The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 37

Yes! I love justice well — as well as you do —

But since the good dame’s blind, she shall excuse me

If, time and reason fitting, I prove dumb; —

The breath I utter now shall be no means

To take away from me my breath in future.

Old Play.

By dint of charity from the town’s-people in aid of the load of provisions he had brought with him into durance, Edie Ochiltree had passed a day or two’s confinement without much impatience, regretting his want of freedom the less, as the weather proved broken and rainy.

“The prison,” he said, “wasna sae dooms bad a place as it was ca’d. Ye had aye a good roof ower your head to fend aff the weather, and, if the windows werena glazed, it was the mair airy and pleasant for the summer season. And there were folk enow to crack wi’, and he had bread eneugh to eat, and what need he fash himsell about the rest o’t?”

The courage of our philosophical mendicant began, however, to abate, when the sunbeams shone fair on the rusty bars of his grated dungeon, and a miserable linnet, whose cage some poor debtor had obtained permission to attach to the window, began to greet them with his whistle.

“Ye’re in better spirits than I am,” said Edie, addressing the bird, “for I can neither whistle nor sing for thinking o’ the bonny burnsides and green shaws that I should hae been dandering beside in weather like this. But hae — there’s some crumbs t’ye, an ye are sae merry; and troth ye hae some reason to sing an ye kent it, for your cage comes by nae faut o’ your ain, and I may thank mysell that I am closed up in this weary place.”

Ochiltree’s soliloquy was disturbed by a peace-officer, who came to summon him to attend the magistrate. So he set forth in awful procession between two poor creatures, neither of them so stout as he was himself, to be conducted into the presence of inquisitorial justice. The people, as the aged prisoner was led along by his decrepit guards, exclaimed to each other, “Eh! see sic a grey-haired man as that is, to have committed a highway robbery, wi’ ae fit in the grave!”— And the children congratulated the officers, objects of their alternate dread and sport, Puggie Orrock and Jock Ormston, on having a prisoner as old as themselves.

Thus marshalled forward, Edie was presented (by no means for the first time) before the worshipful Bailie Littlejohn, who, contrary to what his name expressed, was a tall portly magistrate, on whom corporation crusts had not been conferred in vain. He was a zealous loyalist of that zealous time, somewhat rigorous and peremptory in the execution of his duty, and a good deal inflated with the sense of his own power and importance; — otherwise an honest, well-meaning, and useful citizen.

“Bring him in! bring him in!” he exclaimed. “Upon my word these are awful and unnatural times! the very bedesmen and retainers of his Majesty are the first to break his laws. Here has been an old Blue-Gown committing robbery — I suppose the next will reward the royal charity which supplies him with his garb, pension, and begging license, by engaging in high-treason, or sedition at least — But bring him in.”

Edie made his obeisance, and then stood, as usual, firm and erect, with the side of his face turned a little upward, as if to catch every word which the magistrate might address to him. To the first general questions, which respected only his name and calling, the mendicant answered with readiness and accuracy; but when the magistrate, having caused his clerk to take down these particulars, began to inquire whereabout the mendicant was on the night when Dousterswivel met with his misfortune, Edie demurred to the motion. “Can ye tell me now, Bailie, you that understands the law, what gude will it do me to answer ony o’ your questions?”

“Good? — no good certainly, my friend, except that giving a true account of yourself, if you are innocent, may entitle me to set you at liberty.”

“But it seems mair reasonable to me now, that you, Bailie, or anybody that has anything to say against me, should prove my guilt, and no to be bidding me prove my innocence.”

“I don’t sit here,” answered the magistrate, “to dispute points of law with you. I ask you, if you choose to answer my question, whether you were at Ringan Aikwood, the forester’s, upon the day I have specified?”

“Really, sir, I dinna feel myself called on to remember,” replied the cautious bedesman.

“Or whether, in the course of that day or night,” continued the magistrate, “you saw Steven, or Steenie, Mucklebackit? — you knew him, I suppose?”

“O, brawlie did I ken Steenie, puir fallow,” replied the prisoner; —“but I canna condeshend on ony particular time I have seen him lately.”

“Were you at the ruins of St. Ruth any time in the course of that evening?”

“Bailie Littlejohn,” said the mendicant, “if it be your honour’s pleasure, we’ll cut a lang tale short, and I’ll just tell ye, I am no minded to answer ony o’ thae questions — I’m ower auld a traveller to let my tongue bring me into trouble.”

“Write down,” said the magistrate, “that he declines to answer all interrogatories, in respect that by telling the truth he might be brought to trouble.”

“Na, na,” said Ochiltree, “I’ll no hae that set down as ony part o’ my answer — but I just meant to say, that in a’ my memory and practice, I never saw ony gude come o’ answering idle questions.”

“Write down,” said the Bailie, “that, being acquainted with judicial interrogatories by long practice, and having sustained injury by answering questions put to him on such occasions, the declarant refuses”

“Na, na, Bailie,” reiterated Edie, “ye are no to come in on me that gait neither.”

“Dictate the answer yourself then, friend,” said the magistrate, “and the clerk will take it down from your own mouth.”

“Ay, ay,” said Edie —“that’s what I ca’ fair play; I’se do that without loss o’ time. Sae, neighbour, ye may just write down, that Edie Ochiltree, the declarant, stands up for the liberty — na, I maunna say that neither — I am nae liberty-boy — I hae fought again’ them in the riots in Dublin — besides, I have ate the King’s bread mony a day. Stay, let me see. Ay — write that Edie Ochiltree, the Blue-Gown, stands up for the prerogative —(see that ye spell that word right — it’s a lang ane)— for the prerogative of the subjects of the land, and winna answer a single word that sall be asked at him this day, unless he sees a reason fort. Put down that, young man.”

“Then, Edie,” said the magistrate, “since you will give no information on the subject, I must send you back to prison till you shall be delivered in due course of law.”

“Aweel, sir, if it’s Heaven’s will and man’s will, nae doubt I maun submit,” replied the mendicant. “I hae nae great objection to the prison, only that a body canna win out o’t; and if it wad please you as weel, Bailie, I wad gie you my word to appear afore the Lords at the Circuit, or in ony other coart ye like, on ony day ye are pleased to appoint.”

“I rather think, my good friend,” answered Bailie Littlejohn, “your word might be a slender security where your neck may be in some danger. I am apt to think you would suffer the pledge to be forfeited. If you could give me sufficient security, indeed”—

At this moment the Antiquary and Captain M’Intyre entered the apartment. —“Good morning to you, gentlemen,” said the magistrate; “you find me toiling in my usual vocation — looking after the iniquities of the people — labouring for the respublica, Mr. Oldbuck — serving the King our master, Captain M’Intyre — for I suppose you know I have taken up the sword?”

“It is one of the emblems of justice, doubtless,” answered the Antiquary; —“but I should have thought the scales would have suited you better, Bailie, especially as you have them ready in the warehouse.”

“Very good, Monkbarns — excellent! But I do not take the sword up as justice, but as a soldier — indeed I should rather say the musket and bayonet — there they stand at the elbow of my gouty chair, for I am scarce fit for drill yet — a slight touch of our old acquaintance podagra; I can keep my feet, however, while our sergeant puts me through the manual. I should like to know, Captain M’Intyre, if he follows the regulations correctly — he brings us but awkwardly to the present.“ And he hobbled towards his weapon to illustrate his doubts and display his proficiency.

“I rejoice we have such zealous defenders, Bailie,” replied Mr. Oldbuck; “and I dare say Hector will gratify you by communicating his opinion on your progress in this new calling. Why, you rival the Hecate’ of the ancients, my good sir — a merchant on the Mart, a magistrate in the Townhouse, a soldier on the Links — quid non pro patria? But my business is with the justice; so let commerce and war go slumber.”

“Well, my good sir,” said the Bailie, “and what commands have you for me?”

“Why, here’s an old acquaintance of mine, called Edie Ochiltree, whom some of your myrmidons have mewed up in jail on account of an alleged assault on that fellow Dousterswivel, of whose accusation I do not believe one word.”

The magistrate here assumed a very grave countenance. “You ought to have been informed that he is accused of robbery, as well as assault — a very serious matter indeed; it is not often such criminals come under my cognizance.”

“And,” replied Oldbuck, “you are tenacious of the opportunity of making the very most of such as occur. But is this poor old man’s case really so very bad?”

“It is rather out of rule,” said the Bailie —“but as you are in the commission, Monkbarns, I have no hesitation to show you Dousterswivel’s declaration, and the rest of the precognition.” And he put the papers into the Antiquary’s hands, who assumed his spectacles, and sat down in a corner to peruse them.

The officers, in the meantime, had directions to remove their prisoner into another apartment; but before they could do so, M’Intyre took an opportunity to greet old Edie, and to slip a guinea into his hand.

“Lord bless your honour!” said the old man; “it’s a young soldier’s gift, and it should surely thrive wi’ an auld ane. I’se no refuse it, though it’s beyond my rules; for if they steek me up here, my friends are like eneugh to forget me — out o’sight out o’mind, is a true proverb; and it wadna be creditable for me, that am the king’s bedesman, and entitled to beg by word of mouth, to be fishing for bawbees out at the jail window wi’ the fit o’ a stocking, and a string.” As he made this observation he was conducted out of the apartment.

Mr. Dousterswivel’s declaration contained an exaggerated account of the violence he had sustained, and also of his loss.

“But what I should have liked to have asked him,” said Monkbarns, “would have been his purpose in frequenting the ruins of St. Ruth, so lonely a place, at such an hour, and with such a companion as Edie Ochiltree. There is no road lies that way, and I do not conceive a mere passion for the picturesque would carry the German thither in such a night of storm and wind. Depend upon it, he has been about some roguery, and in all probability hath been caught in a trap of his own setting — Nec lex justitior ulla.

The magistrate allowed there was something mysterious in that circumstance, and apologized for not pressing Dousterswivel, as his declaration was voluntarily emitted. But for the support of the main charge, he showed the declaration of the Aikwoods concerning the state in which Dousterswivel was found, and establishing the important fact that the mendicant had left the barn in which he was quartered, and did not return to it again. Two people belonging to the Fairport undertaker, who had that night been employed in attending the funeral of Lady Glenallan, had also given declarations, that, being sent to pursue two suspicious persons who left the ruins of St. Ruth as the funeral approached, and who, it was supposed, might have been pillaging some of the ornaments prepared for the ceremony, they had lost and regained sight of them more than once, owing to the nature of the ground, which was unfavourable for riding, but had at length fairly lodged them both in Mucklebackit’s cottage. And one of the men added, that “he, the declarant, having dismounted from his horse, and gone close up to the window of the hut, he saw the old Blue-Gown and young Steenie Mucklebackit, with others, eating and drinking in the inside, and also observed the said Steenie Mucklebackit show a pocket-book to the others; — and declarant has no doubt that Ochiltree and Steenie Mucklebackit were the persons whom he and his comrade had pursued, as above mentioned.” And being interrogated why he did not enter the said cottage, declares, “he had no warrant so to do; and that as Mucklebackit and his family were understood to be rough-handed folk, he, the declarant, had no desire to meddle or make with their affairs, Causa scientiae patet. All which he declares to be truth,” etc.

“What do you say to that body of evidence against your friend?” said the magistrate, when he had observed the Antiquary had turned the last leaf.

“Why, were it in the case of any other person, I own I should say it looked, prima facie, a little ugly; but I cannot allow anybody to be in the wrong for beating Dousterswivel — Had I been an hour younger, or had but one single flash of your warlike genius, Bailie, I should have done it myself long ago. He is nebulo nebulonum, an impudent, fraudulent, mendacious quack, that has cost me a hundred pounds by his roguery, and my neighbour Sir Arthur, God knows how much. And besides, Bailie, I do not hold him to be a sound friend to Government.”

“Indeed?” said Bailie Littlejohn; “if I thought that, it would alter the question considerably.”

“Right — for, in beating him,” observed Oldbuck, “the bedesman must have shown his gratitude to the king by thumping his enemy; and in robbing him, he would only have plundered an Egyptian, whose wealth it is lawful to spoil. Now, suppose this interview in the ruins of St. Ruth had relation to politics — and this story of hidden treasure, and so forth, was a bribe from the other side of the water for some great man, or the funds destined to maintain a seditious club?”

“My dear sir,” said the magistrate, catching at the idea, “you hit my very thoughts! How fortunate should I be if I could become the humble means of sifting such a matter to the bottom! — Don’t you think we had better call out the volunteers, and put them on duty?”

“Not just yet, while podagra deprives them of an essential member of their body. But will you let me examine Ochiltree?”

“Certainly; but you’ll make nothing of him. He gave me distinctly to understand he knew the danger of a judicial declaration on the part of an accused person, which, to say the truth, has hanged many an honester man than he is.”

“Well, but, Bailie,” continued Oldbuck, “you have no objection to let me try him?”

“None in the world, Monkbarns. I hear the sergeant below — I’ll rehearse the manual in the meanwhile. Baby, carry my gun and bayonet down to the room below — it makes less noise there when we ground arms.” And so exit the martial magistrate, with his maid behind him bearing his weapons.

“A good squire that wench for a gouty champion,” observed Oldbuck. — “Hector, my lad, hook on, hook on — Go with him, boy — keep him employed, man, for half-an-hour or so — butter him with some warlike terms — praise his dress and address.”

Captain M’Intyre, who, like many of his profession, looked down with infinite scorn on those citizen soldiers who had assumed arms without any professional title to bear them, rose with great reluctance, observing that he should not know what to say to Mr. Littlejohn; and that to see an old gouty shop-keeper attempting the exercise and duties of a private soldier, was really too ridiculous.

“It may be so, Hector,” said the Antiquary, who seldom agreed with any person in the immediate proposition which was laid down —“it may possibly be so in this and some other instances; but at present the country resembles the suitors in a small-debt court, where parties plead in person, for lack of cash to retain the professed heroes of the bar. I am sure in the one case we never regret the want of the acuteness and eloquence of the lawyers; and so, I hope, in the other, we may manage to make shift with our hearts and muskets, though we shall lack some of the discipline of you martinets.”

“I have no objection, I am sure, sir, that the whole world should fight if they please, if they will but allow me to be quiet,” said Hector, rising with dogged reluctance.

“Yes, you are a very quiet personage indeed,” said his uncle, “whose ardour for quarrelling cannot pass so much as a poor phoca sleeping upon the beach!”

But Hector, who saw which way the conversation was tending, and hated all allusions to the foil he had sustained from the fish, made his escape before the Antiquary concluded the sentence.

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