The Antiquary

Chapter V

Walter Scott

Launcelot Gobbo. Mark me now: Now will I raise the waters.
Merchant of Venice.


THE THEATRE at Fairport had opened, but no Mr. Lovel appeared on the boards, nor was there anything in the habits or deportment of the young gentleman so named, which authorised Mr. Oldbuck’s conjecture that his fellow-traveller was a candidate for the public favour. Regular were the Antiquary’s inquiries at an old-fashioned barber who dressed the only three wigs in the parish which, in defiance of taxes and times, were still subjected to the operation of powdering and frizzling, and who for that purpose divided his time among the three employers whom fashion had yet left him; regular, I say, were Mr. Oldbuck’s inquiries at this personage concerning the news of the little theatre at Fairport, expecting every day to hear of Mr. Lovel’s appearance; on which occasion the old gentleman had determined to put himself to charges in honour of his young friend, and not only to go to the play himself, but to carry his womankind along with him. But old Jacob Caxon conveyed no information which warranted his taking so decisive a step as that of securing a box.

He brought information, on the contrary, that there was a young man residing at Fairport, of whom the town (by which he meant all the gossips, who, having no business of their own, fill up their leisure moments by attending to that of other people) could make nothing. He sought no society, but rather avoided that which the apparent gentleness of his manners, and some degree of curiosity, induced many to offer him. Nothing could be more regular, or less resembling an adventurer, than his mode of living, which was simple, but so completely well arranged, that all who had any transactions with him were loud in their approbation.

“These are not the virtues of a stage-struck hero,” thought Oldbuck to himself; and, however habitually pertinacious in his opinions, he must have been compelled to abandon that which he had formed in the present instance, but for a part of Caxon’s communication. “The young gentleman,” he said, “was sometimes heard speaking to himsell, and rampauging about in his room, just as if he was ane o’ the player folk.”

Nothing, however, excepting this single circumstance, occurred to confirm Mr. Oldbuck’s supposition; and it remained a high and doubtful question, what a well-informed young man, without friends, connections, or employment of any kind, could have to do as a resident at Fairport. Neither port wine nor whist had apparently any charms for him. He declined dining with the mess of the volunteer cohort which had been lately embodied, and shunned joining the convivialities of either of the two parties which then divided Fairport, as they did more important places. He was too little of an aristocrat to join the club of Royal True Blues, and too little of a democrat to fraternise with an affiliated society of the soi-disant Friends of the People, which the borough had also the happiness of possessing. A coffee-room was his detestation; and, I grieve to say it, he had as few sympathies with the tea-table.—In short, since the name was fashionable in novel-writing, and that is a great while agone, there was never a Master Lovel of whom so little positive was known, and who was so universally described by negatives.

One negative, however, was important—nobody knew any harm of Lovel. Indeed, had such existed, it would have been speedily made public; for the natural desire of speaking evil of our neighbour could in his case have been checked by no feelings of sympathy for a being so unsocial. On one account alone he fell somewhat under suspicion. As he made free use of his pencil in his solitary walks, and had drawn several views of the harbour, in which the signal tower, and even the four-gun battery, were introduced, some zealous friends of the public sent abroad a whisper, that this mysterious stranger must certainly be a French spy. The Sheriff paid his respects to Mr. Lovel accordingly; but in the interview which followed, it would seem that he had entirely removed that magistrate’s suspicions, since he not only suffered him to remain undisturbed in his retirement, but it was credibly reported, sent him two invitations to dinner-parties, both which were civilly declined. But what the nature of the explanation was, the magistrate kept a profound secret, not only from the public at large, but from his substitute, his clerk, his wife and his two daughters, who formed his privy council on all questions of official duty.

All these particulars being faithfully reported by Mr. Caxon to his patron at Monkbarns, tended much to raise Lovel in the opinion of his former fellow-traveller. “A decent sensible lad,” said he to himself, “who scorns to enter into the fooleries and nonsense of these idiot people at Fairport—I must do something for him—I must give him a dinner;—and I will write Sir Arthur to come to Monkbarns to meet him. I must consult my womankind.”

Accordingly, such consultation having been previously held, a special messenger, being no other than Caxon himself, was ordered to prepare for a walk to Knockwinnock Castle with a letter, “For the honoured Sir Arthur Wardour, of Knockwinnock, Bart.” The contents ran thus:

“Dear Sir Arthur,

“On Tuesday the 17th curt., stilo novo, I hold a cenobitical symposion at Monkbarns, and pray you to assist thereat, at four o’clock precisely. If my fair enemy, Miss Isabel, can and will honour us by accompanying you, my womankind will be but too proud to have the aid of such an auxiliary in the cause of resistance to awful rule and right supremacy. If not, I will send the womankind to the manse for the day. I have a young acquaintance to make known to you, who is touched with some strain of a better spirit than belongs to these giddy-paced times—reveres his elders, and has a pretty notion of the classics—and, as such a youth must have a natural contempt for the people about Fairport, I wish to show him some rational as well as worshipful society.
                        I am, Dear Sir Arthur, etc. etc. etc.”

“Fly with this letter, Caxon,” said the senior, holding out his missive, signatum atque sigillatum, “fly to Knockwinnock, and bring me back an answer. Go as fast as if the town-council were met and waiting for the provost, and the provost was waiting for his new-powdered wig.”

“Ah sir,” answered the messenger, with a deep sigh, “thae days hae lang gane by. Deil a wig has a provost of Fairport worn sin’ auld Provost Jervie’s time—and he had a quean of a servant-lass that dressed it herself, wi’ the doup o’ a candle and a drudging-box. But I hae seen the day, Monkbarns, when the town-council of Fairport wad hae as soon wanted their town-clerk, or their gill of brandy ower-head after the haddies, as they wad hae wanted ilk ane a weel-favoured, sonsy, decent periwig on his pow. Hegh, sirs! nae wonder the commons will be discontent and rise against the law, when they see magistrates and bailies, and deacons, and the provost himsell, wi’ heads as bald and as bare as ane o’ my blocks!”

“And as well furnished within, Caxon. But away with you!—you have an excellent view of public affairs, and, I dare say, have touched the cause of our popular discontent as closely as the provost could have done himself. But away with you, Caxon!”

And off went Caxon upon his walk of three miles—

He hobbled, but his heart was good!
Could he go faster than he could?—

While he is engaged in his journey and return, it may not be impertinent to inform the reader to whose mansion he was bearing his embassy.

We have said that Mr. Oldbuck kept little company with the surrounding gentlemen, excepting with one person only. This was Sir Arthur Wardour, a baronet of ancient descent, and of a large but embarrassed fortune. His father, Sir Anthony, had been a Jacobite, and had displayed all the enthusiasm of that party, while it could be served with words only. No man squeezed the orange with more significant gesture; no one could more dexterously intimate a dangerous health without coming under the penal statutes; and, above all, none drank success to the cause more deeply and devoutly. But, on the approach of the Highland army in 1745, it would appear that the worthy baronet’s zeal became a little more moderate just when its warmth was of most consequence. He talked much, indeed, of taking the field for the rights of Scotland and Charles Stuart; but his demi-pique saddle would suit only one of his horses; and that horse could by no means be brought to stand fire. Perhaps the worshipful owner sympathized in the scruples of this sagacious quadruped, and began to think, that what was so much dreaded by the horse could not be very wholesome for the rider. At any rate, while Sir Anthony Wardour talked, and drank, and hesitated, the Sturdy provost of Fairport (who, as we before noticed, was the father of our Antiquary) sallied from his ancient burgh, heading a body of whig-burghers, and seized at once, in the name of George II., upon the Castle of Knockwinnock, and on the four carriage-horses, and person of the proprietor. Sir Anthony was shortly after sent off to the Tower of London by a secretary of state’s warrant, and with him went his son, Arthur, then a youth. But as nothing appeared like an overt act of treason, both father and son were soon set at liberty, and returned to their own mansion of Knockwinnock, to drink healths five fathoms deep, and talk of their sufferings in the royal cause. This became so much a matter of habit with Sir Arthur, that, even after his father’s death, the non-juring chaplain used to pray regularly for the restoration of the rightful sovereign, for the downfall of the usurper, and for deliverance from their cruel and bloodthirsty enemies; although all idea of serious opposition to the House of Hanover had long mouldered away, and this treasonable liturgy was kept up rather as a matter of form than as conveying any distinct meaning. So much was this the case, that, about the year 1770, upon a disputed election occurring in the county, the worthy knight fairly gulped down the oaths of abjuration and allegiance, in order to serve a candidate in whom he was interested;—thus renouncing the heir for whose restoration he weekly petitioned Heaven, and acknowledging the usurper whose dethronement he had never ceased to pray for. And to add to this melancholy instance of human inconsistency, Sir Arthur continued to pray for the House of Stuart even after the family had been extinct, and when, in truth, though in his theoretical loyalty he was pleased to regard them as alive, yet, in all actual service and practical exertion, he was a most zealous and devoted subject of George III.

In other respects, Sir Arthur Wardour lived like most country gentlemen in Scotland, hunted and fished—gave and received dinners—attended races and county meetings—was a deputy-lieutenant and trustee upon turnpike acts. But, in his more advanced years, as he became too lazy or unwieldy for field-sports, he supplied them by now and then reading Scottish history; and, having gradually acquired a taste for antiquities, though neither very deep nor very correct, he became a crony of his neighbour, Mr. Oldbuck of Monkbarns, and a joint-labourer with him in his antiquarian pursuits.

There were, however, points of difference between these two humourists, which sometimes occasioned discord. The faith of Sir Arthur, as an antiquary, was boundless, and Mr. Oldbuck (notwithstanding the affair of the Praetorium at the Kaim of Kinprunes) was much more scrupulous in receiving legends as current and authentic coin. Sir Arthur would have deemed himself guilty of the crime of leze-majesty had he doubted the existence of any single individual of that formidable head-roll of one hundred and four kings of Scotland, received by Boethius, and rendered classical by Buchanan, in virtue of whom James VI. claimed to rule his ancient kingdom, and whose portraits still frown grimly upon the walls of the gallery of Holyrood. Now Oldbuck, a shrewd and suspicious man, and no respecter of divine hereditary right, was apt to cavil at this sacred list, and to affirm, that the procession of the posterity of Fergus through the pages of Scottish history, was as vain and unsubstantial as the gleamy pageant of the descendants of Banquo through the cavern of Hecate.

Another tender topic was the good fame of Queen Mary, of which the knight was a most chivalrous assertor, while the esquire impugned it, in spite both of her beauty and misfortunes. When, unhappily, their conversation turned on yet later times, motives of discord occurred in almost every page of history. Oldbuck was, upon principle, a staunch Presbyterian, a ruling elder of the kirk, and a friend to revolution principles and Protestant succession, while Sir Arthur was the very reverse of all this. They agreed, it is true, in dutiful love and allegiance to the sovereign who now fills1 the throne; but this was their only point of union.

It therefore often happened, that bickerings hot broke out between them, in which Oldbuck was not always able to suppress his caustic humour, while it would sometimes occur to the Baronet that the descendant of a German printer, whose sires had “sought the base fellowship of paltry burghers,” forgot himself, and took an unlicensed freedom of debate, considering the rank and ancient descent of his antagonist. This, with the old feud of the coach-horses, and the seizure of his manor-place and tower of strength by Mr. Oldbuck’s father, would at times rush upon his mind, and inflame at once his cheeks and his arguments. And, lastly, as Mr. Oldbuck thought his worthy friend and compeer was in some respects little better than a fool, he was apt to come more near communicating to him that unfavourable opinion, than the rules of modern politeness warrant. In such cases they often parted in deep dudgeon, and with something like a resolution to forbear each other’s company in future:

“But with the morning calm reflection came;”

and as each was sensible that the society of the other had become, through habit, essential to his comfort, the breach was speedily made up between them. On such occasions, Oldbuck, considering that the Baronet’s pettishness resembled that of a child, usually showed his superior sense by compassionately making the first advances to reconciliation. But it once or twice happened that the aristocratic pride of the far-descended knight took a flight too offensive to the feelings of the representative of the typographer. In these cases, the breach between these two originals might have been immortal, but for the kind exertion and interposition of the Baronet’s daughter, Miss Isabella Wardour, who, with a son, now absent upon foreign and military service, formed his whole surviving family. She was well aware how necessary Mr. Oldbuck was to her father’s amusement and comfort, and seldom failed to interpose with effect, when the office of a mediator between them was rendered necessary by the satirical shrewdness of the one, or the assumed superiority of the other. Under Isabella’s mild influence, the wrongs of Queen Mary were forgotten by her father, and Mr. Oldbuck forgave the blasphemy which reviled the memory of King William. However, as she used in general to take her father’s part playfully in these disputes, Oldbuck was wont to call Isabella his fair enemy, though in fact he made more account of her than any other of her sex, of whom, as we have seen, he, was no admirer.

There existed another connection betwixt these worthies, which had alternately a repelling and attractive influence upon their intimacy. Sir Arthur always wished to borrow; Mr. Oldbuck was not always willing to lend. Mr. Oldbuck, per contra, always wished to be repaid with regularity; Sir Arthur was not always, nor indeed often, prepared to gratify this reasonable desire; and, in accomplishing an arrangement between tendencies so opposite, little miffs would occasionally take place. Still there was a spirit of mutual accommodation upon the whole, and they dragged on like dogs in couples, with some difficulty and occasional snarling, but without absolutely coming to a stand-still or throttling each other.

Some little disagreement, such as we have mentioned, arising out of business, or politics, had divided the houses of Knockwinnock and Monkbarns, when the emissary of the latter arrived to discharge his errand. In his ancient Gothic parlour, whose windows on one side looked out upon the restless ocean, and, on the other, upon the long straight avenue, was the Baronet seated, now turning over the leaves of a folio, now casting a weary glance where the sun quivered on the dark-green foliage and smooth trunks of the large and branching limes with which the avenue was planted. At length, sight of joy! a moving object is seen, and it gives rise to the usual inquiries, Who is it? and what can be his errand? The old whitish-grey coat, the hobbling gait, the hat half-slouched, half-cocked, announced the forlorn maker of periwigs, and left for investigation only the second query. This was soon solved by a servant entering the parlour,—“A letter from Monkbarns, Sir Arthur.”

Sir Arthur took the epistle with a due assumption of consequential dignity.

“Take the old man into the kitchen, and let him get some refreshment,” said the young lady, whose compassionate eye had remarked his thin grey hair and wearied gait.

“Mr. Oldbuck, my love, invites us to dinner on Tuesday the 17th,” said the Baronet, pausing;—“he really seems to forget that he has not of late conducted himself so civilly towards me as might have been expected.”

“Dear sir, you have so many advantages over poor Mr. Oldbuck, that no wonder it should put him a little out of humour; but I know he has much respect for your person and your conversation;—nothing would give him more pain than to be wanting in any real attention.”

“True, true, Isabella; and one must allow for the original descent;—something of the German boorishness still flows in the blood; something of the whiggish and perverse opposition to established rank and privilege. You may observe that he never has any advantage of me in dispute, unless when he avails himself of a sort of pettifogging intimacy with dates, names, and trifling matters of fact—a tiresome and frivolous accuracy of memory, which is entirely owing to his mechanical descent.”

“He must find it convenient in historical investigation, I should think, sir?” said the young lady.

“It leads to an uncivil and positive mode of disputing; and nothing seems more unreasonable than to hear him impugn even Bellenden’s rare translation of Hector Boece, which I have the satisfaction to possess, and which is a black-letter folio of great value, upon the authority of some old scrap of parchment which he has saved from its deserved destiny of being cut up into tailor’s measures. And besides, that habit of minute and troublesome accuracy leads to a mercantile manner of doing business, which ought to be beneath a landed proprietor whose family has stood two or three generations. I question if there’s a dealer’s clerk in Fairport that can sum an account of interest better than Monkbarns.”

“But you’ll accept his invitation, sir?”

“Why, ye—yes; we have no other engagement on hand, I think. Who can the young man be he talks of?—he seldom picks up new acquaintance; and he has no relation that I ever heard of.”

“Probably some relation of his brother-in-law Captain M‘Intyre.”

“Very possibly—yes, we will accept—the M‘Intyres are of a very ancient Highland family. You may answer his card in the affirmative, Isabella; I believe I have, no leisure to be Dear Sirring myself.”

So this important matter being adjusted, Miss Wardour intimated “her own and Sir Arthur’s compliments, and that they would have the honour of waiting upon Mr. Oldbuck. Miss Wardour takes this opportunity to renew her hostility with Mr. Oldbuck, on account of his late long absence from Knockwinnock, where his visits give so much pleasure.” With this placebo she concluded her note, with which old Caxon, now refreshed in limbs and wind, set out on his return to the Antiquary’s mansion.

1.    The reader will understand that this refers to the reign of our late gracious Sovereign, George the Third.    [back]

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