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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Monday, December 8, 2014

Part Two. The Play for Gideon Somerville. Chapter II. Discovered Check 2. An Exchange of Pawns Is Suggested

2. An Exchange of Pawns Is Suggested

In a valley of the Tyne: Flaw Valleys
Thanks to Lord Grey's order for him to stay at home and await the arrival of the mystery man, Gideon Somerville has avoided the command from Wharton to join his son Henry and the Earl of Lennox in their attack on the Scots. Henry Wharton, you may recall, is the man who had the heated helmet dropped on his head by Lymond back in Annan (Pt. I, Ch 1). Waiting for a dangerous man, possibly a murderously dangerous man, to make his appearance on his doorstep is unnerving even for someone as level-headed as Gideon.

We also get a much better view into Kate's character. She reminds me of Anne Elliott from Persuasion: everyone relies on her like a pair of sensible shoes to carry the weight of woe without pinching or squeaking. I suspect that behind the practical but witty facade beats a romantic heart like Anne's.

One other fact we learn about Kate and Gideon: he is considerably older than she (he refers to himself as "old" and she is in her twenties).

It is Lymond and his men who cleaned out the livestock not only at Flaw Valleys but throughout neighborhood that day thanks to Wharton's orders for the men along the border to join his forces. The farms were left unattended and therefore ripe for picking.

Will Scott has spent the last three months working on his style (and his sneer), so much so that Johnnie Bullo remarks on Will's resemblance to Lymond, albeit with a "different sort of sneer."

Unbeknownst to the English, the Scots are gathering just to the north, readying their counterattack. Lymond and his men have united their four-footed army and are driving it toward Lennox's line of march while the Scots hunker down with sleet bouncing off their helmets. The predicted foul weather has arrived. The Scots have the better of it. The English must march through the cold and damp and mud and muck.

To add insult to their injury, cattle are blocking their way. But not Scottish cattle! Once the English realize it is their own cattle that have been rustled, mayhem ensues and Lennox loses control of his men. The English have been led into a trap, a narrow passage with cliffs above from which the Scots attack. The escape route to Carlisle has similarly been blocked by more cattle driven onto the road by someone who's "got brains" (Lymond).

16th Century Map of Northumberland
In the midst of this chaos Buccleuch spots his son, perhaps almost unrecognizable to him as an "easy, competent-looking shadow, with wide shoulders and an adroit way with a horse." I get the strong sense Wat is impressed by Will's maturity since he left. He looks like a man to his father, not a boy.

As the rout is complete, Richard Crawford spots Lymond's "bright yellow head" and immediately, without hesitation draws and fits an arrow and prepares to loose it at his brother. Wat Scott will have none of it. He literally puts himself and his men between Lord Culter and Lymond's men, certainly to protect Will but also very probably to prevent Richard from shooting Lymond.

Buccleuch does Richard a very great favor in preventing his murder of Lymond because, had he been successful, that act would have turned the very honorable Baron Culter into a pariah, a man obsessed with killing a younger brother known to have repeatedly humiliated him. It would have been viewed, and rightly so, as an act of petty vengeance, not justice. And that's not to mention Sybilla's reaction to the fratricide. It would have destroyed one of the great families. Bringing a criminal in to face trial and justice is one thing, but murder in cold (or hot) blood is quite another.

Richard, of course, cannot see beyond his own rage. Wat Scott has the measure of Richard at this moment: he is a man obsessed. I love Dunnett's description of Richard: "the enigmatic, the impersonal, the impervious." All words, interestingly, that describe someone else: Lymond. Perhaps Richard should be more understanding of his brother?

Grey's men are stationed at Flaw Valleys awaiting the mysterious man coming for Gideon Somerville when the livestock are returned. It is music that announces not the return of the lord of the manor but rather Lymond, whose talent is again on display and emphasized (Gideon plays, but not like Lymond). I find it interesting that, even though Kate knows the harpsichordist is most definitely not her husband, she does not hesitate to fling open the door to the music room.

Kate more than holds her own with the cool stranger. Lymond only takes note of her when she asks the impertinent question, that is, if he is the bad company Will Scott has got into. Lymond admires Kate's humor, a trait he shows under duress as well, so perhaps here is, if not a kindred spirit, at least a spirited woman. He turns to pay closer attention to Kate similar to the way in which George Douglas finally focused on the man in the black mask (Lymond) when he made an attention-grabbing remark.

George Douglas's letter, as George undoubtedly knows, proves nothing to Lymond. Lymond has a completely novel approach to getting at the truth about Gideon Somerville: question his 10 year old daughter. Any parent would be furious to have a child used so by a total stranger, and one who has proved to be willing to go to extremes to get what he wants. However, I find it surprising that Kate describes her daughter as "a Messalina* since birth." Kate is saying Philippa is a liar and deceiver and reprobate of the first order, none of which Lymond believes in the slightest. He has no doubt taken the measure of the Somervilles and found much to admire in the family.
*Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius; her name has come to mean a woman who is ruthless, devious, and licentious, so for Kate to call her daughter a 'Messalina' is so outrageous as to be thoroughly disbelieved.
Kate gets one of the best digs in at Lymond thus far when she tells Philippa to speak to him as she would to her dog.

Lymond's questioning of Philippa is surely one of the low points in his career to this point, at least among those we have seen. The child is a total innocent and clearly the situation--a criminal breaking into their home, terrifying the parents, and interrogating the girl--is a nightmare, and very much a hostage situation. Gideon and Kate have no idea--no idea--who Lymond is or of what he is capable. For all they know, he'll slit all their throats and rob them blind. Fortunately, he accepts what Philippa tells him as proof that Gideon is not the man he seeks.

Little Philippa's stomping on the sapphire brooch (another brooch!) is Lymond's brutal but well-deserved comeuppance. His awkward attempt to win Philippa's forgiveness after the fact gains him exactly what he deserves: a good stomping. He may not have believed there was any other way to gain the knowledge he was seeking, but he is using an ends-justify-the-means morality that allows him to hold a family hostage and frighten and harass a child in the process. This is hardly one of Lymond's better moments.

Notice that Philippa "shudders" at his touch. Something about Lymond profoundly affects the little girl just as his eyes and voice touched Mariotta deeply. Lymond has a way of discombobulating people in general and women in particular.
Border Reivers setting out on a cattle raid
Border Reivers Setting
Out on a Cattle Raid

The fact that Lymond returns more cattle than he took is small recompense for the trauma he has inflicted and also a genuine measure of goodwill and a sure sign he is not a danger to the Somervilles.
Aside: When Lymond says that the animals have performed a feat of multiplication that, genetically speaking, is fabulous, he must be using the word 'genetically' to refer to the livestock's origins being other than Flaw Valleys' because the current use of the word 'genetic' did not occur until the 19th century. 'Genetical' derives from genesis, meaning origin, creation, generation.
The final scene in this chapter continues to inflict pain like touching an open sore. Lymond angry is not a pretty thing to witness and something to be avoided. This may be the first time we have seen him display genuine fury, to be truly out of control and not just using a show of anger to achieve an end. Why is he so furious? He has just come off a wretched display of abuse directed at wholly innocent and even good people, including a child. He used them all ill and he hates himself for so doing. He has a goal he believes he must achieve and is willing to sacrifice just about anyone and anything to that end, but the victims this time were neither guilty nor worthy opponents. He feels debased and dirty for what he did, and his feeble attempt at an apology is met with the kind of humiliation only a child can inflict.

And now Lymond is taking out his anger at himself on his men. Even though Lang Cleg broke Lymond's narrow set of rules and the law, he probably would not have been flayed to within an inch of his life by the Master himself under normal circumstances.

Lymond's self control is still weak when he rousts Will to question him. It seems that Lymond needs yet another victim at whom to loose the arrows of his ire. Will, however, is not quite the naif he was three months earlier. He has in fact learned from the Master and is no longer an easy target. From Will we hear Johnnie Bullo's version of events and Will's interpretation of Johnnie's version, which is quite different from what we know happened.

Will views Christian as the most innocent and helpless type of victim, and Lymond's use of her arouses in him every ounce of the old chivalry he has renounced to follow this outlaw. Lymond points out Will's hypocrisy in accepting all manner of (supposed) criminality and outrage ("pogrom* and heresy") but in drawing the line at using a blind girl to spy for him.
*Our modern use of the word 'pogrom' is derived from the Russian word pogróm (destruction). Lymond, at this point, does not speak Russian, but he undoubtedly came across this word in his wide reading of history and literature.
Lymond tires to get Will to consider that his interpretation of the facts as Johnnie Bullo sketched them might be inaccurate or at least incomplete. Lymond is also testing Will to see just how deeply committed to amorality he really is (and the answer appears to be, not very). It is fascinating to listen to Lymond's discussion of the benefits of Christian's emotional dalliance with him, all of which are true: she has been psychologically ravished; he has brought excitement, a sense of purpose, intrigue, and pleasure to her otherwise rather dull life. Christian lives through her music and mind, but most people undoubtedly treat her as a fragile invalid. Lymond never does. And, because Lymond never revealed his identity to her, if she is found to have helped him she will be viewed as an object of pity and communal outrage for having been duped by this dastardly villain.

What of the unenumerated advantages of Lymond's relationship with Christian? Beyond getting inside knowledge and assistance, he also has gained a confidante and a friend who is his equal and with whom he can be himself, sans mask and pretense and posturing. The only times we have seen him relaxed have been in Christian's presence. He is only free to be himself when, ironically, he is a nameless, faceless voice with no identity, that is, when he is no one.

When Will starts sounding like a whiny little boy disappointed that his idol has clay feet, Lymond turns his ferocity on him and warns Will that he really, really does not want to go rummaging around in Lymond's head (his pia mater). The entire conversation has been leading to this moment when Lymond thrusts George Douglas's letter at Will to read. Will is understandably unnerved by the letter but hardly surprised that Grey wants to get his hands on him for the humiliation at Hume. However, Lymond is convincing in his claim that he has better bargaining chips in mind than the mere heir of Buccleuch.

What is interesting about the letter is that Lymond does not for one minute think he is doing Lord Grey's bidding; he knows the person calling the shots is George Douglas. Grey is there to provide leverage: he wants Will and can bring Samuel Harvey from London. So if the plan works, Grey gets Will Scott and Lymond gets Samuel Harvey. But what does George Douglas get? Grey's gratitude and, of course, Lymond.

A final thought about another instance of "barbarous hilarity" (inappropriate outburst of laughter or humor):
Lymond suddenly began to laugh. For a moment, so amused and so tired was he, the laughter was less than controlled and Scott, shocked, recognized in the other for the first time since he had known him, the outward signs of extreme fatigue.
Until now, Will Scott has believed that Lymond does not sleep or even need rest. But now Will sees that the stress of a truly terrible day is playing havoc with Lymond and, as is so often the case, his reaction is laughter. In this case, the laughter is of a man walking on the knife edge of mania.

  1. Was Richard planning to shoot to kill or to wound Lymond?
  2. I've always wondered if George Douglas really believed his prediction that Lennox would not have to lead the force into Scotland, or if he believed all along that Lennox would end up with this terrible duty. What do you think?
  3. Why is Johnnie Bullo telling Will Scott about Lymond behind the Master's back? Do you think Lymond put him up to it?
  4. What do Gideon and Kate Somerville think of Lymond after he leaves Flaw Valleys without harming anyone and increasing their herd?
  5. What is George really up to? Is Lymond really worth this much trouble to him?
Favorite Lines
At Carlisle, the Lord Wharton ... consulted the sky, which told him that something unpleasant was probably on the way and made him very glad indeed, in the small and unkempt civilian corner of his soul, that the Earl of Lennox and not himself was going on this expedition.
[Kate to Lymond] "Oh, shame on you. Is there no God who looks after little brains?" 
Words that Describe Lymond in An Exchange of Pawns Is Suggested
  • shameless
  • wily
  • imperious
  • obsessed
  • angry
  • guilty
  • frustrated
  • callous
  • cruel
  • brutal
  • manic
  • irritable
  • intense
  • enigmatic
  • impervious
  • impersonal

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