, the play-acting gives Christian some degree of "plausible deniability," however slight. Also, for her to admit she knows Lymond's identity would break the spell of their enchanted friendship by introducing cold, stark reality. Neither of them wants that.

Aside: Regarding Lymond's comments on archery--clearly he is a man with a finely honed aesthetic sense. He loves the sport because, done well, it is a beautiful thing to behold and to perform. It is, for him, artistry in motion. Keep in mind Lymond's various skills and talents because they will be important throughout the series. How and when did he become so adept at so many different activities that require years of training and practice?

The long, difficult discussion between Lymond and Christian on the depravity of man reveals a great deal about Francis Crawford. He points out to Christian that it only takes "a good crack of thunder" to bring people to their knees to pray for deliverance. And as for mankind being civilized, he hardly sees much evidence of that. As for the civilizing effect of religion, there seems to be none, only various sects and religions vying with each other to be the most barbarous. Not to be diverted from the attempt on Richard's life, Christian interrupts Lymond's soliloquy to inquire on assassination or murder for private motives. 

Lymond claims he is ignorant of what motivated the attack on his brother--perhaps the usual suspects: greed, hate, envy, religious conflict, a lover's revenge. Lymond rejects only the last of these because Richard is "a remarkably dull and blameless creature." I wonder if he really views his brother this way.

Christian will not let Lymond off easy and continues sparring with him, saying she values candor above self-control. Lymond's comments on truth are a wonderful thing to read. He points out that truth-telling is often used as a weapon to inflict pain and increase suffering, even driving people to "the river and the dagger and the pillow in a quiet corner" (to suicide, to murder, and to despair). Furthermore, if Christian got the candor she craves regarding her mystery man's identity, it might cause irreparable harm to them both, but most especially to her: there would be "no possible going back once [the truth about his identity is] out."

Keep in mind Lymond's hypothetical example of whether or not he murdered his own sister.

Christian remains one of the few people who can genuinely surprise Lymond and verbally spar with him. When she points out that he and not she would deservedly suffer for his misdeeds should they be discovered, he laughs at her candor, wondering if she would even enjoy his punishment (pretend you wouldn't like to see me struggling at the end of the noose, i.e., "dance a vuelta on the widdy"). 

Lymond continues to put a great deal of faith both in his ability to paint a certain image of himself with his voice as well as Christian's ability to discern his true nature from his voice and words. So far, his faith has not been misplaced. And, again, Christian comes through for him with the news about Johnathon Crouch. Remember, Christian learned all this from Sybilla after her visit to Patey Liddell's shop where she overheard George Douglas and Andrew Hunter. It seems clear from what she says that Christian does not know Lymond is the man who took Crouch from Hunter's house. 

Lymond is momentarily taken aback when Christian asks for her fortune to be told before she leaves, but Francis agrees in part to give her something to satisfy the suspicions of Tom and in part, I believe, because he does not want her to go just yet. He enjoys the company of someone with whom he can freely be himself precisely because she (supposedly) does not know who he is. 

I believe the mock fortune Lymond reads in Christian's palm shows his profound disdain for all forms of fortune telling and mysticism. He makes the absurd claim that Christian appears to "have died at the age of seven" and then goes on to utter the typical bromides that Johnnie Bullo spouts: you'll get the most out of life, meet the man of your dreams, get your heart's desire, etc. But then just as unexpectedly, Lymond speaks from his heart: "what are we, after all? Charlatans, faiseurs d'horoscope..." That, I think, is what Lymond truly believes. He has no time for tellers of fortunes, readers of palms, or casters of horoscopes.

As the time for parting draws near, it seems neither Lymond nor Christian wants to go. There is a deep attraction and empathy between them. Lymond first offers the "apologue" (moral fable) of the sands of time being reversed so that they can meet again, and then tries a quotation from a traditional chanson de mal-mariée, which expresses the grievances of an unhappy wife. Dunnett's own translation of the poem sheds an interesting light on it:
Jealous, grudging and tart
Death can haunt him
Sweet and vivid and fond--
Then I want him. (from The Dorothy Dunnett Companion, Vol 1, p 135)
There are many possible ways to interpret why Lymond chooses this snippet, but I believe he sees himself as both "jealous, grudging and tart" (and worthy of death) and "sweet and vivid and fond" (and desirable). This may sound odd, but I think it makes sense when you consider that we have seen these two radically opposed "Lymonds": one very unpleasant, even cruel, and another very charming and lovable. Lymond is not at all happy having to play the divers parts required by the terrible circumstances of his life and not being seen for who and what he is.

Or it could be as simple as his thinking of Mariotta, the '"unhappy wife," whose fortune he has just heard Johnnie Bullo tell, undoubtedly one with a very happy ending involving a "sweet and vivid and fond" lover.

Before Christian leaves, Francis tells her he will write to her (no, he hasn't suddenly forgotten she has to have someone else read letters to her): he simply tells her to "wait and see." Lymond will find a way. The last quotation Christian hears Francis uttering brings their conversation full circle. It also confirms his identity; why else speak of the poor papingo (papinjay)? 

Wouldn't you love to have heard Johnnie Bullo's "chastely phrased double-entendres" in the fortunes he told Mariotta and Agnes? And his description of Agnes is incomparable: "a face like a pound of candles on a hot day." Lucky for her she is rich. 

At the end of the chapter Lymond tells Johnnie he has had a very annoying day, probably because of what happened--or didn't happen--at the papingo shoot. Events did not turn out to his liking. Lymond's leave-taking of Johnnie is classic Lymond: at once careful and brisk. Notice he leaves a "small memento" for Johnnie, certainly one to the gypsy king's profit. The other payment Lymond offers Johnnie may be more valuable: the raw pleasure of watching a master at work.

  1. Sybilla invited the gypsies to Bogle House before Richard was injured at the papingo shoot. Did her motives for doing so change once the incident occurred?
  2. Does Sybilla know that Bullo has a message for Christian? Is that why Sybilla wants to go to the fair that night? Are she and Christian in cahoots?
  3. Can you think of other examples of Sybilla's "own brand of humane genius"?
  4. Why does Christian blush when Sybilla mentions "love potions" when speaking of the Philosopher's Stone?
  5. Why did Lymond leave his shooting glove behind, knowing it could be used to identify and track him? Was it accidental?
Favorite Line
"Truth's nothing but falsehood with the edges sharpened up, and ill-tempered at that: no repair, no retraction, no possible going back once it's out."
Words that Describe Lymond in A Variety of Mating Replies, 2. Check and Cross Check
  • sober (not drunk)
  • voluable
  • witty
  • clever
  • mocking
  • sensitive
  • cynical
  • thoughtful
  • annoyed
  • conflicted
  • worried

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