The Antiquary

Chapter XXXIX

Walter Scott

Full of wise saws and modern instances.


“I WISH to Heaven, Hector,” said the Antiquary, next morning after breakfast, “you would spare our nerves, and not be keeping snapping that arquebuss of yours.”

“Well, sir, I’m sure I’m sorry to disturb you,” said his nephew, still handling his fowling-piece;—“but it’s a capital gun—it’s a Joe Manton, that cost forty guineas.”

“A fool and his money are soon parted, nephew—there is a Joe Miller for your Joe Manton,” answered the Antiquary; “I am glad you have so many guineas to throw away.”

“Every one has their fancy, uncle,—you are fond of books.”

“Ay, Hector,” said the uncle, “and if my collection were yours, you would make it fly to the gunsmith, the horse-market, the dog-breaker,—Coemptos undique nobiles libros—mutare loricis Iberis.

“I could not use your books, my dear uncle,” said the young soldier, “that’s true; and you will do well to provide for their being in better hands. But don’t let the faults of my head fall on my heart—I would not part with a Cordery that belonged to an old friend, to get a set of horses like Lord Glenallan’s.”

“I don’t think you would, lad—I don’t think you would,” said his softening relative. “I love to tease you a little sometimes; it keeps up the spirit of discipline and habit of subordination—You will pass your time happily here having me to command you, instead of Captain, or Colonel, or ‘Knight in Arms,’ as Milton has it; and instead of the French,” he continued, relapsing into his ironical humour, “you have the Gens humida ponti—for, as Virgil says,

Sternunt se somno diversæ in littore phocæ;

which might be rendered,

Here phocæ slumber on the beach,
Within our Highland Hector’s reach.

Nay, if you grow angry, I have done. Besides, I see old Edie in the court-yard, with whom I have business. Good-bye, Hector—Do you remember how she splashed into the sea like her master Proteus, et se jactu dedit æquor in altum?”

M‘Intyre,—waiting, however, till the door was shut,—then gave way to the natural impatience of his temper.

“My uncle is the best man in the world, and in his way the kindest; but rather than hear any more about that cursed phoca, as he is pleased to call it, I would exchange for the West Indies, and never see his face again.”

Miss M‘Intyre, gratefully attached to her uncle, and passionately fond of her brother, was, on such occasions, the usual envoy of reconciliation. She hastened to meet her uncle on his return, before he entered the parlour.

“Well, now, Miss Womankind, what is the meaning of that imploring countenance?—has Juno done any more mischief?”

“No, uncle; but Juno’s master is in such fear of your joking him about the seal—I assure you, he feels it much more than you would wish;—it’s very silly of him, to be sure; but then you can turn everybody so sharply into ridicule”—

“Well, my dear,” answered Oldbuck, propitiated by the compliment, “I will rein in my satire, and, if possible, speak no more of the phoca—I will not even speak of sealing a letter, but say umph, and give a nod to you when I want the wax-light—I am not monitoribus asper, but, Heaven knows, the most mild, quiet, and easy of human beings, whom sister, niece, and nephew, guide just as best pleases them.”

With this little panegyric on his own docility, Mr. Oldbuck entered the parlour, and proposed to his nephew a walk to the Mussel-crag. “I have some questions to ask of a woman at Mucklebackit’s cottage,” he observed, “and I would willingly have a sensible witness with me—so, for fault of a better, Hector, I must be contented with you.”

“There is old Edie, sir, or Caxon—could not they do better than me?” answered M‘Intyre, feeling somewhat alarmed at the prospect of a long tête-à-tête with his uncle.

“Upon my word, young man, you turn me over to pretty companions, and I am quite sensible of your politeness,” replied Mr. Oldbuck. “No, sir, I intend the old Blue-Gown shall go with me—not as a competent witness, for he is, at present, as our friend Bailie Littlejohn says (blessings on his learning!) tanquam suspectus, and you are suspicione major, as our law has it.”

“I wish I were a major, sir,” said Hector, catching only the last, and, to a soldier’s ear, the most impressive word in the sentence,—“but, without money or interest, there is little chance of getting the step.”

“Well, well, most doughty son of Priam,” said the Antiquary, “be ruled by your friends, and there’s no saying what may happen—Come away with me, and you shall see what may be useful to you should you ever sit upon a court-martial, sir.”

“I have been on many a regimental court-martial, sir,” answered Captain M‘Intyre. “But here’s a new cane for you.”

“Much obliged, much obliged.”

“I bought it from our drum-major,” added M‘Intyre, “who came into our regiment from the Bengal army when it came down the Red Sea. It was cut on the banks of the Indus, I assure you.”

“Upon my word, ’tis a fine ratan, and well replaces that which the ph—Bah! what was I going to say?”

The party, consisting of the Antiquary, his nephew, and the old beggar, now took the sands towards Mussel-crag—the former in the very highest mood of communicating information, and the others, under a sense of former obligation, and some hope for future favours, decently attentive to receive it. The uncle and nephew walked together, the mendicant about a step and a half behind, just near enough for his patron to speak to him by a slight inclination of his neck, and without the trouble of turning round. (Petrie, in his Essay on Good-breeding, dedicated to the magistrates of Edinburgh, recommends, upon his own experience, as tutor in a family of distinction, this attitude to all led captains, tutors, dependants, and bottle-holders of every description. ) Thus escorted, the Antiquary moved along full of his learning, like a lordly man of war, and every now and then yawing to starboard and larboard to discharge a broadside upon his followers.

“And so it is your opinion,” said he to the mendicant, “that this windfall—this arca auri, as Plautus has it, will not greatly avail Sir Arthur in his necessities?”

“Unless he could find ten times as much,” said the beggar, “and that I am sair doubtful of;—I heard Puggie Orrock, and the tother thief of a sheriff-officer, or messenger, speaking about it—and things are ill aff when the like o’ them can speak crousely about ony gentleman’s affairs. I doubt Sir Arthur will be in stane wa’s for debt, unless there’s swift help and certain.”

“You speak like a fool,” said the Antiquary.—“Nephew, it is a remarkable thing, that in this happy country no man can be legally imprisoned for debt.”

“Indeed, sir?” said M‘Intyre; “I never knew that before—that part of our law would suit some of our mess well.”

“And if they arena confined for debt,” said Ochiltree, “what is’t that tempts sae mony puir creatures to bide in the tolbooth o’ Fairport yonder?—they a’ say they were put there by their creditors—Od! they maun like it better than I do, if they’re there o’ free will.”

“A very natural observation, Edie, and many of your betters would make the same; but it is founded entirely upon ignorance of the feudal system. Hector, be so good as to attend, unless you are looking out for another—Ahem!” (Hector compelled himself to give attention at this hint. ) “And you, Edie, it may be useful to you reram cognoscere causas. The nature and origin of warrant for caption is a thing haud alienum a Scævolæ studiis.—You must know then, once more, that nobody can be arrested in Scotland for debt.”

“I haena muckle concern wi’ that, Monkbarns,” said the old man, “for naebody wad trust a bodle to a gaberlunzie.”

“I pr’ythee, peace, man.—As a compulsitor, therefore, of payment, that being a thing to which no debtor is naturally inclined, as I have too much reason to warrant from the experience I have had with my own,—we had first the letters of four forms, a sort of gentle invitation, by which our sovereign lord the king, interesting himself, as a monarch should, in the regulation of his subjects’ private affairs, at first by mild exhortation, and afterwards by letters of more strict enjoinment and more hard compulsion—What do you see extraordinary about that bird, Hector?—it’s but a seamaw.”

“It’s a pictarnie, sir,” said Edie.

“Well, what an if it were—what does that signify at present?—But I see you’re impatient; so I will waive the letters of four forms, and come to the modern process of diligence.—You suppose, now, a man’s committed to prison because he cannot pay his debt? Quite otherwise: the truth is, the king is so good as to interfere at the request of the creditor, and to send the debtor his royal command to do him justice within a certain time—fifteen days, or six, as the case may be. Well, the man resists and disobeys: what follows? Why, that he be lawfully and rightfully declared a rebel to our gracious sovereign, whose command he has disobeyed, and that by three blasts of a horn at the market-place of Edinburgh, the metropolis of Scotland. And he is then legally imprisoned, not on account of any civil debt, but because of his ungrateful contempt of the royal mandate. What say you to that, Hector?—there’s something you never knew before.”1

“No, uncle; but, I own, if I wanted money to pay my debts, I would rather thank the king to send me some, than to declare me a rebel for not doing what I could not do.”

“Your education has not led you to consider these things,” replied his uncle; “you are incapable of estimating the elegance of the legal fiction, and the manner in which it reconciles that duress, which, for the protection of commerce, it has been found necessary to extend towards refractory debtors, with the most scrupulous attention to the liberty of the subject.”

“I don’t know, sir,” answered the unenlightened Hector; “but if a man must pay his debt or go to jail, it signifies but little whether he goes as a debtor or a rebel, I should think. But you say this command of the king’s gives a license of so many days—Now, egad, were I in the scrape, I would beat a march and leave the king and the creditor to settle it among themselves before they came to extremities.”

“So wad I,” said Edie; “I wad gie them leg-bail to a certainty.”

“True,” replied Monkbarns; “but those whom the law suspects of being unwilling to abide her formal visit, she proceeds with by means of a shorter and more unceremonious call, as dealing with persons on whom patience and favour would be utterly thrown away.”

“Ay,” said Ochiltree, “that will be what they ca’ the fugie-warrants—I hae some skeel in them. There’s Border-warrants too in the south country, unco rash uncanny things;—I was taen up on ane at Saint James’s Fair, and keepit in the auld kirk at Kelso the haill day and night; and a cauld goustie place it was, I’se assure ye.—But whatna wife’s this, wi’ her creel on her back? It’s puir Maggie hersell, I’m thinking.”

It was so. The poor woman’s sense of her loss, if not diminished, was become at least mitigated by the inevitable necessity of attending to the means of supporting her family; and her salutation to Oldbuck was made in an odd mixture between the usual language of solicitation with which she plied her customers, and the tone of lamentation for her recent calamity.

“How’s a’ wi’ ye the day, Monkbarns? I havena had the grace yet to come down to thank your honour for the credit ye did puir Steenie, wi’ laying his head in a rath grave, puir fallow. “—Here she whimpered and wiped her eyes with the corner of her blue apron—“But the fishing comes on no that ill, though the gudeman hasna had the heart to gang to sea himsell—Atweel I would fain tell him it wad do him gude to put hand to wark—but I’m maist fear’d to speak to him—and it’s an unco thing to hear ane o’ us speak that gate o’ a man—However, I hae some dainty caller haddies, and they sall be but three shillings the dozen, for I hae nae pith to drive a bargain ennow, and maun just tak what ony Christian body will gie, wi’ few words and nae flyting.”

“What shall we do, Hector?” said Oldbuck, pausing: “I got into disgrace with my womankind for making a bad bargain with her before. These maritime animals, Hector, are unlucky to our family.”

“Pooh, sir, what would you do?—give poor Maggie what she asks, or allow me to send a dish of fish up to Monkbarns.”

And he held out the money to her; but Maggie drew back her hand. “Na, na, Captain; ye’re ower young and ower free o’ your siller—ye should never tak a fish-wife’s first bode; and troth I think maybe a flyte wi’ the auld housekeeper at Monkbarns, or Miss Grizel, would do me some gude—And I want to see what that hellicate quean Jenny Ritherout’s doing—folk said she wasna weel—She’ll be vexing hersell about Steenie, the silly tawpie, as if he wad ever hae lookit ower his shouther at the like o’her!—Weel, Monkbarns, they’re braw caller haddies, and they’ll bid me unco little indeed at the house if ye want crappit-heads the day.”

And so on she paced with her burden,—grief, gratitude for the sympathy of her betters, and the habitual love of traffic and of gain, chasing each other through her thoughts.

“And now that we are before the door of their hut,” said Ochiltree, “I wad fain ken, Monkbarns, what has gar’d ye plague yoursell wi’ me a’ this length? I tell ye sincerely I hae nae pleasure in ganging in there. I downa bide to think how the young hae fa’en on a’ sides o’ me, and left me an useless auld stump wi’ hardly a green leaf on’t.”

“This old woman,” said Oldbuck, “sent you on a message to the Earl of Glenallan, did she not?”

“Ay!” said the surprised mendicant; “how ken ye that sae weel?”

“Lord Glenallan told me himself,” answered the Antiquary; “so there is no delation—no breach of trust on your part; and as he wishes me to take her evidence down on some important family matters, I chose to bring you with me, because in her situation, hovering between dotage and consciousness, it is possible that your voice and appearance may awaken trains of recollection which I should otherwise have no means of exciting. The human mind—what are you about, Hector?”

“I was only whistling for the dog, sir,” replied the Captain “she always roves too wide—I knew I should be troublesome to you.”

“Not at all, not at all,” said Oldbuck, resuming the subject of his disquisition—“the human mind is to be treated like a skein of ravelled silk, where you must cautiously secure one free end before you can make any progress in disentangling it.”

“I ken naething about that,” said the gaberlunzie; “but an my auld acquaintance be hersell, or anything like hersell, she may come to wind us a pirn. It’s fearsome baith to see and hear her when she wampishes about her arms, and gets to her English, and speaks as if she were a prent book, let a-be an auld fisher’s wife. But, indeed, she had a grand education, and was muckle taen out afore she married an unco bit beneath hersell. She’s aulder than me by half a score years—but I mind weel eneugh they made as muckle wark about her making a half-merk marriage wi’ Simon Mucklebackit, this Saunders’s father, as if she had been ane o’ the gentry. But she got into favour again, and then she lost it again, as I hae heard her son say, when he was a muckle chield; and then they got muckle siller, and left the Countess’s land, and settled here. But things never throve wi’ them. Howsomever, she’s a weel-educate woman, and an she win to her English, as I hae heard her do at an orra time, she may come to fickle us a’.”

1.    The doctrine of Monkbarns on the origin of imprisonment for civil debt in Scotland, may appear somewhat whimsical, but was referred to, and admitted to be correct, by the Bench of the Supreme Scottish Court, on 5th December 1828, in the case of Thom v. Black. In fact, the Scottish law is in this particular more jealous of the personal liberty of the subject than any other code in Europe.    [back]

The Antiquary - Contents    |     Chapter XL

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