The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 12

Beggar? — the only freeman of your commonwealth;

Free above Scot-free, that observe no laws,

Obey no governor, use no religion

But what they draw from their own ancient custom,

Or constitute themselves, yet they are no rebels.

Brome.

With our reader’s permission, we will outstep the slow, though sturdy pace of the Antiquary, whose halts, as he, turned round to his companion at every moment to point out something remarkable in the landscape, or to enforce some favourite topic more emphatically than the exercise of walking permitted, delayed their progress considerably.

Notwithstanding the fatigues and dangers of the preceding evening, Miss Wardour was able to rise at her usual hour, and to apply herself to her usual occupations, after she had first satisfied her anxiety concerning her father’s state of health. Sir Arthur was no farther indisposed than by the effects of great agitation and unusual fatigue, but these were sufficient to induce him to keep his bedchamber.

To look back on the events of the preceding day, was, to Isabella, a very unpleasing retrospect. She owed her life, and that of her father, to the very person by whom, of all others, she wished least to be obliged, because she could hardly even express common gratitude towards him without encouraging hopes which might be injurious to them both. “Why should it be my fate to receive such benefits, and conferred at so much personal risk, from one whose romantic passion I have so unceasingly laboured to discourage? Why should chance have given him this advantage over me? and why, oh why, should a half-subdued feeling in my own bosom, in spite of my sober reason, almost rejoice that he has attained it?”

While Miss Wardour thus taxed herself with wayward caprice, she, beheld advancing down the avenue, not her younger and more dreaded preserver, but the old beggar who had made such a capital figure in the melodrama of the preceding evening.

She rang the bell for her maid-servant. “Bring the old man up stairs.”

The servant returned in a minute or two —“He will come up at no rate, madam; — he says his clouted shoes never were on a carpet in his life, and that, please God, they never shall. — Must I take him into the servants’ hall?”

“No; stay, I want to speak with him — Where is he?” for she had lost sight of him as he approached the house.

“Sitting in the sun on the stone-bench in the court, beside the window of the flagged parlour.”

“Bid him stay there — I’ll come down to the parlour, and speak with him at the window.”

Edie Ochiltree visits Miss Wardour
“Edie Ochiltree visits Miss Wardour”
Drawing by W. McTaggart; etching by C. O. Murray

She came down accordingly, and found the mendicant half-seated, half-reclining, upon the bench beside the window. Edie Ochiltree, old man and beggar as he was, had apparently some internal consciousness of the favourable, impressions connected with his tall form, commanding features, and long white beard and hair. It used to be remarked of him, that he was seldom seen but in a posture which showed these personal attributes to advantage. At present, as he lay half-reclined, with his wrinkled yet ruddy cheek, and keen grey eye turned up towards the sky, his staff and bag laid beside him, and a cast of homely wisdom and sarcastic irony in the expression of his countenance, while he gazed for a moment around the court-yard, and then resumed his former look upward, he might have been taken by an artist as the model of an old philosopher of the Cynic school, musing upon the frivolity of mortal pursuits, and the precarious tenure of human possessions, and looking up to the source from which aught permanently good can alone be derived. The young lady, as she presented her tall and elegant figure at the open window, but divided from the court-yard by a grating, with which, according to the fashion of ancient times, the lower windows of the castle were secured, gave an interest of a different kind, and might be supposed, by a romantic imagination, an imprisoned damsel communicating a tale of her durance to a palmer, in order that he might call upon the gallantry of every knight whom he should meet in his wanderings, to rescue her from her oppressive thraldom.

After Miss Wardour had offered, in the terms she thought would be most acceptable, those thanks which the beggar declined as far beyond his merit, she began to express herself in a manner which she supposed would speak more feelingly to his apprehension. “She did not know,” she said, “what her father intended particularly to do for their preserver, but certainly it would be something that would make him easy for life; if he chose to reside at the castle, she would give orders”—

The old man smiled, and shook his head. “I wad be baith a grievance and a disgrace to your fine servants, my leddy, and I have never been a disgrace to onybody yet, that I ken of.”

“Sir Arthur would give strict orders”—

“Ye’re very kind — I doubtna, I doubtna; but there are some things a master can command, and some he canna — I daresay he wad gar them keep hands aff me —(and troth, I think they wad hardly venture on that ony gate)— and he wad gar them gie me my soup parritch and bit meat. But trow ye that Sir Arthur’s command could forbid the gibe o’ the tongue or the blink o’ the ee, or gar them gie me my food wi’ the look o’ kindness that gars it digest sae weel, or that he could make them forbear a’ the slights and taunts that hurt ane’s spirit mair nor downright misca’ing? — Besides, I am the idlest auld carle that ever lived; I downa be bound down to hours o’ eating and sleeping; and, to speak the honest truth, I wad be a very bad example in ony weel regulated family.”

“Well, then, Edie, what do you think of a neat cottage and a garden, and a daily dole, and nothing to do but to dig a little in your garden when you pleased yourself?”

“And how often wad that be, trow ye, my leddy? maybe no ance atween Candlemas and Yule and if a’ thing were done to my hand, as if I was Sir Arthur himsell, I could never bide the staying still in ae place, and just seeing the same joists and couples aboon my head night after night. — And then I have a queer humour o’ my ain, that sets a strolling beggar weel eneugh, whase word naebody minds — but ye ken Sir Arthur has odd sort o’ ways — and I wad be jesting or scorning at them — and ye wad be angry, and then I wad be just fit to hang mysell.”

“O, you are a licensed man,” said Isabella; “we shall give you all reasonable scope: So you had better be ruled, and remember your age.”

“But I am no that sair failed yet,” replied the mendicant. “Od, ance I gat a wee soupled yestreen, I was as yauld as an eel. And then what wad a’ the country about do for want o’ auld Edie Ochiltree, that brings news and country cracks frae ae farm-steading to anither, and gingerbread to the lasses, and helps the lads to mend their fiddles, and the gudewives to clout their pans, and plaits rush-swords and grenadier caps for the weans, and busks the laird’s flees, and has skill o’ cow-ills and horse-ills, and kens mair auld sangs and tales than a’ the barony besides, and gars ilka body laugh wherever he comes? Troth, my leddy, I canna lay down my vocation; it would be a public loss.”

“Well, Edie, if your idea of your importance is so strong as not to be shaken by the prospect of independence”—

“Na, na, Miss — it’s because I am mair independent as I am,” answered the old man; “I beg nae mair at ony single house than a meal o’ meat, or maybe but a mouthfou o’t — if it’s refused at ae place, I get it at anither — sae I canna be said to depend on onybody in particular, but just on the country at large.”

“Well, then, only promise me that you will let me know should you ever wish to settle as you turn old, and more incapable of making your usual rounds; and, in the meantime, take this.”

“Na, na, my leddy: I downa take muckle siller at ance — it’s against our rule; and — though it’s maybe no civil to be repeating the like o’ that — they say that siller’s like to be scarce wi’ Sir Arthur himsell, and that he’s run himsell out o’ thought wi’ his honkings and minings for lead and copper yonder.”

Isabella had some anxious anticipations to the same effect, but was shocked to hear that her father’s embarrassments were such public talk; as if scandal ever failed to stoop upon so acceptable a quarry as the failings of the good man, the decline of the powerful, or the decay of the prosperous. — Miss Wardour sighed deeply —“Well, Edie, we have enough to pay our debts, let folks say what they will, and requiting you is one of the foremost — let me press this sum upon you.”

“That I might be robbed and murdered some night between town and town? or, what’s as bad, that I might live in constant apprehension o’t? — I am no”—(lowering his voice to a whisper, and looking keenly around him)—“I am no that clean unprovided for neither; and though I should die at the back of a dyke, they’ll find as muckle quilted in this auld blue gown as will bury me like a Christian, and gie the lads and lasses a blythe lykewake too; sae there’s the gaberlunzie’s burial provided for, and I need nae mair. Were the like o’ me ever to change a note, wha the deil d’ye think wad be sic fules as to gie me charity after that? — it wad flee through the country like wildfire, that auld Edie suld hae done siccan a like thing, and then, I’se warrant, I might grane my heart out or onybody wad gie me either a bane or a bodle.”

“Is there nothing, then, that I can do for you?”

“Ou ay — I’ll aye come for my awmous as usual — and whiles I wad be fain o’ a pickle sneeshin, and ye maun speak to the constable and ground-officer just to owerlook me; and maybe ye’ll gie a gude word for me to Sandie Netherstanes, the miller, that he may chain up his muckle dog — I wadna hae him to hurt the puir beast, for it just does its office in barking at a gaberlunzie like me. And there’s ae thing maybe mair — but ye’ll think it’s very bald o’ the like o’ me to speak o’t.”

“What is it, Edie? — if it respects you it shall be done if it is in my power.”

“It respects yoursell, and it is in your power, and I maun come out wi’t. Ye are a bonny young leddy, and a gude ane, and maybe a weel-tochered ane — but dinna ye sneer awa the lad Lovel, as ye did a while sinsyne on the walk beneath the Briery-bank, when I saw ye baith, and heard ye too, though ye saw nae me. Be canny wi’ the lad, for he loes ye weel, and it’s to him, and no to anything I could have done for you, that Sir Arthur and you wan ower yestreen.”

He uttered these words in a low but distinct tone of voice; and without waiting for an answer, walked towards a low door which led to the apartments of the servants, and so entered the house.

Miss Wardour remained for a moment or two in the situation in which she had heard the old man’s last extraordinary speech, leaning, namely, against the bars of the window; nor could she determine upon saying even a single word, relative to a subject so delicate, until the beggar was out of sight. It was, indeed, difficult to determine what to do. That her having had an interview and private conversation with this young and unknown stranger, should be a secret possessed by a person of the last class in which a young lady would seek a confidant, and at the mercy of one who was by profession gossip-general to the whole neighbourhood, gave her acute agony. She had no reason, indeed, to suppose that the old man would wilfully do anything to hurt her feelings, much less to injure her; but the mere freedom of speaking to her upon such a subject, showed, as might have been expected, a total absence of delicacy; and what he might take it into his head to do or say next, that she was pretty sure so professed an admirer of liberty would not hesitate to do or say without scruple. This idea so much hurt and vexed her, that she half-wished the officious assistance of Lovel and Ochiltree had been absent upon the preceding evening.

While she was in this agitation of spirits, she suddenly observed Oldbuck and Lovel entering the court. She drew instantly so far back from the window, that she could without being seen, observe how the Antiquary paused in front of the building, and pointing to the various scutcheons of its former owners, seemed in the act of bestowing upon Lovel much curious and erudite information, which, from the absent look of his auditor, Isabella might shrewdly guess was entirely thrown away. The necessity that she should take some resolution became instant and pressing; — she rang, therefore, for a servant, and ordered him to show the visitors to the drawing-room, while she, by another staircase, gained her own apartment, to consider, ere she made her appearance, what line of conduct were fittest for her to pursue. The guests, agreeably to her instructions, were introduced into the room where company was usually received.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/antiquary/chapter12.html

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