The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 11

Sometimes he thinks that Heaven this pageant sent,

And ordered all the pageants as they went;

Sometimes that only ’twas wild Fancy’s play —

The loose and scattered relics of the day.

We must now request our readers to adjourn to the breakfast parlour of Mr. Oldbuck, who, despising the modern slops of tea and coffee, was substantially regaling himself, more majorum, with cold roast-beef, and a glass of a sort of beverage called mum — a species of fat ale, brewed from wheat and bitter herbs, of which the present generation only know the name by its occurrence in revenue acts of parliament, coupled with cider, perry, and other excisable commodities. Lovel, who was seduced to taste it, with difficulty refrained from pronouncing it detestable, but did refrain, as he saw he should otherwise give great offence to his host, who had the liquor annually prepared with peculiar care, according to the approved recipe bequeathed to him by the so-often mentioned Aldobrand Oldenbuck. The hospitality of the ladies offered Lovel a breakfast more suited to modern taste, and while he was engaged in partaking of it, he was assailed by indirect inquiries concerning the manner in which he had passed the night.

“We canna compliment Mr. Lovel on his looks this morning, brother — but he winna condescend on any ground of disturbance he has had in the night time. I am certain he looks very pale, and when he came here he was as fresh as a rose.”

“Why, sister, consider this rose of yours has been knocked about by sea and wind all yesterday evening, as if he had been a bunch of kelp or tangle, and how the devil would you have him retain his colour?”

“I certainly do still feel somewhat fatigued,” said Lovel, “notwithstanding the excellent accommodations with which your hospitality so amply supplied me.”

“Ah, sir!” said Miss Oldbuck looking at him with a knowing smile, or what was meant to be one, “ye’ll not allow of ony inconvenience, out of civility to us.”

“Really, madam,” replied Lovel, “I had no disturbance; for I cannot term such the music with which some kind fairy favoured me.”

“I doubted Mary wad waken you wi’ her skreighing; she dinna ken I had left open a chink of your window, for, forbye the ghaist, the Green Room disna vent weel in a high wind — But I am judging ye heard mair than Mary’s lilts yestreen. Weel, men are hardy creatures — they can gae through wi’ a’ thing. I am sure, had I been to undergo ony thing of that nature — that’s to say that’s beyond nature — I would hae skreigh’d out at once, and raised the house, be the consequence what liket — and, I dare say, the minister wad hae done as mickle, and sae I hae tauld him — I ken naebody but my brother, Monkbarns himsell, wad gae through the like o’t, if, indeed, it binna you, Mr. Lovel.”

“A man of Mr. Oldbuck’s learning, madam,” answered the questioned party, “would not be exposed to the inconvenience sustained by the Highland gentleman you mentioned last night.”

“Ay, ay — ye understand now where the difficulty lies. Language? he has ways o’ his ain wad banish a’ thae sort o’ worricows as far as the hindermost parts of Gideon” (meaning possibly Midian), “as Mr. Blattergowl says — only ane widna be uncivil to ane’s forbear, though he be a ghaist. I am sure I will try that receipt of yours, brother, that ye showed me in a book, if onybody is to sleep in that room again, though I think, in Christian charity, ye should rather fit up the matted-room — it’s a wee damp and dark, to be sure, but then we hae sae seldom occasion for a spare bed.”

“No, no, sister; — dampness and darkness are worse than spectres — ours are spirits of light, and I would rather have you try the spell.”

“I will do that blythely, Monkbarns, an I had the ingredients, as my cookery book ca’s them — There was vervain and dill — I mind that — Davie Dibble will ken about them, though, maybe, he’ll gie them Latin names — and Peppercorn, we hae walth o’ them, for”—

“Hypericon, thou foolish woman!” thundered Oldbuck; “d’ye suppose you’re making a haggis — or do you think that a spirit, though he be formed of air, can be expelled by a receipt against wind? — This wise Grizel of mine, Mr. Lovel, recollects (with what accuracy you may judge) a charm which I once mentioned to her, and which, happening to hit her superstitious noddle, she remembers better than anything tending to a useful purpose, I may chance to have said for this ten years. But many an old woman besides herself”—

“Auld woman, Monkbarns!” said Miss Oldbuck, roused something above her usual submissive tone; “ye really are less than civil to me.”

“Not less than just, Grizel: however, I include in the same class many a sounding name, from Jamblichus down to Aubrey, who have wasted their time in devising imaginary remedies for non-existing diseases. — But I hope, my young friend, that, charmed or uncharmed — secured by the potency of Hypericon,

With vervain and with dill,

That hinder witches of their will,

or left disarmed and defenceless to the inroads of the invisible world, you will give another night to the terrors of the haunted apartment, and another day to your faithful and feal friends.”

“I heartily wish I could, but”—

“Nay, but me no buts — I have set my heart upon it.”

“I am greatly obliged, my dear sir, but”—

“Look ye there, now — but again! — I hate but; I know no form of expression in which he can appear, that is amiable, excepting as a butt of sack. But is to me a more detestable combination of letters than no itself. No is a surly, honest fellow — speaks his mind rough and round at once. But is a sneaking, evasive, half-bred, exceptuous sort of a conjunction, which comes to pull away the cup just when it is at your lips —

— it does allay

The good precedent — fie upon but yet!

But yet is as a jailor to bring forth

Some monstrous malefactor.”

“Well, then,” answered Lovel, whose motions were really undetermined at the moment, “you shall not connect the recollection of my name with so churlish a particle. I must soon think of leaving Fairport, I am afraid — and I will, since you are good enough to wish it, take this opportunity of spending another day here.”

“And you shall be rewarded, my boy. First, you shall see John o’ the Girnel’s grave, and then we’ll walk gently along the sands, the state of the tide being first ascertained (for we will have no more Peter Wilkins’ adventures, no more Glum and Gawrie work), as far as Knockwinnock Castle, and inquire after the old knight and my fair foe — which will but be barely civil, and then”—

“I beg pardon, my dear sir; but, perhaps, you had better adjourn your visit till tomorrow — I am a stranger, you know.”

“And are, therefore, the more bound to show civility, I should suppose. But I beg your pardon for mentioning a word that perhaps belongs only to a collector of antiquities — I am one of the old school,

When courtiers galloped o’er four counties The ball’s fair partner to behold, And humbly hope she caught no cold.”

“Why, if — if — if you thought it would be expected — but I believe I had better stay.”

“Nay, nay, my good friend, I am not so old-fashioned as to press you to what is disagreeable, neither — it is sufficient that I see there is some remora, some cause of delay, some mid impediment, which I have no title to inquire into. Or you are still somewhat tired, perhaps; — I warrant I find means to entertain your intellects without fatiguing your limbs — I am no friend to violent exertion myself — a walk in the garden once a-day is exercise, enough for any thinking being — none but a fool or a fox-hunter would require more. Well, what shall we set about? — my Essay on Castrametation — but I have that in petto for our afternoon cordial; — or I will show you the controversy upon Ossian’s Poems between Mac-Cribb and me. I hold with the acute Orcadian — he with the defenders of the authenticity; — the controversy began in smooth, oily, lady-like terms, but is now waxing more sour and eager as we get on — it already partakes somewhat of old Scaliger’s style. I fear the rogue will get some scent of that story of Ochiltree’s — but at worst, I have a hard repartee for him on the affair of the abstracted Antigonus — I will show you his last epistle and the scroll of my answer — egad, it is a trimmer!”

So saying, the Antiquary opened a drawer, and began rummaging among a quantity of miscellaneous papers, ancient and modern. But it was the misfortune of this learned gentleman, as it may be that of many learned and unlearned, that he frequently experienced, on such occasions, what Harlequin calls l’embarras des richesses; in other words, the abundance of his collection often prevented him from finding the article he sought for. “Curse the papers! — I believe,” said Oldbuck, as he shuffled them to and fro —“I believe they make themselves wings like grasshoppers, and fly away bodily — but here, in the meanwhile, look at that little treasure.” So saying, he put into his hand a case made of oak, fenced at the corner with silver roses and studs —“Pr’ythee, undo this button,” said he, as he observed Lovel fumbling at the clasp. He did so — the lid opened, and discovered a thin quarto, curiously bound in black shagreen —“There, Mr. Lovel — there is the work I mentioned to you last night — the rare quarto of the Augsburg Confession, the foundation at once and the bulwark of the Reformation drawn up by the learned and venerable Melancthon, defended by the Elector of Saxony, and the other valiant hearts who stood up for their faith, even against the front of a powerful and victorious emperor, and imprinted by the scarcely less venerable and praiseworthy Aldobrand Oldenbuck, my happy progenitor, during the yet more tyrannical attempts of Philip II. to suppress at once civil and religious liberty. Yes, sir — for printing this work, that eminent man was expelled from his ungrateful country, and driven to establish his household gods even here at Monkbarns, among the ruins of papal superstition and domination. — Look upon his venerable effigies, Mr. Lovel, and respect the honourable occupation in which it presents him, as labouring personally at the press for the diffusion of Christian and political knowledge. — And see here his favourite motto, expressive of his independence and self-reliance, which scorned to owe anything to patronage that was not earned by desert — expressive also of that firmness of mind and tenacity of purpose recommended by Horace. He was indeed a man who would have stood firm, had his whole printing-house, presses, fonts, forms, great and small pica, been shivered to pieces around him — Read, I say, his motto — for each printer had his motto, or device, when that illustrious art was first practised. My ancestor’s was expressed, as you see, in the Teutonic phrase, Kunst macht Gunst — that is, skill, or prudence, in availing ourselves of our natural talents and advantages, will compel favour and patronage, even where it is withheld from prejudice or ignorance.”

“And that,” said Lovel, after a moment’s thoughtful silence —“that, then, is the meaning of these German words?”

“Unquestionably. You perceive the appropriate application to a consciousness of inward worth, and of eminence in a useful and honourable art. — Each printer in those days, as I have already informed you, had his device, his impresa, as I may call it, in the same manner as the doughty chivalry of the age, who frequented tilt and tournament. My ancestor boasted as much in his, as if he had displayed it over a conquered field of battle, though it betokened the diffusion of knowledge, not the effusion of blood. And yet there is a family tradition which affirms him to have chosen it from a more romantic circumstance.”

“And what is that said to have been, my good sir?” inquired his young friend.

“Why, it rather encroaches on my respected predecessor’s fame for prudence and wisdom — Sed semel insanivimus omnes — everybody has played the fool in their turn. It is said, my ancestor, during his apprenticeship with the descendant of old Faust, whom popular tradition hath sent to the devil under the name of Faustus, was attracted by a paltry slip of womankind, his master’s daughter, called Bertha — they broke rings, or went through some idiotical ceremony, as is usual on such idle occasions as the plighting of a true-love troth, and Aldobrand set out on his journey through Germany, as became an honest hand-werker; for such was the custom of mechanics at that time, to make a tour through the empire, and work at their trade for a time in each of the most eminent towns, before they finally settled themselves for life. It was a wise custom; for, as such travellers were received like brethren in each town by those of their own handicraft, they were sure, in every case, to have the means either of gaining or communicating knowledge. When my ancestor returned to Nuremburg, he is said to have found his old master newly dead, and two or three gallant young suitors, some of them half-starved sprigs of nobility forsooth, in pursuit of the Yung-fraw Bertha, whose father was understood to have bequeathed her a dowry which might weigh against sixteen armorial quarters. But Bertha, not a bad sample of womankind, had made a vow she would only marry that man who would work her father’s press. The skill, at that time, was as rare as wonderful; besides that the expedient rid her at once of most of her gentle suitors, who would have as soon wielded a conjuring wand as a composing stick. Some of the more ordinary typographers made the attempt: but none were sufficiently possessed of the mystery — But I tire you.”

“By no means; pray, proceed, Mr. Oldbuck — I listen with uncommon interest.”

“Ah! it is all folly. However — Aldobrand arrived in the ordinary dress, as we would say, of a journeyman printer — the same in which he had traversed Germany, and conversed with Luther, Melancthon, Erasmus, and other learned men, who disdained not his knowledge, and the power he possessed of diffusing it, though hid under a garb so homely. But what appeared respectable in the eyes of wisdom, religion, learning, and philosophy, seemed mean, as might readily be supposed, and disgusting, in those of silly and affected womankind, and Bertha refused to acknowledge her former lover, in the torn doublet, skin cap, clouted shoes, and leathern apron, of a travelling handicraftsman or mechanic. He claimed his privilege, however, of being admitted to a trial; and when the rest of the suitors had either declined the contest, or made such work as the devil could not read if his pardon depended on it, all eyes were bent on the stranger. Aldobrand stepped gracefully forward, arranged the types without omission of a single letter, hyphen, or comma, imposed them without deranging a single space, and pulled off the first proof as clear and free from errors, as if it had been a triple revise! All applauded the worthy successor of the immortal Faustus — the blushing maiden acknowledged her error in trusting to the eye more than the intellect — and the elected bridegroom thenceforward chose for his impress or device the appropriate words, Skill wins favour.‘— But what is the matter with you? — you are in a brown study! Come, I told you this was but trumpery conversation for thinking people — and now I have my hand on the Ossianic Controversy.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Lovel; “I am going to appear very silly and changeable in your eyes, Mr. Oldbuck — but you seemed to think Sir Arthur might in civility expect a call from me?”

“Psha! psha! I can make your apology; and if you must leave us so soon as you say, what signifies how you stand in his honours good graces? — And I warn you that the Essay on Castrametation is something prolix, and will occupy the time we can spare after dinner, so you may lose the Ossianic Controversy if we do not dedicate this morning to it. We will go out to my ever-green bower, my sacred holly-tree yonder, and have it fronde super viridi.

“Sing heigh-ho! heigh-ho! for the green holly,

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.

But, egad,” continued the old gentleman, “when I look closer at you, I begin to think you may be of a different opinion. Amen with all my heart — I quarrel with no man’s hobby, if he does not run it a tilt against mine, and if he does — let him beware his eyes. What say you? — in the language of the world and worldlings base, if you can condescend to so mean a sphere, shall we stay or go?”

“In the language of selfishness, then, which is of course the language of the world — let us go by all means.”

“Amen, amen, quo’ the Earl Marshall,” answered Oldbuck, as he exchanged his slippers for a pair of stout walking shoes, with cutikins, as he called them, of black cloth. He only interrupted the walk by a slight deviation to the tomb of John o’ the Girnel, remembered as the last bailiff of the abbey who had resided at Monkbarns. Beneath an old oak-tree upon a hillock, sloping pleasantly to the south, and catching a distant view of the sea over two or three rich enclosures, and the Mussel-crag, lay a moss-grown stone, and, in memory of the departed worthy, it bore an inscription, of which, as Mr. Oldbuck affirmed (though many doubted), the defaced characters could be distinctly traced to the following effect:—

Here lyeth John o’ ye Girnell;

Erth has ye nit, and heuen ye kirnell.

In hys tyme ilk wyfe’s hennis clokit,

Ilka gud mannis herth wi’ bairnis was stokit.

He deled a boll o’ bear in firlottis fyve,

Four for ye halie kirke, and ane for puir mennis wyvis.

“You see how modest the author of this sepulchral commendation was; — he tells us that honest John could make five firlots, or quarters, as you would say, out of the boll, instead of four — that he gave the fifth to the wives of the parish, and accounted for the other four to the abbot and chapter — that in his time the wives’ hens always laid eggs — and devil thank them, if they got one-fifth of the abbey rents; and that honest men’s hearths were never unblest with offspring — an addition to the miracle, which they, as well as I, must have considered as perfectly unaccountable. But come on — leave we Jock o’ the Girnel, and let us jog on to the yellow sands, where the sea, like a repulsed enemy, is now retreating from the ground on which he gave us battle last night.”

Thus saying, he led the way to the sands. Upon the links or downs close to them, were seen four or five huts inhabited by fishers, whose boats, drawn high upon the beach, lent the odoriferous vapours of pitch melting under a burning sun, to contend with those of the offals of fish and other nuisances usually collected round Scottish cottages. Undisturbed by these complicated steams of abomination, a middle-aged woman, with a face which had defied a thousand storms, sat mending a net at the door of one of the cottages. A handkerchief close bound about her head, and a coat which had formerly been that of a man, gave her a masculine air, which was increased by her strength, uncommon stature, and harsh voice. “What are ye for the day, your honour?” she said, or rather screamed, to Oldbuck; “caller haddocks and whitings — a bannock-fluke and a cock-padle.”

“How much for the bannock-fluke and cock-padle?” demanded the Antiquary.

“Four white shillings and saxpence,” answered the Naiad.

“Four devils and six of their imps!” retorted the Antiquary; “do you think I am mad, Maggie?”

“And div ye think,” rejoined the virago, setting her arms akimbo, “that my man and my sons are to gae to the sea in weather like yestreen and the day — sic a sea as it’s yet outby — and get naething for their fish, and be misca’d into the bargain, Monkbarns? It’s no fish ye’re buying — it’s men’s lives.”

“Well, Maggie, I’ll bid you fair — I’ll bid you a shilling for the fluke and the cock-padle, or sixpence separately — and if all your fish are as well paid, I think your man, as you call him, and your sons, will make a good voyage.”

“Deil gin their boat were knockit against the Bell-Rock rather! it wad be better, and the bonnier voyage o’ the twa. A shilling for thae twa bonnie fish! Od, that’s ane indeed!”

“Well, well, you old beldam, carry your fish up to Monkbarns, and see what my sister will give you for them.”

“Na, na, Monkbarns, deil a fit — I’ll rather deal wi’ yoursell; for though you’re near enough, yet Miss Grizel has an unco close grip — I’ll gie ye them” (in a softened tone) “for three-and-saxpence.”

“Eighteen-pence, or nothing!”

“Eighteen-pence!!!” (in a loud tone of astonishment, which declined into a sort of rueful whine, when the dealer turned as if to walk away)—“Yell no be for the fish then?”—(then louder, as she saw him moving off)— “I’ll gie ye them — and — and — and a half-a-dozen o’ partans to make the sauce, for three shillings and a dram.”

“Half-a-crown then, Maggie, and a dram.”

“Aweel, your honour maun hae’t your ain gate, nae doubt; but a dram’s worth siller now — the distilleries is no working.”

“And I hope they’ll never work again in my time,” said Oldbuck.

“Ay, ay — it’s easy for your honour, and the like o’ you gentle-folks to say sae, that hae stouth and routh, and fire and fending and meat and claith, and sit dry and canny by the fireside — but an ye wanted fire, and meat, and dry claes, and were deeing o’ cauld, and had a sair heart, whilk is warst ava’, wi’ just tippence in your pouch, wadna ye be glad to buy a dram wi’t, to be eilding and claes, and a supper and heart’s ease into the bargain, till the morn’s morning?”

“It’s even too true an apology, Maggie. Is your goodman off to sea this morning, after his exertions last night?”

“In troth is he, Monkbarns; he was awa this morning by four o’clock, when the sea was working like barm wi’ yestreen’s wind, and our bit coble dancing in’t like a cork.”

“Well, he’s an industrious fellow. Carry the fish up to Monkbarns.”

“That I will — or I’ll send little Jenny, she’ll rin faster; but I’ll ca’ on Miss Grizzy for the dram mysell, and say ye sent me.”

A nondescript animal, which might have passed for a mermaid, as it was paddling in a pool among the rocks, was summoned ashore by the shrill screams of its dam; and having been made decent, as her mother called it, which was performed by adding a short red cloak to a petticoat, which was at first her sole covering, and which reached scantily below her knee, the child was dismissed with the fish in a basket, and a request on the part of Monkbarns that they might be prepared for dinner.” It would have been long,” said Oldbuck, with much self-complacency, “ere my womankind could have made such a reasonable bargain with that old skin-flint, though they sometimes wrangle with her for an hour together under my study window, like three sea-gulls screaming and sputtering in a gale of wind. But come, wend we on our way to Knockwinnock.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29