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Chapter 12


Beggar?--the only freeman of your commonwealth;
Free above Scot-free, that observe no laws,
Obey no governor, use no religion
But what they draw from their own ancient custom,
Or constitute themselves, yet they are no rebels.
Brome.


With our reader's permission, we will outstep the slow, though sturdy
pace of the Antiquary, whose halts, as he, turned round to his companion
at every moment to point out something remarkable in the landscape, or to
enforce some favourite topic more emphatically than the exercise of
walking permitted, delayed their progress considerably.

Notwithstanding the fatigues and dangers of the preceding evening, Miss
Wardour was able to rise at her usual hour, and to apply herself to her
usual occupations, after she had first satisfied her anxiety concerning
her father's state of health. Sir Arthur was no farther indisposed than
by the effects of great agitation and unusual fatigue, but these were
sufficient to induce him to keep his bedchamber.

To look back on the events of the preceding day, was, to Isabella, a very
unpleasing retrospect. She owed her life, and that of her father, to the
very person by whom, of all others, she wished least to be obliged,
because she could hardly even express common gratitude towards him
without encouraging hopes which might be injurious to them both. "Why
should it be my fate to receive such benefits, and conferred at so much
personal risk, from one whose romantic passion I have so unceasingly
laboured to discourage? Why should chance have given him this advantage
over me? and why, oh why, should a half-subdued feeling in my own bosom,
in spite of my sober reason, almost rejoice that he has attained it?"

While Miss Wardour thus taxed herself with wayward caprice, she, beheld
advancing down the avenue, not her younger and more dreaded preserver,
but the old beggar who had made such a capital figure in the melodrama of
the preceding evening.

She rang the bell for her maid-servant. "Bring the old man up stairs."

The servant returned in a minute or two--"He will come up at no rate,
madam;--he says his clouted shoes never were on a carpet in his life, and
that, please God, they never shall.--Must I take him into the servants'
hall?"

"No; stay, I want to speak with him--Where is he?" for she had lost sight
of him as he approached the house.

"Sitting in the sun on the stone-bench in the court, beside the window of
the flagged parlour."

"Bid him stay there--I'll come down to the parlour, and speak with him at
the window."

She came down accordingly, and found the mendicant half-seated,
half-reclining, upon the bench beside the window. Edie Ochiltree, old man
and beggar as he was, had apparently some internal consciousness of the
favourable, impressions connected with his tall form, commanding
features, and long white beard and hair. It used to be remarked of him,
that he was seldom seen but in a posture which showed these personal
attributes to advantage. At present, as he lay half-reclined, with his
wrinkled yet ruddy cheek, and keen grey eye turned up towards the sky,
his staff and bag laid beside him, and a cast of homely wisdom and
sarcastic irony in the expression of his countenance, while he gazed for
a moment around the court-yard, and then resumed his former look upward,
he might have been taken by an artist as the model of an old philosopher
of the Cynic school, musing upon the frivolity of mortal pursuits, and
the precarious tenure of human possessions, and looking up to the source
from which aught permanently good can alone be derived. The young lady,
as she presented her tall and elegant figure at the open window, but
divided from the court-yard by a grating, with which, according to the
fashion of ancient times, the lower windows of the castle were secured,
gave an interest of a different kind, and might be supposed, by a
romantic imagination, an imprisoned damsel communicating a tale of her
durance to a palmer, in order that he might call upon the gallantry of
every knight whom he should meet in his wanderings, to rescue her from
her oppressive thraldom.

After Miss Wardour had offered, in the terms she thought would be most
acceptable, those thanks which the beggar declined as far beyond his
merit, she began to express herself in a manner which she supposed would
speak more feelingly to his apprehension. "She did not know," she said,
"what her father intended particularly to do for their preserver, but
certainly it would be something that would make him easy for life; if he
chose to reside at the castle, she would give orders"--

The old man smiled, and shook his head. "I wad be baith a grievance and a
disgrace to your fine servants, my leddy, and I have never been a
disgrace to onybody yet, that I ken of."

"Sir Arthur would give strict orders"--

"Ye're very kind--I doubtna, I doubtna; but there are some things a
master can command, and some he canna--I daresay he wad gar them keep
hands aff me--(and troth, I think they wad hardly venture on that ony
gate)--and he wad gar them gie me my soup parritch and bit meat. But trow
ye that Sir Arthur's command could forbid the gibe o' the tongue or the
blink o' the ee, or gar them gie me my food wi' the look o' kindness that
gars it digest sae weel, or that he could make them forbear a' the
slights and taunts that hurt ane's spirit mair nor downright misca'ing?
--Besides, I am the idlest auld carle that ever lived; I downa be bound
down to hours o' eating and sleeping; and, to speak the honest truth, I
wad be a very bad example in ony weel regulated family."

"Well, then, Edie, what do you think of a neat cottage and a garden, and
a daily dole, and nothing to do but to dig a little in your garden when
you pleased yourself?"

"And how often wad that be, trow ye, my leddy? maybe no ance atween
Candlemas and Yule and if a' thing were done to my hand, as if I was Sir
Arthur himsell, I could never bide the staying still in ae place, and
just seeing the same joists and couples aboon my head night after night.-
-And then I have a queer humour o' my ain, that sets a strolling beggar
weel eneugh, whase word naebody minds--but ye ken Sir Arthur has odd sort
o' ways--and I wad be jesting or scorning at them--and ye wad be angry,
and then I wad be just fit to hang mysell."

"O, you are a licensed man," said Isabella; "we shall give you all
reasonable scope: So you had better be ruled, and remember your age."

"But I am no that sair failed yet," replied the mendicant. "Od, ance I
gat a wee soupled yestreen, I was as yauld as an eel. And then what wad
a' the country about do for want o' auld Edie Ochiltree, that brings news
and country cracks frae ae farm-steading to anither, and gingerbread to
the lasses, and helps the lads to mend their fiddles, and the gudewives
to clout their pans, and plaits rush-swords and grenadier caps for the
weans, and busks the laird's flees, and has skill o' cow-ills and
horse-ills, and kens mair auld sangs and tales than a' the barony
besides, and gars ilka body laugh wherever he comes? Troth, my leddy, I
canna lay down my vocation; it would be a public loss."

"Well, Edie, if your idea of your importance is so strong as not to be
shaken by the prospect of independence"--

"Na, na, Miss--it's because I am mair independent as I am," answered the
old man; "I beg nae mair at ony single house than a meal o' meat, or
maybe but a mouthfou o't--if it's refused at ae place, I get it at
anither--sae I canna be said to depend on onybody in particular, but just
on the country at large."

"Well, then, only promise me that you will let me know should you ever
wish to settle as you turn old, and more incapable of making your usual
rounds; and, in the meantime, take this."

"Na, na, my leddy: I downa take muckle siller at ance--it's against our
rule; and--though it's maybe no civil to be repeating the like o' that
--they say that siller's like to be scarce wi' Sir Arthur himsell, and
that he's run himsell out o' thought wi' his honkings and minings for
lead and copper yonder."

Isabella had some anxious anticipations to the same effect, but was
shocked to hear that her father's embarrassments were such public talk;
as if scandal ever failed to stoop upon so acceptable a quarry as the
failings of the good man, the decline of the powerful, or the decay of
the prosperous.--Miss Wardour sighed deeply--"Well, Edie, we have enough
to pay our debts, let folks say what they will, and requiting you is one
of the foremost--let me press this sum upon you."

"That I might be robbed and murdered some night between town and town?
or, what's as bad, that I might live in constant apprehension o't?--I am
no"--(lowering his voice to a whisper, and looking keenly around him)--"I
am no that clean unprovided for neither; and though I should die at the
back of a dyke, they'll find as muckle quilted in this auld blue gown as
will bury me like a Christian, and gie the lads and lasses a blythe
lykewake too; sae there's the gaberlunzie's burial provided for, and I
need nae mair. Were the like o' me ever to change a note, wha the deil
d'ye think wad be sic fules as to gie me charity after that?--it wad flee
through the country like wildfire, that auld Edie suld hae done siccan a
like thing, and then, I'se warrant, I might grane my heart out or onybody
wad gie me either a bane or a bodle."

"Is there nothing, then, that I can do for you?"

"Ou ay--I'll aye come for my awmous as usual,--and whiles I wad be fain
o' a pickle sneeshin, and ye maun speak to the constable and
ground-officer just to owerlook me; and maybe ye'll gie a gude word for
me to Sandie Netherstanes, the miller, that he may chain up his muckle
dog--I wadna hae him to hurt the puir beast, for it just does its office
in barking at a gaberlunzie like me. And there's ae thing maybe mair,
--but ye'll think it's very bald o' the like o' me to speak o't."

"What is it, Edie?--if it respects you it shall be done if it is in my
power."

"It respects yoursell, and it is in your power, and I maun come out wi't.
Ye are a bonny young leddy, and a gude ane, and maybe a weel-tochered
ane--but dinna ye sneer awa the lad Lovel, as ye did a while sinsyne on
the walk beneath the Briery-bank, when I saw ye baith, and heard ye too,
though ye saw nae me. Be canny wi' the lad, for he loes ye weel, and it's
to him, and no to anything I could have done for you, that Sir Arthur and
you wan ower yestreen."

He uttered these words in a low but distinct tone of voice; and without
waiting for an answer, walked towards a low door which led to the
apartments of the servants, and so entered the house.

Miss Wardour remained for a moment or two in the situation in which she
had heard the old man's last extraordinary speech, leaning, namely,
against the bars of the window; nor could she determine upon saying even
a single word, relative to a subject so delicate, until the beggar was
out of sight. It was, indeed, difficult to determine what to do. That her
having had an interview and private conversation with this young and
unknown stranger, should be a secret possessed by a person of the last
class in which a young lady would seek a confidant, and at the mercy of
one who was by profession gossip-general to the whole neighbourhood, gave
her acute agony. She had no reason, indeed, to suppose that the old man
would wilfully do anything to hurt her feelings, much less to injure her;
but the mere freedom of speaking to her upon such a subject, showed, as
might have been expected, a total absence of delicacy; and what he might
take it into his head to do or say next, that she was pretty sure so
professed an admirer of liberty would not hesitate to do or say without
scruple. This idea so much hurt and vexed her, that she half-wished the
officious assistance of Lovel and Ochiltree had been absent upon the
preceding evening.

While she was in this agitation of spirits, she suddenly observed Oldbuck
and Lovel entering the court. She drew instantly so far back from the
window, that she could without being seen, observe how the Antiquary
paused in front of the building, and pointing to the various scutcheons
of its former owners, seemed in the act of bestowing upon Lovel much
curious and erudite information, which, from the absent look of his
auditor, Isabella might shrewdly guess was entirely thrown away. The
necessity that she should take some resolution became instant and
pressing;--she rang, therefore, for a servant, and ordered him to show
the visitors to the drawing-room, while she, by another staircase, gained
her own apartment, to consider, ere she made her appearance, what line of
conduct were fittest for her to pursue. The guests, agreeably to her
instructions, were introduced into the room where company was usually
received.

Sir Walter Scott

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