The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 30

Who is he? — One that for the lack of land

Shall fight upon the water — he hath challenged

Formerly the grand whale; and by his titles

Of Leviathan, Behemoth, and so forth.

He tilted with a sword-fish — Marry, sir,

Th’ aquatic had the best — the argument

Still galls our champion’s breech.

Old Play.

“And the poor young fellow, Steenie Mucklebackit, is to be buried this morning,” said our old friend the Antiquary, as he exchanged his quilted night-gown for an old-fashioned black coat in lieu of the snuff-coloured vestment which he ordinarily wore, “and, I presume, it is expected that I should attend the funeral?”

“Ou, ay,” answered the faithful Caxon, officiously brushing the white threads and specks from his patron’s habit. “The body, God help us! was sae broken against the rocks that they’re fain to hurry the burial. The sea’s a kittle cast, as I tell my daughter, puir thing, when I want her to get up her spirits; the sea, says I, Jenny, is as uncertain a calling”—

“As the calling of an old periwig-maker, that’s robbed of his business by crops and the powder-tax. Caxon, thy topics of consolation are as ill chosen as they are foreign to the present purpose. Quid mihi cum faemina? What have I to do with thy womankind, who have enough and to spare of mine own? — I pray of you again, am I expected by these poor people to attend the funeral of their son?”

“Ou, doubtless, your honour is expected,” answered Caxon; “weel I wot ye are expected. Ye ken, in this country ilka gentleman is wussed to be sae civil as to see the corpse aff his grounds; ye needna gang higher than the loan-head — it’s no expected your honour suld leave the land; it’s just a Kelso convoy, a step and a half ower the doorstane.”

“A Kelso convoy!” echoed the inquisitive Antiquary; “and why a Kelso convoy more than any other?”

“Dear sir,” answered Caxon, “how should I ken? it’s just a by-word.”

“Caxon,” answered Oldbuck, “thou art a mere periwig-maker — Had I asked Ochiltree the question, he would have had a legend ready made to my hand.”

“My business,” replied Caxon, with more animation than he commonly displayed, “is with the outside of your honour’s head, as ye are accustomed to say.”

“True, Caxon, true; and it is no reproach to a thatcher that he is not an upholsterer.”

He then took out his memorandum-book and wrote down “Kelso convoy — said to be a step and a half over the threshold. Authority — Caxon. — Quaere — Whence derived? Mem. To write to Dr. Graysteel upon the subject.”

Having made this entry, he resumed —“And truly, as to this custom of the landlord attending the body of the peasant, I approve it, Caxon. It comes from ancient times, and was founded deep in the notions of mutual aid and dependence between the lord and cultivator of the soil. And herein I must say, the feudal system —(as also in its courtesy towards womankind, in which it exceeded)— herein, I say, the feudal usages mitigated and softened the sternness of classical times. No man, Caxon, ever heard of a Spartan attending the funeral of a Helot — yet I dare be sworn that John of the Girnel — ye have heard of him, Caxon?”

“Ay, ay, sir,” answered Caxon; “naebody can hae been lang in your honour’s company without hearing of that gentleman.”

“Well,” continued the Antiquary, “I would bet a trifle there was not a kolb kerl, or bondsman, or peasant, ascriptus glebae, died upon the monks’ territories down here, but John of the Girnel saw them fairly and decently interred.”

“Ay, but if it like your honour, they say he had mair to do wi’ the births than the burials. Ha! ha! ha!” with a gleeful chuckle.

“Good, Caxon, very good! — why, you shine this morning.”

“And besides,” added Caxon, slyly, encouraged by his patron’s approbation, “they say, too, that the Catholic priests in thae times gat something for ganging about to burials.”

“Right, Caxon! right as my glove! By the by, I fancy that phrase comes from the custom of pledging a glove as the signal of irrefragable faith — right, I say, as my glove, Caxon — but we of the Protestant ascendency have the more merit in doing that duty for nothing, which cost money in the reign of that empress of superstition, whom Spenser, Caxon, terms in his allegorical phrase,

— The daughter of that woman blind,

Abessa, daughter of Corecca slow —

But why talk I of these things to thee? — my poor Lovel has spoiled me, and taught me to speak aloud when it is much the same as speaking to myself. Where’s my nephew, Hector M’Intyre?”

“He’s in the parlour, sir, wi’ the leddies.”

“Very well,” said the Antiquary, “I will betake me thither.”

“Now, Monkbarns,” said his sister, on his entering the parlour, “ye maunna be angry.”

“My dear uncle!” began Miss M’Intyre.

“What’s the meaning of all this?” said Oldbuck, in alarm of some impending bad news, and arguing upon the supplicating tone of the ladies, as a fortress apprehends an attack from the very first flourish of the trumpet which announces the summons —“what’s all this? — what do you bespeak my patience for?”

“No particular matter, I should hope, sir,” said Hector, who, with his arm in a sling, was seated at the breakfast table; —“however, whatever it may amount to I am answerable for it, as I am for much more trouble that I have occasioned, and for which I have little more than thanks to offer.”

“No, no! heartily welcome, heartily welcome — only let it be a warning to you,” said the Antiquary, “against your fits of anger, which is a short madness — Ira furor brevis — but what is this new disaster?”

“My dog, sir, has unfortunately thrown down”—

“If it please Heaven, not the lachrymatory from Clochnaben!” interjected Oldbuck.

“Indeed, uncle,” said the young lady, “I am afraid — it was that which stood upon the sideboard — the poor thing only meant to eat the pat of fresh butter.”

“In which she has fully succeeded, I presume, for I see that on the table is salted. But that is nothing — my lachrymatory, the main pillar of my theory on which I rested to show, in despite of the ignorant obstinacy of Mac-Cribb, that the Romans had passed the defiles of these mountains, and left behind them traces of their arts and arms, is gone — annihilated — reduced to such fragments as might be the shreds of a broken-flowerpot!

— Hector, I love thee,

But never more be officer of mine.”

“Why, really, sir, I am afraid I should make a bad figure in a regiment of your raising.”

“At least, Hector, I would have you despatch your camp train, and travel expeditus, or relictis impedimentis. You cannot conceive how I am annoyed by this beast — she commits burglary, I believe, for I heard her charged with breaking into the kitchen after all the doors were locked, and eating up a shoulder of mutton. “—(Our readers, if they chance to remember Jenny Rintherout’s precaution of leaving the door open when she went down to the fisher’s cottage, will probably acquit poor Juno of that aggravation of guilt which the lawyers call a claustrum fregit, and which makes the distinction between burglary and privately stealing. )

“I am truly sorry, sir,” said Hector, “that Juno has committed so much disorder; but Jack Muirhead, the breaker, was never able to bring her under command. She has more travel than any bitch I ever knew, but”—

“Then, Hector, I wish the bitch would travel herself out of my grounds.”

“We will both of us retreat tomorrow, or today, but I would not willingly part from my mother’s brother in unkindness about a paltry pipkin.”

“O brother! brother!” ejaculated Miss M’Intyre, in utter despair at this vituperative epithet.

“Why, what would you have me call it?” continued Hector; “it was just such a thing as they use in Egypt to cool wine, or sherbet, or water; — I brought home a pair of them — I might have brought home twenty.”

“What!” said Oldbuck, “shaped such as that your dog threw down?”

“Yes, sir, much such a sort of earthen jar as that which was on the sideboard. They are in my lodgings at Fairport; we brought a parcel of them to cool our wine on the passage — they answer wonderfully well. If I could think they would in any degree repay your loss, or rather that they could afford you pleasure, I am sure I should be much honoured by your accepting them.”

“Indeed, my dear boy, I should be highly gratified by possessing them. To trace the connection of nations by their usages, and the similarity of the implements which they employ, has been long my favourite study. Everything that can illustrate such connections is most valuable to me.”

“Well, sir, I shall be much gratified by your acceptance of them, and a few trifles of the same kind. And now, am I to hope you have forgiven me?”

“O, my dear boy, you are only thoughtless and foolish.”

“But Juno — she is only thoughtless too, I assure you — the breaker tells me she has no vice or stubbornness.”

“Well, I grant Juno also a free pardon — conditioned, that you will imitate her in avoiding vice and stubbornness, and that henceforward she banish herself forth of Monkbarns parlour.”

“Then, uncle,” said the soldier, “I should have been very sorry and ashamed to propose to you anything in the way of expiation of my own sins, or those of my follower, that I thought worth your acceptance; but now, as all is forgiven, will you permit the orphan-nephew, to whom you have been a father, to offer you a trifle, which I have been assured is really curious, and which only the cross accident of my wound has prevented my delivering to you before? I got it from a French savant, to whom I rendered some service after the Alexandria affair.”

The captain put a small ring-case into the Antiquary’s hands, which, when opened, was found to contain an antique ring of massive gold, with a cameo, most beautifully executed, bearing a head of Cleopatra. The Antiquary broke forth into unrepressed ecstasy, shook his nephew cordially by the hand, thanked him an hundred times, and showed the ring to his sister and niece, the latter of whom had the tact to give it sufficient admiration; but Miss Griselda (though she had the same affection for her nephew) had not address enough to follow the lead.

“It’s a bonny thing,” she said, “Monkbarns, and, I dare say, a valuable; but it’s out o’my way — ye ken I am nae judge o’ sic matters.”

“There spoke all Fairport in one voice!” exclaimed Oldbuck “it is the very spirit of the borough has infected us all; I think I have smelled the smoke these two days, that the wind has stuck, like a remora, in the north-east — and its prejudices fly farther than its vapours. Believe me, my dear Hector, were I to walk up the High Street of Fairport, displaying this inestimable gem in the eyes of each one I met, no human creature, from the provost to the town-crier, would stop to ask me its history. But if I carried a bale of linen cloth under my arm, I could not penetrate to the Horsemarket ere I should be overwhelmed with queries about its precise texture and price. Oh, one might parody their brutal ignorance in the words of Gray:

Weave the warp and weave the woof,

The winding-sheet of wit and sense,

Dull garment of defensive proof,

‘Gainst all that doth not gather pence.”

The most remarkable proof of this peace-offering being quite acceptable was, that while the Antiquary was in full declamation, Juno, who held him in awe, according to the remarkable instinct by which dogs instantly discover those who like or dislike them, had peeped several times into the room, and encountering nothing very forbidding in his aspect, had at length presumed to introduce her full person; and finally, becoming bold by impunity, she actually ate up Mr. Oldbuck’s toast, as, looking first at one then at another of his audience, he repeated, with self-complacency,

“Weave the warp and weave the woof —

You remember the passage in the Fatal Sisters, which, by the way, is not so fine as in the original — But, hey-day! my toast has vanished! — I see which way — Ah, thou type of womankind! no wonder they take offence at thy generic appellation!”—(So saying, he shook his fist at Juno, who scoured out of the parlour.)—“However, as Jupiter, according to Homer, could not rule Juno in heaven, and as Jack Muirhead, according to Hector M’Intyre, has been equally unsuccessful on earth, I suppose she must have her own way.” And this mild censure the brother and sister justly accounted a full pardon for Juno’s offences, and sate down well pleased to the morning meal.

When breakfast was over, the Antiquary proposed to his nephew to go down with him to attend the funeral. The soldier pleaded the want of a mourning habit.

“O, that does not signify — your presence is all that is requisite. I assure you, you will see something that will entertain — no, that’s an improper phrase — but that will interest you, from the resemblances which I will point out betwixt popular customs on such occasions and those of the ancients.”

“Heaven forgive me!” thought M’Intyre; —“I shall certainly misbehave, and lose all the credit I have so lately and accidentally gained.”

When they set out, schooled as he was by the warning and entreating looks of his sister, the soldier made his resolution strong to give no offence by evincing inattention or impatience. But our best resolutions are frail, when opposed to our predominant inclinations. Our Antiquary — to leave nothing unexplained, had commenced with the funeral rites of the ancient Scandinavians, when his nephew interrupted him, in a discussion upon the “age of hills,” to remark that a large sea-gull, which flitted around them, had come twice within shot. This error being acknowledged and pardoned, Oldbuck resumed his disquisition.

“These are circumstances you ought to attend to and be familiar with, my dear Hector; for, in the strange contingencies of the present war which agitates every corner of Europe, there is no knowing where you may be called upon to serve. If in Norway, for example, or Denmark, or any part of the ancient Scania, or Scandinavia, as we term it, what could be more convenient than to have at your fingers’ ends the history and antiquities of that ancient country, the officina gentium, the mother of modern Europe, the nursery of those heroes,

Stern to inflict, and stubborn to endure,

Who smiled in death? —

How animating, for example, at the conclusion of a weary march, to find yourself in the vicinity of a Runic monument, and discover that you have pitched your tent beside the tomb of a hero!”

“I am afraid, sir, our mess would be better supplied if it chanced to be in the neighbourhood of a good poultry-yard.”

“Alas, that you should say so! No wonder the days of Cressy and Agincourt are no more, when respect for ancient valour has died away in the breasts of the British soldiery.”

“By no means, sir — by no manner of means. I dare say that Edward and Henry, and the rest of these heroes, thought of their dinner, however, before they thought of examining an old tombstone. But I assure you, we are by no means insensible to the memoir of our fathers’ fame; I used often of an evening to get old Rory MAlpin to sing us songs out of Ossian about the battles of Fingal and Lamon Mor, and Magnus and the Spirit of Muirartach.”

“And did you believe,” asked the aroused Antiquary, “did you absolutely believe that stuff of Macpherson’s to be really ancient, you simple boy?”

“Believe it, sir? — how could I but believe it, when I have heard the songs sung from my infancy?”

“But not the same as Macpherson’s English Ossian — you’re not absurd enough to say that, I hope?” said the Antiquary, his brow darkening with wrath.

But Hector stoutly abode the storm; like many a sturdy Celt, he imagined the honour of his country and native language connected with the authenticity of these popular poems, and would have fought knee-deep, or forfeited life and land, rather than have given up a line of them. He therefore undauntedly maintained, that Rory MAlpin could repeat the whole book from one end to another; — and it was only upon cross-examination that he explained an assertion so general, by adding “At least, if he was allowed whisky enough, he could repeat as long as anybody would hearken to him.”

“Ay, ay,” said the Antiquary; “and that, I suppose, was not very long.”

“Why, we had our duty, sir, to attend to, and could not sit listening all night to a piper.”

“But do you recollect, now,” said Oldbuck, setting his teeth firmly together, and speaking without opening them, which was his custom when contradicted —“Do you recollect, now, any of these verses you thought so beautiful and interesting — being a capital judge, no doubt, of such things?”

“I don’t pretend to much skill, uncle; but it’s not very reasonable to be angry with me for admiring the antiquities of my own country more than those of the Harolds, Harfagers, and Hacos you are so fond of.”

“Why, these, sir — these mighty and unconquered Goths — were your ancestors! The bare-breeched Celts whom theysubdued, and suffered only to exist, like a fearful people, in the crevices of the rocks, were but their Mancipia and Serfs!”

Hector’s brow now grew red in his turn. “Sir,” he said, “I don’t understand the meaning of Mancipia and Serfs, but I conceive that such names are very improperly applied to Scotch Highlanders: no man but my mother’s brother dared to have used such language in my presence; and I pray you will observe, that I consider it as neither hospitable, handsome, kind, nor generous usage towards your guest and your kinsman. My ancestors, Mr. Oldbuck”—

“Were great and gallant chiefs, I dare say, Hector; and really I did not mean to give you such immense offence in treating a point of remote antiquity, a subject on which I always am myself cool, deliberate, and unimpassioned. But you are as hot and hasty, as if you were Hector and Achilles, and Agamemnon to boot.”

“I am sorry I expressed myself so hastily, uncle, especially to you, who have been so generous and good. But my ancestors”—

“No more about it, lad; I meant them no affront — none.”

“I’m glad of it, sir; for the house of M’Intyre”—

“Peace be with them all, every man of them,” said the Antiquary. “But to return to our subject — Do you recollect, I say, any of those poems which afforded you such amusement?”

“Very hard this,” thought M’Intyre, “that he will speak with such glee of everything which is ancient, excepting my family. “— Then, after some efforts at recollection, he added aloud, “Yes, sir — I think I do remember some lines; but you do not understand the Gaelic language.”

“And will readily excuse hearing it. But you can give me some idea of the sense in our own vernacular idiom?”

“I shall prove a wretched interpreter,” said M’Intyre, running over the original, well garnished with aghes, aughs, and oughs, and similar gutterals, and then coughing and hawking as if the translation stuck in his throat. At length, having premised that the poem was a dialogue between the poet Oisin, or Ossian, and Patrick, the tutelar Saint of Ireland, and that it was difficult, if not impossible, to render the exquisite felicity of the first two or three lines, he said the sense was to this purpose:

“Patrick the psalm-singer,

Since you will not listen to one of my stories,

Though you never heard it before,

I am sorry to tell you

You are little better than an ass”—

“Good! good!” exclaimed the Antiquary; “but go on. Why, this is, after all, the most admirable fooling — I dare say the poet was very right. What says the Saint?”

“He replies in character,” said M’Intyre; “but you should hear MAlpin sing the original. The speeches of Ossian come in upon a strong deep bass — those of Patrick are upon a tenor key.”

“Like MAlpin’s drone and small pipes, I suppose,” said Oldbuck. “Well? Pray go on.”

“Well then, Patrick replies to Ossian:

Upon my word, son of Fingal,

While I am warbling the psalms,

The clamour of your old women’s tales

Disturbs my devotional exercises.”

“Excellent! — why, this is better and better. I hope Saint Patrick sung better than Blattergowl’s precentor, or it would be hang — choice between the poet and psalmist. But what I admire is the courtesy of these two eminent persons towards each other. It is a pity there should not be a word of this in Macpherson’s translation.”

“If you are sure of that,” said M’Intyre, gravely, “he must have taken very unwarrantable liberties with his original.”

“It will go near to be thought so shortly — but pray proceed.”

“Then,” said M’Intyre, “this is the answer of Ossian:

Dare you compare your psalms,

You son of a —”

“Son of a what?” exclaimed Oldbuck.

“It means, I think,” said the young soldier, with some reluctance, “son of a female dog:

Do you compare your psalms,

To the tales of the bare-arm’d Fenians”

“Are you sure you are translating that last epithet correctly, Hector?”

“Quite sure, sir,” answered Hector, doggedly.

“Because I should have thought the nudity might have been quoted as existing in a different part of the body.”

Disdaining to reply to this insinuation, Hector proceeded in his recitation:

“I shall think it no great harm

To wring your bald head from your shoulders —

But what is that yonder?” exclaimed Hector, interrupting himself.

“One of the herd of Proteus,” said the Antiquary —“a phoca, or seal, lying asleep on the beach.”

Upon which M’Intyre, with the eagerness of a young sportsman, totally forgot both Ossian, Patrick, his uncle, and his wound, and exclaiming —“I shall have her! I shall have her!” snatched the walking-stick out of the hand of the astonished Antiquary, at some risk of throwing him down, and set off at full speed to get between the animal and the sea, to which element, having caught the alarm, she was rapidly retreating.

Not Sancho, when his master interrupted his account of the combatants of Pentapolin with the naked arm, to advance in person to the charge of the flock of sheep, stood more confounded than Oldbuck at this sudden escapade of his nephew.

“Is the devil in him,” was his first exclamation, “to go to disturb the brute that was never thinking of him!”— Then elevating his voice, “Hector — nephew — fool — let alone the Phoca — let alone the Phoca! — they bite, I tell you, like furies. He minds me no more than a post. There — there they are at it — Gad, the Phoca has the best of it! I am glad to see it,” said he, in the bitterness of his heart, though really alarmed for his nephew’s safety —“I am glad to see it, with all my heart and spirit.”

In truth, the seal, finding her retreat intercepted by the light-footed soldier, confronted him manfully, and having sustained a heavy blow without injury, she knitted her brows, as is the fashion of the animal when incensed, and making use at once of her fore-paws and her unwieldy strength, wrenched the weapon out of the assailant’s hand, overturned him on the sands, and scuttled away into the sea, without doing him any farther injury. Captain M’Intyre, a good deal out of countenance at the issue of his exploit, just rose in time to receive the ironical congratulations of his uncle, upon a single combat worthy to be commemorated by Ossian himself, “since,” said the Antiquary, “your magnanimous opponent has fled, though not upon eagle’s wings, from the foe that was low — Egad, she walloped away with all the grace of triumph, and has carried my stick off also, by way of spolia opima.

M’Intyre had little to answer for himself, except that a Highlander could never pass a deer, a seal, or a salmon, where there was a possibility of having a trial of skill with them, and that he had forgot one of his arms was in a sling. He also made his fall an apology for returning back to Monkbarns, and thus escape the farther raillery of his uncle, as well as his lamentations for his walking-stick.

“I cut it,” he said, “in the classic woods of Hawthornden, when I did not expect always to have been a bachelor — I would not have given it for an ocean of seals — O Hector! Hector! — thy namesake was born to be the prop of Troy, and thou to be the plague of Monkbarns!”

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