The Antiquary "It's No Fish Ye're Buying–it's Men's Lives"

Sir Walter Scott

"It's No Fish Ye're Buying–it's Men's Lives"

Context: Mr. Jonathan Oldbuck, Oldenbuck, or Oldinbuck, known also as Monkbarns, from the name of his estate on the northeastern coast of Scotland, is conducting his young friend, Mr. Lovel, along the seashore to visit Sir Arthur Wardour and his daughter, whom Oldbuck and Lovel had been instrumental in saving from drowning in a storm-driven high tide the previous evening. Unknown to Oldbuck, who has a fanatical love for antiquities of all kinds, Lovel, who had risked his life in the rescue, is in love with Miss Wardour, who does all in her power to discourage his ardor. As the two make their way along the shore, Oldbuck and Lovel come upon a very masculine-looking woman sitting before a cottage and mending a fishing net. Thereupon ensues a bargaining session between Oldbuck and the woman for some fish. At first the two are far apart in their bidding and asking, but eventually they agree on a price. She offers her wares in a strident tone: "What are ye for the day" means "what do you want today?"

. . . "What are ye for the day, your honor?" she said, or rather screamed, to Oldbuck; "caller haddocks and whitings–a bannock-fluke and a cock-padle."
"How much for the bannock-fluke and the cock-padle?" demanded the Antiquary.
"Four white shillings and sixpence," answered the Naiad.
"Four devils and six of their imps!" retorted the Antiquary; "do you think I am mad, Maggie?"
"And div ye think," rejoined the virago, setting her arms a-kimbo, "that my man and my sons are to gae to the sea in weather like yestreen and the day–sic a sea as it's yet outby–and get naething for their fish, and be misca'd into the bargain, Monkbarns? It's no fish ye're buying–it's men's lives."
"Well, Maggie, I'll bid you fair–I'll bid you a shilling for the fluke and the cock-padle, or sixpence separately–and if all your fish are as well paid, I think your man, as you call him, and your sons, will make a good voyage."