The pawkie auld carle cam ower the lea,|
Wi’ mony good-e’ens and good-morrows to me,
Saying, Kind Sir, for your courtesy,
Will ye lodge a silly puir man?
The Gaberlunzie Man.
While he was thus speaking, he led the way briskly through one or two rich pasture-meadows, to an open heath or common, and so to the top of a gentle eminence. “Here,” he said, “Mr. Lovel, is a truly remarkable spot.”
“It commands a fine view,” said his companion, looking around him.
“True: but it is not for the prospect I brought you hither; do you see nothing else remarkable?—nothing on the surface of the ground?”
“Why, yes; I do see something like a ditch, indistinctly marked.”
“Indistinctly!—pardon me, sir, but the indistinctness must be in your powers of vision. Nothing can be more plainly traced—a proper agger or vallum, with its corresponding ditch or fossa. Indistinctly! why, Heaven help you, the lassie, my niece, as light-headed a goose as womankind affords, saw the traces of the ditch at once. Indistinct!—why, the great station at Ardoch, or that at Burnswark in Annandale, may be clearer, doubtless, because they are stative forts, whereas this was only an occasional encampment. Indistinct!—why, you must suppose that fools, boors, and idiots, have ploughed up the land, and, like beasts and ignorant savages, have thereby obliterated two sides of the square, and greatly injured the third; but you see, yourself, the fourth side is quite entire!”
Lovel endeavoured to apologize, and to explain away his ill-timed phrase, and pleaded his inexperience. But he was not at once quite successful. His first expression had come too frankly and naturally not to alarm the Antiquary, and he could not easily get over the shock it had given him.
“My dear sir,” continued the senior, “your eyes are not inexperienced: you know a ditch from level ground, I presume, when you see them? Indistinct! why, the very common people, the very least boy that can herd a cow, calls it the Kaim of Kinprunes; and if that does not imply an ancient camp, I am ignorant what does.”
Lovel having again acquiesced, and at length lulled to sleep the irritated and suspicious vanity of the Antiquary, he proceeded in his task of cicerone. “You must know,” he said, “our Scottish antiquaries have been greatly divided about the local situation of the final conflict between Agricola and the Caledonians; some contend for Ardoch in Strathallan, some for Innerpeffry, some for the Raedykes in the Mearns, and some are for carrying the scene of action as far north as Blair in Athole. Now, after all this discussion,” continued the old gentleman, with one of his slyest and most complacent looks, “what would you think, Mr. Lovel,—I say, what would you think,—if the memorable scene of conflict should happen to be on the very spot called the Kaim of Kinprunes, the property of the obscure and humble individual who now speaks to you?” Then, having paused a little, to suffer his guest to digest a communication so important, he resumed his disquisition in a higher tone. “Yes, my good friend, I am indeed greatly deceived if this place does not correspond with all the marks of that celebrated place of action. It was near to the Grampian mountains—lo! yonder they are, mixing and contending with the sky on the skirts of the horizon! It was in conspectu classis—in sight of the Roman fleet; and would any admiral, Roman or British, wish a fairer bay to ride in than that on your right hand? It is astonishing how blind we professed antiquaries sometimes are! Sir Robert Sibbald, Saunders Gordon, General Roy, Dr. Stokely,—why, it escaped all of them. I was unwilling to say a word about it till I had secured the ground, for it belonged to auld Johnnie Howie, a bonnet-laird1 hard by, and many a communing we had before he and I could agree.
At length—I am almost ashamed to say it—but I even brought my mind to give acre for acre of my good corn-land for this barren spot. But then it was a national concern; and when the scene of so celebrated an event became my own, I was overpaid.—Whose patriotism would not grow warmer, as old Johnson says, on the plains of Marathon? I began to trench the ground, to see what might be discovered; and the third day, sir, we found a stone, which I have transported to Monkbarns, in order to have the sculpture taken off with plaster of Paris; it bears a sacrificing vessel, and the letters A. D. L. L. which may stand, without much violence, for Agricola Dicavit Libens Lubens.”
“Certainly, sir; for the Dutch Antiquaries claim Caligula as the founder of a light-house, on the sole authority of the letters C. C. P. F., which they interpret Caius Caligula Pharum Fecit.”
“True, and it has ever been recorded as a sound exposition. I see we shall make something of you even before you wear spectacles, notwithstanding you thought the traces of this beautiful camp indistinct when you first observed them.”
“In time, sir, and by good instruction”—
“—You will become more apt—I doubt it not. You shall peruse, upon your next visit to Monkbarns, my trivial Essay upon Castrametation, with some particular Remarks upon the Vestiges of Ancient Fortifications lately discovered by the Author at the Kaim of Kinprunes. I think I have pointed out the infallible touchstone of supposed antiquity. I premise a few general rules on that point, on the nature, namely, of the evidence to be received in such cases. Meanwhile be pleased to observe, for example, that I could press into my service Claudian’s famous line,
For pruinis, though interpreted to mean hoar frosts, to which I own we are somewhat subject in this north-eastern sea-coast, may also signify a locality, namely, Prunes; the Castra Pruinis posita would therefore be the Kaim of Kinprunes. But I waive this, for I am sensible it might be laid hold of by cavillers as carrying down my Castra to the time of Theodosius, sent by Valentinian into Britain as late as the year 367, or thereabout. No, my good friend, I appeal to people’s eye-sight. Is not here the Decuman gate? and there, but for the ravage of the horrid plough, as a learned friend calls it, would be the Praetorian gate. On the left hand you may see some slight vestiges of the porta sinistra, and on the right, one side of the porta dextra wellnigh entire. Here, then, let us take our stand, on this tumulus, exhibiting the foundation of ruined buildings,—the central point—the praetorium, doubtless, of the camp. From this place, now scarce to be distinguished but by its slight elevation and its greener turf from the rest of the fortification, we may suppose Agricola to have looked forth on the immense army of Caledonians, occupying the declivities of yon opposite hill,—the infantry rising rank over rank, as the form of ground displayed their array to its utmost advantage,—the cavalry and covinarii, by which I understand the charioteers—another guise of folks from your Bond-street four-in-hand men, I trow—scouring the more level space below—
“‘—See, then, Lovel—See—|
See that huge battle moving from the mountains!
Their gilt coats shine like dragon scales;—their march
Like a rough tumbling storm.—See them, and view them,
And then see Rome no more!—’
Yes, my dear friend, from this stance it is probable—nay, it is nearly certain, that Julius Agricola beheld what our Beaumont has so admirably described!—From this very Praetorium”—
A voice from behind interrupted his ecstatic description—“Praetorian here, Praetorian there, I mind the bigging o’t.”
Both at once turned round, Lovel with surprise, and Oldbuck with mingled surprise and indignation, at so uncivil an interruption. An auditor had stolen upon them, unseen and unheard, amid the energy of the Antiquary’s enthusiastic declamation, and the attentive civility of Lovel. He had the exterior appearance of a mendicant. A slouched hat of huge dimensions; a long white beard which mingled with his grizzled hair; an aged but strongly marked and expressive countenance, hardened, by climate and exposure, to a right brick-dust complexion; a long blue gown, with a pewter badge on the right arm; two or three wallets, or bags, slung across his shoulder, for holding the different kinds of meal, when he received his charity in kind from those who were but a degree richer than himself:—all these marked at once a beggar by profession, and one of that privileged class which are called in Scotland the King’s Bedesmen, or, vulgarly, Blue-Gowns.
“What is that you say, Edie?” said Oldbuck, hoping, perhaps, that his ears had betrayed their duty—“what were you speaking about!”
“About this bit bourock, your honour,” answered the undaunted Edie; “I mind the bigging o’t.”
“The devil you do! Why, you old fool, it was here before you were born, and will be after you are hanged, man!”
“Hanged or drowned, here or awa, dead or alive, I mind the bigging o’t.”
“You—you—you—,” said the Antiquary, stammering between confusion and anger, “you strolling old vagabond, what the devil do you know about it?”
“Ou, I ken this about it, Monkbarns—and what profit have I for telling ye a lie?—l just ken this about it, that about twenty years syne, I, and a wheen hallenshakers like mysell, and the mason-lads that built the lang dike that gaes down the loaning, and twa or three herds maybe, just set to wark, and built this bit thing here that ye ca’ the—the—Praetorian, and a’ just for a bield at auld Aiken Drum’s bridal, and a bit blithe gae-down wi’ had in’t, some sair rainy weather. Mair by token, Monkbarns, if ye howk up the bourock, as ye seem to have began, yell find, if ye hae not fund it already, a stane that ane o’ the mason-callants cut a ladle on to have a bourd at the bridegroom, and he put four letters on’t, that’s A. D. L. L.—Aiken Drum’s Lang Ladle—for Aiken was ane o’ the kale-suppers o’ Fife.”
“This,” thought Lovel to himself, “is a famous counterpart to the story of Keip on this syde.” He then ventured to steal a glance at our Antiquary, but quickly withdrew it in sheer compassion. For, gentle reader, if thou hast ever beheld the visage of a damsel of sixteen, whose romance of true love has been blown up by an untimely discovery, or of a child of ten years, whose castle of cards has been blown down by a malicious companion, I can safely aver to you, that Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns looked neither more wise nor less disconcerted.
“There is some mistake about this,” he said, abruptly turning away from the mendicant.
“Deil a bit on my side o’ the wa’,” answered the sturdy beggar; “I never deal in mistakes, they aye bring mischances.—Now, Monkbarns, that young gentleman, that’s wi’ your honour, thinks little of a carle like me; and yet, I’ll wager I’ll tell him whar he was yestreen at the gloamin, only he maybe wadna like to hae’t spoken o’ in company.”
Lovel’s soul rushed to his cheeks, with the vivid blush of two-and-twenty.
“Never mind the old rogue,” said Mr. Oldbuck; “don’t suppose I think the worse of you for your profession; they are only prejudiced fools and coxcombs that do so. You remember what old Tully says in his oration, pro Archia poeta, concerning one of your confraternity—quis nostrum tam anino agresti ac duro fuit—ut—ut—I forget the Latin—the meaning is, which of us was so rude and barbarous as to remain unmoved at the death of the great Roscius, whose advanced age was so far from preparing us for his death, that we rather hoped one so graceful, so excellent in his art, ought to be exempted from the common lot of mortality? So the Prince of Orators spoke of the stage and its professor.”
The words of the old man fell upon Lovel’s ears, but without conveying any precise idea to his mind, which was then occupied in thinking by what means the old beggar, who still continued to regard him with a countenance provokingly sly and intelligent, had contrived to thrust himself into any knowledge of his affairs. He put his hand in his pocket as the readiest mode of intimating his desire of secrecy, and securing the concurrence of the person whom he addressed; and while he bestowed on him an alms, the amount of which rather bore proportion to his fears than to his charity, looked at him with a marked expression, which the mendicant, a physiognomist by profession, seemed perfectly to understand.—“Never mind me, sir—I am no tale-pyet; but there are mair een in the warld than mine,” answered he as he pocketed Lovel’s bounty, but in a tone to be heard by him alone, and with an expression which amply filled up what was left unspoken. Then turning to Oldbuck—“I am awa’ to the manse, your honour. Has your honour ony word there, or to Sir Arthur, for I’ll come in by Knockwinnock Castle again e’en?”
Oldbuck started as from a dream; and, in a hurried tone, where vexation strove with a wish to conceal it, paying, at the same time, a tribute to Edie’s smooth, greasy, unlined hat, he said, “Go down, go down to Monkbarns—let them give you some dinner—Or stay; if you do go to the manse, or to Knockwinnock, ye need say nothing about that foolish story of yours.”
“Who, I?” said the mendicant—“Lord bless your honour, naebody sall ken a word about it frae me, mair than if the bit bourock had been there since Noah’s flood. But, Lord, they tell me your honour has gien Johnnie Howie acre for acre of the laigh crofts for this heathery knowe! Now, if he has really imposed the bourock on ye for an ancient wark, it’s my real opinion the bargain will never haud gude, if you would just bring down your heart to try it at the law, and say that he beguiled ye.”
“Provoking scoundrel!” muttered the indignant Antiquary between his teeths—“I’ll have the hangman’s lash and his back acquainted for this.” And then, in a louder tone,—“Never mind, Edie—it is all a mistake.”
“Troth, I am thinking sae,” continued his tormentor, who seemed to have pleasure in rubbing the galled wound, “troth, I aye thought sae; and it’s no sae lang since I said to Luckie Gemmers, ‘Never think you, luckie’ said I, ‘that his honour Monkbarns would hae done sic a daft-like thing as to gie grund weel worth fifty shillings an acre, for a mailing that would be dear o’a pund Scots. Na, na,’ quo’ I, ‘depend upon’t the lard’s been imposed upon wi that wily do-little deevil, Johnnie Howie.’ ‘But Lord haud a care o’ us, sirs, how can that be,’ quo’ she again, ‘when the laird’s sae book-learned, there’s no the like o’ him in the country side, and Johnnie Howie has hardly sense eneugh to ca’ the cows out o’ his kale-yard?’ Aweel, aweel,’ quo’ I, ‘but ye’ll hear he’s circumvented him with some of his auld-warld stories,’—for ye ken, laird, yon other time about the bodle that ye thought was an auld coin”—
“Go to the devil!” said Oldbuck; and then in a more mild tone, as one that was conscious his reputation lay at the mercy of his antagonist, he added—“Away with you down to Monkbarns, and when I come back, I’ll send ye a bottle of ale to the kitchen.”
“Heaven reward your honour!” This was uttered with the true mendicant whine, as, setting his pike-staff before him, he began to move in the direction of Monkbarns.—“But did your honour,” turning round, “ever get back the siller ye gae to the travelling packman for the bodle?”
“Curse thee, go about thy business!”
“Aweel, aweel, sir, God bless your honour! I hope ye’ll ding Johnnie Howie yet, and that I’ll live to see it.” And so saying, the old beggar moved off, relieving Mr. Oldbuck of recollections which were anything rather than agreeable.
“Who is this familiar old gentleman?” said Lovel, when the mendicant was out of hearing.
“O, one of the plagues of the country—I have been always against poor’s-rates and a work-house—I think I’ll vote for them now, to have that scoundrel shut up. O, your old-remembered guest of a beggar becomes as well acquainted with you as he is with his dish—as intimate as one of the beasts familiar to man which signify love, and with which his own trade is especially conversant. Who is he?—why, he has gone the vole—has been soldier, ballad-singer, travelling tinker, and is now a beggar. He is spoiled by our foolish gentry, who laugh at his jokes, and rehearse Edie Ochiltree’s good thing’s as regularly as Joe Miller’s.”
“Why, he uses freedom apparently, which is the soul of wit,” answered Lovel.
“O ay, freedom enough,” said the Antiquary; “he generally invents some damned improbable lie or another to provoke you, like that nonsense he talked just now—not that I’ll publish my tract till I have examined the thing to the bottom.”
“In England,” said Lovel, “such a mendicant would get a speedy cheek.”
“Yes, your churchwardens and dog-whips would make slender allowance for his vein of humour! But here, curse him! he is a sort of privileged nuisance—one of the last specimens of the old fashioned Scottish mendicant, who kept his rounds within a particular space, and was the news-carrier, the minstrel, and sometimes the historian of the district. That rascal, now, knows more old ballads and traditions than any other man in this and the four next parishes. And after all,” continued he, softening as he went on describing Edie’s good gifts, “the dog has some good humour. He has borne his hard fate with unbroken spirits, and it’s cruel to deny him the comfort of a laugh at his betters. The pleasure of having quizzed me, as you gay folk would call it, will be meat and drink to him for a day or two. But I must go back and look after him, or he will spread his d—d nonsensical story over half the country.”2
So saying our heroes parted, Mr. Oldbuck to return to his hospitium at Monkbarns, and Lovel to pursue his way to Fairport, where he arrived without farther adventure.
1. A bonnet-laird signifies a petty proprietor, wearing the dress, along with the habits of a yeoman. [back]
2. Praetorium.—It may be worth while to mention that the incident of the supposed Praetorium actually happened to an antiquary of great learning and acuteness, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, one of the Barons of the Scottish Court of Exchequer, and a parliamentary commissioner for arrangement of the Union between England and Scotland. As many of his writings show, Sir John was much attached to the study of Scottish antiquities. He had a small property in Dumfriesshire, near the Roman station on the hill called Burrenswark. Here he received the distinguished English antiquarian Roger Gale, and of course conducted him to see this remarkable spot, where the lords of the world have left such decisive marks of their martial labours. [back]