The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 27

What strange and wayward thoughts will slide

    Into a lover’s head;

“O mercy!” to myself I cried,

    “If Lucy should be dead!”

Wordsworth.

In pursuing her solitary journey, our heroine, soon after passing the house of Dumbiedikes, gained a little eminence, from which, on looking to the eastward down a prattling brook, whose meanders were shaded with straggling widows and alder trees, she could see the cottages of Woodend and Beersheba, the haunts and habitation of her early life, and could distinguish the common on which she had so often herded sheep, and the recesses of the rivulet where she had pulled rushes with Butler, to plait crowns and sceptres for her sister Effie, then a beautiful but spoiled child, of about three years old. The recollections which the scene brought with them were so bitter, that, had she indulged them, she would have sate down and relieved her heart with tears.

“But I ken’d,” said Jeanie, when she gave an account of her pilgrimage, “that greeting would do but little good, and that it was mair beseeming to thank the Lord, that had showed me kindness and countenance by means of a man, that mony ca’d a Nabal, and churl, but wha was free of his gudes to me, as ever the fountain was free of the stream. And I minded the Scripture about the sin of Israel at Meribah, when the people murmured, although Moses had brought water from the dry rock that the congregation might drink and live. Sae, I wad not trust mysell with another look at puir Woodend, for the very blue reek that came out of the lum-head pat me in mind of the change of market days with us.”

In this resigned and Christian temper she pursued her journey until she was beyond this place of melancholy recollections, and not distant from the village where Butler dwelt, which, with its old-fashioned church and steeple, rises among a tuft of trees, occupying the ridge of an eminence to the south of Edinburgh. At a quarter of a mile’s distance is a clumsy square tower, the residence of the Laird of Liberton, who, in former times, with the habits of the predatory chivalry of Germany, is said frequently to have annoyed the city of Edinburgh, by intercepting the supplies and merchandise which came to the town from the southward.

This village, its tower, and its church, did not lie precisely in Jeanie’s road towards England; but they were not much aside from it, and the village was the abode of Butler. She had resolved to see him in the beginning of her journey, because she conceived him the most proper person to write to her father concerning her resolution and her hopes. There was probably another reason latent in her affectionate bosom. She wished once more to see the object of so early and so sincere an attachment, before commencing a pilgrimage, the perils of which she did not disguise from herself, although she did not allow them so to press upon her mind as to diminish the strength and energy of her resolution. A visit to a lover from a young person in a higher rank of life than Jeanie’s, would have had something forward and improper in its character. But the simplicity of her rural habits was unacquainted with these punctilious ideas of decorum, and no notion, therefore, of impropriety crossed her imagination, as, setting out upon a long journey, she went to bid adieu to an early friend.

There was still another motive that pressed upon her mind with additional force as she approached the village. She had looked anxiously for Butler in the courthouse, and had expected that, certainly, in some part of that eventful day, he would have appeared to bring such countenance and support as he could give to his old friend, and the protector of his youth, even if her own claims were laid aside.

She know, indeed, that he was under a certain degree of restraint; but she still had hoped that he would have found means to emancipate himself from it, at least for one day. In short, the wild and wayward thoughts which Wordsworth has described as rising in an absent lover’s imagination, suggested, as the only explanation of his absence, that Butler must be very ill. And so much had this wrought on her imagination, that when she approached the cottage where her lover occupied a small apartment, and which had been pointed out to her by a maiden with a milk-pail on her head, she trembled at anticipating the answer she might receive on inquiring for him.

Her fears in this case had, indeed, only hit upon the truth. Butler, whose constitution was naturally feeble, did not soon recover the fatigue of body and distress of mind which he had suffered, in consequence of the tragical events with which our narrative commenced. The painful idea that his character was breathed on by suspicion, was an aggravation to his distress.

But the most cruel addition was the absolute prohibition laid by the magistrates on his holding any communication with Deans or his family. It had unfortunately appeared likely to them, that some intercourse might be again attempted with that family by Robertson, through the medium of Butler, and this they were anxious to intercept, or prevent if possible. The measure was not meant as a harsh or injurious severity on the part of the magistrates; but, in Butler’s circumstances, it pressed cruelly hard. He felt he must be suffering under the bad opinion of the person who was dearest to him, from an imputation of unkind desertion, the most alien to his nature.

This painful thought, pressing on a frame already injured, brought on a succession of slow and lingering feverish attacks, which greatly impaired his health, and at length rendered him incapable even of the sedentary duties of the school, on which his bread depended. Fortunately, old Mr. Whackbairn, who was the principal teacher of the little parochial establishment, was sincerely attached to Butler. Besides that he was sensible of his merits and value as an assistant, which had greatly raised the credit of his little school, the ancient pedagogue, who had himself been tolerably educated, retained some taste for classical lore, and would gladly relax, after the drudgery of the school was over, by conning over a few pages of Horace or Juvenal with his usher. A similarity of taste begot kindness, and accordingly he saw Butler’s increasing debility with great compassion, roused up his own energies to teaching the school in the morning hours, insisted upon his assistant’s reposing himself at that period, and, besides, supplied him with such comforts as the patient’s situation required, and his own means were inadequate to compass.

Such was Butler’s situation, scarce able to drag himself to the place where his daily drudgery must gain his daily bread, and racked with a thousand fearful anticipations concerning the fate of those who were dearest to him in the world, when the trial and condemnation of Effie Deans put the copestone upon his mental misery.

He had a particular account of these events, from a fellow-student who resided in the same village, and who, having been present on the melancholy occasion, was able to place it in all its agony of horrors before his excruciated imagination. That sleep should have visited his eyes after such a curfew-note, was impossible. A thousand dreadful visions haunted his imagination all night, and in the morning he was awaked from a feverish slumber, by the only circumstance which could have added to his distress — the visit of an intrusive ass.

This unwelcome visitant was no other than Bartoline Saddletree. The worthy and sapient burgher had kept his appointment at MacCroskie’s with Plumdamas and some other neighbours, to discuss the Duke of Argyle’s speech, the justice of Effie Deans’s condemnation, and the improbability of her obtaining a reprieve. This sage conclave disputed high and drank deep, and on the next morning Bartoline felt, as he expressed it, as if his head was like a “confused progress of writs.”

To bring his reflective powers to their usual serenity, Saddle-tree resolved to take a morning’s ride upon a certain hackney, which he, Plumdamas, and another honest shopkeeper, combined to maintain by joint subscription, for occasional jaunts for the purpose of business or exercise. As Saddletree had two children boarded with Whackbairn, and was, as we have seen, rather fond of Butler’s society, he turned his palfrey’s head towards Liberton, and came, as we have already said, to give the unfortunate usher that additional vexation, of which Imogene complains so feelingly, when she says —

“I’m sprighted with a fool —

Sprighted and anger’d worse.”

If anything could have added gall to bitterness, it was the choice which Saddletree made of a subject for his prosing harangues, being the trial of Effie Deans, and the probability of her being executed. Every word fell on Butler’s ear like the knell of a death-bell, or the note of a screech-owl.

Jeanie paused at the door of her lover’s humble abode upon hearing the loud and pompous tones of Saddletree sounding from the inner apartment, “Credit me, it will be sae, Mr. Butler. Brandy cannot save her. She maun gang down the Bow wi’ the lad in the pioted coat1 at her heels. —

I am sorry for the lassie, but the law, sir, maun hae its course —

Vivat Rex,

Currat Lex,

as the poet has it, in whilk of Horace’s odes I know not.”

Here Butler groaned, in utter impatience of the brutality and ignorance which Bartoline had contrived to amalgamate into one sentence. But Saddletree, like other prosers, was blessed with a happy obtuseness of perception concerning the unfavourable impression which he sometimes made on his auditors. He proceeded to deal forth his scraps of legal knowledge without mercy, and concluded by asking Butler, with great self-complacency, “Was it na a pity my father didna send me to Utrecht? Havena I missed the chance to turn out as clarissimus an ictus, as auld Grunwiggin himself? — Whatfor dinna ye speak, Mr. Butler? Wad I no hae been a clarissimus ictus? — Eh, man?”

“I really do not understand you, Mr. Saddletree,” said Butler, thus pushed hard for an answer. His faint and exhausted tone of voice was instantly drowned in the sonorous bray of Bartoline.

“No understand me, man? Ictus is Latin for a lawyer, is it not?”

“Not that ever I heard of,” answered Butler in the same dejected tone.

“The deil ye didna! — See, man, I got the word but this morning out of a memorial of Mr. Crossmyloof’s — see, there it is, ictus clarissimus et perti — peritissimus — it’s a’ Latin, for it’s printed in the Italian types.”

“O, you mean juris-consultus — Ictus is an abbreviation for juris-consultus.

“Dinna tell me, man,” persevered Saddletree, “there’s nae abbreviates except in adjudications; and this is a’ about a servitude of water-drap — that is to say, tillicidian2 (maybe ye’ll say that’s no Latin neither), in Mary King’s Close in the High Street.”

“Very likely,” said poor Butler, overwhelmed by the noisy perseverance of his visitor. “Iam not able to dispute with you.”

“Few folk are — few folk are, Mr. Butler, though I say it that shouldna say it,” returned Bartoline with great delight. “Now, it will be twa hours yet or ye’re wanted in the schule, and as ye are no weel, I’ll sit wi’ you to divert ye, and explain t’ye the nature of a tillicidian. Ye maun ken, the petitioner, Mrs. Crombie, a very decent woman, is a friend of mine, and I hae stude her friend in this case, and brought her wi’ credit into the court, and I doubtna that in due time she will win out o’t wi’ credit, win she or lose she. Ye see, being an inferior tenement or laigh house, we grant ourselves to be burdened wi’ the tillicide, that is, that we are obligated to receive the natural water-drap of the superior tenement, sae far as the same fa’s frae the heavens, or the roof of our neighbour’s house, and from thence by the gutters or eaves upon our laigh tenement. But the other night comes a Highland quean of a lass, and she flashes, God kens what, out at the eastmost window of Mrs. MacPhail’s house, that’s the superior tenement. I believe the auld women wad hae agreed, for Luckie MacPhail sent down the lass to tell my friend Mrs. Crombie that she had made the gardyloo out of the wrang window, out of respect for twa Highlandmen that were speaking Gaelic in the close below the right ane. But luckily for Mrs. Crombie, I just chanced to come in in time to break aff the communing, for it’s a pity the point suldna be tried. We had Mrs. MacPhail into the Ten-Mark Court — The Hieland limmer of a lass wanted to swear herself free — but haud ye there, says I.”

The detailed account of this important suit might have lasted until poor Butler’s hour of rest was completely exhausted, had not Saddletree been interrupted by the noise of voices at the door. The woman of the house where Butler lodged, on returning with her pitcher from the well, whence she had been fetching water for the family, found our heroine Jeanie Deans standing at the door, impatient of the prolix harangue of Saddletree, yet unwilling to enter until he should have taken his leave.

The good woman abridged the period of hesitation by inquiring, “Was ye wanting the gudeman or me, lass?”

“I wanted to speak with Mr. Butler, if he’s at leisure,” replied Jeanie.

“Gang in by then, my woman,” answered the goodwife; and opening the door of a room, she announced the additional visitor with, “Mr. Butler, here’s a lass wants to speak t’ye.”

The surprise of Butler was extreme, when Jeanie, who seldom stirred half-a-mile from home, entered his apartment upon this annunciation.

“Good God!” he said, starting from his chair, while alarm restored to his cheek the colour of which sickness had deprived it; “some new misfortune must have happened!”

“None, Mr. Reuben, but what you must hae heard of — but oh, ye are looking ill yoursell!”— for the “hectic of a moment” had not concealed from her affectionate eyes the ravages which lingering disease and anxiety of mind had made in her lover’s person.

“No: I am well — quite well,” said Butler with eagerness; “if I can do anything to assist you, Jeanie — or your father.”

“Ay, to be sure,” said Saddletree; “the family may be considered as limited to them twa now, just as if Effie had never been in the tailzie, puir thing. But, Jeanie lass, what brings you out to Liberton sae air in the morning, and your father lying ill in the Luckenbooths?”

“I had a message frae my father to Mr. Butler,” said Jeanie with embarrassment; but instantly feeling ashamed of the fiction to which she had resorted, for her love of and veneration for truth was almost Quaker-like, she corrected herself —“That is to say, I wanted to speak with Mr. Butler about some business of my father’s and puir Effie’s.”

“Is it law business?” said Bartoline; “because if it be, ye had better take my opinion on the subject than his.”

“It is not just law business,” said Jeanie, who saw considerable inconvenience might arise from letting Mr. Saddletree into the secret purpose of her journey; “but I want Mr. Butler to write a letter for me.”

“Very right,” said Mr. Saddletree; “and if ye’ll tell me what it is about, I’ll dictate to Mr. Butler as Mr. Crossmyloof does to his clerk. — Get your pen and ink in initialibus, Mr. Butler.”

Jeanie looked at Butler, and wrung her hands with vexation and impatience.

“I believe, Mr. Saddletree,” said Butler, who saw the necessity of getting rid of him at all events, “that Mr. Whackbairn will be somewhat affronted if you do not hear your boys called up to their lessons.”

“Indeed, Mr. Butler, and that’s as true; and I promised to ask a half play-day to the schule, so that the bairns might gang and see the hanging, which canna but have a pleasing effect on their young minds, seeing there is no knowing what they may come to themselves. — Odd so, I didna mind ye were here, Jeanie Deans; but ye maun use yoursell to hear the matter spoken o’. — Keep Jeanie here till I come back, Mr. Butler; I winna bide ten minutes.”

And with this unwelcome assurance of an immediate return, he relieved them of the embarrassment of his presence.

“Reuben,” said Jeanie, who saw the necessity of using the interval of his absence in discussing what had brought her there, “I am bound on a lang journey — I am gaun to Lunnon to ask Effie’s life of the king and of the queen.”

“Jeanie! you are surely not yourself,” answered Butler, in the utmost surprise — “you go to London — you address the king and queen!”

“And what for no, Reuben?” said Jeanie, with all the composed simplicity of her character; “it’s but speaking to a mortal man and woman when a’ is done. And their hearts maun be made o’ flesh and blood like other folk’s, and Effie’s story wad melt them were they stane. Forby, I hae heard that they are no sic bad folk as what the Jacobites ca’ them.”

“Yes, Jeanie,” said Butler; “but their magnificence — their retinue — the difficulty of getting audience?”

“I have thought of a’ that, Reuben, and it shall not break my spirit. Nae doubt their claiths will be very grand, wi’ their crowns on their heads, and their sceptres in their hands, like the great King Ahasuerus when he sate upon his royal throne fornent the gate of his house, as we are told in Scripture. But I have that within me that will keep my heart from failing, and I am amaist sure that I will be strengthened to speak the errand I came for.”

“Alas! alas!” said Butler, “the kings now-a-days do not sit in the gate to administer justice, as in patriarchal times. I know as little of courts as you do, Jeanie, by experience; but by reading and report I know, that the King of Britain does everything by means of his ministers.”

“And if they be upright, God-fearing ministers,” said Jeanie, “it’s sae muckle the better chance for Effie and me.”

“But you do not even understand the most ordinary words relating to a court,” said Butler; “by the ministry is meant not clergymen, but the king’s official servants.”

“Nae doubt,” returned Jeanie, “he maun hae a great number mair, I daur to say, than the duchess has at Dalkeith, and great folk’s servants are aye mair saucy than themselves. But I’ll be decently put on, and I’ll offer them a trifle o’ siller, as if I came to see the palace. Or, if they scruple that, I’ll tell them I’m come on a business of life and death, and then they will surely bring me to speech of the king and queen?”

Butler shook his head. “O Jeanie, this is entirely a wild dream. You can never see them but through some great lord’s intercession, and I think it is scarce possible even then.”

“Weel, but maybe I can get that too,” said Jeanie, “with a little helping from you.”

“From me, Jeanie! this is the wildest imagination of all.”

“Ay, but it is not, Reuben. Havena I heard you say, that your grandfather (that my father never likes to hear about) did some gude langsyne to the forbear of this MacCallummore, when he was Lord of Lorn?”

“He did so,” said Butler, eagerly, “and I can prove it. — I will write to the Duke of Argyle — report speaks him a good kindly man, as he is known for a brave soldier and true patriot — I will conjure him to stand between your sister and this cruel fate. There is but a poor chance of success, but we will try all means.”

“We must try all means,” replied Jeanie; “but writing winna do it — a letter canna look, and pray, and beg, and beseech, as the human voice can do to the human heart. A letter’s like the music that the ladies have for their spinets — naething but black scores, compared to the same tune played or sung. It’s word of mouth maun do it, or naething, Reuben.”

“You are right,” said Reuben, recollecting his firmness, “and I will hope that Heaven has suggested to your kind heart and firm courage the only possible means of saving the life of this unfortunate girl. But, Jeanie, you must not take this most perilous journey alone; I have an interest in you, and I will not agree that my Jeanie throws herself away. You must even, in the present circumstances, give me a husband’s right to protect you, and I will go with you myself on this journey, and assist you to do your duty by your family.”

“Alas, Reuben!” said Jeanie in her turn, “this must not be; a pardon will not gie my sister her fair fame again, or make me a bride fitting for an honest man and an usefu’ minister. Wha wad mind what he said in the pu’pit, that had to wife the sister of a woman that was condemned for sic wickedness?”

“But, Jeanie,” pleaded her lover, “I do not believe, and I cannot believe, that Effie has done this deed.”

“Heaven bless ye for saying sae, Reuben,” answered Jeanie; “but she maun bear the blame o’t after all.”

“But the blame, were it even justly laid on her, does not fall on you.”

“Ah, Reuben, Reuben,” replied the young woman, “ye ken it is a blot that spreads to kith and kin. — Ichabod — as my poor father says — the glory is departed from our house; for the poorest man’s house has a glory, where there are true hands, a divine heart, and an honest fame — And the last has gane frae us a.”

“But, Jeanie, consider your word and plighted faith to me; and would you undertake such a journey without a man to protect you? — and who should that protector be but your husband?”

“You are kind and good, Reuben, and wad take me wi’ a’ my shame, I doubtna. But ye canna but own that this is no time to marry or be given in marriage. Na, if that suld ever be, it maun be in another and a better season. — And, dear Reuben, ye speak of protecting me on my journey — Alas! who will protect and take care of you? — your very limbs tremble with standing for ten minutes on the floor; how could you undertake a journey as far as Lunnon?”

“But I am strong — I am well,” continued Butler, sinking in his seat totally exhausted, “at least I shall be quite well tomorrow.”

“Ye see, and ye ken, ye maun just let me depart,” said Jeanie, after a pause; and then taking his extended hand, and gazing kindly in his face, she added, “It’s e’en a grief the mair to me to see you in this way. But ye maun keep up your heart for Jeanie’s sake, for if she isna your wife, she will never be the wife of living man. And now gie me the paper for MacCallummore, and bid God speed me on my way.”

There was something of romance in Jeanie’s venturous resolution; yet, on consideration, as it seemed impossible to alter it by persuasion, or to give her assistance but by advice, Butler, after some farther debate, put into her hands the paper she desired, which, with the muster-roll in which it was folded up, were the sole memorials of the stout and enthusiastic Bible Butler, his grandfather. While Butler sought this document, Jeanie had time to take up his pocket Bible. “I have marked a scripture,” she said, as she again laid it down, “with your kylevine pen, that will be useful to us baith. And ye maun tak the trouble, Reuben, to write a’ this to my father, for, God help me, I have neither head nor hand for lang letters at ony time, forby now; and I trust him entirely to you, and I trust you will soon be permitted to see him. And, Reuben, when ye do win to the speech o’ him, mind a’ the auld man’s bits o’ ways, for Jeanie’s sake; and dinna speak o’ Latin or English terms to him, for he’s o’ the auld warld, and downa bide to be fashed wi’ them, though I daresay he may be wrang. And dinna ye say muckle to him, but set him on speaking himself, for he’ll bring himsell mair comfort that way. And O, Reuben, the poor lassie in yon dungeon! — but I needna bid your kind heart — gie her what comfort ye can as soon as they will let ye see her — tell her — But I maunna speak mair about her, for I maunna take leave o’ ye wi’ the tear in my ee, for that wouldna be canny. — God bless ye, Reuben!”

To avoid so ill an omen she left the room hastily, while her features yet retained the mournful and affectionate smile which she had compelled them to wear, in order to support Butler’s spirits.

It seemed as if the power of sight, of speech, and of reflection, had left him as she disappeared from the room, which she had entered and retired from so like an apparition. Saddletree, who entered immediately afterwards, overwhelmed him with questions, which he answered without understanding them, and with legal disquisitions, which conveyed to him no iota of meaning. At length the learned burgess recollected that there was a Baron Court to be, held at Loanhead that day, and though it was hardly worth while, “he might as weel go to see if there was onything doing, as he was acquainted with the baron bailie, who was a decent man, and would be glad of a word of legal advice.”

So soon as he departed, Butler flew to the Bible, the last book which Jeanie had touched. To his extreme surprise, a paper, containing two or three pieces of gold, dropped from the book. With a black-lead pencil, she had marked the sixteenth and twenty-fifth verses of the thirty-seventh Psalm — “A little that a righteous man hath, is better than the riches of the wicked.”—“I have been young and am now old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.”

Deeply impressed with the affectionate delicacy which shrouded its own generosity under the cover of a providential supply to his wants, he pressed the gold to his lips with more ardour than ever the metal was greeted with by a miser. To emulate her devout firmness and confidence seemed now the pitch of his ambition, and his first task was to write an account to David Deans of his daughter’s resolution and journey southward. He studied every sentiment, and even every phrase, which he thought could reconcile the old man to her extraordinary resolution. The effect which this epistle produced will be hereafter adverted to. Butler committed it to the charge of an honest clown, who had frequent dealings with Deans in the sale of his dairy produce, and who readily undertook a journey to Edinburgh to put the letter into his own hands.3

1 The executioner, in livery of black or dark grey and silver, likened by low wit to a magpie.

2 He meant, probably, stillicidium.

3 By dint of assiduous research I am enabled to certiorate the reader, that the name of this person was Saunders Broadfoot, and that he dealt in the wholesome commodity called kirn-milk (Anglice’, butter-milk). — J. C.

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