The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 25

Isab. — Alas! what poor ability’s in me

To do him good?

Lucio. — Assay the power you have.

Measure for Measure.

When Mrs. Saddletree entered the apartment in which her guests had shrouded their misery, she found the window darkened. The feebleness which followed his long swoon had rendered it necessary to lay the old man in bed. The curtains were drawn around him, and Jeanie sate motionless by the side of the bed. Mrs. Saddletree was a woman of kindness, nay, of feeling, but not of delicacy. She opened the half-shut window, drew aside the curtain, and, taking her kinsman by the hand, exhorted him to sit up, and bear his sorrow like a good man, and a Christian man, as he was. But when she quitted his hand, it fell powerless by his side, nor did he attempt the least reply.

“Is all over?” asked Jeanie, with lips and cheeks as pale as ashes — “and is there nae hope for her?”

“Nane, or next to nane,” said Mrs. Saddletree; “I heard the Judge-carle say it with my ain ears — It was a burning shame to see sae mony o’ them set up yonder in their red gowns and black gowns, and to take the life o’ a bit senseless lassie. I had never muckle broo o’ my gudeman’s gossips, and now I like them waur than ever. The only wiselike thing I heard onybody say, was decent Mr. John Kirk of Kirk-knowe, and he wussed them just to get the king’s mercy, and nae mair about it. But he spake to unreasonable folk — he might just hae keepit his breath to hae blawn on his porridge.”

“But can the king gie her mercy?” said Jeanie, earnestly. “Some folk tell me he canna gie mercy in cases of mur in cases like hers.”

Can he gie mercy, hinny? — I weel I wot he can, when he likes. There was young Singlesword, that stickit the Laird of Ballencleuch, and Captain Hackum, the Englishman, that killed Lady Colgrain’s gudeman, and the Master of Saint Clair, that shot the twa Shaws,1 and mony mair in my time — to be sure they were gentle blood, and had their kin to speak for them — And there was Jock Porteous the other day — I’se warrant there’s mercy, an folk could win at it.”

“Porteous?” said Jeanie; “very true — I forget a’ that I suld maist mind. — Fare ye weel, Mrs. Saddletree; and may ye never want a friend in the hour of distress!”

“Will ye no stay wi’ your father, Jeanie, bairn? — Ye had better,” said Mrs. Saddletree.

“I will be wanted ower yonder,” indicating the Tolbooth with her hand, “and I maun leave him now, or I will never be able to leave him. I fearna for his life — I ken how strong-hearted he is — I ken it,” she said, laying her hand on her bosom, “by my ain heart at this minute.”

“Weel, hinny, if ye think it’s for the best, better he stay here and rest him, than gang back to St. Leonard’s.”

“Muckle better — muckle better — God bless you! — God bless you! — At no rate let him gang till ye hear frae me,” said Jeanie.

“But ye’ll be back belive?” said Mrs. Saddletree, detaining her; “they winna let ye stay yonder, hinny.”

“But I maun gang to St. Leonard’s — there’s muckle to be dune, and little time to do it in-And I have friends to speak to — God bless you — take care of my father.”

She had reached the door of the apartment, when, suddenly turning, she came back, and knelt down by the bedside. —“O father, gie me your blessing — I dare not go till ye bless me. Say but ‘God bless ye, and prosper ye, Jeanie’— try but to say that!”

Instinctively, rather than by an exertion of intellect, the old man murmured a prayer, that “purchased and promised blessings might be multiplied upon her.”

“He has blessed mine errand,” said his daughter, rising from her knees, “and it is borne in upon my mind that I shall prosper.”

So saying, she left the room.

Mrs. Saddletree looked after her, and shook her head. “I wish she binna roving, poor thing — There’s something queer about a’ thae Deanses. I dinna like folk to be sae muckle better than other folk — seldom comes gude o’t. But if she’s gaun to look after the kye at St. Leonard’s, that’s another story; to be sure they maun be sorted. — Grizzie, come up here, and tak tent to the honest auld man, and see he wants naething. — Ye silly tawpie” (addressing the maid-servant as she entered), “what garr’d ye busk up your cockemony that gate? — I think there’s been enough the day to gie an awfa’ warning about your cockups and your fallal duds — see what they a’ come to,” etc. etc. etc.

Leaving the good lady to her lecture upon worldly vanities, we must transport our reader to the cell in which the unfortunate Effie Deans was now immured, being restricted of several liberties which she had enjoyed before the sentence was pronounced.

When she had remained about an hour in the state of stupified horror so natural in her situation, she was disturbed by the opening of the jarring bolts of her place of confinement, and Ratcliffe showed himself. “It’s your sister,” he said, “wants to speak t’ye, Effie.”

“I canna see naebody,” said Effie, with the hasty irritability which misery had rendered more acute —“I canna see naebody, and least of a’ her — Bid her take care o’ the auld man — I am naething to ony o’ them now, nor them to me.”

“She says she maun see ye, though,” said Ratcliffe; and Jeanie, rushing into the apartment, threw her arms round her sister’s neck, who writhed to extricate herself from her embrace.

“What signifies coming to greet ower me,” said poor Effie, “when you have killed me? — killed me, when a word of your mouth would have saved me — killed me, when I am an innocent creature — innocent of that guilt at least — and me that wad hae wared body and soul to save your finger from being hurt?”

“You shall not die,” said Jeanie, with enthusiastic firmness; “say what you like o’ me — think what you like o’ me — only promise — for I doubt your proud heart — that ye wunna harm yourself, and you shall not die this shameful death.”

“A shameful death I will not die, Jeanie, lass. I have that in my heart — though it has been ower kind a ane — that wunna bide shame. Gae hame to our father, and think nae mair on me — I have eat my last earthly meal.”

“Oh, this was what I feared!” said Jeanie.

“Hout, tout, hinny,” said Ratcliffe; “it’s but little ye ken o’ thae things. Ane aye thinks at the first dinnle o’ the sentence, they hae heart eneugh to die rather than bide out the sax weeks; but they aye bide the sax weeks out for a’ that. I ken the gate o’t weel; I hae fronted the doomster three times, and here I stand, Jim Ratcliffe, for a’ that. Had I tied my napkin strait the first time, as I had a great mind till’t — and it was a’ about a bit grey cowt, wasna worth ten punds sterling — where would I have been now?”

“And how did you escape?” said Jeanie, the fates of this man, at first so odious to her, having acquired a sudden interest in her eyes from their correspondence with those of her sister.

How did I escape?” said Ratcliffe, with a knowing wink — “I tell ye I ‘scapit in a way that naebody will escape from this Tolbooth while I keep the keys.”

“My sister shall come out in the face of the sun,” said Jeanie; “I will go to London, and beg her pardon from the king and queen. If they pardoned Porteous, they may pardon her; if a sister asks a sister’s life on her bended knees, they will pardon her — they shall pardon her — and they will win a thousand hearts by it.”

Effie listened in bewildered astonishment, and so earnest was her sister’s enthusiastic assurance, that she almost involuntarily caught a gleam of hope; but it instantly faded away.

“Ah, Jeanie! the king and queen live in London, a thousand miles from this — far ayont the saut sea; I’ll be gane before ye win there.”

“You are mistaen,” said Jeanie; “it is no sae far, and they go to it by land; I learned something about thae things from Reuben Butler.”

“Ah, Jeanie! ye never learned onything but what was gude frae the folk ye keepit company wi’; but! — but!”— she wrung her hands and wept bitterly.

“Dinna think on that now,” said Jeanie; “there will be time for that if the present space be redeemed. Fare ye weel. Unless I die by the road, I will see the king’s face that gies grace — O, sir” (to Ratcliffe), “be kind to her — She ne’er ken’d what it was to need a stranger’s kindness till now. — Fareweel — fareweel, Effie! — Dinna speak to me — I maunna greet now — my head’s ower dizzy already!”

She tore herself from her sister’s arms, and left the cell. Ratcliffe followed her, and beckoned her into a small room. She obeyed his signal, but not without trembling.

“What’s the fule thing shaking for?” said he; “I mean nothing but civility to you. D— n me, I respect you, and I can’t help it. You have so much spunk, that d — n me, but I think there’s some chance of your carrying the day. But you must not go to the king till you have made some friend; try the duke — try MacCallummore; he’s Scotland’s friend — I ken that the great folks dinna muckle like him — but they fear him, and that will serve your purpose as weel. D’ye ken naebody wad gie ye a letter to him?”

“Duke of Argyle!” said Jeanie, recollecting herself suddenly, “what was he to that Argyle that suffered in my father’s time — in the persecution?”

“His son or grandson, I’m thinking,” said Ratcliffe, “but what o’ that?”

“Thank God!” said Jeanie, devoutly clasping her hands.

“You whigs are aye thanking God for something,” said the ruffian. “But hark ye, hinny, I’ll tell ye a secret. Ye may meet wi’ rough customers on the Border, or in the Midland, afore ye get to Lunnon. Now, deil ane o’ them will touch an acquaintance o’ Daddie Ratton’s; for though I am retired frae public practice, yet they ken I can do a gude or an ill turn yet — and deil a gude fellow that has been but a twelvemonth on the lay, be he ruffler or padder, but he knows my gybe2 as well as the jark3 of e’er a queer cuffin4 in England — and there’s rogue’s Latin for you.”

It was indeed totally unintelligible to Jeanie Deans, who was only impatient to escape from him. He hastily scrawled a line or two on a dirty piece of paper, and said to her, as she drew back when he offered it, “Hey! — what the deil — it wunna bite you, my lass — if it does nae gude, it can do nae ill. But I wish you to show it, if you have ony fasherie wi’ ony o’ St. Nicholas’s clerks.”

“Alas!” said she, “I do not understand what you mean.”

“I mean, if ye fall among thieves, my precious — that is a Scripture phrase, if ye will hae ane — the bauldest of them will ken a scart o’ my guse feather. And now awa wi’ ye — and stick to Argyle; if onybody can do the job, it maun be him.”

After casting an anxious look at the grated windows and blackened walls of the old Tolbooth, and another scarce less anxious at the hospitable lodging of Mrs. Saddletree, Jeanie turned her back on that quarter, and soon after on the city itself. She reached St. Leonard’s Crags without meeting any one whom she knew, which, in the state of her mind, she considered as a great blessing. “I must do naething,” she thought, as she went along, “that can soften or weaken my heart — it’s ower weak already for what I hae to do. I will think and act as firmly as I can, and speak as little.”

There was an ancient servant, or rather cottar, of her father’s, who had lived under him for many years, and whose fidelity was worthy of full confidence. She sent for this woman, and explaining to her that the circumstances of her family required that she should undertake a journey, which would detain her for some weeks from home, she gave her full instructions concerning the management of the domestic concerns in her absence. With a precision, which, upon reflection, she herself could not help wondering at, she described and detailed the most minute steps which were to be taken, and especially such as were necessary for her father’s comfort. “It was probable,” she said, “that he would return to St. Leonard’s tomorrow! certain that he would return very soon — all must be in order for him. He had eneugh to distress him, without being fashed about warldly matters.”

In the meanwhile she toiled busily, along with May Hettly, to leave nothing unarranged.

It was deep in the night when all these matters were settled; and when they had partaken of some food, the first which Jeanie had tasted on that eventful day, May Hettly, whose usual residence was a cottage at a little distance from Deans’s house, asked her young mistress, whether she would not permit her to remain in the house all night? “Ye hae had an awfu’ day,” she said, “and sorrow and fear are but bad companions in the watches of the night, as I hae heard the gudeman say himself.”

“They are ill companions indeed,” said Jeanie; “but I maun learn to abide their presence, and better begin in the house than in the field.”

She dismissed her aged assistant accordingly — for so slight was the gradation in their rank of life, that we can hardly term May a servant — and proceeded to make a few preparations for her journey.

The simplicity of her education and country made these preparations very brief and easy. Her tartan screen served all the purposes of a riding-habit and of an umbrella; a small bundle contained such changes of linen as were absolutely necessary. Barefooted, as Sancho says, she had come into the world, and barefooted she proposed to perform her pilgrimage; and her clean shoes and change of snow-white thread stockings were to be reserved for special occasions of ceremony. She was not aware, that the English habits of comfort attach an idea of abject misery to the idea of a barefooted traveller; and if the objection of cleanliness had been made to the practice, she would have been apt to vindicate herself upon the very frequent ablutions to which, with Mahometan scrupulosity, a Scottish damsel of some condition usually subjects herself. Thus far, therefore, all was well.

From an oaken press, or cabinet, in which her father kept a few old books, and two or three bundles of papers, besides his ordinary accounts and receipts, she sought out and extracted from a parcel of notes of sermons, calculations of interest, records of dying speeches of the martyrs, and the like, one or two documents which she thought might be of some use to her upon her mission. But the most important difficulty remained behind, and it had not occurred to her until that very evening. It was the want of money; without which it was impossible she could undertake so distant a journey as she now meditated.

David Deans, as we have said, was easy, and even opulent in his circumstances. But his wealth, like that of the patriarchs of old, consisted in his kine and herds, and in two or three sums lent out at interest to neighbours or relatives, who, far from being in circumstances to pay anything to account of the principal sums, thought they did all that was incumbent on them when, with considerable difficulty, they discharged the “annual rent.” To these debtors it would be in vain, therefore, to apply, even with her father’s concurrence; nor could she hope to obtain such concurrence, or assistance in any mode, without such a series of explanations and debates as she felt might deprive her totally of the power of taking the step, which, however daring and hazardous, she felt was absolutely necessary for trying the last chance in favour of her sister. Without departing from filial reverence, Jeanie had an inward conviction that the feelings of her father, however just, and upright, and honourable, were too little in unison with the spirit of the time to admit of his being a good judge of the measures to be adopted in this crisis. Herself more flexible in manner, though no less upright in principle, she felt that to ask his consent to her pilgrimage would be to encounter the risk of drawing down his positive prohibition, and under that she believed her journey could not be blessed in its progress and event. Accordingly, she had determined upon the means by which she might communicate to him her undertaking and its purpose, shortly after her actual departure. But it was impossible to apply to him for money without altering this arrangement, and discussing fully the propriety of her journey; pecuniary assistance from that quarter, therefore, was laid out of the question.

It now occurred to Jeanie that she should have consulted with Mrs. Saddletree on this subject. But, besides the time that must now necessarily be lost in recurring to her assistance Jeanie internally revolted from it. Her heart acknowledged the goodness of Mrs. Saddletree’s general character, and the kind interest she took in their family misfortunes; but still she felt that Mrs. Saddletree was a woman of an ordinary and worldly way of thinking, incapable, from habit and temperament, of taking a keen or enthusiastic view of such a resolution as she had formed; and to debate the point with her, and to rely upon her conviction of its propriety, for the means of carrying it into execution, would have been gall and wormwood.

Butler, whose assistance she might have been assured of, was greatly poorer than herself. In these circumstances, she formed a singular resolution for the purpose of surmounting this difficulty, the execution of which will form the subject of the next chapter.

1 [In 1828, the Author presented to the Roxburgh Club a curious volume containing the “Proceedings in the Court-Martial held upon John, Master of Sinclair, for the murder of Ensign Schaw, and Captain Schaw, 17th October 1708.”]

2 Pass.

3 Seal.

4 Justice of Peace.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/heart/chapter25.html

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