The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 22

Wiser Raymondus, in his closet pent,

Laughs at such danger and adventurement

When half his lands are spent in golden smoke,

And now his second hopeful glasse is broke,

But yet, if haply his third furnace hold,

Devoteth all his pots and pans to gold. 23

About a week after the adventures commemorated in our last chapter, Mr. Oldbuck, descending to his breakfast-parlour, found that his womankind were not upon duty, his toast not made, and the silver jug, which was wont to receive his libations of mum, not duly aired for its reception.

“This confounded hot-brained boy!” he said to himself; “now that he begins to get out of danger, I can tolerate this life no longer. All goes to sixes and sevens — an universal saturnalia seems to be proclaimed in my peaceful and orderly family. I ask for my sister — no answer. I call, I shout — I invoke my inmates by more names than the Romans gave to their deities — at length Jenny, whose shrill voice I have heard this half-hour lilting in the Tartarean regions of the kitchen, condescends to hear me and reply, but without coming up stairs, so the conversation must be continued at the top of my lungs. “— Here he again began to hollow aloud —“Jenny, where’s Miss Oldbuck?”

“Miss Grizzy’s in the captain’s room.”

“Umph! — I thought so — and where’s my niece?”

“Miss Mary’s making the captain’s tea.”

“Umph! I supposed as much again — and where’s Caxon?”

“Awa to the town about the captain’s fowling-gun, and his setting-dog.”

“And who the devil’s to dress my periwig, you silly jade? — when you knew that Miss Wardour and Sir Arthur were coming here early after breakfast, how could you let Caxon go on such a Tomfool’s errand?”

“Me! what could I hinder him? — your honour wadna hae us contradict the captain e’en now, and him maybe deeing?”

“Dying!” said the alarmed Antiquary — “eh! what? has he been worse?”

“Na, he’s no nae waur that I ken of.”24

“Then he must be better — and what good is a dog and a gun to do here, but the one to destroy all my furniture, steal from my larder, and perhaps worry the cat, and the other to shoot somebody through the head. He has had gunning and pistolling enough to serve him one while, I should think.”

Here Miss Oldbuck entered the parlour, at the door of which Oldbuck was carrying on this conversation, he bellowing downward to Jenny, and she again screaming upward in reply.

“Dear brother,” said the old lady, “ye’ll cry yoursell as hoarse as a corbie — is that the way to skreigh when there’s a sick person in the house?”

“Upon my word, the sick person’s like to have all the house to himself — I have gone without my breakfast, and am like to go without my wig; and I must not, I suppose, presume to say I feel either hunger or cold, for fear of disturbing the sick gentleman who lies six rooms off, and who feels himself well enough to send for his dog and gun, though he knows I detest such implements ever since our elder brother, poor Williewald, marched out of the world on a pair of damp feet, caught in the Kittlefitting-moss. But that signifies nothing; I suppose I shall be expected by and by to lend a hand to carry Squire Hector out upon his litter, while he indulges his sportsmanlike propensities by shooting my pigeons, or my turkeys — I think any of the ferae naturae are safe from him for one while.”

Miss M’Intyre now entered, and began to her usual morning’s task of arranging her uncle’s breakfast, with the alertness of one who is too late in setting about a task, and is anxious to make up for lost time. But this did not avail her. “Take care, you silly womankind — that mum’s too near the fire — the bottle will burst; and I suppose you intend to reduce the toast to a cinder as a burnt-offering for Juno, or what do you call her — the female dog there, with some such Pantheon kind of a name, that your wise brother has, in his first moments of mature reflection, ordered up as a fitting inmate of my house (I thank him), and meet company to aid the rest of the womankind of my household in their daily conversation and intercourse with him.”

“Dear uncle, don’t be angry about the poor spaniel; she’s been tied up at my brother’s lodgings at Fairport, and she’s broke her chain twice, and came running down here to him; and you would not have us beat the faithful beast away from the door? — it moans as if it had some sense of poor Hector’s misfortune, and will hardly stir from the door of his room.”

“Why,” said his uncle, “they said Caxon had gone to Fairport after his dog and gun.”

“O dear sir, no,” answered Miss M’Intyre, “it was to fetch some dressings that were wanted, and Hector only wished him to bring out his gun, as he was going to Fairport at any rate.”

“Well, then, it is not altogether so foolish a business, considering what a mess of womankind have been about it — Dressings, quotha? — and who is to dress my wig? — But I suppose Jenny will undertake”— continued the old bachelor, looking at himself in the glass —“to make it somewhat decent. And now let us set to breakfast — with what appetite we may. Well may I say to Hector, as Sir Isaac Newton did to his dog Diamond, when the animal (I detest dogs) flung down the taper among calculations which had occupied the philosopher for twenty years, and consumed the whole mass of materials — Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done!”

“I assure you, sir,” replied his niece, “my brother is quite sensible of the rashness of his own behaviour, and allows that Mr. Lovel behaved very handsomely.”

“And much good that will do, when he has frightened the lad out of the country! I tell thee, Mary, Hector’s understanding, and far more that of feminity, is inadequate to comprehend the extent of the loss which he has occasioned to the present age and to posterity — aureum quidem opus — a poem on such a subject, with notes illustrative of all that is clear, and all that is dark, and all that is neither dark nor clear, but hovers in dusky twilight in the region of Caledonian antiquities. I would have made the Celtic panegyrists look about them. Fingal, as they conceitedly term Fin-Mac-Coul, should have disappeared before my search, rolling himself in his cloud like the spirit of Loda. Such an opportunity can hardly again occur to an ancient and grey-haired man; and to see it lost by the madcap spleen of a hot-headed boy! But I submit — Heaven’s will be done!”

Thus continued the Antiquary to maunder, as his sister expressed it, during the whole time of breakfast, while, despite of sugar and honey, and all the comforts of a Scottish morning tea-table, his reflections rendered the meal bitter to all who heard them. But they knew the nature of the man. “Monkbarns’s bark,” said Miss Griselda Oldbuck, in confidential intercourse with Miss Rebecca Blattergowl, “is muckle waur than his bite.”

In fact, Mr. Oldbuck had suffered in mind extremely while his nephew was in actual danger, and now felt himself at liberty, upon his returning health, to indulge in complaints respecting the trouble he had been put to, and the interruption of his antiquarian labours. Listened to, therefore, in respectful silence, by his niece and sister, he unloaded his discontent in such grumblings as we have rehearsed, venting many a sarcasm against womankind, soldiers, dogs, and guns, all which implements of noise, discord, and tumult, as he called them, he professed to hold in utter abomination.

This expectoration of spleen was suddenly interrupted by the noise of a carriage without, when, shaking off all sullenness at the sound, Oldbuck ran nimbly up stairs and down stairs, for both operations were necessary ere he could receive Miss Wardour and her father at the door of his mansion.

A cordial greeting passed on both sides. And Sir Arthur, referring to his previous inquiries by letter and message, requested to be particularly informed of Captain M’Intyre’s health.

“Better than he deserves,” was the answer —“better than he deserves, for disturbing us with his vixen brawls, and breaking God’s peace and the King’s.”

“The young gentleman,” Sir Arthur said, “had been imprudent; but he understood they were indebted to him for the detection of a suspicious character in the young man Lovel.”

“No more suspicious than his own,” answered the Antiquary, eager in his favourites defence; —“the young gentleman was a little foolish and headstrong, and refused to answer Hector’s impertinent interrogatories — that is all. Lovel, Sir Arthur, knows how to choose his confidants better — Ay, Miss Wardour, you may look at me — but it is very true; — it was in my bosom that he deposited the secret cause of his residence at Fairport; and no stone should have been left unturned on my part to assist him in the pursuit to which he had dedicated himself.”

On hearing this magnanimous declaration on the part of the old Antiquary, Miss Wardour changed colour more than once, and could hardly trust her own ears. For of all confidants to be selected as the depositary of love affairs — and such she naturally supposed must have been the subject of communication — next to Edie Ochiltree, Oldbuck seemed the most uncouth and extraordinary; nor could she sufficiently admire or fret at the extraordinary combination of circumstances which thus threw a secret of such a delicate nature into the possession of persons so unfitted to be entrusted with it. She had next to fear the mode of Oldbuck’s entering upon the affair with her father, for such, she doubted not, was his intention. She well knew that the honest gentleman, however vehement in his prejudices, had no great sympathy with those of others, and she had to fear a most unpleasant explosion upon an e’claircissement taking place between them. It was therefore with great anxiety that she heard her father request a private interview, and observed Oldbuck readily arise and show the way to his library. She remained behind, attempting to converse with the ladies of Monkbarns, but with the distracted feelings of Macbeth, when compelled to disguise his evil conscience by listening and replying to the observations of the attendant thanes upon the storm of the preceding night, while his whole soul is upon the stretch to listen for the alarm of murder, which he knows must be instantly raised by those who have entered the sleeping apartment of Duncan. But the conversation of the two virtuosi turned on a subject very different from that which Miss Wardour apprehended.

“Mr. Oldbuck,” said Sir Arthur, when they had, after a due exchange of ceremonies, fairly seated themselves in the sanctum sanctorum of the Antiquary — “you, who know so much of my family matters, may probably be surprised at the question I am about to put to you.”

“Why, Sir Arthur, if it relates to money, I am very sorry, but”—

“It does relate to money matters, Mr. Oldbuck.”

“Really, then, Sir Arthur,” continued the Antiquary, “in the present state of the money-market — and stocks being so low”—

“You mistake my meaning, Mr. Oldbuck,” said the Baronet; “I wished to ask your advice about laying out a large sum of money to advantage.”

“The devil!” exclaimed the Antiquary; and, sensible that his involuntary ejaculation of wonder was not over and above civil, he proceeded to qualify it by expressing his joy that Sir Arthur should have a sum of money to lay out when the commodity was so scarce. “And as for the mode of employing it,” said he, pausing, “the funds are low at present, as I said before, and there are good bargains of land to be had. But had you not better begin by clearing off encumbrances, Sir Arthur? — There is the sum in the personal bond — and the three notes of hand,” continued he, taking out of the right-hand drawer of his cabinet a certain red memorandum-book, of which Sir Arthur, from the experience of former frequent appeals to it, abhorred the very sight —“with the interest thereon, amounting altogether to — let me see”—

“To about a thousand pounds,” said Sir Arthur, hastily; “you told me the amount the other day.”

“But there’s another term’s interest due since that, Sir Arthur, and it amounts (errors excepted) to eleven hundred and thirteen pounds, seven shillings, five pennies, and three-fourths of a penny sterling — But look over the summation yourself.”

“I daresay you are quite right, my dear sir,” said the Baronet, putting away the book with his hand, as one rejects the old-fashioned civility that presses food upon you after you have eaten till you nauseate — “perfectly right, I dare say; and in the course of three days or less you shall have the full value — that is, if you choose to accept it in bullion.”

“Bullion! I suppose you mean lead. What the deuce! have we hit on the vein then at last? But what could I do with a thousand pounds’ worth, and upwards, of lead? The former abbots of Trotcosey might have roofed their church and monastery with it indeed — but for me”—

“By bullion,” said the Baronet, “I mean the precious metals — gold and silver.”

“Ay! indeed? — and from what Eldorado is this treasure to be imported?”

“Not far from hence,” said Sir Arthur, significantly. “And naow I think of it, you shall see the whole process, on one small condition.”

“And what is that?” craved the Antiquary.

“Why, it will be necessary for you to give me your friendly assistance, by advancing one hundred pounds or thereabouts.”

Mr. Oldbuck, who had already been grasping in idea the sum, principal and interest, of a debt which he had long regarded as wellnigh desperate, was so much astounded at the tables being so unexpectedly turned upon him, that he could only re-echo, in an accent of wo and surprise, the words, “Advance one hundred pounds!”

“Yes, my good sir,” continued Sir Arthur; “but upon the best possible security of being repaid in the course of two or three days.”

There was a pause — either Oldbuck’s nether jaw had not recovered its position, so as to enable him to utter a negative, or his curiosity kept him silent.

“I would not propose to you,” continued Sir Arthur, “to oblige me thus far, if I did not possess actual proofs of the reality of those expectations which I now hold out to you. And I assure you, Mr. Oldbuck, that in entering fully upon this topic, it is my purpose to show my confidence in you, and my sense of your kindness on many former occasions.”

Mr. Oldbuck professed his sense of obligation, but carefully avoided committing himself by any promise of farther assistance.

“Mr. Dousterswivel,” said Sir Arthur, “having discovered”—

Here Oldbuck broke in, his eyes sparkling with indignation. “Sir Arthur, I have so often warned you of the knavery of that rascally quack, that I really wonder you should quote him to me.”

“But listen — listen,” interrupted Sir Arthur in his turn, “it will do you no harm. In short, Dousterswivel persuaded me to witness an experiment which he had made in the ruins of St. Ruth — and what do you think we found?”

“Another spring of water, I suppose, of which the rogue had beforehand taken care to ascertain the situation and source.”

“No, indeed — a casket of gold and silver coins — here they are.”

With that, Sir Arthur drew from his pocket a large ram’s horn, with a copper cover, containing a considerable quantity of coins, chiefly silver, but with a few gold pieces intermixed. The Antiquary’s eyes glistened as he eagerly spread them out on the table.

“Upon my word — Scotch, English, and foreign coins, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and some of them rari — et rariores — etiam rarissimi! Here is the bonnet-piece of James V., the unicorn of James II. — ay, and the gold festoon of Queen Mary, with her head and the Dauphin’s. And these were really found in the ruins of St. Ruth?”

“Most assuredly — my own eyes witnessed it.”

“Well,” replied Oldbuck; “but you must tell me the when — the where-the how.”

“The when,” answered Sir Arthur, “was at midnight the last full moon — the where, as I have told you, in the ruins of St. Ruth’s priory — the how, was by a nocturnal experiment of Dousterswivel, accompanied only by myself.”

“Indeed!” said Oldbuck; “and what means of discovery did you employ?”

“Only a simple suffumigation,” said the Baronet, “accompanied by availing ourselves of the suitable planetary hour.”

“Simple suffumigation? simple nonsensification — planetary hour? planetary fiddlestick! Sapiens dominabitur astris. My dear Sir Arthur, that fellow has made a gull of you above ground and under ground, and he would have made a gull of you in the air too, if he had been by when you was craned up the devil’s turnpike yonder at Halket-head — to be sure the transformation would have been then peculiarly apropos.

“Well, Mr. Oldbuck, I am obliged to you for your indifferent opinion of my discernment; but I think you will give me credit for having seen what I say I saw.”

“Certainly, Sir Arthur,” said the Antiquary — “to this extent at least, that I know Sir Arthur Wardour will not say he saw anything but what he thought he saw.”

“Well, then,” replied the Baronet, “as there is a heaven above us, Mr. Oldbuck, I saw, with my own eyes, these coins dug out of the chancel of St. Ruth at midnight. And as to Dousterswivel, although the discovery be owing to his science, yet, to tell the truth, I do not think he would have had firmness of mind to have gone through with it if I had not been beside him.”

“Ay! indeed?” said Oldbuck, in the tone used when one wishes to hear the end of a story before making any comment.

“Yes truly,” continued Sir Arthur —“I assure you I was upon my guard — we did hear some very uncommon sounds, that is certain, proceeding from among the ruins.”

“Oh, you did?” said Oldbuck; “an accomplice hid among them, I suppose?”

“Not a jot,” said the Baronet; —“the sounds, though of a hideous and preternatural character, rather resembled those of a man who sneezes violently than any other — one deep groan I certainly heard besides; and Dousterswivel assures me that he beheld the spirit Peolphan, the Great Hunter of the North —(look for him in your Nicolaus Remigius, or Petrus Thyracus, Mr. Oldbuck)— who mimicked the motion of snuff-taking and its effects.”

“These indications, however singular as proceeding from such a personage, seem to have been apropos to the matter,” said the Antiquary; “for you see the case, which includes these coins, has all the appearance of being an old-fashioned Scottish snuff-mill. But you persevered, in spite of the terrors of this sneezing goblin?”

“Why, I think it probable that a man of inferior sense or consequence might have given way; but I was jealous of an imposture, conscious of the duty I owed to my family in maintaining my courage under every contingency, and therefore I compelled Dousterswivel, by actual and violent threats, to proceed with what he was about to do; — and, sir, the proof of his skill and honesty is this parcel of gold and silver pieces, out of which I beg you to select such coins or medals as will best suit your collection.”

“Why, Sir Arthur, since you are so good, and on condition you will permit me to mark the value according to Pinkerton’s catalogue and appreciation, against your account in my red book, I will with pleasure select”—

“Nay,” said Sir Arthur Wardour, “I do not mean you should consider them as anything but a gift of friendship and least of all would I stand by the valuation of your friend Pinkerton, who has impugned the ancient and trustworthy authorities upon which, as upon venerable and moss-grown pillars, the credit of Scottish antiquities reposed.”

“Ay, ay,” rejoined Oldbuck, “you mean, I suppose, Mair and Boece, the Jachin and Boaz, not of history but of falsification and forgery. And notwithstanding all you have told me, I look on your friend Dousterswivel to be as apocryphal as any of them.”

“Why then, Mr. Oldbuck,” said Sir Arthur, “not to awaken old disputes, I suppose you think, that because I believe in the ancient history of my country, I have neither eyes nor ears to ascertain what modern events pass before me?”

“Pardon me, Sir Arthur,” rejoined the Antiquary; “but I consider all the affectation of terror which this worthy gentleman, your coadjutor, chose to play off, as being merely one part of his trick or mystery. And with respect to the gold or silver coins, they are so mixed and mingled in country and date, that I cannot suppose they could be any genuine hoard, and rather suppose them to be, like the purses upon the table of Hudibras’s lawyer —

— Money placed for show,

Like nest-eggs, to make clients lay,

And for his false opinions pay. —

It is the trick of all professions, my dear Sir Arthur. Pray, may I ask you how much this discovery cost you?”

“About ten guineas.”

“And you have gained what is equivalent to twenty in actual bullion, and what may be perhaps worth as much more to such fools as ourselves, who are willing to pay for curiosity. This was allowing you a tempting profit on the first hazard, I must needs admit. And what is the next venture he proposes?”

“An hundred and fifty pounds; — I have given him one-third part of the money, and I thought it likely you might assist me with the balance.”

“I should think that this cannot be meant as a parting blow — is not of weight and importance sufficient; he will probably let us win this hand also, as sharpers manage a raw gamester. — Sir Arthur, I hope you believe I would serve you?”

“Certainly, Mr. Oldbuck; I think my confidence in you on these occasions leaves no room to doubt that.”

“Well, then, allow me to speak to Dousterswivel. If the money can be advanced usefully and advantageously for you, why, for old neighbourhood’s sake, you shall not want it but if, as I think, I can recover the treasure for you without making such an advance, you will, I presume, have no objection!”

“Unquestionably, I can have none whatsoever.”

“Then where is Dousterswivel?” continued the Antiquary.

“To tell you the truth, he is in my carriage below; but knowing your prejudice against him”—

“I thank Heaven, I am not prejudiced against any man, Sir Arthur: it is systems, not individuals, that incur my reprobation.” He rang the bell. “Jenny, Sir Arthur and I offer our compliments to Mr. Dousterswivel, the gentleman in Sir Arthur’s carriage, and beg to have the pleasure of speaking with him here.”

Jenny departed and delivered her message. It had been by no means a part of the project of Dousterswivel to let Mr. Oldbuck into his supposed mystery. He had relied upon Sir Arthur’s obtaining the necessary accommodation without any discussion as to the nature of the application, and only waited below for the purpose of possessing himself of the deposit as soon as possible, for he foresaw that his career was drawing to a close. But when summoned to the presence of Sir Arthur and Mr. Oldbuck, he resolved gallantly to put confidence in his powers of impudence, of which, the reader may have observed, his natural share was very liberal.

23 The author cannot remember where these lines are to be found: perhaps in Bishop Hall’s Satires. [They occur in Book iv. Satire iii.]

24 It is, I believe, a piece of free-masonry, or a point of conscience, among the Scottish lower orders, never to admit that a patient is doing better. The closest approach to recovery which they can be brought to allow, is, that the pairty inquired after is “Nae waur.”

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