The Antiquary

Chapter XXIX

Walter Scott

For he was one in all their idle sport,
And like a monarch, ruled their little court
The pliant bow he formed, the flying ball,
The bat, the wicket, were his labours all.
CRABBE’S Village.


FRANCIE MACRAW, agreeably to the commands of his master, attended the mendicant, in order to see him fairly out of the estate, without permitting him to have conversation, or intercourse, with any of the Earl’s dependents or domestics. But, judiciously considering that the restriction did not extend to himself, who was the person entrusted with the convoy, he used every measure in his power to extort from Edie the nature of his confidential and secret interview with Lord Glenallan. But Edie had been in his time accustomed to cross-examination, and easily evaded those of his quondam comrade. “The secrets of grit folk,” said Ochiltree within himself, “are just like the wild beasts that are shut up in cages. Keep them hard and fast sneaked up, and it’s a’ very weel or better—but ance let them out, they will turn and rend you. I mind how ill Dugald Gunn cam aff for letting loose his tongue about the Major’s leddy and Captain Bandilier.”

Francie was therefore foiled in his assaults upon the fidelity of the mendicant, and, like an indifferent chess-player, became, at every unsuccessful movement, more liable to the counter-checks of his opponent.

“Sae ye uphauld ye had nae particulars to say to my lord but about yer ain matters?”

“Ay, and about the wee bits o’ things I had brought frae abroad,” said Edie. “I ken’d you popist folk are unco set on the relics that are fetched frae far-kirks and sae forth.”

“Troth, my Lord maun be turned feel outright,” said the domestic, “an he puts himsell into sic a carfuffle, for onything ye could bring him, Edie.”

“I doubtna ye may say true in the main, neighbour,” replied the beggar; “but maybe he’s had some hard play in his younger days, Francie, and that whiles unsettles folk sair.”

“Troth, Edie, and ye may say that—and since it’s like yell neer come back to the estate, or, if ye dee, that ye’ll no find me there, I’se e’en tell you he had a heart in his young time sae wrecked and rent, that it’s a wonder it hasna broken outright lang afore this day.”

“Ay, say ye sae?” said Ochiltree; “that maun hae been about a woman, I reckon?”

“Troth, and ye hae guessed it,” said Francie—“jeest a cusin o’ his nain—Miss Eveline Neville, as they suld hae ca’d her;—there was a sough in the country about it, but it was hushed up, as the grandees were concerned;—it’s mair than twenty years syne—ay, it will be three-and-twenty.”

“Ay, I was in America then,” said the mendicant, “and no in the way to hear the country clashes.”

“There was little clash about it, man,” replied Macraw; “he liked this young leddy, ana suld hae married her, but his mother fand it out, and then the deil gaed o’er Jock Webster. At last, the peer lass clodded hersell o’er the scaur at the Craigburnfoot into the sea, and there was an end o’t.”

“An end ot wi’ the puir leddy,” said the mendicant, “but, as I reckon, nae end o’t wi’ the yerl.”

“Nae end o’t till his life makes an end,” answered the Aberdonian.

“But what for did the auld Countess forbid the marriage?” continued the persevering querist.

“Fat for!—she maybe didna weel ken for fat hersell, for she gar’d a’ bow to her bidding, right or wrang—But it was ken’d the young leddy was inclined to some o’ the heresies of the country—mair by token, she was sib to him nearer than our Church’s rule admits of. Sae the leddy was driven to the desperate act, and the yerl has never since held his head up like a man.”

“Weel away!” replied Ochiltree:—“it’s e’en queer I neer heard this tale afore.”

“It’s e’en queer that ye heard it now, for deil ane o’ the servants durst hae spoken o’t had the auld Countess been living. Eh, man, Edie! but she was a trimmer—it wad hae taen a skeely man to hae squared wi’ her!—But she’s in her grave, and we may loose our tongues a bit fan we meet a friend.—But fare ye weel, Edie—I maun be back to the evening-service. An’ ye come to Inverurie maybe sax months awa, dinna forget to ask after Francie Macraw.”

What one kindly pressed, the other as firmly promised; and the friends having thus parted, with every testimony of mutual regard, the domestic of Lord Glenallan took his road back to the seat of his master, leaving Ochiltree to trace onward his habitual pilgrimage.

It was a fine summer evening, and the world—that is, the little circle which was all in all to the individual by whom it was trodden, lay before Edie Ochiltree, for the choosing of his night’s quarters. When he had passed the less hospitable domains of Glenallan, he had in his option so many places of refuge for the evening, that he was nice, and even fastidious in the choice. Ailie Sim’s public was on the road-side about a mile before him, but there would be a parcel of young fellows there on the Saturday night, and that was a bar to civil conversation. Other “gudemen and gudewives,” as the farmers and their dames are termed in Scotland, successively presented themselves to his imagination. But one was deaf, and could not hear him; another toothless, and could not make him hear; a third had a cross temper; and a fourth an ill-natured house-dog. At Monkbarns or Knockwinnock he was sure of a favourable and hospitable reception; but they lay too distant to be conveniently reached that night.

“I dinna ken how it is,” said the old man, “but I am nicer about my quarters this night than ever I mind having been in my life. I think, having seen a’ the braws yonder, and finding out ane may be happier without them, has made me proud o’ my ain lot—But I wuss it bode me gude, for pride goeth before destruction. At ony rate, the warst barn e’er man lay in wad be a pleasanter abode than Glenallan House, wi’ a’ the pictures and black velvet, and silver bonny-wawlies belonging to it—Sae I’ll e’en settle at ance, and put in for Ailie Sims.”

As the old man descended the hill above the little hamlet to which he was bending his course, the setting sun had relieved its inmates from their labour, and the young men, availing themselves of the fine evening, were engaged in the sport of long-bowls on a patch of common, while the women and elders looked on. The shout, the laugh, the exclamations of winners and losers, came in blended chorus up the path which Ochiltree was descending, and awakened in his recollection the days when he himself had been a keen competitor, and frequently victor, in games of strength and agility. These remembrances seldom fail to excite a sigh, even when the evening of life is cheered by brighter prospects than those of our poor mendicant. “At that time of day,” was his natural reflection, “I would have thought as little about ony auld palmering body that was coming down the edge of Kinblythemont, as ony o’ thae stalwart young chiels does e’enow about auld Edie Ochiltree.”

He was, however, presently cheered, by finding that more importance was attached to his arrival than his modesty had anticipated. A disputed cast had occurred between the bands of players, and as the gauger favoured the one party, and the schoolmaster the other, the matter might be said to be taken up by the higher powers. The miller and smith, also, had espoused different sides, and, considering the vivacity of two such disputants, there was reason to doubt whether the strife might be amicably terminated. But the first person who caught a sight of the mendicant exclaimed, “Ah! here comes auld Edie, that kens the rules of a’ country games better than ony man that ever drave a bowl, or threw an axle-tree, or putted a stane either;—let’s hae nae quarrelling, callants—we’ll stand by auld Edie’s judgment.”

Edie was accordingly welcomed, and installed as umpire, with a general shout of gratulation. With all the modesty of a Bishop to whom the mitre is proffered, or of a new Speaker called to the chair, the old man declined the high trust and responsibility with which it was proposed to invest him, and, in requital for his self-denial and humility, had the pleasure of receiving the reiterated assurances of young, old, and middle-aged, that he was simply the best qualified person for the office of arbiter “in the haill country-side.” Thus encouraged, he proceeded gravely to the execution of his duty, and, strictly forbidding all aggravating expressions on either side, he heard the smith and gauger on one side, the miller and schoolmaster on the other, as junior and senior counsel. Edie’s mind, however, was fully made up on the subject before the pleading began; like that of many a judge, who must nevertheless go through all the forms, and endure in its full extent the eloquence and argumentation of the Bar. For when all had been said on both sides, and much of it said over oftener than once, our senior, being well and ripely advised, pronounced the moderate and healing judgment, that the disputed cast was a drawn one, and should therefore count to neither party. This judicious decision restored concord to the field of players; they began anew to arrange their match and their bets, with the clamorous mirth usual on such occasions of village sport, and the more eager were already stripping their jackets, and committing them, with their coloured handkerchiefs, to the care of wives, sisters, and mistresses. But their mirth was singularly interrupted.

On the outside of the group of players began to arise sounds of a description very different from those of sport—that sort of suppressed sigh and exclamation, with which the first news of calamity is received by the hearers, began to be heard indistinctly. A buzz went about among the women of “Eh, sirs! sae young and sae suddenly summoned!”—It then extended itself among the men, and silenced the sounds of sportive mirth.

All understood at once that some disaster had happened in the country, and each inquired the cause at his neighbour, who knew as little as the querist. At length the rumour reached, in a distinct shape, the ears of Edie Ochiltree, who was in the very centre of the assembly. The boat of Mucklebackit, the fisherman whom we have so often mentioned, had been swamped at sea, and four men had perished, it was affirmed, including Mucklebackit and his son. Rumour had in this, however, as in other cases, gone beyond the truth. The boat had indeed been overset; but Stephen, or, as he was called, Steenie Mucklebackit, was the only man who had been drowned. Although the place of his residence and his mode of life removed the young man from the society of the country folks, yet they failed not to pause in their rustic mirth to pay that tribute to sudden calamity which it seldom fails to receive in cases of infrequent occurrence. To Ochiltree, in particular, the news came like a knell, the rather that he had so lately engaged this young man’s assistance in an affair of sportive mischief; and though neither loss nor injury was designed to the German adept, yet the work was not precisely one in which the latter hours of life ought to be occupied.

Misfortunes never come alone. While Ochiltree, pensively leaning upon his staff, added his regrets to those of the hamlet which bewailed the young man’s sudden death, and internally blamed himself for the transaction in which he had so lately engaged him, the old man’s collar was seized by a peace-officer, who displayed his baton in his right hand, and exclaimed, “In the king’s name.”

The gauger and schoolmaster united their rhetoric, to prove to the constable and his assistant that he had no right to arrest the king’s bedesman as a vagrant; and the mute eloquence of the miller and smith, which was vested in their clenched fists, was prepared to give Highland bail for their arbiter; his blue gown, they said, was his warrant for travelling the country.

“But his blue gown,” answered the officer, “is nae protection for assault, robbery, and murder; and my warrant is against him for these crimes.”

“Murder!” said Edie, “murder! wha did I e’er murder?”

“Mr. German Doustercivil, the agent at Glen-Withershins mining-works.”

“Murder Doustersnivel?—hout, he’s living, and life-like, man.”

“Nae thanks to you if he be; he had a sair struggle for his life, if a’ be true he tells, and ye maun answer for’t at the bidding of the law.”

The defenders of the mendicant shrunk back at hearing the atrocity of the charges against him, but more than one kind hand thrust meat and bread and pence upon Edie, to maintain him in the prison, to which the officers were about to conduct him.

“Thanks to ye! God bless ye a’, bairns!—I’ve gotten out o’ mony a snare when I was waur deserving o’ deliverance—I shall escape like a bird from the fowler. Play out your play, and never mind me—I am mair grieved for the puir lad that’s gane, than for aught they can do to me.”

Accordingly, the unresisting prisoner was led off, while he mechanically accepted and stored in his wallets the alms which poured in on every hand, and ere he left the hamlet, was as deep-laden as a government victualler. The labour of bearing this accumulating burden was, however, abridged, by the officer procuring a cart and horse to convey the old man to a magistrate, in order to his examination and committal.

The disaster of Steenie, and the arrest of Edie, put a stop to the sports of the village, the pensive inhabitants of which began to speculate upon the vicissitudes of human affairs, which had so suddenly consigned one of their comrades to the grave, and placed their master of the revels in some danger of being hanged. The character of Dousterswivel being pretty generally known, which was in his case equivalent to being pretty generally detested, there were many speculations upon the probability of the accusation being malicious. But all agreed, that if Edie Ochiltree behaved in all events to suffer upon this occasion, it was a great pity he had not better merited his fate by killing Dousterswivel outright.

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