The Antiquary

Chapter XLIII

Walter Scott

Fortune, you say, flies from us—She but circles,
Like the fleet sea-bird round the fowler’s skiff,—
Lost in the mist one moment, and the next
Brushing the white sail with her whiter wing,
As if to court the aim.—Experience watches,
And has her on the wheel—
Old Play.


THE SHOUT of triumph in Hector’s warlike tones was not easily distinguished from that of battle. But as he rushed up stairs with a packet in his hand, exclaiming, “Long life to an old soldier! here comes Edie with a whole budget of good news!” it became obvious that his present cause of clamour was of an agreeable nature. He delivered the letter to Oldbuck, shook Sir Arthur heartily by the hand, and wished Miss Wardour joy, with all the frankness of Highland congratulation. The messenger, who had a kind of instinctive terror for Captain M‘Intyre, drew towards his prisoner, keeping an eye of caution on the soldier’s motions.

“Don’t suppose I shall trouble myself about you, you dirty fellow,” said the soldier; “there’s a guinea for the fright I have given you; and here comes an old forty-two man, who is a fitter match for you than I am.”

The messenger (one of those dogs who are not too scornful to eat dirty puddings) caught in his hand the guinea which Hector chucked at his face; and abode warily and carefully the turn which matters were now to take. All voices meanwhile were loud in inquiries, which no one was in a hurry to answer.

“What is the matter, Captain M‘Intyre?” said Sir Arthur.

“Ask old Edie,” said Hector;—“I only know all’s safe and well.”

“What is all this, Edie?” said Miss Wardour to the mendicant.

“Your leddyship maun ask Monkbarns, for he has gotten the yepistolary correspondensh.”

“God save the king!” exclaimed the Antiquary at the first glance at the contents of his packet, and, surprised at once out of decorum, philosophy, and phlegm, he skimmed his cocked hat in the air, from which it descended not again, being caught in its fall by a branch of the chandelier. He next, looking joyously round, laid a grasp on his wig, which he perhaps would have sent after the beaver, had not Edie stopped his hand, exclaiming “Lordsake! he’s gaun gyte!—mind Caxon’s no here to repair the damage.”

Every person now assailed the Antiquary, clamouring to know the cause of so sudden a transport, when, somewhat ashamed of his rapture, he fairly turned tail, like a fox at the cry of a pack of hounds, and ascending the stair by two steps at a time, gained the upper landing-place, where, turning round, he addressed the astonished audience as follows:—

“My good friends, favete linguis—To give you information, I must first, according to logicians, be possessed of it myself; and, therefore, with your leaves, I will retire into the library to examine these papers—Sir Arthur and Miss Wardour will have the goodness to step into the parlour—Mr. Sweepclean, secede paulisper, or, in your own language, grant us a supersedere of diligence for five minutes—Hector, draw off your forces, and make your bear-garden flourish elsewhere—and, finally, be all of good cheer till my return, which will be instanter.

The contents of the packet were indeed so little expected, that the Antiquary might be pardoned, first his ecstasy, and next his desire of delaying to communicate the intelligence they conveyed, until it was arranged and digested in his own mind.

Within the envelope was a letter addressed to Jonathan Oldbuck, Esq. of Monkbarns, of the following purport:—

Dear Sir,—To you, as my father’s proved and valued friend, I venture to address myself, being detained here by military duty of a very pressing nature. You must by this time be acquainted with the entangled state of our affairs; and I know it will give you great pleasure to learn, that I am as fortunately as unexpectedly placed in a situation to give effectual assistance for extricating them. I understand Sir Arthur is threatened with severe measures by persons who acted formerly as his agents; and, by advice of a creditable man of business here, I have procured the enclosed writing, which I understand will stop their proceedings until their claim shall be legally discussed, and brought down to its proper amount. I also enclose bills to the amount of one thousand pounds to pay any other pressing demands, and request of your friendship to apply them according to your discretion. You will be surprised I give you this trouble, when it would seem more natural to address my father directly in his own affairs. But I have yet had no assurance that his eyes are opened to the character of a person against whom you have often, I know, warned him, and whose baneful influence has been the occasion of these distresses. And as I owe the means of relieving Sir Arthur to the generosity of a matchless friend, it is my duty to take the most certain measures for the supplies being devoted to the purpose for which they were destined,—and I know your wisdom and kindness will see that it is done. My friend, as he claims an interest in your regard, will explain some views of his own in the enclosed letter. The state of the post-office at Fairport being rather notorious, I must send this letter to Tannonburgh; but the old man Ochiltree, whom particular circumstances have recommended as trustworthy, has information when the packet is likely to reach that place, and will take care to forward it. I expect to have soon an opportunity to apologize in person for the trouble I now give, and have the honour to be your very faithful servant,

EDINBURGH, 6th August, 179—.

The Antiquary hastily broke the seal of the enclosure, the contents of which gave him equal surprise and pleasure. When he had in some measure composed himself after such unexpected tidings, he inspected the other papers carefully, which all related to business—put the bills into his pocket-book, and wrote a short acknowledgment to be despatched by that day’s post, for he was extremely methodical in money matters—and lastly, fraught with all the importance of disclosure, he descended to the parlour.

“Sweepclean,” said he, as he entered, to the officer who stood respectfully at the door, “you must sweep yourself clean out of Knockwinnock Castle, with all your followers, tag-rag and bob-tail. Seest thou this paper, man?”

“A sist on a bill o’ suspension,” said the messenger, with a disappointed look;—“I thought it would be a queer thing if ultimate diligence was to be done against sic a gentleman as Sir Arthur—Weel, sir, I’se go my ways with my party—And who’s to pay my charges?”

“They who employed thee,” replied Oldbuck, “as thou full well dost know.—But here comes another express: this is a day of news, I think.”

This was Mr. Mailsetter on his mare from Fairport, with a letter for Sir Arthur, another to the messenger, both of which, he said, he was directed to forward instantly. The messenger opened his, observing that Greenhorn and Grinderson were good enough men for his expenses, and here was a letter from them desiring him to stop the diligence. Accordingly, he immediately left the apartment, and staying no longer than to gather his posse together, he did then, in the phrase of Hector, who watched his departure as a jealous mastiff eyes the retreat of a repulsed beggar, evacuate Flanders.

Sir Arthur’s letter was from Mr. Greenhorn, and a curiosity in its way. We give it, with the worthy Baronet’s comments.

“Sir—[Oh! I am dear sir no longer; folks are only dear to Messrs. Greenhorn and Grinderson when they are in adversity]—Sir, I am much concerned to learn, on my return from the country, where I was called on particular business [a bet on the sweepstakes, I suppose], that my partner had the impropriety, in my absence, to undertake the concerns of Messrs. Goldiebirds in preference to yours, and had written to you in an unbecoming manner. I beg to make my most humble apology, as well as Mr. Grindersons—[come, I see he can write for himself and partner too]—and trust it is impossible you can think me forgetful of, or ungrateful for, the constant patronage which my family [his family! curse him for a puppy!] have uniformly experienced from that of Knockwinnock. I am sorry to find, from an interview I had this day with Mr. Wardour, that he is much irritated, and, I must own, with apparent reason. But in order to remedy as much as in me lies the mistake of which he complains [pretty mistake, indeed! to clap his patron into jail], I have sent this express to discharge all proceedings against your person or property; and at the same time to transmit my respectful apology. I have only to add, that Mr. Grinderson is of opinion, that if restored to your confidence, he could point out circumstances connected with Messrs. Goldiebirds’ present claim which would greatly reduce its amount [so, so, willing to play the rogue on either side]; and that there is not the slightest hurry in settling the balance of your accompt with us; and that I am, for Mr. G. as well as myself, Dear Sir [O ay, he has written himself into an approach to familiarity], your much obliged and most humble servant,


“Well said, Mr. Gilbert Greenhorn,” said Monkbarns; “I see now there is some use in having two attorneys in one firm. Their movements resemble those of the man and woman in a Dutch baby-house. When it is fair weather with the client, out comes the gentleman partner to fawn like a spaniel; when it is foul, forth bolts the operative brother to pin like a bull-dog. Well, I thank God that my man of business still wears an equilateral cocked hat, has a house in the Old Town, is as much afraid of a horse as I am myself, plays at golf of a Saturday, goes to the kirk of a Sunday, and, in respect he has no partner, hath only his own folly to apologize for.”

“There are some writers very honest fellows,” said Hector; “I should like to hear any one say that my cousin, Donald M‘Intyre, Strathtudlem’s seventh son (the other six are in the army), is not as honest a fellow”—

“No doubt, no doubt, Hector, all the M‘Intyres are so; they have it by patent, man—But I was going to say, that in a profession where unbounded trust is necessarily reposed, there is nothing surprising that fools should neglect it in their idleness, and tricksters abuse it in their knavery. But it is the more to the honour of those (and I will vouch for many) who unite integrity with skill and attention, and walk honourably upright where there are so many pitfalls and stumbling-blocks for those of a different character. To such men their fellow citizens may safely entrust the care of protecting their patrimonial rights, and their country the more sacred charge of her laws and privileges.”

“They are best off, however, that hae least to do with them,” said Ochiltree, who had stretched his neck into the parlour door; for the general confusion of the family not having yet subsided, the domestics, like waves after the fall of a hurricane, had not yet exactly regained their due limits, but were roaming wildly through the house.

“Aha, old Truepenny, art thou there?” said the Antiquary. “Sir Arthur, let me bring in the messenger of good luck, though he is but a lame one. You talked of the raven that scented out the slaughter from afar; but here’s a blue pigeon (somewhat of the oldest and toughest, I grant) who smelled the good news six or seven miles off, flew thither in the taxed-cart, and returned with the olive branch.”

“Ye owe it o’ to puir Robie that drave me;—puir fallow,” said the beggar, “he doubts he’s in disgrace wi’ my leddy and Sir Arthur.”

Robert’s repentant and bashful face was seen over the mendicant’s shoulder.

“In disgrace with me?” said Sir Arthur—“how so?”—for the irritation into which he had worked himself on occasion of the toast had been long forgotten. “O, I recollect—Robert, I was angry, and you were wrong;—go about your work, and never answer a master that speaks to you in a passion.”

“Nor any one else,” said the Antiquary; “for a soft answer turneth away wrath.”

“And tell your mother, who is so ill with the rheumatism, to come down to the housekeeper to-morrow,” said Miss Wardour, “and we will see what can be of service to her.”

“God bless your leddyship,” said poor Robert, “and his honour Sir Arthur, and the young laird, and the house of Knockwinnock in a’ its branches, far and near!—it’s been a kind and gude house to the puir this mony hundred years.”

“There”—said the Antiquary to Sir Arthur—“we won’t dispute—but there you see the gratitude of the poor people naturally turns to the civil virtues of your family. You don’t hear them talk of Redhand, or Hell-in-Harness. For me, I must say, Odi accipitrem qui semper vivit in armis—so let us eat and drink in peace, and be joyful, Sir Knight.”

A table was quickly covered in the parlour, where the party sat joyously down to some refreshment. At the request of Oldbuck, Edie Ochiltree was permitted to sit by the sideboard in a great leathern chair, which was placed in some measure behind a screen.

“I accede to this the more readily,” said Sir Arthur, “because I remember in my fathers days that chair was occupied by Ailshie Gourlay, who, for aught I know, was the last privileged fool, or jester, maintained by any family of distinction in Scotland.”

“Aweel, Sir Arthur,” replied the beggar, who never hesitated an instant between his friend and his jest, “mony a wise man sits in a fule’s seat, and mony a fule in a wise man’s, especially in families o’ distinction.”

Miss Wardour, fearing the effect of this speech (however worthy of Ailsbie Gourlay, or any other privileged jester) upon the nerves of her father, hastened to inquire whether ale and beef should not be distributed to the servants and people whom the news had assembled round the Castle.

“Surely, my love,” said her father; “when was it ever otherwise in our families when a siege had been raised?”

“Ay, a siege laid by Saunders Sweepclean the bailiff, and raised by Edie Ochiltree the gaberlunzie, par nobile fratrum,” said Oldbuck, “and well pitted against each other in respectability. But never mind, Sir Arthur—these are such sieges and such reliefs as our time of day admits of—and our escape is not less worth commemorating in a glass of this excellent wine—Upon my credit, it is Burgundy, I think.”

“Were there anything better in the cellar,” said Miss Wardour, “it would be all too little to regale you after your friendly exertions.”

“Say you so?” said the Antiquary: “why, then, a cup of thanks to you, my fair enemy, and soon may you be besieged as ladies love best to be, and sign terms of capitulation in the chapel of Saint Winnox!”

Miss Wardour blushed—Hector coloured, and then grew pale.

Sir Arthur answered, “My daughter is much obliged to you, Monkbarns; but unless you’ll accept of her yourself, I really do not know where a poor knight’s daughter is to seek for an alliance in these mercenary times.”

“Me, mean ye, Sir Arthur? No, not I! I will claim privilege of the duello, and, as being unable to encounter my fair enemy myself, I will appear by my champion—But of this matter hereafter. What do you find in the papers there, Hector, that you hold your head down over them as if your nose were bleeding?”

“Nothing particular, sir; but only that, as my arm is now almost quite well, I think I shall relieve you of my company in a day or two, and go to Edinburgh. I see Major Neville is arrived there. I should like to see him.”

“Major whom?” said his uncle.

“Major Neville, sir,” answered the young soldier.

“And who the devil is Major Neville?” demanded the Antiquary.

“O, Mr. Oldbuck,” said Sir Arthur, “you must remember his name frequently in the newspapers—a very distinguished young officer indeed. But I am happy to say that Mr. M‘Intyre need not leave Monkbarns to see him, for my son writes that the Major is to come with him to Knockwinnock, and I need not say how happy I shall be to make the young gentlemen acquainted,—unless, indeed, they are known to each other already.”

“No, not personally,” answered Hector, “but I have had occasion to hear a good deal of him, and we have several mutual friends—your son being one of them. But I must go to Edinburgh; for I see my uncle is beginning to grow tired of me, and I am afraid”—

“That you will grow tired of him?” interrupted Oldbuck,—“I fear that’s past praying for. But you have forgotten that the ecstatic twelfth of August approaches, and that you are engaged to meet one of Lord Glenallan’s gamekeepers, God knows where, to persecute the peaceful feathered creation.”

“True, true, uncle—I had forgot that,” exclaimed the volatile Hector; “but you said something just now that put everything out of my head.”

“An it like your honours,” said old Edie, thrusting his white bead from behind the screen, where he had been plentifully regaling himself with ale and cold meat—“an it like your honours, I can tell ye something that will keep the Captain wi’ us amaist as weel as the pouting—Hear ye na the French are coming?”

“The French, you blockhead?” answered Oldbuck—“Bah!”

“I have not had time,” said Sir Arthur Wardour, “to look over my lieutenancy correspondence for the week—indeed, I generally make a rule to read it only on Wednesdays, except in pressing cases,—for I do everything by method; but from the glance I took of my letters, I observed some alarm was entertained.”

“Alarm?” said Edie, “troth there’s alarm, for the provost’s gar’d the beacon light on the Halket-head be sorted up (that suld hae been sorted half a year syne) in an unco hurry, and the council hae named nae less a man than auld Caxon himsell to watch the light. Some say it was out o’ compliment to Lieutenant Taffril,—for it’s neist to certain that he’ll marry Jenny Caxon,—some say it’s to please your honour and Monkbarns that wear wigs—and some say there’s some auld story about a periwig that ane o’ the bailies got and neer paid for—Onyway, there he is, sitting cockit up like a skart upon the tap o’ the craig, to skirl when foul weather comes.”

“On mine honour, a pretty warder,” said Monkbarns; “and what’s my wig to do all the while?”

“I asked Caxon that very question,” answered Ochiltree, “and he said he could look in ilka morning, and gie’t a touch afore he gaed to his bed, for there’s another man to watch in the day-time, and Caxon says he’ll friz your honour’s wig as weel sleeping as wauking.”

This news gave a different turn to the conversation, which ran upon national defence, and the duty of fighting for the land we live in, until it was time to part. The Antiquary and his nephew resumed their walk homeward, after parting from Knockwinnock with the warmest expressions of mutual regard, and an agreement to meet again as soon as possible.

The Antiquary - Contents    |     Chapter XLIV

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