The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 26

’Tis the voice of the sluggard, I’ve heard him complain,

“You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again;”

    As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,

Turns his side, and his shoulders, and his heavy head.

Dr. Watts.

The mansion-house of Dumbiedikes, to which we are now to introduce our readers, lay three or four miles — no matter for the exact topography — to the southward of St. Leonard’s. It had once borne the appearance of some little celebrity; for the “auld laird,” whose humours and pranks were often mentioned in the ale-houses for about a mile round it, wore a sword, kept a good horse, and a brace of greyhounds; brawled, swore, and betted at cock-fights and horse-matches; followed Somerville of Drum’s hawks, and the Lord Ross’s hounds, and called himself point devise a gentleman. But the line had been veiled of its splendour in the present proprietor, who cared for no rustic amusements, and was as saying, timid, and retired, as his father had been at once grasping and selfishly extravagant — daring, wild, and intrusive.

Dumbiedikes was what is called in Scotland a single house; that is, having only one room occupying its whole depth from back to front, each of which single apartments was illuminated by six or eight cross lights, whose diminutive panes and heavy frames permitted scarce so much light to enter as shines through one well-constructed modern window. This inartificial edifice, exactly such as a child would build with cards, had a steep roof flagged with coarse grey stones instead of slates; a half-circular turret, battlemented, or, to use the appropriate phrase, bartizan’d on the top, served as a case for a narrow turnpike stair, by which an ascent was gained from storey to storey; and at the bottom of the said turret was a door studded with large-headed nails. There was no lobby at the bottom of the tower, and scarce a landing-place opposite to the doors which gave access to the apartments. One or two low and dilapidated outhouses, connected by a courtyard wall equally ruinous, surrounded the mansion. The court had been paved, but the flags being partly displaced and partly renewed, a gallant crop of docks and thistles sprung up between them, and the small garden, which opened by a postern through the wall, seemed not to be in a much more orderly condition. Over the low-arched gateway which led into the yard there was a carved stone, exhibiting some attempt at armorial bearings; and above the inner entrance hung, and had hung, for many years, the mouldering hatchment, which announced that umquhile Laurence Dumbie of Dumbiedikes had been gathered to his fathers in Newbattle kirkyard. The approach to this palace of pleasure was by a road formed by the rude fragments of stone gathered from the fields, and it was surrounded by ploughed, but unenclosed land. Upon a baulk, that is, an unploughed ridge of land interposed among the corn, the Laird’s trusty palfrey was tethered by the head, and picking a meal of grass. The whole argued neglect and discomfort; the consequence, however, of idleness and indifference, not of poverty.

In this inner court, not without a sense of bashfulness and timidity, stood Jeanie Deans, at an early hour in a fine spring morning. She was no heroine of romance, and therefore looked with some curiosity and interest on the mansion-house and domains, of which, it might at that moment occur to her, a little encouragement, such as women of all ranks know by instinct how to apply, might have made her mistress. Moreover, she was no person of taste beyond her time, rank, and country, and certainly thought the house of Dumbiedikes, though inferior to Holyrood House, or the palace at Dalkeith, was still a stately structure in its way, and the land a “very bonny bit, if it were better seen to and done to.” But Jeanie Deans was a plain, true-hearted, honest girl, who, while she acknowledged all the splendour of her old admirer’s habitation, and the value of his property, never for a moment harboured a thought of doing the Laird, Butler, or herself, the injustice, which many ladies of higher rank would not have hesitated to do to all three on much less temptation.

Her present errand being with the Laird, she looked round the offices to see if she could find any domestic to announce that she wished to see him. As all was silence, she ventured to open one door — it was the old Laird’s dog-kennel, now deserted, unless when occupied, as one or two tubs seemed to testify, as a washing-house. She tried another — it was the rootless shed where the hawks had been once kept, as appeared from a perch or two not yet completely rotten, and a lure and jesses which were mouldering on the wall. A third door led to the coal-house, which was well stocked. To keep a very good fire was one of the few points of domestic management in which Dumbiedikes was positively active; in all other matters of domestic economy he was completely passive, and at the mercy of his housekeeper — the same buxom dame whom his father had long since bequeathed to his charge, and who, if fame did her no injustice, had feathered her nest pretty well at his expense.

Jeanie went on opening doors, like the second Calender wanting an eye, in the castle of the hundred obliging damsels, until, like the said prince errant, she came to a stable. The Highland Pegasus, Rory Bean, to which belonged the single entire stall, was her old acquaintance, whom she had seen grazing on the baulk, as she failed not to recognise by the well-known ancient riding furniture and demi-pique saddle, which half hung on the walls, half trailed on the litter. Beyond the “treviss,” which formed one side of the stall, stood a cow, who turned her head and lowed when Jeanie came into the stable, an appeal which her habitual occupations enabled her perfectly to understand, and with which she could not refuse complying, by shaking down some fodder to the animal, which had been neglected like most things else in the castle of the sluggard.

While she was accommodating “the milky mother” with the food which she should have received two hours sooner, a slipshod wench peeped into the stable, and perceiving that a stranger was employed in discharging the task which she, at length, and reluctantly, had quitted her slumbers to perform, ejaculated,

“Eh, sirs! the Brownie! the Brownie!” and fled, yelling as if she had seen the devil.

To explain her terror it may be necessary to notice that the old house of Dumbiedikes had, according to report, been long haunted by a Brownie, one of those familiar spirits who were believed in ancient times to supply the deficiencies of the ordinary labourer —

Whirl the long mop, and ply the airy flail.

Certes, the convenience of such a supernatural assistance could have been nowhere more sensibly felt than in a family where the domestics were so little disposed to personal activity; yet this serving maiden was so far from rejoicing in seeing a supposed aerial substitute discharging a task which she should have long since performed herself, that she proceeded to raise the family by her screams of horror, uttered as thick as if the Brownie had been flaying her. Jeanie, who had immediately resigned her temporary occupation, and followed the yelling damsel into the courtyard, in order to undeceive and appease her, was there met by Mrs. Janet Balchristie, the favourite sultana of the last Laird, as scandal went — the housekeeper of the present. The good-looking buxom woman, betwixt forty and fifty (for such we described her at the death of the last Laird), was now a fat, red-faced, old dame of seventy, or thereabouts, fond of her place, and jealous of her authority. Conscious that her administration did not rest on so sure a basis as in the time of the old proprietor, this considerate lady had introduced into the family the screamer aforesaid, who added good features and bright eyes to the powers of her lungs. She made no conquest of the Laird, however, who seemed to live as if there was not another woman in the world but Jeanie Deans, and to bear no very ardent or overbearing affection even to her. Mrs. Janet Balchristie, notwithstanding, had her own uneasy thoughts upon the almost daily visits to St. Leonard’s Crags, and often, when the Laird looked at her wistfully and paused, according to his custom before utterance, she expected him to say, “Jenny, I am gaun to change my condition;” but she was relieved by, “Jenny, I am gaun to change my shoon.”

Still, however, Mrs. Balchristie regarded Jeanie Deans with no small portion of malevolence, the customary feeling of such persons towards anyone who they think has the means of doing them an injury. But she had also a general aversion to any female tolerably young, and decently well-looking, who showed a wish to approach the house of Dumbiedikes and the proprietor thereof. And as she had raised her mass of mortality out of bed two hours earlier than usual, to come to the rescue of her clamorous niece, she was in such extreme bad humour against all and sundry, that Saddletree would have pronounced that she harboured inimicitiam contra omnes mortales.

“Wha the deil are ye?” said the fat dame to poor Jeanie, whom she did not immediately recognise, “scouping about a decent house at sic an hour in the morning?”

“It was ane wanting to speak to the Laird,” said Jeanie, who felt something of the intuitive terror which she had formerly entertained for this termagant, when she was occasionally at Dumbiedikes on business of her father’s.

“Ane! — And what sort of ane are ye! — hae ye nae name? — D’ye think his honour has naething else to do than to speak wi’ ilka idle tramper that comes about the town, and him in his bed yet, honest man?”

“Dear Mrs. Balchristie,” replied Jeanie, in a submissive tone, “d’ye no mind me? — d’ye no mind Jeanie Deans?”

“Jeanie Deans!” said the termagant, in accents affecting the utmost astonishment; then, taking two strides nearer to her, she peered into her face with a stare of curiosity, equally scornful and malignant —“I say Jeanie Deans indeed — Jeanie Deevil, they had better hae ca’ed ye! — A bonny spot o’ wark your tittie and you hae made out, murdering ae puir wean, and your light limmer of a sister’s to be hanged for’t, as weel she deserves! — And the like o’ you to come to ony honest man’s house, and want to be into a decent bachelor gentleman’s room at this time in the morning, and him in his bed! — Gae wa’, gae wa’!”

Jeanie was struck mute with shame at the unfeeling brutality of this accusation, and could not even find words to justify herself from the vile construction put upon her visit. When Mrs. Balchristie, seeing her advantage, continued in the same tone, “Come, come, bundle up your pipes and tramp awa wi’ ye! — ye may be seeking a father to another wean for ony thing I ken. If it warna that your father, auld David Deans, had been a tenant on our land, I would cry up the men-folk, and hae ye dookit in the burn for your impudence.”

Jeanie had already turned her back, and was walking towards the door of the court-yard, so that Mrs. Balchristie, to make her last threat impressively audible to her, had raised her stentorian voice to its utmost pitch. But, like many a general, she lost the engagement by pressing her advantage too far.

The Laird had been disturbed in his morning slumbers by the tones of Mrs. Balchristie’s objurgation, sounds in themselves by no means uncommon, but very remarkable, in respect to the early hour at which they were now heard. He turned himself on the other side, however, in hopes the squall would blow by, when, in the course of Mrs. Balchristie’s second explosion of wrath, the name of Deans distinctly struck the tympanum of his ear. As he was, in some degree, aware of the small portion of benevolence with which his housekeeper regarded the family at St. Leonard’s, he instantly conceived that some message from thence was the cause of this untimely ire, and getting out of his bed, he slipt as speedily as possible into an old brocaded night-gown, and some other necessary garments, clapped on his head his father’s gold-laced hat (for though he was seldom seen without it, yet it is proper to contradict the popular report that he slept in it, as Don Quixote did in his helmet), and opening the window of his bedroom, beheld, to his great astonishment, the well-known figure of Jeanie Deans herself retreating from his gate; while his housekeeper, with arms a-kimbo, fist clenched and extended, body erect, and head shaking with rage, sent after her a volley of Billingsgate oaths. His choler rose in proportion to the surprise, and, perhaps, to the disturbance of his repose. “Hark ye,” he exclaimed from the window, “ye auld limb of Satan — wha the deil gies you commission to guide an honest man’s daughter that gate?”

Mrs. Balchristie was completely caught in the manner. She was aware, from the unusual warmth with which the Laird expressed himself, that he was quite serious in this matter, and she knew, that with all his indolence of nature, there were points on which he might be provoked, and that, being provoked, he had in him something dangerous, which her wisdom taught her to fear accordingly. She began, therefore, to retract her false step as fast as she could. “She was but speaking for the house’s credit, and she couldna think of disturbing his honour in the morning sae early, when the young woman might as weel wait or call again; and to be sure, she might make a mistake between the twa sisters, for ane o’ them wasna sae creditable an acquaintance.”

“Haud your peace, ye auld jade,” said Dumbiedikes; “the warst quean e’er stude in their shoon may ca’ you cousin, an a’ be true that I have heard. — Jeanie, my woman, gang into the parlour — but stay, that winna be redd up yet — wait there a minute till I come down to let ye in-Dinna mind what Jenny says to ye.”

“Na, na,” said Jenny, with a laugh of affected heartiness, “never mind me, lass — a’ the warld kens my bark’s waur than my bite — if ye had had an appointment wi’ the Laird, ye might hae tauld me — I am nae uncivil person — gang your ways in by, hinny,” and she opened the door of the house with a master-key.

“But I had no appointment wi’ the Laird,” said Jeanie, drawing back; “I want just to speak twa words to him, and I wad rather do it standing here, Mrs. Balchristie.”

“In the open court-yard! — Na, na, that wad never do, lass; we mauna guide ye that gate neither — And how’s that douce honest man, your father?”

Jeanie was saved the pain of answering this hypocritical question by the appearance of the Laird himself.

“Gang in and get breakfast ready,” said he to his housekeeper —“and, d’ye hear, breakfast wi’ us yoursell — ye ken how to manage thae porringers of tea-water — and, hear ye, see abune a’ that there’s a gude fire. — Weel, Jeanie, my woman, gang in by — gang in by, and rest ye.”

“Na, Laird,” Jeanie replied, endeavouring as much as she could to express herself with composure, notwithstanding she still trembled, “I canna gang in-I have a lang day’s darg afore me — I maun be twenty mile o’ gate the night yet, if feet will carry me.”

“Guide and deliver us! — twenty mile — twenty mile on your feet!” ejaculated Dumbiedikes, whose walks were of a very circumscribed diameter — “Ye maun never think o’ that — come in by.”

“I canna do that, Laird,” replied Jeanie; “the twa words I have to say to ye I can say here; forby that Mrs. Balchristie.”

“The deil flee awa wi’ Mrs. Balchristie,” said Dumbiedikes, “and he’ll hae a heavy lading o’ her! I tell ye, Jeanie Deans, I am a man of few words, but I am laird at hame, as well as in the field; deil a brute or body about my house but I can manage when I like, except Rory Bean, my powny; but I can seldom be at the plague, an it binna when my bluid’s up.”

“I was wanting to say to ye, Laird,” said Jeanie, who felt the necessity of entering upon her business, “that I was gaun a lang journey, outby of my father’s knowledge.”

“Outby his knowledge, Jeanie! — Is that right? Ye maun think ot again — it’s no right,” said Dumbiedikes, with a countenance of great concern.

“If I were ance at Lunnon,” said Jeanie, in exculpation, “I am amaist sure I could get means to speak to the queen about my sister’s life.”

“Lunnon — and the queen — and her sister’s life!” said Dumbiedikes, whistling for very amazement —“the lassie’s demented.”

“I am no out o’ my mind,” said she, “and sink or swim, I am determined to gang to Lunnon, if I suld beg my way frae door to door — and so I maun, unless ye wad lend me a small sum to pay my expenses — little thing will do it; and ye ken my father’s a man of substance, and wad see nae man, far less you, Laird, come to loss by me.”

Dumbiedikes, on comprehending the nature of this application, could scarce trust his ears — he made no answer whatever, but stood with his eyes rivetted on the ground.

“I see ye are no for assisting me, Laird,” said Jeanie, “sae fare ye weel — and gang and see my poor father as aften as ye can — he will be lonely eneugh now.”

“Where is the silly bairn gaun?” said Dumbiedikes; and, laying hold of her hand, he led her into the house. “It’s no that I didna think o’t before,” he said, “but it stack in my throat.”

Thus speaking to himself, he led her into an old-fashioned parlour, shut the door behind them, and fastened it with a bolt. While Jeanie, surprised at this manoeuvre, remained as near the door as possible, the Laird quitted her hand, and pressed upon a spring lock fixed in an oak panel in the wainscot, which instantly slipped aside. An iron strong-box was discovered in a recess of the wall; he opened this also, and pulling out two or three drawers, showed that they were filled with leathern bags full of gold and silver coin.

“This is my bank, Jeanie lass,” he said, looking first at her and then at the treasure, with an air of great complacency — “nane o’ your goldsmith’s bills for me — they bring folk to ruin.”

Then, suddenly changing his tone, he resolutely said — “Jeanie, I will make ye Lady Dumbiedikes afore the sun sets and ye may ride to Lunnon in your ain coach, if ye like.”

“Na, Laird,” said Jeanie, “that can never be — my father’s grief — my sister’s situation — the discredit to you —”

“That’s my business,” said Dumbiedikes; “ye wad say naething about that if ye werena a fule — and yet I like ye the better for’t — ae wise body’s eneugh in the married state. But if your heart’s ower fu’, take what siller will serve ye, and let it be when ye come back again — as gude syne as sune.”

“But, Laird,” said Jeanie, who felt the necessity of being explicit with so extraordinary a lover, “I like another man better than you, and I canna marry ye.”

“Another man better than me, Jeanie!” said Dumbiedikes; “how is that possible? It’s no possible, woman — ye hae ken’d me sae lang.”

“Ay but, Laird,” said Jeanie, with persevering simplicity, “I hae ken’d him langer.”

“Langer! It’s no possible!” exclaimed the poor Laird. “It canna be; ye were born on the land. O Jeanie woman, ye haena lookit — ye haena seen the half o’ the gear.” He drew out another drawer —“A’ gowd, Jeanie, and there’s bands for siller lent — And the rental book, Jeanie — clear three hunder sterling — deil a wadset, heritable band, or burden — Ye haena lookit at them, woman — And then my mother’s wardrobe, and my grandmother’s forby — silk gowns wad stand on their ends, their pearline-lace as fine as spiders’ webs, and rings and ear-rings to the boot of a’ that — they are a’ in the chamber of deas — Oh, Jeanie, gang up the stair and look at them!”


Jeanie and the Laird of Dumbiedykes

But Jeanie held fast her integrity, though beset with temptations, which perhaps the Laird of Dumbiedikes did not greatly err in supposing were those most affecting to her sex.

“It canna be, Laird — I have said it — and I canna break my word till him, if ye wad gie me the haill barony of Dalkeith, and Lugton into the bargain.”

“Your word to him,” said the Laird, somewhat pettishly; “but wha is he, Jeanie? — wha is he? — I haena heard his name yet — Come now, Jeanie, ye are but queering us — I am no trowing that there is sic a ane in the warld — ye are but making fashion — What is he? — wha is he?”

“Just Reuben Butler, that’s schulemaster at Liberton,” said Jeanie.

“Reuben Butler! Reuben Butler!” echoed the Laird of Dumbiedikes, pacing the apartment in high disdain — “Reuben Butler, the dominie at Liberton — and a dominie depute too! — Reuben, the son of my cottar! — Very weel, Jeanie lass, wilfu’ woman will hae her way — Reuben Butler! he hasna in his pouch the value o’ the auld black coat he wears — But it disna signify.” And as he spoke, he shut successively and with vehemence the drawers of his treasury. “A fair offer, Jeanie, is nae cause of feud — Ae man may bring a horse to the water, but twenty winna gar him drink — And as for wasting my substance on other folk’s joes —”

There was something in the last hint that nettled Jeanie’s honest pride. — “I was begging nane frae your honour,” she said; “least of a’ on sic a score as ye pit it on. — Gude morning to ye, sir; ye hae been kind to my father, and it isna in my heart to think otherwise than kindly of you.”

So saying, she left the room without listening to a faint “But, Jeanie — Jeanie — stay, woman!” and traversing the courtyard with a quick step, she set out on her forward journey, her bosom glowing with that natural indignation and shame, which an honest mind feels at having subjected itself to ask a favour, which had been unexpectedly refused. When out of the Laird’s ground, and once more upon the public road, her pace slackened, her anger cooled, and anxious anticipations of the consequence of this unexpected disappointment began to influence her with other feelings. Must she then actually beg her way to London? for such seemed the alternative; or must she turn back, and solicit her father for money? and by doing so lose time, which was precious, besides the risk of encountering his positive prohibition respecting the journey! Yet she saw no medium between these alternatives; and, while she walked slowly on, was still meditating whether it were not better to return.

While she was thus in an uncertainty, she heard the clatter of a horse’s hoofs, and a well-known voice calling her name. She looked round, and saw advancing towards her on a pony, whose bare back and halter assorted ill with the nightgown, slippers, and laced cocked-hat of the rider, a cavalier of no less importance than Dumbiedikes himself. In the energy of his pursuit, he had overcome even the Highland obstinacy of Rory Bean, and compelled that self-willed palfrey to canter the way his rider chose; which Rory, however, performed with all the symptoms of reluctance, turning his head, and accompanying every bound he made in advance with a sidelong motion, which indicated his extreme wish to turn round — a manoeuvre which nothing but the constant exercise of the Laird’s heels and cudgel could possibly have counteracted.

When the Laird came up with Jeanie, the first words he uttered were — “Jeanie, they say ane shouldna aye take a woman at her first word?”

“Ay, but ye maun take me at mine, Laird,” said Jeanie, looking on the ground, and walking on without a pause. —“I hae but ae word to bestow on ony body, and that’s aye a true ane.”

“Then,” said Dumbiedikes, “at least ye suldna aye take a man at his first word. Ye maunna gang this wilfu’ gate sillerless, come o’t what like.”— He put a purse into her hand. “I wad gie you Rory too, but he’s as wilfu’ as yoursell, and he’s ower weel used to a gate that maybe he and I hae gaen ower aften, and he’ll gang nae road else.”

“But, Laird,” said Jeanie, “though I ken my father will satisfy every penny of this siller, whatever there’s o’t, yet I wadna like to borrow it frae ane that maybe thinks of something mair than the paying o’t back again.”

“There’s just twenty-five guineas o’t,” said Dumbiedikes, with a gentle sigh, “and whether your father pays or disna pay, I make ye free till’t without another word. Gang where ye like — do what ye like — and marry a’ the Butlers in the country gin ye like — And sae, gude morning to you, Jeanie.”

“And God bless you, Laird, wi’ mony a gude morning!” said Jeanie, her heart more softened by the unwonted generosity of this uncouth character, than perhaps Butler might have approved, had he known her feelings at that moment; “and comfort, and the Lord’s peace, and the peace of the world, be with you, if we suld never meet again!”

Dumbiedikes turned and waved his hand; and his pony, much more willing to return than he had been to set out, hurried him homeward so fast, that, wanting the aid of a regular bridle, as well as of saddle and stirrups, he was too much puzzled to keep his seat to permit of his looking behind, even to give the parting glance of a forlorn swain. I am ashamed to say, that the sight of a lover, ran away with in nightgown and slippers and a laced hat, by a bare-backed Highland pony, had something in it of a sedative, even to a grateful and deserved burst of affectionate esteem. The figure of Dumbiedikes was too ludicrous not to confirm Jeanie in the original sentiments she entertained towards him.

“He’s a gude creature,” said she, “and a kind — it’s a pity he has sae willyard a powny.” And she immediately turned her thoughts to the important journey which she had commenced, reflecting with pleasure, that, according to her habits of life and of undergoing fatigue, she was now amply or even superfluously provided with the means of encountering the expenses of the road, up and down from London, and all other expenses whatever.

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