The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 35

— Life, with you,

Glows in the brain and dances in the arteries;

’Tis like the wine some joyous guest hath quaffed,

That glads the heart and elevates the fancy:

Mine is the poor residuum of the cup,

Vapid, and dull, and tasteless, only soiling,

With its base dregs, the vessel that contains it.

Old Play.

“Now, only think what a man my brother is, Mr. Blattergowl, for a wise man and a learned man, to bring this Yerl into our house without speaking a word to a body! And there’s the distress of thae Mucklebackits — we canna get a fin o’ fish — and we hae nae time to send ower to Fairport for beef, and the mutton’s but new killed — and that silly fliskmahoy, Jenny Rintherout, has taen the exies, and done naething but laugh and greet, the skirl at the tail o’ the guffaw, for twa days successfully — and now we maun ask that strange man, that’s as grand and as grave as the Yerl himsell, to stand at the sideboard! and I canna gang into the kitchen to direct onything, for he’s hovering there, making some pousowdie30 for my Lord, for he doesna eat like ither folk neither — And how to sort the strange servant man at dinner time — I am sure, Mr. Blattergowl, a’thegither, it passes my judgment.”

“Truly, Miss Griselda,” replied the divine, “Monkbarns was inconsiderate. He should have taen a day to see the invitation, as they do wi’ the titular’s condescendence in the process of valuation and sale. But the great man could not have come on a sudden to ony house in this parish where he could have been better served with vivers — that I must say — and also that the steam from the kitchen is very gratifying to my nostrils; — and if ye have ony household affairs to attend to, Mrs. Griselda, never make a stranger of me — I can amuse mysell very weel with the larger copy of Erskine’s Institutes.”

And taking down from the window-seat that amusing folio, (the Scottish Coke upon Littleton), he opened it, as if instinctively, at the tenth title of Book Second, “of Teinds or Tythes,” and was presently deeply wrapped up in an abstruse discussion concerning the temporality of benefices.

The entertainment, about which Miss Oldbuck expressed so much anxiety, was at length placed upon the table; and the Earl of Glenallan, for the first time since the date of his calamity, sat at a stranger’s board, surrounded by strangers. He seemed to himself like a man in a dream, or one whose brain was not fully recovered from the effects of an intoxicating potion. Relieved, as he had that morning been, from the image of guilt which had so long haunted his imagination, he felt his sorrows as a lighter and more tolerable load, but was still unable to take any share in the conversation that passed around him. It was, indeed, of a cast very different from that which he had been accustomed to. The bluntness of Oldbuck, the tiresome apologetic harangues of his sister, the pedantry of the divine, and the vivacity of the young soldier, which savoured much more of the camp than of the court, were all new to a nobleman who had lived in a retired and melancholy state for so many years, that the manners of the world seemed to him equally strange and unpleasing. Miss M’Intyre alone, from the natural politeness and unpretending simplicity of her manners, appeared to belong to that class of society to which he had been accustomed in his earlier and better days.

Nor did Lord Glenallan’s deportment less surprise the company. Though a plain but excellent family-dinner was provided (for, as Mr. Blattergowl had justly said, it was impossible to surprise Miss Griselda when her larder was empty), and though the Antiquary boasted his best port, and assimilated it to the Falernian of Horace, Lord Glenallan was proof to the allurements of both. His servant placed before him a small mess of vegetables, that very dish, the cooking of which had alarmed Miss Griselda, arranged with the most minute and scrupulous neatness. He ate sparingly of these provisions; and a glass of pure water, sparkling from the fountain-head, completed his repast. Such, his servant said, had been his lordship’s diet for very many years, unless upon the high festivals of the Church, or when company of the first rank were entertained at Glenallan House, when he relaxed a little in the austerity of his diet, and permitted himself a glass or two of wine. But at Monkbarns, no anchoret could have made a more simple and scanty meal.

The Antiquary was a gentleman, as we have seen, in feeling, but blunt and careless in expression, from the habit of living with those before whom he had nothing to suppress. He attacked his noble guest without scruple on the severity of his regimen.

“A few half-cold greens and potatoes — a glass of ice-cold water to wash them down — antiquity gives no warrant for it, my lord. This house used to be accounted a hospitium, a place of retreat for Christians; but your lordship’s diet is that of a heathen Pythagorean, or Indian Bramin — nay, more severe than either, if you refuse these fine apples.”

“I am a Catholic, you are aware,” said Lord Glenallan, wishing to escape from the discussion, “and you know that our church”——

“Lays down many rules of mortification,” proceeded the dauntless Antiquary; “but I never heard that they were quite so rigorously practised — Bear witness my predecessor, John of the Girnel, or the jolly Abbot, who gave his name to this apple, my lord.”

And as he pared the fruit, in spite of his sister’s “O fie, Monkbarns!” and the prolonged cough of the minister, accompanied by a shake of his huge wig, the Antiquary proceeded to detail the intrigue which had given rise to the fame of the abbot’s apple with more slyness and circumstantiality than was at all necessary. His jest (as may readily be conceived) missed fire, for this anecdote of conventual gallantry failed to produce the slightest smile on the visage of the Earl. Oldbuck then took up the subject of Ossian, Macpherson, and Mac-Cribb; but Lord Glenallan had never so much as heard of any of the three, so little conversant had he been with modern literature. The conversation was now in some danger of flagging, or of falling into the hands of Mr. Blattergowl, who had just pronounced the formidable word, “teind-free,” when the subject of the French Revolution was started — a political event on which Lord Glenallan looked with all the prejudiced horror of a bigoted Catholic and zealous aristocrat. Oldbuck was far from carrying his detestation of its principles to such a length.

“There were many men in the first Constituent Assembly,” he said, “who held sound Whiggish doctrines, and were for settling the Constitution with a proper provision for the liberties of the people. And if a set of furious madmen were now in possession of the government, it was,” he continued, “what often happened in great revolutions, where extreme measures are adopted in the fury of the moment, and the State resembles an agitated pendulum which swings from side to side for some time ere it can acquire its due and perpendicular station. Or it might be likened to a storm or hurricane, which, passing over a region, does great damage in its passage, yet sweeps away stagnant and unwholesome vapours, and repays, in future health and fertility, its immediate desolation and ravage.”

The Earl shook his head; but having neither spirit nor inclination for debate, he suffered the argument to pass uncontested.

This discussion served to introduce the young soldier’s experiences; and he spoke of the actions in which he, had been engaged, with modesty, and at the same time with an air of spirit and zeal which delighted the Earl, who had been bred up, like others of his house, in the opinion that the trade of arms was the first duty of man, and believed that to employ them against the French was a sort of holy warfare.

“What would I give,” said he apart to Oldbuck, as they rose to join the ladies in the drawing-room, “what would I give to have a son of such spirit as that young gentleman! — He wants something of address and manner, something of polish, which mixing in good society would soon give him; but with what zeal and animation he expresses himself — how fond of his profession — how loud in the praise of others — how modest when speaking of himself!”

“Hector is much obliged to you, my lord,” replied his uncle, gratified, yet not so much so as to suppress his consciousness of his own mental superiority over the young soldier; “I believe in my heart nobody ever spoke half so much good of him before, except perhaps the sergeant of his company, when was wheedling a Highland recruit to enlist with him. He is a good lad notwithstanding, although he be not quite the hero your lordship supposes him, and although my commendations rather attest the kindness than the vivacity of his character. In fact, his high spirit is a sort of constitutional vehemence, which attends him in everything he sets about, and is often very inconvenient to his friends. I saw him today engage in an animated contest with a phoca, or seal (sealgh, our people more properly call them, retaining the Gothic guttural gh), with as much vehemence as if he had fought against Dumourier — Marry, my lord, the phoca had the better, as the said Dumourier had of some other folks. And he’ll talk with equal if not superior rapture of the good behaviour of a pointer bitch, as of the plan of a campaign.”

“He shall have full permission to sport over my grounds,” said the Earl, “if he is so fond of that exercise.”

“You will bind him to you, my lord,” said Monkbarns, “body and soul: give him leave to crack off his birding-piece at a poor covey of partridges or moor-fowl, and he’s yours for ever — I will enchant him by the intelligence. But O, my lord, that you could have seen my phoenix Lovel! — the very prince and chieftain of the youth of this age; and not destitute of spirit neither — I promise you he gave my termagant kinsman a quid pro quo — a Rowland for his Oliver, as the vulgar say, alluding to the two celebrated Paladins of Charlemagne.”

After coffee, Lord Glenallan requested a private interview with the Antiquary, and was ushered to his library.

“I must withdraw you from your own amiable family,” he said, “to involve you in the perplexities of an unhappy man. You are acquainted with the world, from which I have long been banished; for Glenallan House has been to me rather a prison than a dwelling, although a prison which I had neither fortitude nor spirit to break from.”

“Let me first ask your lordship,” said the Antiquary, “what are your own wishes and designs in this matter?”

“I wish most especially,” answered Lord Glenallan, “to declare my luckless marriage, and to vindicate the reputation of the unhappy Eveline — that is, if you see a possibility of doing so without making public the conduct of my mother.”

Suum cuique tribuito,“ said the Antiquary; “do right to everyone. The memory of that unhappy young lady has too long suffered, and I think it might be cleared without further impeaching that of your mother, than by letting it be understood in general that she greatly disapproved and bitterly opposed the match. All — forgive me, my lord — all who ever heard of the late Countess of Glenallan, will learn that without much surprise.”

“But you forget one horrible circumstance, Mr. Oldbuck,” said the Earl, in an agitated voice.

“I am not aware of it,” replied the Antiquary.

“The fate of the infant — its disappearance with the confidential attendant of my mother, and the dreadful surmises which may be drawn from my conversation with Elspeth.”

“If you would have my free opinion, my lord,” answered Mr. Oldbuck, “and will not catch too rapidly at it as matter of hope, I would say that it is very possible the child yet lives. For thus much I ascertained, by my former inquiries concerning the event of that deplorable evening, that a child and woman were carried that night from the cottage at the Craigburnfoot in a carriage and four by your brother Edward Geraldin Neville, whose journey towards England with these companions I traced for several stages. I believed then it was a part of the family compact to carry a child whom you meant to stigmatize with illegitimacy, out of that country where chance might have raised protectors and proofs of its rights. But I now think that your brother, having reason, like yourself, to believe the child stained with shame yet more indelible, had nevertheless withdrawn it, partly from regard to the honour of his house, partly from the risk to which it might have been exposed in the neighbourhood of the Lady Glenallan.”

As he spoke, the Earl of Glenallan grew extremely pale, and had nearly fallen from his chair. — The alarmed Antiquary ran hither and thither looking for remedies; but his museum, though sufficiently well filled with a vast variety of useless matters, contained nothing that could be serviceable on the present or any other occasion. As he posted out of the room to borrow his sister’s salts, he could not help giving a constitutional growl of chagrin and wonder at the various incidents which had converted his mansion, first into an hospital for a wounded duellist, and now into the sick chamber of a dying nobleman. “And yet,” said he, “I have always kept aloof from the soldiery and the peerage. My coenobitium has only next to be made a lying-in hospital, and then, I trow, the transformation will be complete.”

When he returned with the remedy, Lord Glenallan was much better. The new and unexpected light which Mr. Oldbuck had thrown upon the melancholy history of his family had almost overpowered him. “You think, then, Mr. Oldbuck — for you are capable of thinking, which I am not — you think, then, that it is possible — that is, not impossible — my child may yet live?”

“I think,” said the Antiquary, “it is impossible that it could come to any violent harm through your brother’s means. He was known to be a gay and dissipated man, but not cruel nor dishonourable; nor is it possible, that, if he had intended any foul play, he would have placed himself so forward in the charge of the infant, as I will prove to your lordship he did.”

So saying, Mr. Oldbuck opened a drawer of the cabinet of his ancestor Aldobrand, and produced a bundle of papers tied with a black ribband, and labelled — Examinations, etc., taken by Jonathan Oldbuck, J. P., upon the 18th of February, 17 —; a little under was written, in a small hand, Eheu Evelina! The tears dropped fast from the Earl’s eyes, as he endeavoured, in vain, to unfasten the knot which secured these documents.

“Your lordship,” said Mr. Oldbuck, “had better not read these at present. Agitated as you are, and having much business before you, you must not exhaust your strength. Your brother’s succession is now, I presume, your own, and it will be easy for you to make inquiry among his servants and retainers, so as to hear where the child is, if, fortunately, it shall be still alive.”

“I dare hardly hope it,” said the Earl, with a deep sigh. “Why should my brother have been silent to me?”

“Nay, my lord, why should he have communicated to your lordship the existence of a being whom you must have supposed the offspring of”—

“Most true — there is an obvious and a kind reason for his being silent. If anything, indeed, could have added to the horror of the ghastly dream that has poisoned my whole existence, it must have been the knowledge that such a child of misery existed.”

“Then,” continued the Antiquary, “although it would be rash to conclude, at the distance of more than twenty years, that your son must needs be still alive because he was not destroyed in infancy, I own I think you should instantly set on foot inquiries.”

“It shall be done,” replied Lord Glenallan, catching eagerly at the hope held out to him, the first he had nourished for many years; —“I will write to a faithful steward of my father, who acted in the same capacity under my brother Neville — But, Mr. Oldbuck, I am not my brother’s heir.”

“Indeed! — I am sorry for that, my lord — it is a noble estate, and the ruins of the old castle of Neville’s-Burgh alone, which are the most superb relics of Anglo-Norman architecture in that part of the country, are a possession much to be coveted. I thought your father had no other son or near relative.”

“He had not, Mr. Oldbuck,” replied Lord Glenallan; “but my brother adopted views in politics, and a form of religion, alien from those which had been always held by our house. Our tempers had long differed, nor did my unhappy mother always think him sufficiently observant to her. In short, there was a family quarrel, and my brother, whose property was at his own free disposal, availed himself of the power vested in him to choose a stranger for his heir. It is a matter which never struck me as being of the least consequence — for if worldly possessions could alleviate misery, I have enough and to spare. But now I shall regret it, if it throws any difficulty in the way of our inquiries — and I bethink me that it may; for in case of my having a lawful son of my body, and my brother dying without issue, my father’s possessions stood entailed upon my son. It is not therefore likely that this heir, be he who he may, will afford us assistance in making a discovery which may turn out so much to his own prejudice.”

“And in all probability the steward your lordship mentions is also in his service,” said the Antiquary.

“It is most likely; and the man being a Protestant — how far it is safe to entrust him”—

“I should hope, my lord,” said Oldbuck gravely, “that a Protestant may be as trustworthy as a Catholic. I am doubly interested in the Protestant faith, my lord. My ancestor, Aldobrand Oldenbuck, printed the celebrated Confession of Augsburg, as I can show by the original edition now in this house.”

“I have not the least doubt of what you say, Mr. Oldbuck,” replied the Earl, “nor do I speak out of bigotry or intolerance; but probably the Protestant steward will favour the Protestant heir rather than the Catholic — if, indeed, my son has been bred in his father’s faith — or, alas! if indeed he yet lives.”

“We must look close into this,” said Oldbuck, “before committing ourselves. I have a literary friend at York, with whom I have long corresponded on the subject of the Saxon horn that is preserved in the Minster there; we interchanged letters for six years, and have only as yet been able to settle the first line of the inscription. I will write forthwith to this gentleman, Dr. Dryasdust, and be particular in my inquiries concerning the character, etc., of your brother’s heir, of the gentleman employed in his affairs, and what else may be likely to further your lordship’s inquiries. In the meantime your lordship will collect the evidence of the marriage, which I hope can still be recovered?”

“Unquestionably,” replied the Earl: “the witnesses, who were formerly withdrawn from your research, are still living. My tutor, who solemnized the marriage, was provided for by a living in France, and has lately returned to this country as an emigrant, a victim of his zeal for loyalty, legitimacy, and religion.”

“That’s one lucky consequence of the French, revolution, my lord — you must allow that, at least,” said Oldbuck: “but no offence; I will act as warmly in your affairs as if I were of your own faith in politics and religion. And take my advice — If you want an affair of consequence properly managed, put it into the hands of an antiquary; for as they are eternally exercising their genius and research upon trifles, it is impossible they can be baffled in affairs of importance; — use makes perfect — and the corps that is most frequently drilled upon the parade, will be most prompt in its exercise upon the day of battle. And, talking upon that subject, I would willingly read to your lordship, in order to pass away the time betwixt and supper”—

“I beg I may not interfere with family arrangements,” said Lord Glenallan, “but I never taste anything after sunset.”

“Nor I either, my lord,” answered his host, “notwithstanding it is said to have been the custom of the ancients. But then I dine differently from your lordship, and therefore am better enabled to dispense with those elaborate entertainments which my womankind (that is, my sister and niece, my lord) are apt to place on the table, for the display rather of their own house-wifery than the accommodation of our wants. However, a broiled bone, or a smoked haddock, or an oyster, or a slice of bacon of our own curing, with a toast and a tankard — or something or other of that sort, to close the orifice of the stomach before going to bed, does not fall under my restriction, nor, I hope, under your lordship’s.”

“My no-supper is literal, Mr. Oldbuck; but I will attend you at your meal with pleasure.”

“Well, my lord,” replied the Antiquary, “I will endeavour to entertain your ears at least, since I cannot banquet your palate. What I am about to read to your lordship relates to the upland glens.”

Lord Glenallan, though he would rather have recurred to the subject of his own uncertainties, was compelled to make a sign of rueful civility and acquiescence.

The Antiquary, therefore, took out his portfolio of loose sheets, and after premising that the topographical details here laid down were designed to illustrate a slight essay upon castrametation, which had been read with indulgence at several societies of Antiquaries, he commenced as follows: “The subject, my lord, is the hill-fort of Quickens-bog, with the site of which your lordship is doubtless familiar — it is upon your store-farm of Mantanner, in the barony of Clochnaben.”

“I think I have heard the names of these places,” said the Earl, in answer to the Antiquary’s appeal.

“Heard the name? and the farm brings him six hundred a-year — O Lord!”

Such was the scarce-subdued ejaculation of the Antiquary. But his hospitality got the better of his surprise, and he proceeded to read his essay with an audible voice, in great glee at having secured a patient, and, as he fondly hoped, an interested hearer.

“Quickens-bog may at first seem to derive its name from the plant Quicken, by which, Scottice, we understand couch-grass, dog-grass, or the Triticum repens of Linnaeus, and the common English monosyllable Bog, by which we mean, in popular language, a marsh or morass — in Latin, Palus. But it may confound the rash adopters of the more obvious etymological derivations, to learn that the couch-grass or dog-grass, or, to speak scientifically, the Triticum repens of Linnaeus, does not grow within a quarter of a mile of this castrum or hill-fort, whose ramparts are uniformly clothed with short verdant turf; and that we must seek a bog or palus at a still greater distance, the nearest being that of Gird-the-mear, a full half-mile distant. The last syllable, bog, is obviously, therefore, a mere corruption of the Saxon Burgh, which we find in the various transmutations of Burgh, Burrow, Brough, Bruff, Buff, and Boff, which last approaches very near the sound in question — since, supposing the word to have been originally borgh, which is the genuine Saxon spelling, a slight change, such as modern organs too often make upon ancient sounds, will produce first Bogh, and then, elisa H, or compromising and sinking the guttural, agreeable to the common vernacular practice, you have either Boff or Bog as it happens. The word Quickens requires in like manner to be altered — decomposed, as it were — and reduced to its original and genuine sound, ere we can discern its real meaning. By the ordinary exchange of the Qu into Wh, familiar to the rudest tyro who has opened a book of old Scottish poetry, we gain either Whilkens, or Whichensborgh — put we may suppose, by way of question, as if those who imposed the name, struck with the extreme antiquity of the place, had expressed in it an interrogation, To whom did this fortress belong?’— Or, it might be Whackens-burgh, from the Saxon Whacken, to strike with the hand, as doubtless the skirmishes near a place of such apparent consequence must have legitimated such a derivation,” etc. etc. etc.

I will be more merciful to my readers than Oldbuck was to his guest; for, considering his opportunities of gaining patient attention from a person of such consequence as Lord Glenallan were not many, he used, or rather abused, the present to the uttermost.

30 Pousowdie, — Miscellaneous mess.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/antiquary/chapter35.html

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