The Antiquary

Chapter XLII

Walter Scott

Let those go see who will—I like it not—
For, say he was a slave to rank and pomp,
And all the nothings he is now divorced from
By the hard doom of stern necessity:
Yet it is sad to mark his altered brow,
Where Vanity adjusts her flimsy veil
O’er the deep wrinkles of repentant anguish.
Old Play.


WHEN MISS WARDOUR arrived in the court of the Castle, she was apprized by the first glance that the visit of the officers of the law had already taken place. There was confusion, and gloom and sorrow, and curiosity among the domestics, while the retainers of the law went from place to place, making an inventory of the goods and chattels falling under their warrant of distress, or poinding, as it is called in the law of Scotland. Captain M‘Intyre flew to her, as, struck dumb with the melancholy conviction of her father’s ruin, she paused upon the threshold of the gateway.

“Dear Miss Wardour,” he said, “do not make yourself uneasy; my uncle is coming immediately, and I am sure he will find some way to clear the house of these rascals.”

“Alas! Captain M‘Intyre, I fear it will be too late.”

“No,” answered Edie, impatiently—“could I but get to Tannonburgh. In the name of Heaven, Captain, contrive some way to get me on, and ye’ll do this poor ruined family the best day’s doing that has been done them since Redhand’s days—for as sure as e’er an auld saw came true, Knockwinnock house and land will be lost and won this day.”

“Why, what good can you do, old man?” said Hector.

But Robert, the domestic with whom Sir Arthur had been so much displeased in the morning, as if he had been watching for an opportunity to display his zeal, stepped hastily forward and said to his mistress, “If you please, ma’am, this auld man, Ochiltree, is very skeely and auld-farrant about mony things, as the diseases of cows and horse, and sic like, and I am sure be disna want to be at Tannonburgh the day for naething, since he insists on’t this gate; and, if your leddyship pleases, I’ll drive him there in the taxed-cart in an hour’s time. I wad fain be of some use—I could bite my very tongue out when I think on this morning.”

“I am obliged to you, Robert,” said Miss Wardour; “and if you really think it has the least chance of being useful”—

“In the name of God,” said the old man, “yoke the cart, Robie, and if I am no o’ some use, less or mair, I’ll gie ye leave to fling me ower Kittlebrig as ye come back again. But, O man, haste ye, for time’s precious this day.”

Robert looked at his mistress as she retired into the house, and seeing he was not prohibited, flew to the stable-yard, which was adjacent to the court, in order to yoke the carriage; for, though an old beggar was the personage least likely to render effectual assistance in a case of pecuniary distress, yet there was among the common people of Edie’s circle, a general idea of his prudence and sagacity, which authorized Robert’s conclusion that he would not so earnestly have urged the necessity of this expedition had he not been convinced of its utility. But so soon as the servant took hold of a horse to harness him for the taxed-cart, an officer touched him on the shoulder—“My friend, you must let that beast alone—he’s down in the schedule.”

“What!” said Robert, “am I not to take my master’s horse to go my young leddy’s errand?”

“You must remove nothing here,” said the man of office, “or you will be liable for all consequences.”

“What the devil, sir,” said Hector, who having followed to examine Ochiltree more closely on the nature of his hopes and expectations, already began to bristle like one of the terriers of his own native mountains, and sought but a decent pretext for venting his displeasure, “have you the impudence to prevent the young lady’s servant from obeying her orders?”

There was something in the air and tone of the young soldier, which seemed to argue that his interference was not likely to be confined to mere expostulation; and which, if it promised finally the advantages of a process of battery and deforcement, would certainly commence with the unpleasant circumstances necessary for founding such a complaint. The legal officer, confronted with him of the military, grasped with one doubtful hand the greasy bludgeon which was to enforce his authority, and with the other produced his short official baton, tipped with silver, and having a movable ring upon it—“Captain M‘Intyre,—Sir, I have no quarrel with you,—but if you interrupt me in my duty, I will break the wand of peace, and declare myself deforced.”

“And who the devil cares,” said Hector, totally ignorant of the words of judicial action, “whether you declare yourself divorced or married? And as to breaking your wand, or breaking the peace, or whatever you call it, all I know is, that I will break your bones if you prevent the lad from harnessing the horses to obey his mistress’s orders.”

“I take all who stand here to witness,” said the messenger, “that I showed him my blazon, and explained my character. He that will to Cupar maun to Cupar,”—and he slid his enigmatical ring from one end of the baton to the other, being the appropriate symbol of his having been forcibly interrupted in the discharge of his duty.

Honest Hector, better accustomed to the artillery of the field than to that of the law, saw this mystical ceremony with great indifference; and with like unconcern beheld the messenger sit down to write out an execution of deforcement. But at this moment, to prevent the well-meaning hot-headed Highlander from running the risk of a severe penalty, the Antiquary arrived puffing and blowing, with his handkerchief crammed under his hat, and his wig upon the end of his stick.

“What the deuce is the matter here?” he exclaimed, hastily adjusting his head-gear; “I have been following you in fear of finding your idle loggerhead knocked against one rock or other, and here I find you parted with your Bucephalus, and quarrelling with Sweepclean. A messenger, Hector, is a worse foe than a phoca, whether it be the phoca barbata, or the phoca vitulina of your late conflict.”

“D—n the phoca, sir,” said Hector, “whether it be the one or the other—I say d—n them both particularly! I think you would not have me stand quietly by and see a scoundrel like this, because he calls himself a king’s messenger, forsooth—(I hope the king has many better for his meanest errands)—insult a young lady of family and fashion like Miss Wardour?”

“Rightly argued, Hector,” said the Antiquary; “but the king, like other people, has now and then shabby errands, and, in your ear, must have shabby fellows to do them. But even supposing you unacquainted with the statutes of William the Lion, in which capite quarto versu quinto, this crime of deforcement is termed despectus Domini Regis—a contempt, to wit, of the king himself, in whose name all legal diligence issues,—could you not have inferred, from the information I took so much pains to give you to-day, that those who interrupt officers who come to execute letters of caption, are tanquam participes criminis rebellionis? seeing that he who aids a rebel, is himself, quodammodo, an accessory to rebellion—But I’ll bring you out of this scrape.”

He then spoke to the messenger, who, upon his arrival, had laid aside all thoughts of making a good by-job out of the deforcement, and accepted Mr. Oldbuck’s assurances that the horse and taxed-cart should be safely returned in the course of two or three hours.

“Very well, sir,” said the Antiquary, “since you are disposed to be so civil, you shall have another job in your own best way—a little cast of state politics—a crime punishable per Legem Juliam, Mr. Sweepclean—Hark thee hither.”

And after a whisper of five minutes, he gave him a slip of paper, on receiving which, the messenger mounted his horse, and, with one of his assistants, rode away pretty sharply. The fellow who remained seemed to delay his operations purposely, proceeded in the rest of his duty very slowly, and with the caution and precision of one who feels himself overlooked by a skilful and severe inspector.

In the meantime, Oldbuck, taking his nephew by the arm, led him into the house, and they were ushered into the presence of Sir Arthur Wardour, who, in a flutter between wounded pride, agonized apprehension, and vain attempts to disguise both under a show of indifference, exhibited a spectacle of painful interest.

“Happy to see you, Mr. Oldbuck—always happy to see my friends in fair weather or foul,” said the poor Baronet, struggling not for composure, but for gaiety—an affectation which was strongly contrasted by the nervous and protracted grasp of his hand, and the agitation of his whole demeanour—“I am happy to see you. You are riding, I see—I hope in this confusion your horses are taken good care of—I always like to have my friend’s horses looked after—Egad! they will have all my care now, for you see they are like to leave me none of my own—he! he! he! eh, Mr. Oldbuck?”

This attempt at a jest was attended by a hysterical giggle, which poor Sir Arthur intended should sound as an indifferent laugh.

“You know I never ride, Sir Arthur,” said the Antiquary.

“I beg your pardon; but sure I saw your nephew arrive on horseback a short time since. We must look after officers’ horses, and his was as handsome a grey charger as I have seen.”

Sir Arthur was about to ring the bell, when Mr. Oldbuck said, “My nephew came on your own grey horse, Sir Arthur.”

“Mine!” said the poor Baronet; “mine was it? then the sun had been in my eyes. Well, I’m not worthy having a horse any longer, since I don’t know my own when I see him.”

“Good Heaven!” thought Oldbuck, “how is this man altered from the formal stolidity of his usual manner!—he grows wanton under adversity—Sed pereunti mille figuræ.”—He then proceeded aloud—“Sir Arthur, we must necessarily speak a little on business.”

“To be sure,” said Sir Arthur; “but it was so good that I should not know the horse I have ridden these five years—ha! ha! ha!”

“Sir Arthur,” said the Antiquary, “don’t let us waste time which is precious; we shall have, I hope, many better seasons for jesting—desipere in loco is the maxim of Horace. I more than suspect this has been brought on by the villany of Dousterswivel.”

“Don’t mention his name, sir!” said Sir Arthur; and his manner entirely changed from a fluttered affectation of gaiety to all the agitation of fury; his eyes sparkled, his mouth foamed, his hands were clenched—“don’t mention his name, sir,” he vociferated, “unless you would see me go mad in your presence! That I should have been such a miserable dolt—such an infatuated idiot—such a beast endowed with thrice a beast’s stupidity, to be led and driven and spur-galled by such a rascal, and under such ridiculous pretences!—Mr. Oldbuck, I could tear myself when I think of it.”

“I only meant to say,” answered the Antiquary, “that this fellow is like to meet his reward; and I cannot but think we shall frighten something out of him that may be of service to you. He has certainly had some unlawful correspondence on the other side of the water.”

“Has he?—has he?—has he indeed?—then d—n the house-hold goods, horses, and so forth—I will go to prison a happy man, Mr. Oldbuck. I hope in heaven there’s a reasonable chance of his being hanged?”

“Why, pretty fair,” said Oldbuck, willing to encourage this diversion, in hopes it might mitigate the feelings which seemed like to overset the poor man’s understanding; “honester men have stretched a rope, or the law has been sadly cheated—But this unhappy business of yours—can nothing be done? Let me see the charge.”

He took the papers; and, as he read them, his countenance grew hopelessly dark and disconsolate. Miss Wardour had by this time entered the apartment, and fixing her eyes on Mr. Oldbuck, as if she meant to read her fate in his looks, easily perceived, from the change in his eye, and the dropping of his nether-jaw, how little was to be hoped.

“We are then irremediably ruined, Mr. Oldbuck?” said the young lady.

“Irremediably?—I hope not—but the instant demand is very large, and others will, doubtless, pour in.”

“Ay, never doubt that, Monkbarns,” said Sir Arthur; “where the slaughter is, the eagles will be gathered together. I am like a sheep which I have seen fall down a precipice, or drop down from sickness—if you had not seen a single raven or hooded crow for a fortnight before, he will not lie on the heather ten minutes before half-a-dozen will be picking out his eyes (and he drew his hand over his own), and tearing at his heartstrings before the poor devil has time to die. But that d—d long-scented vulture that dogged me so long—you have got him fast, I hope?”

“Fast enough,” said the Antiquary; “the gentleman wished to take the wings of the morning, and bolt in the what d’ye call it,—the coach and four there. But he would have found twigs limed for him at Edinburgh. As it is, he never got so far, for the coach being overturned—as how could it go safe with such a Jonah?—he has had an infernal tumble, is carried into a cottage near Kittlebrig, and to prevent all possibility of escape, I have sent your friend Sweepclean to bring him back to Fairport in nomine regis, or to act as his sick-nurse at Kittlebrig, as is most fitting. And now, Sir Arthur, permit me to have some conversation with you on the present unpleasant state of your affairs, that we may see what can be done for their extrication;” and the Antiquary led the way into the library, followed by the unfortunate gentleman.

They had been shut up together for about two hours, when Miss Wardour interrupted them with her cloak on as if prepared for a journey. Her countenance was very pale, yet expressive of the composure which characterized her disposition.

“The messenger is returned, Mr. Oldbuck.”

“Returned?—What the devil! he has not let the fellow go?”

“No—I understand he has carried him to confinement; and now he is returned to attend my father, and says he can wait no longer.”

A loud wrangling was now heard on the staircase, in which the voice of Hector predominated. “You an officer, sir, and these ragamuffins a party! a parcel of beggarly tailor fellows—tell yourselves off by nine, and we shall know your effective strength.”

The grumbling voice of the man of law was then heard indistinctly muttering a reply, to which Hector retorted—“Come, come, sir, this won’t do;—march your party, as you call them, out of this house directly, or I’ll send you and them to the right about presently.”

“The devil take Hector,” said the Antiquary, hastening to the scene of action; “his Highland blood is up again, and we shall have him fighting a duel with the bailiff. Come, Mr. Sweepclean, you must give us a little time—I know you would not wish to hurry Sir Arthur.”

“By no means, sir,” said the messenger, putting his hat off, which he had thrown on to testify defiance of Captain M‘Intyre’s threats; “but your nephew, sir, holds very uncivil language, and I have borne too much of it already; and I am not justified in leaving my prisoner any longer after the instructions I received, unless I am to get payment of the sums contained in my diligence.” And he held out the caption, pointing with the awful truncheon, which he held in his right hand, to the formidable line of figures jotted upon the back thereof.

Hector, on the other hand, though silent from respect to his uncle, answered this gesture by shaking his clenched fist at the messenger with a frown of Highland wrath.

“Foolish boy, be quiet,” said Oldbuck, “and come with me into the room—the man is doing his miserable duty, and you will only make matters worse by opposing him.—I fear, Sir Arthur, you must accompany this man to Fairport; there is no help for it in the first instance—I will accompany you, to consult what further can be done—My nephew will escort Miss Wardour to Monkbarns, which I hope she will make her residence until these unpleasant matters are settled.”

“I go with my father, Mr. Oldbuck,” said Miss Wardour firmly—“I have prepared his clothes and my own—I suppose we shall have the use of the carriage?”

“Anything in reason, madam,” said the messenger; “I have ordered it out, and it’s at the door—I will go on the box with the coachman—I have no desire to intrude—but two of the concurrents must attend on horseback.”

“I will attend too,” said Hector, and he ran down to secure a horse for himself.

“We must go then,” said the Antiquary.

“To jail,” said the Baronet, sighing involuntarily. “And what of that?” he resumed, in a tone affectedly cheerful—“it is only a house we can’t get out of, after all—Suppose a fit of the gout, and Knockwinnock would be the same—Ay, ay, Monkbarns—we’ll call it a fit of the gout without the d—d pain.”

But his eyes swelled with tears as he spoke, and his faltering accent marked how much this assumed gaiety cost him. The Antiquary wrung his hand, and, like the Indian Banians, who drive the real terms of an important bargain by signs, while they are apparently talking of indifferent matters, the hand of Sir Arthur, by its convulsive return of the grasp, expressed his sense of gratitude to his friend, and the real state of his internal agony.—They stepped slowly down the magnificent staircase—every well-known object seeming to the unfortunate father and daughter to assume a more prominent and distinct appearance than usual, as if to press themselves on their notice for the last time.

At the first landing-place, Sir Arthur made an agonized pause; and as he observed the Antiquary look at him anxiously, he said with assumed dignity—“Yes, Mr. Oldbuck, the descendant of an ancient line—the representative of Richard Redhand and Gamelyn de Guardover, may be pardoned a sigh when he leaves the castle of his fathers thus poorly escorted. When I was sent to the Tower with my late father, in the year 1745, it was upon a charge becoming our birth—upon an accusation of high treason, Mr. Oldbuck;—we were escorted from Highgate by a troop of life-guards, and committed upon a secretary of state’s warrant; and now, here I am, in my old age, dragged from my household by a miserable creature like that” (pointing to the messenger), “and for a paltry concern of pounds, shillings, and pence.”

“At least,” said Oldbuck, “you have now the company of a dutiful daughter, and a sincere friend, if you will permit me to say so, and that may be some consolation, even without the certainty that there can be no hanging, drawing, or quartering, on the present occasion. But I hear that choleric boy as loud as ever. I hope to God he has got into no new broil!—it was an accursed chance that brought him here at all.”

In fact, a sudden clamour, in which the loud voice and somewhat northern accent of Hector was again preeminently distinguished, broke off this conversation. The cause we must refer to the next chapter.

The Antiquary - Contents    |     Chapter XLIII

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