The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 2

Sir, they do scandal me upon the road here!

A poor quotidian rack of mutton roasted

Dry to be grated! and that driven down

With beer and butter-milk, mingled together.

It is against my freehold, my inheritance.

Wine is the word that glads the heart of man,

And mine’s the house of wine. Sack, says my bush,

Be merry and drink Sherry, that’s my posie.

Ben Jonson’s New Inn.

As the senior traveller descended the crazy steps of the diligence at the inn, he was greeted by the fat, gouty, pursy landlord, with that mixture of familiarity and respect which the Scotch innkeepers of the old school used to assume towards their more valued customers.

“Have a care o’ us, Monkbarns (distinguishing him by his territorial epithet, always most agreeable to the ear of a Scottish proprietor), is this you? I little thought to have seen your honour here till the summer session was ower.”

“Ye donnard auld deevil,” answered his guest, his Scottish accent predominating when in anger though otherwise not particularly remarkable — “ye donnard auld crippled idiot, what have I to do with the session, or the geese that flock to it, or the hawks that pick their pinions for them?”

“Troth, and that’s true,” said mine host, who, in fact, only spoke upon a very general recollection of the stranger’s original education, yet would have been sorry not to have been supposed accurate as to the station and profession of him, or any other occasional guest —“That’s very true — but I thought ye had some law affair of your ain to look after — I have ane mysell — a ganging plea that my father left me, and his father afore left to him. It’s about our back-yard — ye’ll maybe hae heard of it in the Parliament-house, Hutchison against Mackitchinson — it’s a weel-kenn’d plea — its been four times in afore the fifteen, and deil ony thing the wisest o’ them could make o’t, but just to send it out again to the outer-house. — O it’s a beautiful thing to see how lang and how carefully justice is considered in this country!”

“Hold your tongue, you fool,” said the traveller, but in great good-humour, “and tell us what you can give this young gentleman and me for dinner.”

“Ou, there’s fish, nae doubt — that’s sea-trout and caller haddocks,” said Mackitchinson, twisting his napkin; “and ye’ll be for a mutton-chop, and there’s cranberry tarts, very weel preserved, and — and there’s just ony thing else ye like.”

“Which is to say, there is nothing else whatever? Well, well, the fish and the chop, and the tarts, will do very well. But don’t imitate the cautious delay that you praise in the courts of justice. Let there be no remits from the inner to the outer house, hear ye me?”

“Na, na,” said Mackitchinson, whose long and heedful perusal of volumes of printed session papers had made him acquainted with some law phrases — “the denner shall be served quam primum and that peremptorie.“ And with the flattering laugh of a promising host, he left them in his sanded parlour, hung with prints of the Four Seasons.

As, notwithstanding his pledge to the contrary, the glorious delays of the law were not without their parallel in the kitchen of the inn, our younger traveller had an opportunity to step out and make some inquiry of the people of the house concerning the rank and station of his companion. The information which he received was of a general and less authentic nature, but quite sufficient to make him acquainted with the name, history, and circumstances of the gentleman, whom we shall endeavour, in a few words, to introduce more accurately to our readers.

Jonathan Oldenbuck, or Oldinbuck, by popular contraction Oldbuck, of Monkbarns, was the second son of a gentleman possessed of a small property in the neighbourhood of a thriving seaport town on the north-eastern coast of Scotland, which, for various reasons, we shall denominate Fairport. They had been established for several generations, as landowners in the county, and in most shires of England would have been accounted a family of some standing But the shire of —— was filled with gentlemen of more ancient descent and larger fortune. In the last generation, also, the neighbouring gentry had been almost uniformly Jacobites, while the proprietors of Monkbarns, like the burghers of the town near which they were settled, were steady assertors of the Protestant succession. The latter had, however, a pedigree of their own, on which they prided themselves as much as those who despised them valued their respective Saxon, Norman, or Celtic genealogies. The first Oldenbuck, who had settled in their family mansion shortly after the Reformation, was, they asserted, descended from one of the original printers of Germany, and had left his country in consequence of the persecutions directed against the professors of the Reformed religion. He had found a refuge in the town near which his posterity dwelt, the more readily that he was a sufferer in the Protestant cause, and certainly not the less so, that he brought with him money enough to purchase the small estate of Monkbarns, then sold by a dissipated laird, to whose father it had been gifted, with other church lands, on the dissolution of the great and wealthy monastery to which it had belonged. The Oldenbucks were therefore, loyal subjects on all occasions of insurrection; and, as they kept up a good intelligence with the borough, it chanced that the Laird of Monkbarns, who flourished in 1745, was provost of the town during that ill-fated year, and had exerted himself with much spirit in favour of King George, and even been put to expenses on that score, which, according to the liberal conduct of the existing government towards their friends, had never been repaid him. By dint of solicitation, however, and borough interest, he contrived to gain a place in the customs, and, being a frugal, careful man, had found himself enabled to add considerably to his paternal fortune. He had only two sons, of whom, as we have hinted, the present laird was the younger, and two daughters, one of whom still flourished in single blessedness, and the other, who was greatly more juvenile, made a love-match with a captain in the Forty-twa, who had no other fortune but his commission and a Highland pedigree. Poverty disturbed a union which love would otherwise have made happy, and Captain M’Intyre, in justice to his wife and two children, a boy and girl, had found himself obliged to seek his fortune in the East Indies. Being ordered upon an expedition against Hyder Ally, the detachment to which he belonged was cut off, and no news ever reached his unfortunate wife, whether he fell in battle, or was murdered in prison, or survived in what the habits of the Indian tyrant rendered a hopeless captivity. She sunk under the accumulated load of grief and uncertainty, and left a son and daughter to the charge of her brother, the existing Laird of Monkbarns.

The history of that proprietor himself is soon told. Being, as we have said, a second son, his father destined him to a share in a substantial mercantile concern, carried on by some of his maternal relations. From this Jonathan’s mind revolted in the most irreconcilable manner. He was then put apprentice to the profession of a writer, or attorney, in which he profited so far, that he made himself master of the whole forms of feudal investitures, and showed such pleasure in reconciling their incongruities, and tracing their origin, that his master had great hope he would one day be an able conveyancer. But he halted upon the threshold, and, though he acquired some knowledge of the origin and system of the law of his country, he could never be persuaded to apply it to lucrative and practical purposes. It was not from any inconsiderate neglect of the advantages attending the possession of money that he thus deceived the hopes of his master.“Were he thoughtless or light-headed, or rei suae prodigus,“ said his instructor, “I would know what to make of him. But he never pays away a shilling without looking anxiously after the change, makes his sixpence go farther than another lad’s half-crown, and wilt ponder over an old black-letter copy of the acts of parliament for days, rather than go to the golf or the change-house; and yet he will not bestow one of these days on a little business of routine, that would put twenty shillings in his pocket — a strange mixture of frugality and industry, and negligent indolence — I don’t know what to make of him.”

But in process of time his pupil gained the means of making what he pleased of himself; for his father having died, was not long survived by his eldest son, an arrant fisher and fowler, who departed this life, in consequence of a cold caught in his vocation, while shooting ducks in the swamp called Kittlefittingmoss, notwithstanding his having drunk a bottle of brandy that very night to keep the cold out of his stomach. Jonathan, therefore, succeeded to the estate, and with it to the means of subsisting without the hated drudgery of the law. His wishes were very moderate; and as the rent of his small property rose with the improvement of the country, it soon greatly exceeded his wants and expenditure; and though too indolent to make money, he was by no means insensible to the pleasure of beholding it accumulate. The burghers of the town near which he lived regarded him with a sort of envy, as one who affected to divide himself from their rank in society, and whose studies and pleasures seemed to them alike incomprehensible. Still, however, a sort of hereditary respect for the Laird of Monkbarns, augmented by the knowledge of his being a ready-money man, kept up his consequence with this class of his neighbours. The country gentlemen were generally above him in fortune, and beneath him in intellect, and, excepting one with whom he lived in habits of intimacy, had little intercourse with Mr. Oldbuck of Monkbarns. He, had, however, the usual resources, the company of the clergyman, and of the doctor, when he chose to request it, and also his own pursuits and pleasures, being in correspondence with most of the virtuosi of his time, who, like himself, measured decayed entrenchments, made plans of ruined castles, read illegible inscriptions, and wrote essays on medals in the proportion of twelve pages to each letter of the legend. Some habits of hasty irritation he had contracted, partly, it was said in the borough of Fairport, from an early disappointment in love in virtue of which he had commenced misogynist, as he called it, but yet more by the obsequious attention paid to him by his maiden sister and his orphan niece, whom he had trained to consider him as the greatest man upon earth, and whom he used to boast of as the only women he had ever seen who were well broke in and bitted to obedience; though, it must be owned, Miss Grizzy Oldbuck was sometimes apt to jibb when he pulled the reins too tight. The rest of his character must be gathered from the story, and we dismiss with pleasure the tiresome task of recapitulation.

During the time of dinner, Mr. Oldbuck, actuated by the same curiosity which his fellow-traveller had entertained on his account, made some advances, which his aye and station entitled him to do in a more direct manner, towards ascertaining the name, destination, and quality of his young companion.

His name, the young gentleman said, was Lovel.

“What! the cat, the rat, and Lovel our dog? Was he descended from King Richard’s favourite?”

“He had no pretensions,” he said, “to call himself a whelp of that litter; his father was a north-of-England gentleman. He was at present travelling to Fairport (the town near to which Monkbarns was situated), and, if he found the place agreeable, might perhaps remain there for some weeks.”

“Was Mr. Lovel’s excursion solely for pleasure?”

“Not entirely.”

“Perhaps on business with some of the commercial people of Fairport?”

“It was partly on business, but had no reference to commerce.”

Here he paused; and Mr. Oldbuck, having pushed his inquiries as far as good manners permitted, was obliged to change the conversation. The Antiquary, though by no means an enemy to good cheer, was a determined foe to all unnecessary expense on a journey; and upon his companion giving a hint concerning a bottle of port wine, he drew a direful picture of the mixture, which, he said, was usually sold under that denomination, and affirming that a little punch was more genuine and better suited for the season, he laid his hand upon the bell to order the materials. But Mackitchinson had, in his own mind, settled their beverage otherwise, and appeared bearing in his hand an immense double quart bottle, or magnum, as it is called in Scotland, covered with saw-dust and cobwebs, the warrants of its antiquity.

“Punch!” said he, catching that generous sound as he entered the parlour, “the deil a drap punch ye’se get here the day, Monkbarns, and that ye may lay your account wi’.”

“What do you mean, you impudent rascal?”

“Ay, ay, it’s nae matter for that — but do you mind the trick ye served me the last time ye were here!”

“I trick you!”

“Ay, just yoursell, Monkbarns. The Laird o’ Tamlowrie and Sir Gilbert Grizzlecleuch, and Auld Rossballoh, and the Bailie, were just setting in to make an afternoon o’t, and you, wi’ some o’ your auld-warld stories, that the mind o’ man canna resist, whirl’d them to the back o’ beyont to look at the auld Roman camp — Ah, sir!” turning to Lovel, “he wad wile the bird aff the tree wi’ the tales he tells about folk lang syne — and did not I lose the drinking o’ sax pints o’ gude claret, for the deil ane wad hae stirred till he had seen that out at the least?”

“D’ye hear the impudent scoundrel!” said Monkbarns, but laughing at the same time; for the worthy landlord, as he used to boast, know the measure of a guest’s foot as well as e’er a souter on this side Solway; “well, well, you may send us in a bottle of port.”

“Port! na, na! ye maun leave port and punch to the like o’ us, it’s claret that’s fit for you lairds; and, I dare say, nane of the folk ye speak so much o’ ever drank either of the twa.”

“Do you hear how absolute the knave is? Well, my young friend, we must for once prefer the Falernian to the vile Sabinum.

The ready landlord had the cork instantly extracted, decanted the wine into a vessel of suitable capaciousness, and, declaring it parfumed the very room, left his guests to make the most of it.

Mackitchinson’s wine was really good, and had its effect upon the spirits of the elder guest, who told some good stories, cut some sly jokes, and at length entered into a learned discussion concerning the ancient dramatists; a ground on which he found his new acquaintance so strong, that at length be began to suspect he had made them his professional study. “A traveller partly for business and partly for pleasure? — why, the stage partakes of both; it is a labour to the performers, and affords, or is meant to afford, pleasure to the spectators. He seems, in manner and rank, above the class of young men who take that turn; but I remember hearing them say, that the little theatre at Fairport was to open with the performance of a young gentleman, being his first appearance on any stage. — If this should be thee, Lovel! — Lovel? yes, Lovel or Belville are just the names which youngsters are apt to assume on such occasions — on my life, I am sorry for the lad.”

Mr. Oldbuck was habitually parsimonious, but in no respects mean; his first thought was to save his fellow-traveller any part of the expense of the entertainment, which he supposed must be in his situation more or less inconvenient. He therefore took an opportunity of settling privately with Mr. Mackitchinson. The young traveller remonstrated against his liberality, and only acquiesced in deference to his years and respectability.

The mutual satisfaction which they found in each other’s society induced Mr. Oldbuck to propose, and Lovel willingly to accept, a scheme for travelling together to the end of their journey. Mr. Oldbuck intimated a wish to pay two-thirds of the hire of a post-chaise, saying, that a proportional quantity of room was necessary to his accommodation; but this Mr. Lovel resolutely declined. Their expense then was mutual, unless when Lovel occasionally slipt a shilling into the hand of a growling postilion; for Oldbuck, tenacious of ancient customs, never extended his guerdon beyond eighteen-pence a stage. In this manner they travelled, until they arrived at Fairport4 about two o’clock on the following day.

Lovel probably expected that his travelling companion would have invited him to dinner on his arrival; but his consciousness of a want of ready preparation for unexpected guests, and perhaps some other reasons, prevented Oldbuck from paying him that attention. He only begged to see him as early as he could make it convenient to call in a forenoon, recommended him to a widow who had apartments to let, and to a person who kept a decent ordinary; cautioning both of them apart, that he only knew Mr. Lovel as a pleasant companion in a post-chaise, and did not mean to guarantee any bills which he might contract while residing at Fairport. The young gentleman’s figure and manners; not to mention a well-furnished trunk, which soon arrived by sea, to his address at Fairport, probably went as far in his favour as the limited recommendation of his fellow-traveller.

4 [The “Fairport” of this novel is supposed to refer to the town of Arbroath, in Forfarshire, and “Musselcrag,” post, to the fishing village of Auchmithie, in the same county.]

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