The Antiquary

Chapter X

Walter Scott

When midnight o’er the moonless skies
Her pall of transient death has spread,
When mortals sleep, when spectres rise,
And none are wakeful but the dead;
No bloodless shape my way pursues,
No sheeted ghost my couch annoys,
Visions more sad my fancy views,—
Visions of long departed joys.


WHEN they reached the Green Room, as it was called, Oldbuck placed the candle on the toilet table, before a huge mirror with a black japanned frame, surrounded by dressing-boxes of the same, and looked around him with something of a disturbed expression of countenance. “I am seldom in this apartment,” he said, “and never without yielding to a melancholy feeling—not, of course, on account of the childish nonsense that Grizel was telling you, but owing to circumstances of an early and unhappy attachment. It is at such moments as these, Mr. Lovel, that we feel the changes of time. The same objects are before us—those inanimate things which we have gazed on in wayward infancy and impetuous youth, in anxious and scheming manhood—they are permanent and the same; but when we look upon them in cold unfeeling old age, can we, changed in our temper, our pursuits, our feelings—changed in our form, our limbs, and our strength,—can we be ourselves called the same? or do we not rather look back with a sort of wonder upon our former selves, as being separate and distinct from what we now are? The philosopher who appealed from Philip inflamed with wine to Philip in his hours of sobriety, did not choose a judge so different, as if he had appealed from Philip in his youth to Philip in his old age. I cannot but be touched with the feeling so beautifully expressed in a poem which I have heard repeated:1

My eyes are dim with childish tears,
    My heart is idly stirred,
For the same sound is in my ears
    Which in those days I heard.

Thus fares it still in our decay;
    And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what time takes away,
    Than what he leaves behind.

Well, time cures every wound, and though the scar may remain and occasionally ache, yet the earliest agony of its recent infliction is felt no more.”—So saying, he shook Lovel cordially by the hand, wished him good-night, and took his leave.

Step after step Lovel could trace his host’s retreat along the various passages, and each door which he closed behind him fell with a sound more distant and dead. The guest, thus separated from the living world, took up the candle and surveyed the apartment.

The fire blazed cheerfully. Mrs. Grizel’s attention had left some fresh wood, should he choose to continue it, and the apartment had a comfortable, though not a lively appearance. It was hung with tapestry, which the looms of Arras had produced in the sixteenth century, and which the learned typographer, so often mentioned, had brought with him as a sample of the arts of the Continent. The subject was a hunting-piece; and as the leafy boughs of the forest-trees, branching over the tapestry, formed the predominant colour, the apartment had thence acquired its name of the Green Chamber. Grim figures in the old Flemish dress, with slashed doublets covered with ribbands, short cloaks, and trunk-hose, were engaged in holding grey-hounds, or stag-hounds, in the leash, or cheering them upon the objects of their game. Others, with boar-spears, swords, and old-fashioned guns, were attacking stags or boars whom they had brought to bay. The branches of the woven forest were crowded with fowls of various kinds, each depicted with its proper plumage. It seemed as if the prolific and rich invention of old Chaucer had animated the Flemish artist with its profusion, and Oldbuck had accordingly caused the following verses, from that ancient and excellent poet, to be embroidered in Gothic letters, on a sort of border which he had added to the tapestry:—

Lo! here be oakis grete, streight as a lime,
    Under the which the grass, so fresh of line,
Be’th newly sprung—at eight foot or nine.
    Everich tree well from his fellow grew,
With branches broad laden with leaves new,
    That sprongen out against the sonne sheene,
    Some golden red and some a glad bright green.

And in another canton was the following similar legend:—

And many an hart and many an hind,
Was both before me, and behind.
Of fawns, sownders, bucks and does,
Was full the wood and many roes,
And many squirrels that ysate
High on the trees and nuts ate.

The bed was of a dark and faded green, wrought to correspond with the tapestry, but by a more modern and less skilful hand. The large and heavy stuff-bottomed chairs, with black ebony backs, were embroidered after the same pattern, and a lofty mirror, over the antique chimney-piece, corresponded in its mounting with that on the old-fashioned toilet.

“I have heard,” muttered Lovel, as he took a cursory view of the room and its furniture, “that ghosts often chose the best room in the mansion to which they attached themselves; and I cannot disapprove of the taste of the disembodied printer of the Augsburg Confession.” But he found it so difficult to fix his mind upon the stories which had been told him of an apartment with which they seemed so singularly to correspond, that he almost regretted the absence of those agitated feelings, half fear half curiosity, which sympathise with the old legends of awe and wonder, from which the anxious reality of his own hopeless passion at present detached him. For he now only felt emotions like those expressed in the lines,—

Ah! cruel maid, how hast thou changed
        The temper of my mind!
My heart, by thee from all estranged,
        Becomes like thee unkind.

He endeavoured to conjure up something like the feelings which would, at another time, have been congenial to his situation, but his heart had no room for these vagaries of imagination. The recollection of Miss Wardour, determined not to acknowledge him when compelled to endure his society, and evincing her purpose to escape from it, would have alone occupied his imagination exclusively. But with this were united recollections more agitating if less painful,—her hair-breadth escape—the fortunate assistance which he had been able to render her—Yet what was his requital? She left the cliff while his fate was yet doubtful—while it was uncertain whether her preserver had not lost the life which he had exposed for her so freely. Surely gratitude, at least, called for some little interest in his fate—But no—she could not be selfish or unjust—it was no part of her nature. She only desired to shut the door against hope, and, even in compassion to him, to extinguish a passion which she could never return.

But this lover-like mode of reasoning was not likely to reconcile him to his fate, since the more amiable his imagination presented Miss Wardour, the more inconsolable he felt he should be rendered by the extinction of his hopes. He was, indeed, conscious of possessing the power of removing her prejudices on some points; but, even in extremity, he determined to keep the original determination which he had formed, of ascertaining that she desired an explanation, ere he intruded one upon her. And, turn the matter as he would, he could not regard his suit as desperate. There was something of embarrassment as well as of grave surprise in her look when Oldbuck presented him—and, perhaps, upon second thoughts, the one was assumed to cover the other. He would not relinquish a pursuit which had already cost him such pains. Plans, suiting the romantic temper of the brain that entertained them, chased each other through his head, thick and irregular as the motes of the sun-beam, and, long after he had laid himself to rest, continued to prevent the repose which he greatly needed. Then, wearied by the uncertainty and difficulties with which each scheme appeared to be attended, he bent up his mind to the strong effort of shaking off his love, “like dew-drops from the lion’s mane,” and resuming those studies and that career of life which his unrequited affection had so long and so fruitlessly interrupted. In this last resolution he endeavoured to fortify himself by every argument which pride, as well as reason, could suggest. “She shall not suppose,” he said, “that, presuming on an accidental service to her or to her father, I am desirous to intrude myself upon that notice, to which, personally, she considered me as having no title. I will see her no more. I will return to the land which, if it affords none fairer, has at least many as fair, and less haughty than Miss Wardour. Tomorrow I will bid adieu to these northern shores, and to her who is as cold and relentless as her climate.”

When he had for some time brooded over this sturdy resolution, exhausted nature at length gave way, and, despite of wrath, doubt, and anxiety, he sank into slumber.

It is seldom that sleep, after such violent agitation, is either sound or refreshing. Lovel’s was disturbed by a thousand baseless and confused visions. He was a bird—he was a fish—or he flew like the one, and swam like the other,—qualities which would have been very essential to his safety a few hours before. Then Miss Wardour was a syren, or a bird of Paradise; her father a triton, or a sea-gull; and Oldbuck alternately a porpoise and a cormorant. These agreeable imaginations were varied by all the usual vagaries of a feverish dream;—the air refused to bear the visionary, the water seemed to burn him—the rocks felt like down pillows as he was dashed against them—whatever he undertook, failed in some strange and unexpected manner—and whatever attracted his attention, underwent, as he attempted to investigate it, some wild and wonderful metamorphosis, while his mind continued all the while in some degree conscious of the delusion, from which it in vain struggled to free itself by awaking;—feverish symptoms all, with which those who are haunted by the night-hag, whom the learned call Ephialtes, are but too well acquainted. At length these crude phantasmata arranged themselves into something more regular, if indeed the imagination of Lovel, after he awoke (for it was by no means the faculty in which his mind was least rich), did not gradually, insensibly, and unintentionally, arrange in better order the scene of which his sleep presented, it may be, a less distinct outline. Or it is possible that his feverish agitation may have assisted him in forming the vision.

Leaving this discussion to the learned, we will say, that after a succession of wild images, such as we have above described, our hero, for such we must acknowledge him, so far regained a consciousness of locality as to remember where he was, and the whole furniture of the Green Chamber was depicted to his slumbering eye. And here, once more, let me protest, that if there should be so much old-fashioned faith left among this shrewd and sceptical generation, as to suppose that what follows was an impression conveyed rather by the eye than by the imagination, I do not impugn their doctrine. He was, then, or imagined himself, broad awake in the Green Chamber, gazing upon the flickering and occasional flame which the unconsumed remnants of the faggots sent forth, as, one by one, they fell down upon the red embers, into which the principal part of the boughs to which they belonged had crumbled away. Insensibly the legend of Aldobrand Oldenbuck, and his mysterious visits to the inmates of the chamber, awoke in his mind, and with it, as we often feel in dreams, an anxious and fearful expectation, which seldom fails instantly to summon up before our mind’s eye the object of our fear. Brighter sparkles of light flashed from the chimney, with such intense brilliancy as to enlighten all the room. The tapestry waved wildly on the wall, till its dusky forms seemed to become animated. The hunters blew their horns—the stag seemed to fly, the boar to resist, and the hounds to assail the one and pursue the other; the cry of deer, mangled by throttling dogs—the shouts of men, and the clatter of horses’ hoofs, seemed at once to surround him—while every group pursued, with all the fury of the chase, the employment in which the artist had represented them as engaged. Lovel looked on this strange scene devoid of wonder (which seldom intrudes itself upon the sleeping fancy), but with an anxious sensation of awful fear. At length an individual figure among the tissued huntsmen, as he gazed upon them more fixedly, seemed to leave the arras and to approach the bed of the slumberer. As he drew near, his figure appeared to alter. His bugle-horn became a brazen clasped volume; his hunting-cap changed to such a furred head-gear as graces the burgomasters of Rembrandt; his Flemish garb remained but his features, no longer agitated with the fury of the chase, were changed to such a state of awful and stern composure, as might best portray the first proprietor of Monkbarns, such as he had been described to Lovel by his descendants in the course of the preceding evening. As this metamorphosis took place, the hubbub among the other personages in the arras disappeared from the imagination of the dreamer, which was now exclusively bent on the single figure before him. Lovel strove to interrogate this awful person in the form of exorcism proper for the occasion; but his tongue, as is usual in frightful dreams, refused its office, and clung, palsied, to the roof of his mouth. Aldobrand held up his finger, as if to impose silence upon the guest who had intruded on his apartment, and began deliberately to unclasp the venerable, volume which occupied his left hand. When it was unfolded, he turned over the leaves hastily for a short space, and then raising his figure to its full dimensions, and holding the book aloft in his left hand, pointed to a passage in the page which he thus displayed. Although the language was unknown to our dreamer, his eye and attention were both strongly caught by the line which the figure seemed thus to press upon his notice, the words of which appeared to blaze with a supernatural light, and remained riveted upon has memory. As the vision shut his volume, a strain of delightful music seemed to fill the apartment—Lovel started, and became completely awake. The music, however, was still in his ears, nor ceased till he could distinctly follow the measure of an old Scottish tune.

He sate up in bed, and endeavoured to clear his brain of the phantoms which had disturbed it during this weary night. The beams of the morning sun streamed through the half-closed shutters, and admitted a distinct light into the apartment. He looked round upon the hangings,—but the mixed groups of silken and worsted huntsmen were as stationary as tenter-hooks could make them, and only trembled slightly as the early breeze, which found its way through an open crevice of the latticed window, glided along their surface. Lovel leapt out of bed, and, wrapping himself in a morning-gown, that had been considerately laid by his bedside, stepped towards the window, which commanded a view of the sea, the roar of whose billows announced it still disquieted by the storm of the preceding evening, although the morning was fair and serene. The window of a turret, which projected at an angle with the wall, and thus came to be very near Lovel’s apartment, was half-open, and from that quarter he heard again the same music which had probably broken short his dream. With its visionary character it had lost much of its charms—it was now nothing more than an air on the harpsichord, tolerably well performed—such is the caprice of imagination as affecting the fine arts. A female voice sung, with some taste and great simplicity, something between a song and a hymn, in words to the following effect:—

“Why sitt’st thou by that ruin’d hall,
    Thou aged carle so stern and grey?
Dost thou its former pride recall,
    Or ponder how it passed away?

“Know’st thou not me!” the Deep Voice cried,
    “So long enjoyed, so oft misused—
Alternate, in thy fickle pride,
    Desired, neglected, and accused?

“Before my breath, like, blazing flax,
    Man and his marvels pass away;
And changing empires wane and wax,
    Are founded, flourish and decay.

“Redeem mine hours—the space is brief—
    While in my glass the sand-grains shiver,
And measureless thy joy or grief,
    When TIME and thou shalt part for ever!”

While the verses were yet singing, Lovel had returned to his bed; the train of ideas which they awakened was romantic and pleasing, such as his soul delighted in, and, willingly adjourning till more broad day the doubtful task of determining on his future line of conduct, he abandoned himself to the pleasing languor inspired by the music, and fell into a sound and refreshing sleep, from which he was only awakened at a late hour by old Caxon, who came creeping into the room to render the offices of a valet-de-chambre.

“I have brushed your coat, sir,” said the old man, when he perceived Lovel was awake; “the callant brought it frae Fairport this morning, for that ye had on yesterday is scantly feasibly dry, though it’s been a’ night at the kitchen fire; and I hae cleaned your shoon. I doubt ye’ll no be wanting me to tie your hair, for” (with a gentle sigh) “a’ the young gentlemen wear crops now; but I hae the curling tangs here to gie it a bit turn ower the brow, if ye like, before ye gae down to the leddies.”

Lovel, who was by this time once more on his legs, declined the old man’s professional offices, but accompanied the refusal with such a douceur as completely sweetened Caxon’s mortification.

“It’s a pity he disna get his hair tied and pouthered,” said the ancient friseur, when he had got once more into the kitchen, in which, on one pretence or other, he spent three parts of his idle time—that is to say, of his whole time—“it’s a great pity, for he’s a comely young gentleman.”

“Hout awa, ye auld gowk,” said Jenny Rintherout, “would ye creesh his bonny brown hair wi’ your nasty ulyie, and then moust it like the auld minister’s wig? Ye’ll be for your breakfast, I’se warrant?—hae, there’s a soup parritch for ye—it will set ye better tae be slaistering at them and the lapper-milk than meddling wi’ Mr. Lovel’s head—ye wad spoil the maist natural and beautifaest head o’ hair in a’ Fairport, baith burgh and county.”

The poor barber sighed over the disrespect into which his art had so universally fallen, but Jenny was a person too important to offend by contradiction; so, sitting quietly down in the kitchen, he digested at once his humiliation, and the contents of a bicker which held a Scotch pint of substantial oatmeal porridge.

1.    Probably Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads had not as yet been published.    [back]

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