The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 28

“My native land, good night.”

Lord Byron.

In the present day, a journey from Edinburgh to London is a matter at once safe, brief, and simple, however inexperienced or unprotected the traveller. Numerous coaches of different rates of charge, and as many packets, are perpetually passing and repassing betwixt the capital of Britain and her northern sister, so that the most timid or indolent may execute such a journey upon a few hours’ notice. But it was different in 1737. So slight and infrequent was the intercourse betwixt London and Edinburgh, that men still alive remember that upon one occasion the mail from the former city arrived at the General Post-Office in Scotland with only one letter in it.1

The usual mode of travelling was by means of post-horses, the traveller occupying one, and his guide another, in which manner, by relays of horses from stage to stage, the journey might be accomplished in a wonderfully short time by those who could endure fatigue. To have the bones shaken to pieces by a constant change of those hacks was a luxury for the rich — the poor were under the necessity of using the mode of conveyance with which nature had provided them.

With a strong heart, and a frame patient of fatigue, Jeanie Deans, travelling at the rate of twenty miles a-day, and sometimes farther, traversed the southern part of Scotland, and advanced as far as Durham.

Hitherto she had been either among her own country-folk, or those to whom her bare feet and tartan screen were objects too familiar to attract much attention. But as she advanced, she perceived that both circumstances exposed her to sarcasm and taunts, which she might otherwise have escaped; and although in her heart she thought it unkind, and inhospitable, to sneer at a passing stranger on account of the fashion of her attire, yet she had the good sense to alter those parts of her dress which attracted ill-natured observation. Her chequed screen was deposited carefully in her bundle, and she conformed to the national extravagance of wearing shoes and stockings for the whole day. She confessed afterwards, that, “besides the wastrife, it was lang or she could walk sae comfortably with the shoes as without them; but there was often a bit saft heather by the road-side, and that helped her weel on.” The want of the screen, which was drawn over the head like a veil, she supplied by a bon-grace, as she called it; a large straw bonnet like those worn by the English maidens when labouring in the fields. “But I thought unco shame o’ mysell,” she said, “the first time I put on a married woman’s bon-grace, and me a single maiden.”

With these changes she had little, as she said, to make “her kenspeckle when she didna speak,” but her accent and language drew down on her so many jests and gibes, couched in a worse patois by far than her own, that she soon found it was her interest to talk as little and as seldom as possible. She answered, therefore, civil salutations of chance passengers with a civil courtesy, and chose, with anxious circumspection, such places of repose as looked at once most decent and sequestered. She found the common people of England, although inferior in courtesy to strangers, such as was then practised in her own more unfrequented country, yet, upon the whole, by no means deficient in the real duties of hospitality. She readily obtained food, and shelter, and protection at a very moderate rate, which sometimes the generosity of mine host altogether declined, with a blunt apology — “Thee hast a long way afore thee, lass; and I’se ne’er take penny out o’ a single woman’s purse; it’s the best friend thou can have on the road.”

It often happened, too, that mine hostess was struck with “the tidy, nice Scotch body,” and procured her an escort, or a cast in a waggon, for some part of the way, or gave her a useful advice and recommendation respecting her resting-places.

At York our pilgrim stopped for the best part of a day, partly to recruit her strength — partly because she had the good luck to obtain a lodging in an inn kept by a countrywoman — partly to indite two letters to her father and Reuben Butler; an operation of some little difficulty, her habits being by no means those of literary composition. That to her father was in the following words. —

“Dearest Father — I make my present pilgrimage more heavy and burdensome, through the sad occasion to reflect that it is without your knowledge, which, God knows, was far contrary to my heart; for Scripture says, that ‘the vow of the daughter should not be binding without the consent of the father,’ wherein it may be I have been guilty to tak this wearie journey without your consent. Nevertheless, it was borne in upon my mind that I should be an instrument to help my poor sister in this extremity of needcessity, otherwise I wad not, for wealth or for world’s gear, or for the haill lands of Da’keith and Lugton, have done the like o’ this, without your free will and knowledge. Oh, dear father, as ye wad desire a blessing on my journey, and upon your household, speak a word or write a line of comfort to yon poor prisoner. If she has sinned, she has sorrowed and suffered, and ye ken better than me, that we maun forgie others, as we pray to be forgien. Dear father, forgive my saying this muckle, for it doth not become a young head to instruct grey hairs; but I am sae far frae ye, that my heart yearns to ye a’, and fain wad I hear that ye had forgien her trespass, and sae I nae doubt say mair than may become me. The folk here are civil, and, like the barbarians unto the holy apostle, hae shown me much kindness; and there are a sort of chosen people in the land, for they hae some kirks without organs that are like ours, and are called meeting-houses, where the minister preaches without a gown. But most of the country are prelatists, whilk is awfu’ to think; and I saw twa men that were ministers following hunds, as bauld as Roslin or Driden, the young Laird of Loup-the-dike, or ony wild gallant in Lothian. A sorrowfa’ sight to behold! Oh, dear father, may a blessing be with your down-lying and up-rising, and remember in your prayers your affectionate daughter to command,

“Jean Deans.”

A postscript bore,

“I learned from a decent woman, a grazier’s widow, that they hae a cure for the muir-ill in Cumberland, whilk is ane pint, as they ca’t, of yill, whilk is a dribble in comparison of our gawsie Scots pint, and hardly a mutchkin, boiled wi’ sope and hartshorn draps, and toomed doun the creature’s throat wi’ ane whorn. Ye might try it on the bauson-faced year-auld quey; an it does nae gude, it can do nae ill. — She was a kind woman, and seemed skeely about horned beasts. When I reach Lunnon, I intend to gang to our cousin Mrs. Glass, the tobacconist, at the sign o’ the Thistle, wha is so ceevil as to send you down your spleuchan-fu’ anes a year; and as she must be well kend in Lunnon, I doubt not easily to find out where she lives.”

Being seduced into betraying our heroine’s confidence thus far, we will stretch our communication a step beyond, and impart to the reader her letter to her lover.

“Mr. Reuben Butler — Hoping this will find you better, this comes to say, that I have reached this great town safe, and am not wearied with walking, but the better for it. And I have seen many things which I trust to tell you one day, also the muckle kirk of this place; and all around the city are mills, whilk havena muckle wheels nor mill-dams, but gang by the wind — strange to behold. Ane miller asked me to gang in and see it work, but I wad not, for I am not come to the south to make acquaintance with strangers. I keep the straight road, and just beck if onybody speaks to me ceevilly, and answers naebody with the tong but women of my ain sect. I wish, Mr. Butler, I kend onything that wad mak ye weel, for they hae mair medicines in this town of York than wad cure a’ Scotland, and surely some of them wad be gude for your complaints. If ye had a kindly motherly body to nurse ye, and no to let ye waste yoursell wi’ reading — whilk ye read mair than eneugh wi’ the bairns in the schule — and to gie ye warm milk in the morning, I wad be mair easy for ye. Dear Mr. Butler, keep a good heart, for we are in the hands of Ane that kens better what is gude for us than we ken what is for oursells. I hae nae doubt to do that for which I am come — I canna doubt it — I winna think to doubt it — because, if I haena full assurance, how shall I bear myself with earnest entreaties in the great folk’s presence? But to ken that ane’s purpose is right, and to make their heart strong, is the way to get through the warst day’s darg. The bairns’ rime says, the warst blast of the borrowing days2 couldna kill the three silly poor hog-lams.

“And if it be God’s pleasure, we that are sindered in sorrow may meet again in joy, even on this hither side of Jordan. I dinna bid ye mind what I said at our partin’ anent my poor father, and that misfortunate lassie, for I ken you will do sae for the sake of Christian charity, whilk is mair than the entreaties of her that is your servant to command,

“Jeanie Deans.”

This letter also had a postscript.

“Dear Reuben, If ye think that it wad hae been right for me to have said mair and kinder things to ye, just think that I hae written sae, since I am sure that I wish a’ that is kind and right to ye and by ye. Ye will think I am turned waster, for I wear clean hose and shoon every day; but it’s the fashion here for decent bodies and ilka land has it’s ain landlaw. Ower and aboon a’, if laughing days were e’er to come back again till us, ye wad laugh weel to see my round face at the far end of a strae bon-grace, that looks as muckle and round as the middell aisle in Libberton Kirk. But it sheds the sun weel aff, and keeps uncivil folk frae staring as if ane were a worrycow. I sall tell ye by writ how I come on wi’ the Duke of Argyle, when I won up to Lunnon. Direct a line, to say how ye are, to me, to the charge of Mrs. Margaret Glass, tobacconist, at the sign of the Thistle, Lunnon, whilk, if it assures me of your health, will make my mind sae muckle easier. Excuse bad spelling and writing, as I have ane ill pen.”

The orthography of these epistles may seem to the southron to require a better apology than the letter expresses, though a bad pen was the excuse of a certain Galwegian laird for bad spelling; but, on behalf of the heroine, I would have them to know, that, thanks to the care of Butler, Jeanie Deans wrote and spelled fifty times better than half the women of rank in Scotland at that period, whose strange orthography and singular diction form the strongest contrast to the good sense which their correspondence usually intimates.

For the rest, in the tenor of these epistles, Jeanie expressed, perhaps, more hopes, a firmer courage, and better spirits, than she actually felt. But this was with the amiable idea of relieving her father and lover from apprehensions on her account, which she was sensible must greatly add to their other troubles. “If they think me weel, and like to do weel,” said the poor pilgrim to herself, “my father will be kinder to Effie, and Butler will be kinder to himself. For I ken weel that they will think mair o’ me than I do o’ mysell.”

Accordingly, she sealed her letters carefully, and put them into the post-office with her own hand, after many inquiries concerning the time in which they were likely to reach Edinburgh. When this duty was performed, she readily accepted her landlady’s pressing invitation to dine with her, and remain till the next morning. The hostess, as we have said, was her countrywoman, and the eagerness with which Scottish people meet, communicate, and, to the extent of their power, assist each other, although it is often objected to us as a prejudice and narrowness of sentiment, seems, on the contrary, to arise from a most justifiable and honourable feeling of patriotism, combined with a conviction, which, if undeserved, would long since have been confuted by experience, that the habits and principles of the nation are a sort of guarantee for the character of the individual. At any rate, if the extensive influence of this national partiality be considered as an additional tie, binding man to man, and calling forth the good offices of such as can render them to the countryman who happens to need them, we think it must be found to exceed, as an active and efficient motive, to generosity, that more impartial and wider principle of general benevolence, which we have sometimes seen pleaded as an excuse for assisting no individual whatever.

Mrs. Bickerton, lady of the ascendant of the Seven Stars, in the Castle-gate, York, was deeply infected with the unfortunate prejudices of her country. Indeed, she displayed so much kindness to Jeanie Deans (because she herself, being a Merse woman, marched with Mid-Lothian, in which Jeanie was born), showed such motherly regard to her, and such anxiety for her farther progress, that Jeanie thought herself safe, though by temper sufficiently cautious, in communicating her whole story to her.

Mrs. Bickerton raised her hands and eyes at the recital, and exhibited much wonder and pity. But she also gave some effectual good advice.

She required to know the strength of Jeanie’s purse, reduced by her deposit at Liberton, and the necessary expense of her journey, to about fifteen pounds. “This,” she said, “would do very well, providing she would carry it a’ safe to London.”

“Safe!” answered Jeanie; “I’se warrant my carrying it safe, bating the needful expenses.”

“Ay, but highwaymen, lassie,” said Mrs. Bickerton; “for ye are come into a more civilised, that is to say, a more roguish country than the north, and how ye are to get forward, I do not profess to know. If ye could wait here eight days, our waggons would go up, and I would recommend you to Joe Broadwheel, who would see you safe to the Swan and two Necks. And dinna sneeze at Joe, if he should be for drawing up wi’ you” (continued Mrs. Bickerton, her acquired English mingling with her national or original dialect), “he’s a handy boy, and a wanter, and no lad better thought o’ on the road; and the English make good husbands enough, witness my poor man, Moses Bickerton, as is i’ the kirkyard.”

Jeanie hastened to say, that she could not possibly wait for the setting forth of Joe Broadwheel; being internally by no means gratified with the idea of becoming the object of his attention during the journey,

“Aweel, lass,” answered the good landlady, “then thou must pickle in thine ain poke-nook, and buckle thy girdle thine ain gate. But take my advice, and hide thy gold in thy stays, and keep a piece or two and some silver, in case thou be’st spoke withal; for there’s as wud lads haunt within a day’s walk from hence, as on the braes of Doune in Perthshire. And, lass, thou maunna gang staring through Lunnon, asking wha kens Mrs. Glass at the sign o’ the Thistle; marry, they would laugh thee to scorn. But gang thou to this honest man,” and she put a direction into Jeanie’s hand, “he kens maist part of the sponsible Scottish folk in the city, and he will find out your friend for thee.”

Jeanie took the little introductory letter with sincere thanks; but, something alarmed on the subject of the highway robbers, her mind recurred to what Ratcliffe had mentioned to her, and briefly relating the circumstances which placed a document so extraordinary in her hands, she put the paper he had given her into the hand of Mrs. Bickerton.

The Lady of the Seven Stars did not indeed ring a bell, because such was not the fashion of the time, but she whistled on a silver call, which was hung by her side, and a tight serving-maid entered the room.

“Tell Dick Ostler to come here,” said Mrs. Bickerton.

Dick Ostler accordingly made his appearance — a queer, knowing, shambling animal, with a hatchet-face, a squint, a game-arm, and a limp.

“Dick Ostler,” said Mrs. Bickerton, in a tone of authority that showed she was (at least by adoption) Yorkshire too, “thou knowest most people and most things o’ the road.”

“Eye, eye, God help me, mistress,” said Dick, shrugging his shoulders betwixt a repentant and a knowing expression —“Eye! I ha’ know’d a thing or twa i’ ma day, mistress.” He looked sharp and laughed — looked grave and sighed, as one who was prepared to take the matter either way.

“Kenst thou this wee bit paper amang the rest, man?” said Mrs. Bickerton, handing him the protection which Ratcliffe had given Jeanie Deans.

When Dick had looked at the paper, he winked with one eye, extended his grotesque mouth from ear to ear, like a navigable canal, scratched his head powerfully, and then said, “Ken! — ay — maybe we ken summat, an it werena for harm to him, mistress!”

“None in the world,” said Mrs. Bickerton; “only a dram of Hollands to thyself, man, an thou wilt speak.”

“Why, then,” said Dick, giving the head-band of his breeches a knowing hoist with one hand, and kicking out one foot behind him to accommodate the adjustment of that important habiliment, “I dares to say the pass will be kend weel eneugh on the road, an that be all.”

“But what sort of a lad was he?” said Mrs. Bickerton, winking to Jeanie, as proud of her knowing Ostler.

“Why, what ken I? — Jim the Rat — why he was Cock o’ the North within this twelmonth — he and Scotch Wilson, Handle Dandie, as they called him — but he’s been out o’ this country a while, as I rackon; but ony gentleman, as keeps the road o’ this side Stamford, will respect Jim’s pass.”

Without asking farther questions, the landlady filled Dick Ostler a bumper of Hollands. He ducked with his head and shoulders, scraped with his more advanced hoof, bolted the alcohol, to use the learned phrase, and withdrew to his own domains.

“I would advise thee, Jeanie,” said Mrs. Bickerton, “an thou meetest with ugly customers o’ the road, to show them this bit paper, for it will serve thee, assure thyself.”

A neat little supper concluded the evening. The exported Scotswoman, Mrs. Bickerton by name, ate heartily of one or two seasoned dishes, drank some sound old ale, and a glass of stiff negus; while she gave Jeanie a history of her gout, admiring how it was possible that she, whose fathers and mothers for many generations had been farmers in Lammermuir, could have come by a disorder so totally unknown to them. Jeanie did not choose to offend her friendly landlady, by speaking her mind on the probable origin of this complaint; but she thought on the flesh-pots of Egypt, and, in spite of all entreaties to better fare, made her evening meal upon vegetables, with a glass of fair water.

Mrs. Bickerton assured her, that the acceptance of any reckoning was entirely out of the question, furnished her with credentials to her correspondent in London, and to several inns upon the road where she had some influence or interest, reminded her of the precautions she should adopt for concealing her money, and as she was to depart early in the morning, took leave of her very affectionately, taking her word that she would visit her on her return to Scotland, and tell her how she had managed, and that summum bonum for a gossip, “all how and about it.” This Jeanie faithfully promised.

1 The fact is certain. The single epistle was addressed to the principal director of the British Linen Company.

67 The last three days of March, old style, are called the Borrowing Days; for, as they are remarked to be unusually stormy, it is feigned that March had borrowed them from April, to extend the sphere of his rougher sway. The rhyme on the subject is quoted in the glossary to Leyden’s edition of the “Complaynt of Scotland”—

[March said to Aperill,

    I see three hogs upon a hill,

A young sheep before it has lost its first fleece.

    But when the borrowed days were gane

The three silly hogs came hirplin hame.]

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/heart/chapter28.html

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