The Antiquary


Walter Scott

Well, well, at worst, ’tis neither theft nor coinage,
Granting I knew all that you charge me with.
What though the tomb hath borne a second birth,
And given the wealth to one that knew not on’t,
Yet fair exchange was never robbery,
Far less pure bounty—
Old Play.


THE ANTIQUARY, in order to avail himself of the permission given him to question the accused party, chose rather to go to the apartment in which Ochiltree was detained, than to make the examination appear formal by bringing him again into the magistrate’s office. He found the old man seated by a window which looked out on the sea; and as he gazed on that prospect, large tears found their way, as if unconsciously, to his eye, and from thence trickled down his cheeks and white beard. His features were, nevertheless, calm and composed, and his whole posture and mien indicated patience and resignation. Oldbuck had approached him without being observed, and roused him out of his musing by saying kindly, “I am sorry, Edie, to see you so much cast down about this matter.”

The mendicant started, dried his eyes very hastily with the sleeve of his gown, and endeavouring to recover his usual tone of indifference and jocularity, answered, but with a voice more tremulous than usual, “I might weel hae judged, Monkbarns, it was you, or the like o’ you, was coming in to disturb me—for it’s ae great advantage o’ prisons and courts o’ justice, that ye may greet your een out an ye like, and nane o’ the folk that’s concerned about them will ever ask you what it’s for.”

“Well, Edie,” replied Oldbuck, “I hope your present cause of distress is not so bad but it may be removed.”

“And I had hoped, Monkbarns,” answered the mendicant, in a tone of reproach, “that ye had ken’d me better than to think that this bit trifling trouble o’ my ain wad bring tears into my auld een, that hae seen far different kind o’ distress.—Na, na!—But here’s been the puir lass, Caxon’s daughter, seeking comfort, and has gotten unco little—there’s been nae speerings o’ Taffril’s gunbrig since the last gale; and folk report on the key that a king’s ship had struck on the Reef of Rattray, and a’ hands lost—God forbid! for as sure as you live, Monkbarns, the puir lad Lovel, that ye liked sae weel, must have perished.”

“God forbid indeed!” echoed the Antiquary, turning pale—“I would rather Monkbarns House were on fire. My poor dear friend and coadjutor! I will down to the quay instantly.”

“I’m sure yell learn naething mair than I hae tauld ye, sir,” said Ochiltree, “for the officer-folk here were very civil (that is, for the like o’ them), and lookit up ae their letters and authorities, and could throw nae light on’t either ae way or another.”

“It can’t be true! it shall not be true!” said the Antiquary, “And I won’t believe it if it were!—Taffril’s an excellent sea man, and Lovel (my poor Lovel!) has all the qualities of a safe and pleasant companion by land or by sea—one, Edie, whom, from the ingenuousness of his disposition, I would choose, did I ever go a sea-voyage (which I never do, unless across the ferry), fragilem mecum solvere phaselum, to be the companion of my risk, as one against whom the elements could nourish no vengeance. No, Edie, it is not, and cannot be true—it is a fiction of the idle jade Rumour, whom I wish hanged with her trumpet about her neck, that serves only with its screech-owl tones to fright honest folks out of their senses.—Let me know how you got into this scrape of your own.”

“Are ye axing me as a magistrate, Monkbarns, or is it just for your ain satisfaction!”

“For my own satisfaction solely,” replied the Antiquaxy.

“Put up your pocket-book and your keelyvine pen then, for I downa speak out an ye hae writing materials in your hands—they’re a scaur to unlearned folk like me—Od, ane o’ the clerks in the neist room will clink down, in black and white, as muckle as wad hang a man, before ane kens what he’s saying.”

Monkbarns complied with the old man’s humour, and put up his memorandum-book.

Edie then went with great frankness through the part of the story already known to the reader, informing the Antiquary of the scene which he had witnessed between Dousterswivel and his patron in the ruins of St. Ruth, and frankly confessing that he could not resist the opportunity of decoying the adept once more to visit the tomb of Misticot, with the purpose of taking a comic revenge upon him for his quackery. He had easily persuaded Steenie, who was a bold thoughtless young fellow, to engage in the frolic along with him, and the jest had been inadvertently carried a great deal farther than was designed. Concerning the pocket-book, he explained that he had expressed his surprise and sorrow as soon as he found it had been inadvertently brought off: and that publicly, before all the inmates of the cottage, Steenie had undertaken to return it the next day, and had only been prevented by his untimely fate.

The Antiquary pondered a moment, and then said, “Your account seems very probable, Edie, and I believe it from what I know of the parties. But I think it likely that you know a great deal more than you have thought it proper to tell me, about this matter of the treasure trove—I suspect you have acted the part of the Lar Familiaris in Plautus—a sort of Brownie, Edie, to speak to your comprehension, who watched over hidden treasures.—I do bethink me you were the first person we met when Sir Arthur made his successful attack upon Misticot’s grave, and also that when the labourers began to flag, you, Edie, were again the first to leap into the trench, and to make the discovery of the treasure. Now you must explain an this to me, unless you would have me use you as ill as Euclio does Staphyla in the Aulularia.

“Lordsake, sir,” replied the mendicant, “what do I ken about your Howlowlaria?—it’s mair like a dog’s language than a man’s.”

“You knew, however, of the box of treasure being there?” continued Oldbuck.

“Dear sir,” answered Edie, assuming a countenance of great simplicity, “what likelihood is there o’that? d’ye think sae puir an auld creature as me wad hae kend o’ sic a like thing without getting some gude out o’t?—and ye wot weel I sought nane and gat nane, like Michael Scott’s man. What concern could I hae wi’t?”

“That’s just what I want you to explain to me,” said Oldbuck; “for I am positive you knew it was there.”

“Your honour’s a positive man, Monkbarns—and, for a positive man, I must needs allow ye’re often in the right.”

“You allow, then, Edie, that my belief is well founded?”

Edie nodded acquiescence.

“Then please to explain to me the whole affair from beginning to end,” said the Antiquary.

“If it were a secret o’ mine, Monkbarns,” replied the beggar, “ye suldna ask twice; for I hae aye said ahint your back, that for a’ the nonsense maggots that ye whiles take into your head, ye are the maist wise and discreet o’ a’ our country gentles. But I’se een be open-hearted wi’ you, and tell you that this is a friend’s secret, and that they suld draw me wi’ wild horses, or saw me asunder, as they did the children of Ammon, sooner than I would speak a word mair about the matter, excepting this, that there was nae ill intended, but muckle gude, and that the purpose was to serve them that are worth twenty hundred o’ me. But there’s nae law, I trow, that makes it a sin to ken where ither folles siller is, if we didna pit hand til’t oursell?”

Oldbuck walked once or twice up and down the room in profound thought, endeavouring to find some plausible reason for transactions of a nature so mysterious—but his ingenuity was totally at fault. He then placed himself before the prisoner.

“This story of yours, friend Edie, is an absolute enigma, and would require a second Œdipus to solve it—who Œdipus was, I will tell you some other time if you remind me—However, whether it be owing to the wisdom or to the maggots with which you compliment me, I am strongly disposed to believe that you have spoken the truth, the rather that you have not made any of those obtestations of the superior powers, which I observe you and your comrades always make use of when you mean to deceive folks.” (Here Edie could not suppress a smile.) “If, therefore, you will answer me one question, I will endeavour to procure your liberation.”

“If ye’ll let me hear the question,” said Edie, with the caution of a canny Scotchman, “I’ll tell you whether I’ll answer it or no.”

“It is simply,” said the Antiquary, “Did Dousterswivel know anything about the concealment of the chest of bullion?”

“He, the ill-fa’ard loon!” answered Edie, with much frankness of manner—“there wad hae been little speerings o’t had Dustansnivel ken’d it was there—it wad hae been butter in the black dog’s hause.”

“I thought as much,” said Oldbuck. “Well, Edie, if I procure your freedom, you must keep your day, and appear to clear me of the bail-bond, for these are not times for prudent men to incur forfeitures, unless you can point out another Aulam auri plenam quadrilibrem—another Search, No. I.

“Ah!” said the beggar, shaking his head, “I doubt the bird’s flown that laid thae golden eggs—for I winna ca’ her goose, though that’s the gait it stands in the story-buick—But I’ll keep my day, Monkbarns; ye’se no loss a penny by me—And troth I wad fain be out again, now the weather’s fine—and then I hae the best chance o’ hearing the first news o’ my friends.”

“Well, Edie, as the bouncing and thumping beneath has somewhat ceased, I presume Bailie Littlejohn has dismissed his military preceptor, and has retired from the labours of Mars to those of Themis—I will have some conversation with him—But I cannot and will not believe any of those wretched news you were telling me.”

“God send your honour may be right!” said the mendicant, as Oldbuck left the room.

The Antiquary found the magistrate, exhausted with the fatigues of the drill, reposing in his gouty chair, humming the air, “How merrily we live that soldiers be!” and between each bar comforting himself with a spoonful of mock-turtle soup. He ordered a similar refreshment for Oldbuck, who declined it, observing, that, not being a military man, he did not feel inclined to break his habit of keeping regular hours for meals—“Soldiers like you, Bailie, must snatch their food as they find means and time. But I am sorry to hear ill news of young Taffril’s brig.”

“Ah, poor fellow!” said the bailie, “he was a credit to the town—much distinguished on the first of June.”

“But,” said Oldbuck, “I am shocked to hear you talk of him in the preterite tense.”

“Troth, I fear there may be too much reason for it, Monkbarns;—and yet let us hope the best. The accident is said to have happened in the Rattray reef of rocks, about twenty miles to the northward, near Dirtenalan Bay—I have sent to inquire about it—and your nephew run out himself as if he had been flying to get the Gazette of a victory.”

Here Hector entered, exclaiming as he came in, “I believe it’s all a damned lie—I can’t find the least authority for it, but general rumour.”

“And pray, Mr. Hector,” said his uncle, “if it had been true, whose fault would it have been that Lovel was on board?”

“Not mine, I am sure,” answered Hector; “it would have been only my misfortune.”

“Indeed!” said his uncle, “I should not have thought of that.”

“Why, sir, with all your inclination to find me in the wrong,” replied the young soldier, “I suppose you will own my intention was not to blame in this case. I did my best to hit Lovel, and if I had been successful, ’tis clear my scrape would have been his, and his scrape would have been mine.”

“And whom or what do you intend to hit now, that you are lugging with you that leathern magazine there, marked Gunpowder?”

“I must be prepared for Lord Glenallan’s moors on the twelfth, sir,” said M‘Intyre.

“Ah, Hector! thy great chasse, as the French call it, would take place best—

Omne cum Proteus pecus egit altos
        Visere montes—

Could you meet but with a martial phoca, instead of an unwarlike heath-bird.”

“The devil take the seal, sir, or phoca, if you choose to call it so! It’s rather hard one can never hear the end of a little piece of folly like that.”

“Well, well,” said Oldbuck, “I am glad you have the grace to be ashamed of it—as I detest the whole race of Nimrods, I wish them all as well matched. Nay, never start off at a jest, man—I have done with the phoca—though, I dare say, the Bailie could tell us the value of seal-skins just now.”

“They are up,” said the magistrate, “they are well up—the fishing has been unsuccessful lately.”

“We can bear witness to that,” said the tormenting Antiquary, who was delighted with the hank this incident had given him over the young sportsman: One word more, Hector, and

We’ll hang a seal-skin on thy recreant limbs.

Aha, my boy! Come, never mind it; I must go to business.—Bailie, a word with you: you must take bail—moderate bail, you understand—for old Ochiltree’s appearance.”

“You don’t consider what you ask,” said the Bailie; “the offence is assault and robbery.”

“Hush! not a word about it,” said the Antiquary. “I gave you a hint before—I will possess you more fully hereafter—I promise you, there is a secret.”

“But, Mr. Oldbuck, if the state is concerned, I, who do the whole drudgery business here, really have a title to be consulted, and until I am”—

“Hush! hush!” said the Antiquary, winking and putting his finger to his nose,—“you shall have the full credit, the entire management, whenever matters are ripe. But this is an obstinate old fellow, who will not hear of two people being as yet let into his mystery, and he has not fully acquainted me with the clew to Dousterswivel’s devices.”

“Aha! so we must tip that fellow the alien act, I suppose?”

“To say truth, I wish you would.”

“Say no more,” said the magistrate; “it shall forthwith be done—he shall be removed tanquam suspect—I think that’s one of your own phrases, Monkbarns?”

“It is classical, Bailie—you improve.”

“Why, public business has of late pressed upon me so much, that I have been obliged to take my foreman into partnership. I have had two several correspondences with the Under Secretary of State—one on the proposed tax on Riga hemp-seed, and the other on putting down political societies. So you might as well communicate to me as much as you know of this old fellow’s discovery of a plot against the state.”

“I will, instantly, when I am master of it,” replied Oldbuck—“I hate the trouble of managing such matters myself. Remember, however, I did not say decidedly a plot against the state I only say I hope to discover, by this man’s means, a foul plot.”

“If it be a plot at all, there must be treason in it, or sedition at least,” said the Bailie—“Will you bail him for four hundred merks?”

“Four hundred merks for an old Blue-Gown! Think on the act 1701 regulating bail-bonds!—Strike off a cipher from the sum—I am content to bail him for forty merks.”

“Well, Mr. Oldbuck, everybody in Fairport is always willing to oblige you—and besides, I know that you are a prudent man, and one that would be as unwilling to lose forty, as four hundred merks. So I will accept your bail, meo periculo—what say you to that law phrase again? I had it from a learned counsel. I will vouch it, my lord, he said, meo periculo.

“And I will vouch for Edie Ochiltree, meo periculo, in like manner,” said Oldbuck. “So let your clerk draw out the bail-bond, and I will sign it.”

When this ceremony had been performed, the Antiquary communicated to Edie the joyful tidings that he was once more at liberty, and directed him to make the best of his way to Monkbarns House, to which he himself returned with his nephew, after having perfected their good work.

The Antiquary - Contents    |     Chapter XXXIX

Back    |    Words Home    |    Walter Scott Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback