The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 27

— Many great ones

Would part with half their states, to have the plan

And credit to beg in the first style.

Beggar’s Bush.

Old Edie was stirring with the lark, and his first inquiry was after Steenie and the pocket-book. The young fisherman had been under the necessity of attending his father before daybreak, to avail themselves of the tide, but he had promised that, immediately on his return, the pocket-book, with all its contents, carefully wrapped up in a piece of sail-cloth, should be delivered by him to Ringan Aikwood, for Dousterswivel, the owner.

The matron had prepared the morning meal for the family, and, shouldering her basket of fish, tramped sturdily away towards Fairport. The children were idling round the door, for the day was fair and sun-shiney. The ancient grandame, again seated on her wicker-chair by the fire, had resumed her eternal spindle, wholly unmoved by the yelling and screaming of the children, and the scolding of the mother, which had preceded the dispersion of the family. Edie had arranged his various bags, and was bound for the renewal of his wandering life, but first advanced with due courtesy to take his leave of the ancient crone.

“Gude day to ye, cummer, and mony ane o’ them. I will be back about the fore-end o’har’st, and I trust to find ye baith haill and fere.”

“Pray that ye may find me in my quiet grave,” said the old woman, in a hollow and sepulchral voice, but without the agitation of a single feature.

“Ye’re auld, cummer, and sae am I mysell; but we maun abide His will — we’ll no be forgotten in His good time.”

“Nor our deeds neither,” said the crone: “what’s dune in the body maun be answered in the spirit.”

“I wot that’s true; and I may weel tak the tale hame to mysell, that hae led a misruled and roving life. But ye were aye a canny wife. We’re a’ frail — but ye canna hae sae muckle to bow ye down.”

“Less than I might have had — but mair, O far mair, than wad sink the stoutest brig e’er sailed out o’ Fairport harbour! — Didna somebody say yestreen — at least sae it is borne in on my mind, but auld folk hae weak fancies — did not somebody say that Joscelind, Countess of Glenallan, was departed frae life?”

“They said the truth whaever said it,” answered old Edie; “she was buried yestreen by torch-light at St. Ruth’s, and I, like a fule, gat a gliff wi’ seeing the lights and the riders.”

“It was their fashion since the days of the Great Earl that was killed at Harlaw; — they did it to show scorn that they should die and be buried like other mortals; the wives o’ the house of Glenallan wailed nae wail for the husband, nor the sister for the brother. — But is she e’en ca’d to the lang account?”

“As sure,” answered Edie, “as we maun a’ abide it.”

“Then I’ll unlade my mind, come o’t what will.”

This she spoke with more alacrity than usually attended her expressions, and accompanied her words with an attitude of the hand, as if throwing something from her. She then raised up her form, once tall, and still retaining the appearance of having been so, though bent with age and rheumatism, and stood before the beggar like a mummy animated by some wandering spirit into a temporary resurrection. Her light-blue eyes wandered to and fro, as if she occasionally forgot and again remembered the purpose for which her long and withered hand was searching among the miscellaneous contents of an ample old-fashioned pocket. At length she pulled out a small chip-box, and opening it, took out a handsome ring, in which was set a braid of hair, composed of two different colours, black and light brown, twined together, encircled with brilliants of considerable value.

“Gudeman,” she said to Ochiltree, “as ye wad e’er deserve mercy, ye maun gang my errand to the house of Glenallan, and ask for the Earl.”

“The Earl of Glenallan, cummer! ou, he winna see ony o’ the gentles o’ the country, and what likelihood is there that he wad see the like o’ an auld gaberlunzie?”

“Gang your ways and try; — and tell him that Elspeth o’ the Craigburnfoot — he’ll mind me best by that name — maun see him or she be relieved frae her lang pilgrimage, and that she sends him that ring in token of the business she wad speak o’.”

Ochiltree looked on the ring with some admiration of its apparent value, and then carefully replacing it in the box, and wrapping it in an old ragged handkerchief, he deposited the token in his bosom.

“Weel, gudewife,” he said, “I’se do your bidding, or it’s no be my fault. But surely there was never sic a braw propine as this sent to a yerl by an auld fishwife, and through the hands of a gaberlunzie beggar.”

With this reflection, Edie took up his pike-staff, put on his broad-brimmed bonnet, and set forth upon his pilgrimage. The old woman remained for some time standing in a fixed posture, her eyes directed to the door through which her ambassador had departed. The appearance of excitation, which the conversation had occasioned, gradually left her features; she sank down upon her accustomed seat, and resumed her mechanical labour of the distaff and spindle, with her wonted air of apathy.

Edie Ochiltree meanwhile advanced on his journey. The distance to Glenallan was ten miles, a march which the old soldier accomplished in about four hours. With the curiosity belonging to his idle trade and animated character, he tortured himself the whole way to consider what could be the meaning of this mysterious errand with which he was entrusted, or what connection the proud, wealthy, and powerful Earl of Glenallan could have with the crimes or penitence of an old doting woman, whose rank in life did not greatly exceed that of her messenger. He endeavoured to call to memory all that he had ever known or heard of the Glenallan family, yet, having done so, remained altogether unable to form a conjecture on the subject. He knew that the whole extensive estate of this ancient and powerful family had descended to the Countess, lately deceased, who inherited, in a most remarkable degree, the stern, fierce, and unbending character which had distinguished the house of Glenallan since they first figured in Scottish annals. Like the rest of her ancestors, she adhered zealously to the Roman Catholic faith, and was married to an English gentleman of the same communion, and of large fortune, who did not survive their union two years. The Countess was, therefore, left all early widow, with the uncontrolled management of the large estates of her two sons. The elder, Lord Geraldin, who was to succeed to the title and fortune of Glenallan, was totally dependent on his mother during her life. The second, when he came of age, assumed the name and arms of his father, and took possession of his estate, according to the provisions of the Countess’s marriage-settlement. After this period, he chiefly resided in England, and paid very few and brief visits to his mother and brother; and these at length were altogether dispensed with, in consequence of his becoming a convert to the reformed religion.

But even before this mortal offence was given to its mistress, his residence at Glenallan offered few inducements to a gay young man like Edward Geraldin Neville, though its gloom and seclusion seemed to suit the retired and melancholy habits of his elder brother. Lord Geraldin, in the outset of life, had been a young man of accomplishment and hopes. Those who knew him upon his travels entertained the highest expectations of his future career. But such fair dawns are often strangely overcast. The young nobleman returned to Scotland, and after living about a year in his mother’s society at Glenallan House, he seemed to have adopted all the stern gloom and melancholy of her character. Excluded from politics by the incapacities attached to those of his religion, and from all lighter avocationas by choice, Lord Geraldin led a life of the strictest retirement. His ordinary society was composed of the clergyman of his communion, who occasionally visited his mansion; and very rarely, upon stated occasions of high festival, one or two families who still professed the Catholic religion were formally entertained at Glenallan House. But this was all; their heretic neighbours knew nothing of the family whatever; and even the Catholics saw little more than the sumptuous entertainment and solemn parade which was exhibited on those formal occasions, from which all returned without knowing whether most to wonder at the stern and stately demeanour of the Countess, or the deep and gloomy dejection which never ceased for a moment to cloud the features of her son. The late event had put him in possession of his fortune and title, and the neighbourhood had already begun to conjecture whether gaiety would revive with independence, when those who had some occasional acquaintance with the interior of the family spread abroad a report, that the Earl’s constitution was undermined by religious austerities, and that in all probability he would soon follow his mother to the grave. This event was the more probable, as his brother had died of a lingering complaint, which, in the latter years of his life, had affected at once his frame and his spirits; so that heralds and genealogists were already looking back into their records to discover the heir of this ill-fated family, and lawyers were talking with gleesome anticipation, of the probability of a “great Glenallan cause.”

As Edie Ochiltree approached the front of Glenallan House,27 an ancient building of great extent, the most modern part of which had been designed by the celebrated Inigo Jones, he began to consider in what way he should be most likely to gain access for delivery of his message; and, after much consideration, resolved to send the token to the Earl by one of the domestics.

With this purpose he stopped at a cottage, where he obtained the means of making up the ring in a sealed packet like a petition, addressed, Forr his hounor the Yerl of Glenllan — These. But being aware that missives delivered at the doors of great houses by such persons as himself, do not always make their way according to address, Edie determined, like an old soldier, to reconnoitre the ground before he made his final attack. As he approached the porter’s lodge, he discovered, by the number of poor ranked before it, some of them being indigent persons in the vicinity, and others itinerants of his own begging profession — that there was about to be a general dole or distribution of charity.

“A good turn,” said Edie to himself, “never goes unrewarded — I’ll maybe get a good awmous that I wad hae missed but for trotting on this auld wife’s errand.”

Accordingly, he ranked up with the rest of this ragged regiment, assuming a station as near the front as possible — a distinction due, as he conceived, to his blue gown and badge, no less than to his years and experience; but he soon found there was another principle of precedence in this assembly, to which he had not adverted.

“Are ye a triple man, friend, that ye press forward sae bauldly? — I’m thinking no, for there’s nae Catholics wear that badge.”

“Na, na, I am no a Roman,” said Edie.

“Then shank yoursell awa to the double folk, or single folk, that’s the Episcopals or Presbyterians yonder: it’s a shame to see a heretic hae sic a lang white beard, that would do credit to a hermit.”

Ochiltree, thus rejected from the society of the Catholic mendicants, or those who called themselves such, went to station himself with the paupers of the communion of the church of England, to whom the noble donor allotted a double portion of his charity. But never was a poor occasional conformist more roughly rejected by a High-church congregation, even when that matter was furiously agitated in the days of good Queen Anne.

“See to him wi’ his badge!” they said; —“he hears ane o’ the king’s Presbyterian chaplains sough out a sermon on the morning of every birth-day, and now he would pass himsell for ane o’ the Episcopal church! Na, na! — we’ll take care o’ that.”

Edie, thus rejected by Rome and Prelacy, was fain to shelter himself from the laughter of his brethren among the thin group of Presbyterians, who had either disdained to disguise their religious opinions for the sake of an augmented dole, or perhaps knew they could not attempt the imposition without a certainty of detection.

The same degree of precedence was observed in the mode of distributing the charity, which consisted in bread, beef, and a piece of money, to each individual of all the three classes. The almoner, an ecclesiastic of grave appearance and demeanour, superintended in person the accommodation of the Catholic mendicants, asking a question or two of each as he delivered the charity, and recommending to their prayers the soul of Joscelind, late Countess of Glenallan, mother of their benefactor. The porter, distinguished by his long staff headed with silver, and by the black gown tufted with lace of the same colour, which he had assumed upon the general mourning in the family, overlooked the distribution of the dole among the prelatists. The less-favoured kirk-folk were committed to the charge of an aged domestic.

As this last discussed some disputed point with the porter, his name, as it chanced to be occasionally mentioned, and then his features, struck Ochiltree, and awakened recollections of former times. The rest of the assembly were now retiring, when the domestic, again approaching the place where Edie still lingered, said, in a strong Aberdeenshire accent, “Fat is the auld feel-body deeing, that he canna gang avay, now that he’s gotten baith meat and siller?”

“Francis Macraw,” answered Edie Ochiltree, “d’ye no mind Fontenoy, and keep thegither front and rear?’”

“Ohon! ohon!” cried Francie, with a true north-country yell of recognition, “naebody could hae said that word but my auld front-rank man, Edie Ochiltree! But I’m sorry to see ye in sic a peer state, man.”

“No sae ill aff as ye may think, Francis. But I’m laith to leave this place without a crack wi’ you, and I kenna when I may see you again, for your folk dinna mak Protestants welcome, and that’s ae reason that I hae never been here before.”

“Fusht, fusht,” said Francie, “let that flee stick i’ the wa’— when the dirt’s dry it will rub out; — and come you awa wi’ me, and I’ll gie ye something better thau that beef bane, man.”

Having then spoke a confidential word with the porter (probably to request his connivance), and having waited until the almoner had returned into the house with slow and solemn steps, Francie Macraw introduced his old comrade into the court of Glenallan House, the gloomy gateway of which was surmounted by a huge scutcheon, in which the herald and undertaker had mingled, as usual, the emblems of human pride and of human nothingness — the Countess’s hereditary coat-of-arms, with all its numerous quarterings, disposed in a lozenge, and surrounded by the separate shields of her paternal and maternal ancestry, intermingled with scythes, hour glasses, skulls, and other symbols of that mortality which levels all distinctions. Conducting his friend as speedily as possible along the large paved court, Macraw led the way through a side-door to a small apartment near the servants’ hall, which, in virtue of his personal attendance upon the Earl of Glenallan, he was entitled to call his own. To produce cold meat of various kinds, strong beer, and even a glass of spirits, was no difficulty to a person of Francis’s importance, who had not lost, in his sense of conscious dignity, the keen northern prudence which recommended a good understanding with the butler. Our mendicant envoy drank ale, and talked over old stories with his comrade, until, no other topic of conversation occurring, he resolved to take up the theme of his embassy, which had for some time escaped his memory.

“He had a petition to present to the Earl,” he said; — for he judged it prudent to say nothing of the ring, not knowing, as he afterwards observed, how far the manners of a single soldier28 might have been corrupted by service in a great house.

“Hout, tout, man,” said Francie, “the Earl will look at nae petitions — but I can gie’t to the almoner.”

“But it relates to some secret, that maybe my lord wad like best to see’t himsell.”

“I’m jeedging that’s the very reason that the almoner will be for seeing it the first and foremost.”

“But I hae come a’ this way on purpose to deliver it, Francis, and ye really maun help me at a pinch.”

“Neer speed then if I dinna,” answered the Aberdeenshire man: “let them be as cankered as they like, they can but turn me awa, and I was just thinking to ask my discharge, and gang down to end my days at Inverurie.”

With this doughty resolution of serving his friend at all ventures, since none was to be encountered which could much inconvenience himself, Francie Macraw left the apartment. It was long before he returned, and when he did, his manner indicated wonder and agitation.

“I am nae seer gin ye be Edie Ochiltree o’ Carrick’s company in the Forty-twa, or gin ye be the deil in his likeness!”

“And what makes ye speak in that gait?” demanded the astonished mendicant.

“Because my lord has been in sic a distress and surpreese as I neer saw a man in my life. But he’ll see you — I got that job cookit. He was like a man awa frae himsell for mony minutes, and I thought he wad hae swarv’t a’thegither — and fan he cam to himsell, he asked fae brought the packet — and fat trow ye I said?”

“An auld soger,” says Edie —“that does likeliest at a gentle’s door; at a farmer’s it’s best to say ye’re an auld tinkler, if ye need ony quarters, for maybe the gudewife will hae something to souther.”

“But I said neer ane o’ the twa,” answered Francis; “my lord cares as little about the tane as the tother — for he’s best to them that can souther up our sins. Sae I e’en said the bit paper was brought by an auld man wi’ a long fite beard — he might be a capeechin freer for fat I ken’d, for he was dressed like an auld palmer. Sae ye’ll be sent up for fanever he can find mettle to face ye.”

“I wish I was weel through this business,” thought Edie to himself; “mony folk surmise that the Earl’s no very right in the judgment, and wha can say how far he may be offended wi’ me for taking upon me sae muckle?”

But there was now no room for retreat — a bell sounded from a distant part of the mansion, and Macraw said, with a smothered accent, as if already in his master’s presence, “That’s my lord’s bell! — follow me, and step lightly and cannily, Edie.”

Edie followed his guide, who seemed to tread as if afraid of being overheard, through a long passage, and up a back stair, which admitted them into the family apartments. They were ample and extensive, furnished at such cost as showed the ancient importance and splendour of the family. But all the ornaments were in the taste of a former and distant period, and one would have almost supposed himself traversing the halls of a Scottish nobleman before the union of the crowns. The late Countess, partly from a haughty contempt of the times in which she lived, partly from her sense of family pride, had not permitted the furniture to be altered or modernized during her residence at Glenallan House. The most magnificent part of the decorations was a valuable collection of pictures by the best masters, whose massive frames were somewhat tarnished by time. In this particular also the gloomy taste of the family seemed to predominate. There were some fine family portraits by Vandyke and other masters of eminence; but the collection was richest in the Saints and Martyrdoms of Domenichino, Velasquez, and Murillo, and other subjects of the same kind, which had been selected in preference to landscapes or historical pieces. The manner in which these awful, and sometimes disgusting, subjects were represented, harmonized with the gloomy state of the apartments — a circumstance which was not altogether lost on the old man, as he traversed them under the guidance of his quondam fellow-soldier. He was about to express some sentiment of this kind, but Francie imposed silence on him by signs, and opening a door at the end of the long picture-gallery, ushered him into a small antechamber hung with black. Here they found the almoner, with his ear turned to a door opposite that by which they entered, in the attitude of one who listens with attention, but is at the same time afraid of being detected in the act.

The old domestic and churchman started when they perceived each other. But the almoner first recovered his recollection, and advancing towards Macraw, said, under his breath, but with an authoritative tone, “How dare you approach the Earl’s apartment without knocking? and who is this stranger, or what has he to do here? — Retire to the gallery, and wait for me there.”

“It’s impossible just now to attend your reverence,” answered Macraw, raising his voice so as to be heard in the next room, being conscious that the priest would not maintain the altercation within hearing of his patron — “the Earl’s bell has rung.”

He had scarce uttered the words, when it was rung again with greater violence than before; and the ecclesiastic, perceiving further expostulation impossible, lifted his finger at Macraw, with a menacing attitude, as he left the apartment.

“I tell’d ye sae,” said the Aberdeen man in a whisper to Edie, and then proceeded to open the door near which they had observed the chaplain stationed.

27 [Supposed to represent Glammis Castle, in Forfarshire, with which the Author was well acquainted.]

28 A single soldier means, in Scotch, a private soldier.

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