Link to Introduction

First time reader? Start here

The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Friday, May 5, 2017

Part Four. The End Game. Chapter II. The Ultimate Check 2. The Tragic Moves

Thursday, June 21

Lymond left Flaw Valleys on Tuesday, June 19, to meet George Douglas in Edinburgh. The first part of The Tragic Moves cuts back and forth among the travels and travails of four different sets of characters:
  1. Lymond and the courier, 
  2. Richard and Tom,
  3. Margaret Lennox and Christian Stewart,
  4. Gideon Somerville.
A tragic chain of events is literally set into motion on Thursday, June 21. Dunnett goes out of her way to portray the day with a calm that belies the turmoil and tragedy it holds:
The day was breathless with promise; the cobbles shining like milk glass in the quiet; the gables asleep in blanket rolls of mist. In the streets there was no sign of the grumbling, scraped-up army of men who were preparing to face battle in the warm summer weather.
Lymond leaves George Douglas's house in Edinburgh bound for Berwick--unarmed--with a character we have not met before, Adam Acheson. Acheson, a courier with "a reticence like a warden oyster," is carrying George Douglas's letters and safe conduct. Just after they leave, Tom Erskine returns to tell Richard Crawford the terrible news: their plans to bustle the Queen out of country to France have been discovered by an English spy and already passed along to another man, who at that moment is heading to England with a safe conduct and letters from George Douglas.

Richard and Tom, accompanied by Erskine's men, set out after the
courier, who they believe is heading for Berwick where Grey is supposedly located. At various stops along the way, they learn there are two men as different in appearance as "corbie and doo" (raven and dove). Notice how Dunnett gradually pieces together the puzzle of the two men at each waystation? Each description adds more detail until finally Richard, "exultant" and savage, knows beyond doubt the "dove" is his brother.

On the same day, a "third caravan" heads out in a different direction. Margaret Lennox, with a reluctant and recalcitrant Christian in tow, heads away from Berwick at a leisurely pace towards her home, a long "weary journey" of approximately 160 miles, which would require numerous overnight stops. They arrive late that day at Warkworth Castle, about 35 miles south of Berwick.

Friday, June 22

The next day, the Lennox party travels another 30 miles to Newcastle, arriving late in the afternoon, the same day that Gideon Somerville arrives from Flaw Valleys expecting to find Lord Grey. Grey is instead in Hexham.

That same night, Tom and Richard finally make it to Berwickshire, where Richard presses one of Oswald Wylstropp's men for information. Grey is not in Berwick but Hexham. Lymond and the courier also know where Grey is. Everyone, it seems, is now heading for Hexham.

Oswald Wylstropp appeared earlier:
Lord Grey had been as good as his word. Setting out with foot and mounted hackbutters from Jedworth and Roxburgh, Sir Oswald Wylstropp and Sir Ralph Bullmer marched west with orderly authority, reducing everything in their way to ashes. They took thirty prisoners, all the sheep and goats they could manage, and reduced Hawick to a series of ovens in which the resisters were cooked in their skins like new lobsters. (Pt 3, Ch I, Bitter Exchange)
Wylstropp has shown himself to be a brutal commander, willing to torture to death "resisters," undoubtedly civilians trying to defend their homes.

At Newcastle, Gideon, violating his own vow to avoid Margaret, secures a short interview with Christian. She tells him that Samuel Harvey is dead. Gideon explains to Christian that Lymond must have also just learned this from his meeting with George Douglas in Edinburgh.

Christian learns from Gideon that Lymond knows by now that Samuel Harvey is dead, and he is prepared to surrender himself to save her. Although she expresses "contemptuous rage" at the idea the English would harm her, she immediately recognizes it is possible when she says, "Even if they did, he [Lymond] must be stopped" from turning himself over to the English. We have two souls--Christian and Lymond--competing to see who will sacrifice herself or himself for the other.

Saturday, June 23

Next morning, Margaret Douglas decides to take a detour to meet her husband in Hexham. She is accompanied by her prisoner Christian and a very unhappy Gideon Somerville, who is still puzzling over what if anything he can do to help Christian and Lymond. Overnight, he had made what small efforts were available to him, posting his men at various points to try to intercept Lymond and warn him off. His worry and distraction lead to a terrible consequence, or so he later believes:
Gideon, sunk in thought, rode in the rear and left Margaret Lennox and Christian to their own devices in front: a small lapse, but one that afterward he found hard to forgive himself.

Very occasionally Dunnett uses this type of flash forward to create dramatic irony in which we the readers know something that the characters do not know now but will at some later date.

The previous night, Lymond and Acheson on the one hand and Richard, Tom, and his troop on the other slept remarkably close to each other in the Redesdale Hills of Northumberland. Acheson, "the most hardened of them all," awakes early on Saturday morning and makes a fateful decision. He breaks the seal on a mysterious third letter from George to Grey, one he is to deliver personally to Lord Grey.

Shortly after resuming their frenetic journey, Lymond and Acheson are waylaid by Somerville men with the news that all the interested parties are converging on Hexham. Lymond proves himself to be more than "considerable" by easily overwhelming Acheson before heading out with Gideon's men towards Flaw Valleys. For the moment, Gideon's plan appears to be working better than he dared hope.
On the road from Newcastle to Hexham, while Gideon is brooding, Christian perceives another broody chick: Sym (Simon Bogle), her servant. Sym's silence is filled by Margaret's cheerful chatter. But as the day wears on, Margaret's easy banter slows sharpens until she reveals she knows more about Christian's deathbed encounter with Samuel Harvey than she should. Under the influence of alcohol supplied by Margaret for this precise purpose, Sym has betrayed his mistress. He let slip that Christian's story about tending the dying man just to learn his address was less than a half truth. Christian's purpose was "listening to a dying man’s confession; or even in getting it recorded and signed by a priest and thereafter hiding it..."

Margaret knows that Christian got from Harvey precisely what Lymond has been after all along.

The terrible realization that he has betrayed Christian and put not only both their lives but the life of the Master of Culter in danger is too much for Sym. He jumps up behind Christian and spurs her horse furiously away from Margaret's cavalcade. Despite what must have been a bone-chillingly terrifying experience for her, Christian keeps her wits about her and tries to persuade Sym to stop and turn the horse around. There is no reasoning with Sym. He is in the grip of a guilt-induced panic to save his beloved mistress, Lymond, and himself. Perhaps he might have come to his senses if he had had a minute more to calm down, but that decision is taken from him by an arrow.

Notice how beautifully Dunnett conveys these events from Christian's perspective where sound and feeling must substitute for sight:
...above the thud and jangle and creak of the galloping horse there came an odd, rustling noise. It stopped suddenly with a bump, and Sym gave a little grunt. The arms about her slackened and the pressure at her back shifted. Christian cried once, “Simon!” and then with a clatter the whole body behind her shook itself loose and, rolling over the gelding’s haunches, thudded on the heather.
The frightened horse takes off at a gallop with Christian hanging on to its uncut mane, the reins out of her reach. We experience this frenzied ride from inside Christian's mind...bushes and branches tear at and sting her; the countryside is enemy territory, out to help her foes and punish her. But with the capricious irony that often accompanies such moments of terror, Christian still perceives the natural beauty and calm of the countryside:
Ahead, the soft air of her passing pressed freely against her and the sound of birdsong came from great distances, as if spread sparkling through the warm air: a singing dust. Singing sand.Would she ever visit the islands again? Or be with the children? Or Sybilla. Or Wicked Wat. Or the man for whom she was now flying blind...?
Hadrian's Wall
Behind her rises "a great shout" because her pursuers can see what she cannot: the Wall. It is Hadrian's Wall, built centuries before, with undergrowth now concealing a twenty-foot ditch. The horse has no chance, and neither does Christian.

The Lennox party and Gideon quickly come upon the dead horse and Christian's broken body, barely hanging on to life. Gideon will take her to his home to die "among friends," while all Margaret can think of is finding the hidden Samuel Harvey papers. Gideon's reaction to her "strangled laugh" upon viewing the papers evokes a memorable reaction. If there was ever any doubt about Margaret Douglas, Lady Lennox's character, this comment dispels it once and for all:
“She was blind. It’s too great a handicap. She’s better out of it,” said Margaret in a staccato voice, and mounted her horse.
Gideon, shrewd observer of human beings that he is, knows that Margaret is disguising a big truth behind a little truth:
“Was that her sin?” said Gideon, watching the cavalcade move off. “I had come to fancy it might be something quite different.”
Favorite Line

"The deficiency [in conversation] was made up by the Countess of Lennox, who unrolled mellow conversation through the small dales like a Turkey carpet."

  1. The English do not interfere with Tom and Richard. Why? If these two Scottish noblemen cross over into England in pursuit of a wanted man, what will be the repercussions?
  2. Among the men involved in "the chase," Dunnett describes Adam Acheson as "the most hardened of them all."  Does it surprise you that Dunnett describes Acheson and not Lymond thus?
  3. Why did Acheson, a courier known for his reliability and "reticence," break the seal on the third of George Douglas's letters and read it? What do you think is in the letter from George to Grey?
  4. Did you notice that during the wild ride Christian thought of Lymond, not Tom? What do you make of that?
  5. When Margaret looks at the papers Christian had concealed, she makes "a curious sound, so close to a laugh that Gideon turned sharply on her." What do you think she saw that caused this reaction?
Words that Describe Lymond in The Tragic Moves
  • determined
  • driven
  • quiet
  • stoic (imagine the pain he is in)
  • crafty
  • sardonic

No comments:

Post a Comment