The Antiquary

Chapter I

Walter Scott

Go call a coach, and let a coach be called,
And let the man who calleth be the caller;
And in his calling let him nothing call,
But Coach! Coach! Coach! O for a coach, ye gods!


IT WAS EARLY on a fine summer’s day, near the end of the eighteenth century, when a young man, of genteel appearance, journeying towards the north-east of Scotland, provided himself with a ticket in one of those public carriages which travel between Edinburgh and the Queensferry, at which place, as the name implies, and as is well known to all my northern readers, there is a passage-boat for crossing the Firth of Forth. The coach was calculated to carry six regular passengers, besides such interlopers as the coachman could pick up by the way, and intrude upon those who were legally in possession. The tickets, which conferred right to a seat in this vehicle, of little ease, were dispensed by a sharp-looking old dame, with a pair of spectacles on a very thin nose, who inhabited a “laigh shop,” anglicè, a cellar, opening to the High Street by a straight and steep stair, at the bottom of which she sold tape, thread, needles, skeins of worsted, coarse linen cloth, and such feminine gear, to those who had the courage and skill to descend to the profundity of her dwelling, without falling headlong themselves, or throwing down any of the numerous articles which, piled on each side of the descent, indicated the profession of the trader below.

The written hand-bill, which, pasted on a projecting board, announced that the Queensferry Diligence, or Hawes Fly, departed precisely at twelve o’clock on Tuesday, the fifteenth July 17—, in order to secure for travellers the opportunity of passing the Firth with the flood-tide, lied on the present occasion like a bulletin; for although that hour was pealed from Saint Giles’s steeple, and repeated by the Tron, no coach appeared upon the appointed stand. It is true, only two tickets had been taken out, and possibly the lady of the subterranean mansion might have an understanding with her Automedon, that, in such cases, a little space was to be allowed for the chance of filling up the vacant places—or the said Automedon might have been attending a funeral, and be delayed by the necessity of stripping his vehicle of its lugubrious trappings—or he might have staid to take a half-mutchkin extraordinary with his crony the hostler—or—in short, he did not make his appearance.

The young gentleman, who began to grow somewhat impatient, was now joined by a companion in this petty misery of human life—the person who had taken out the other place. He who is bent upon a journey is usually easily to be distinguished from his fellow-citizens. The boots, the great-coat, the umbrella, the little bundle in his hand, the hat pulled over his resolved brows, the determined importance of his pace, his brief answers to the salutations of lounging acquaintances, are all marks by which the experienced traveller in mail-coach or diligence can distinguish, at a distance, the companion of his future journey, as he pushes onward to the place of rendezvous. It is then that, with worldly wisdom, the first comer hastens to secure the best berth in the coach for himself, and to make the most convenient arrangement for his baggage before the arrival of his competitors. Our youth, who was gifted with little prudence, of any sort, and who was, moreover, by the absence of the coach, deprived of the power of availing himself of his priority of choice, amused himself, instead, by speculating upon the occupation and character of the personage who was now come to the coach office.

He was a good-looking man of the age of sixty, perhaps older,—but his hale complexion and firm step announced that years had not impaired his strength or health. His countenance was of the true Scottish cast, strongly marked, and rather harsh in features, with a shrewd and penetrating eye, and a countenance in which habitual gravity was enlivened by a cast of ironical humour. His dress was uniform, and of a colour becoming his age and gravity; a wig, well dressed and powdered, surmounted by a slouched hat, had something of a professional air. He might be a clergyman, yet his appearance was more that of a man of the world than usually belongs to the kirk of Scotland, and his first ejaculation put the matter beyond question.

He arrived with a hurried pace, and, casting an alarmed glance towards the dial-plate of the church, then looking at the place where the coach should have been, exclaimed, “Deil’s in it—I am too late after all!”

The young man relieved his anxiety, by telling him the coach had not yet appeared. The old gentleman, apparently conscious of his own want of punctuality, did not at first feel courageous enough to censure that of the coachman. He took a parcel, containing apparently a large folio, from a little boy who followed him, and, patting him on the head, bid him go back and tell Mr. B——, that if he had known he was to have had so much time, he would have put another word or two to their bargain,—then told the boy to mind his business, and he would be as thriving a lad as ever dusted a duodecimo. The boy lingered, perhaps in hopes of a penny to buy marbles; but none was forthcoming. Our senior leaned his little bundle upon one of the posts at the head of the staircase, and, facing the traveller who had first arrived, waited in silence for about five minutes the arrival of the expected diligence.

At length, after one or two impatient glances at the progress of the minute-hand of the clock, having compared it with his own watch, a huge and antique gold repeater, and having twitched about his features to give due emphasis to one or two peevish pshaws, he hailed the old lady of the cavern.

“Good woman,—what the d—l is her name?—Mrs. Macleuchar!”

Mrs. Macleuchar, aware that she had a defensive part to sustain in the encounter which was to follow, was in no hurry to hasten the discussion by returning a ready answer.

“Mrs. Macleuchar,—Good woman” (with an elevated voice)—then apart, “Old doited hag, she’s as deaf as a post—I say, Mrs. Macleuchar!”

“I am just serving a customer.—Indeed, hinny, it will no be a bodle cheaper than I tell ye.”

“Woman,” reiterated the traveller, “do you think we can stand here all day till you have cheated that poor servant wench out of her half-year’s fee and bountith?”

“Cheated!” retorted Mrs. Macleuchar, eager to take up the quarrel upon a defensible ground; “I scorn your words, sir: you are an uncivil person, and I desire you will not stand there, to slander me at my ain stair-head.”

“The woman,” said the senior, looking with an arch glance at his destined travelling companion, “does not understand the words of action.—Woman,” again turning to the vault, “I arraign not thy character, but I desire to know what is become of thy coach?”

“What’s your wull?” answered Mrs. Macleuchar, relapsing into deafness.

“We have taken places, ma’am,” said the younger stranger, “in your diligence for Queensferry”——

“Which should have been half-way on the road before now,” continued the elder and more impatient traveller, rising in wrath as he spoke: “and now in all likelihood we shall miss the tide, and I have business of importance on the other side—and your cursed coach”—

“The coach?—Gude guide us, gentlemen, is it no on the stand yet?” answered the old lady, her shrill tone of expostulation sinking into a kind of apologetic whine. “Is it the coach ye hae been waiting for?”

“What else could have kept us broiling in the sun by the side of the gutter here, you—you faithless woman, eh?”

Mrs. Macleuchar now ascended her trap stair (for such it might be called, though constructed of stone), until her nose came upon a level with the pavement; then, after wiping her spectacles to look for that which she well knew was not to be found, she exclaimed, with well-feigned astonishment, “Gude guide us—saw ever onybody the like o’ that?”

“Yes, you abominable woman,” vociferated the traveller, “many have seen the like of it, and all will see the like of it that have anything to do with your trolloping sex;” then pacing with great indignation before the door of the shop, still as he passed and repassed, like a vessel who gives her broadside as she comes abreast of a hostile fortress, he shot down complaints, threats, and reproaches, on the embarrassed Mrs. Macleuchar. He would take a post-chaise—he would call a hackney coach—he would take four horses—he must—he would be on the north side, to-day—and all the expense of his journey, besides damages, direct and consequential, arising from delay, should be accumulated on the devoted head of Mrs. Macleuchar.

There, was something so comic in his pettish resentment, that the younger traveller, who was in no such pressing hurry to depart, could not help being amused with it, especially as it was obvious, that every now and then the old gentleman, though very angry, could not help laughing at his own vehemence. But when Mrs. Macleuchar began also to join in the laughter, he quickly put a stop to her ill-timed merriment.

“Woman,” said he, “is that advertisement thine?” showing a bit of crumpled printed paper: “Does it not set forth, that, God willing, as you hypocritically express it, the Hawes Fly, or Queensferry Diligence, would set forth to-day at twelve o’clock; and is it not, thou falsest of creatures, now a quarter past twelve, and no such fly or diligence to be seen?—Dost thou know the consequence of seducing the lieges by false reports?—dost thou know it might be brought under the statute of leasing-making? Answer—and for once in thy long, useless, and evil life, let it be in the words of truth and sincerity,—hast thou such a coach?—is it in rerum natura?—or is this base annunciation a mere swindle on the incautious to beguile them of their time, their patience, and three shillings of sterling money of this realm?—Hast thou, I say, such a coach? ay or no?”

“O dear, yes, sir; the neighbours ken the diligence weel, green picked oat wi’ red—three yellow wheels and a black ane.”

“Woman, thy special description will not serve—it may be only a lie with a circumstance.”

“O, man, man!” said the overwhelmed Mrs. Macleuchar, totally exhausted at having been so long the butt of his rhetoric, “take back your three shillings, and make me quit o’ ye.”

“Not so fast, not so fast, woman—Will three shillings transport me to Queensferry, agreeably to thy treacherous program?—or will it requite the damage I may sustain by leaving my business undone, or repay the expenses which I must disburse if I am obliged to tarry a day at the South Ferry for lack of tide?—Will it hire, I say, a pinnace, for which alone the regular price is five shillings?”

Here his argument was cut short by a lumbering noise, which proved to be the advance of the expected vehicle, pressing forward with all the dispatch to which the broken-winded jades that drew it could possibly be urged. With ineffable pleasure, Mrs. Macleuchar saw her tormentor deposited in the leathern convenience; but still, as it was driving off, his head thrust out of the window reminded her, in words drowned amid the rumbling of the wheels, that, if the diligence did not attain the Ferry in time to save the flood-tide, she, Mrs. Macleuchar, should be held responsible for all the consequences that might ensue.

The coach had continued in motion for a mile or two before the stranger had completely repossessed himself of his equanimity, as was manifested by the doleful ejaculations, which he made from time to time, on the too great probability, or even certainty, of their missing the flood-tide. By degrees, however, his wrath subsided; he wiped his brows, relaxed his frown, and, undoing the parcel in his hand, produced his folio, on which he gazed from time to time with the knowing look of an amateur, admiring its height and condition, and ascertaining, by a minute and individual inspection of each leaf, that the volume was uninjured and entire from title-page to colophon. His fellow-traveller took the liberty of inquiring the subject of his studies. He lifted up his eyes with something of a sarcastic glance, as if he supposed the young querist would not relish, or perhaps understand, his answer, and pronounced the book to be Sandy Gordon’s Itinerarium Septentrionale,1 a book illustrative of the Roman remains in Scotland.

The querist, unappalled by this learned title, proceeded to put several questions, which indicated that he had made good use of a good education, and, although not possessed of minute information on the subject of antiquities, had yet acquaintance enough with the classics to render him an interested and intelligent auditor when they were enlarged upon. The elder traveller, observing with pleasure the capacity of his temporary companion to understand and answer him, plunged, nothing loath, into a sea of discussion concerning urns, vases, votive, altars, Roman camps, and the rules of castrametation.

The pleasure of this discourse had such a dulcifying tendency, that, although two causes of delay occurred, each of much more serious duration than that which had drawn down his wrath upon the unlucky Mrs. Macleuchar, our ANTIQUARY only bestowed on the delay the honour of a few episodical poohs and pshaws, which rather seemed to regard the interruption of his disquisition than the retardation of his journey.

The first of these stops was occasioned by the breaking of a spring, which half an hour’s labour hardly repaired. To the second, the Antiquary was himself accessory, if not the principal cause of it; for, observing that one of the horses had cast a fore-foot shoe, he apprized the coachman of this important deficiency. “It’s Jamie Martingale that furnishes the naigs on contract, and uphauds them,” answered John, “and I am not entitled to make any stop, or to suffer prejudice by the like of these accidents.”

“And when you go to—I mean to the place you deserve to go to, you scoundrel,—who do you think will uphold you on contract? If you don’t stop directly and carry the poor brute, to the next smithy, I’ll have you punished, if there’s a justice of peace in Mid-Lothian;” and, opening the coach-door, out he jumped, while the coachman obeyed his orders, muttering, that “if the gentlemen lost the tide now, they could not say but it was their ain fault, since he was willing to get on.”

I like so little to analyze the complication of the causes which influence actions, that I will not venture to ascertain whether our Antiquary’s humanity to the poor horse was not in some degree aided by his desire of showing his companion a Pict’s camp, or Round-about, a subject which he had been elaborately discussing, and of which a specimen, “very curious and perfect indeed,” happened to exist about a hundred yards distant from the spot where this interruption took place. But were I compelled to decompose the motives of my worthy friend (for such was the gentleman in the sober suit, with powdered wig and slouched hat), I should say, that, although he certainly would not in any case have suffered the coachman to proceed while the horse was unfit for service, and likely to suffer by being urged forward, yet the man of whipcord escaped some severe abuse and reproach by the agreeable mode which the traveller found out to pass the interval of delay.

So much time was consumed by these interruptions of their journey, that when they descended the hill above the Hawes (for so the inn on the southern side of the Queensferry is denominated), the experienced eye of the Antiquary at once discerned, from the extent of wet sand, and the number of black stones and rocks, covered with sea-weed, which were visible along the skirts of the shore, that the hour of tide was past. The young traveller expected a burst of indignation; but whether, as Croaker says in “The Good-natured Man,” our hero had exhausted himself in fretting away his misfortunes beforehand, so that he did not feel them when they actually arrived, or whether he found the company in which he was placed too congenial to lead him to repine at anything which delayed his journey, it is certain that he submitted to his lot with much resignation.

“The d—l’s in the diligence and the old hag, it belongs to!—Diligence, quoth I? Thou shouldst have called it the Sloth—Fly, quoth she? why, it moves like a fly through a glue-pot, as the Irishman says. But, however, time and tide tarry for no man, and so, my young friend, we’ll have a snack here at the Hawes, which is a very decent sort of a place, and I’ll be very happy to finish the account I was giving you of the difference between the mode of entrenching castra stativa and castra æstiva, things confounded by too many of our historians. Lack-a-day, if they had ta’en the pains to satisfy their own eyes, instead of following each other’s blind guidance!—Well! we shall be pretty comfortable at the Hawes; and besides, after all, we must have dined somewhere, and it will be pleasanter sailing with the tide of ebb and the evening breeze.”

In this Christian temper of making the best of all occurrences, our travellers alighted at the Hawes.

1.    Sandy Gordon’s Itinerarium.—This well-known work, the “Itinerarium Septentrionale, or a Journey thro’ most of the Counties of Scotland, and those in the North of England,” was published at London in 1727, folio. The author states, that in prosecuting his work he “made a pretty laborious progress through almost every part of Scotland for three years successively.” Gordon was a native of Aberdeenshire, and had previously spent some years in travelling abroad, probably as a tutor. He became Secretary to the London Society of Antiquaries in 1736. This office he resigned in 1741, and soon after went out to South Carolina with Governor Glen, where he obtained a considerable grant of land. On his death, about the year 1753, he is said to have left “a handsome estate to his family.”—See Literary Anecdotes of Bowyer, by John Nichols, vol. v., p. 329, etc.]    [back]

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