The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 29

And Need and Misery, Vice and Danger, bind,

In sad alliance, each degraded mind.

As our traveller set out early on the ensuing morning to prosecute her journey, and was in the act of leaving the innyard, Dick Ostler, who either had risen early or neglected to go to bed, either circumstance being equally incident to his calling, hollowed out after her — “The top of the morning to you, Moggie. Have a care o’ Gunderby Hill, young one. Robin Hood’s dead and gwone, but there be takers yet in the vale of Bever. Jeanie looked at him as if to request a farther explanation, but, with a leer, a shuffle, and a shrug, inimitable (unless by Emery1), Dick turned again to the raw-boned steed which he was currying, and sung as he employed the comb and brush —

“Robin Hood was a yeoman right good,

    And his bow was of trusty yew;

And if Robin said stand on the king’s lea-land,

    Pray, why should not we say so too?”

Jeanie pursued her journey without farther inquiry, for there was nothing in Dick’s manner that inclined her to prolong their conference. A painful day’s journey brought her to Ferrybridge, the best inn, then and since, upon the great northern road; and an introduction from Mrs. Bickerton, added to her own simple and quiet manners, so propitiated the landlady of the Swan in her favour, that the good dame procured her the convenient accommodation of a pillion and post-horse then returning to Tuxford, so that she accomplished, upon the second day after leaving York, the longest journey she had yet made. She was a good deal fatigued by a mode of travelling to which she was less accustomed than to walking, and it was considerably later than usual on the ensuing morning that she felt herself able to resume her pilgrimage. At noon the hundred-armed Trent, and the blackened ruins of Newark Castle, demolished in the great civil war, lay before her. It may easily be supposed, that Jeanie had no curiosity to make antiquarian researches, but, entering the town, went straight to the inn to which she had been directed at Ferrybridge. While she procured some refreshment, she observed the girl who brought it to her, looked at her several times with fixed and peculiar interest, and at last, to her infinite surprise, inquired if her name was not Deans, and if she was not a Scotchwoman, going to London upon justice business. Jeanie, with all her simplicity of character, had some of the caution of her country, and, according to Scottish universal custom, she answered the question by another, requesting the girl would tell her why she asked these questions?

The Maritornes of the Saracen’s Head, Newark, replied, “Two women had passed that morning, who had made inquiries after one Jeanie Deans, travelling to London on such an errand, and could scarce be persuaded that she had not passed on.”

Much surprised and somewhat alarmed (for what is inexplicable is usually alarming), Jeanie questioned the wench about the particular appearance of these two women, but could only learn that the one was aged, and the other young; that the latter was the taller, and that the former spoke most, and seemed to maintain an authority over her companion, and that both spoke with the Scottish accent.

This conveyed no information whatever, and with an indescribable presentiment of evil designed towards her, Jeanie adopted the resolution of taking post-horses for the next stage. In this, however, she could not be gratified; some accidental circumstances had occasioned what is called a run upon the road, and the landlord could not accommodate her with a guide and horses. After waiting some time, in hopes that a pair of horses that had gone southward would return in time for her use, she at length, feeling ashamed at her own pusillanimity, resolved to prosecute her journey in her usual manner.

“It was all plain road,” she was assured, “except a high mountain called Gunnerby Hill, about three miles from Grantham, which was her stage for the night.

“I’m glad to hear there’s a hill,” said Jeanie, “for baith my sight and my very feet are weary o’ sic tracts o’ level ground — it looks a’ the way between this and York as if a’ the land had been trenched and levelled, whilk is very wearisome to my Scotch een. When I lost sight of a muckle blue hill they ca’ Ingleboro’, I thought I hadna a friend left in this strange land.”

“As for the matter of that, young woman,” said mine host, “an you be so fond o’ hill, I carena an thou couldst carry Gunnerby away with thee in thy lap, for it’s a murder to post-horses. But here’s to thy journey, and mayst thou win well through it, for thou is a bold and a canny lass.”

So saying, he took a powerful pull at a solemn tankard of home-brewed ale.

“I hope there is nae bad company on the road, sir?” said Jeanie.

“Why, when it’s clean without them I’ll thatch Groby pool wi’ pancakes. But there arena sae mony now; and since they hae lost Jim the Rat, they hold together no better than the men of Marsham when they lost their common. Take a drop ere thou goest,” he concluded, offering her the tankard; “thou wilt get naething at night save Grantham gruel, nine grots and a gallon of water.”

Jeanie courteously declined the tankard, and inquired what was her “lawing?”

“Thy lawing! Heaven help thee, wench! what ca’st thou that?”

“It is — I was wanting to ken what was to pay,” replied Jeanie.

“Pay? Lord help thee! — why nought, woman — we hae drawn no liquor but a gill o’ beer, and the Saracen’s Head can spare a mouthful o’ meat to a stranger like o’ thee, that cannot speak Christian language. So here’s to thee once more. The same again, quoth Mark of Bellgrave,” and he took another profound pull at the tankard.

The travellers who have visited Newark more lately, will not fail to remember the remarkably civil and gentlemanly manners of the person who now keeps the principal inn there, and may find some amusement in contrasting them with those of his more rough predecessor. But we believe it will be found that the polish has worn off none of the real worth of the metal.

Taking leave of her Lincolnshire Gaius, Jeanie resumed her solitary walk, and was somewhat alarmed when evening and twilight overtook her in the open ground which extends to the foot of Gunnerby Hill, and is intersected with patches of copse and with swampy spots. The extensive commons on the north road, most of which are now enclosed, and in general a relaxed state of police, exposed the traveller to a highway robbery in a degree which is now unknown, except in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis. Aware of this circumstance, Jeanie mended her pace when she heard the trampling of a horse behind, and instinctively drew to one side of the road, as if to allow as much room for the rider to pass as might be possible. When the animal came up, she found that it was bearing two women, the one placed on a side-saddle, the other on a pillion behind her, as may still occasionally be seen in England.

“A braw good-night to ye, Jeanie Deans,” said the foremost female as the horse passed our heroine; “What think ye o’ yon bonny hill yonder, lifting its brow to the moon? Trow ye yon’s the gate to heaven, that ye are sae fain of? — maybe we will win there the night yet, God sain us, though our minny here’s rather dreigh in the upgang.”

The speaker kept changing her seat in the saddle, and half stopping the horse as she brought her body round, while the woman that sate behind her on the pillion seemed to urge her on, in words which Jeanie heard but imperfectly.

“Hand your tongue, ye moon-raised b ——! what is your business with —— or with heaven or hell either?”

“Troth, mither, no muckle wi’ heaven, I doubt, considering wha I carry ahint me — and as for hell, it will fight its ain battle at its ain time, I’se be bound. — Come, naggie, trot awa, man, an as thou wert a broomstick, for a witch rides thee —

With my curtch on my foot, and my shoe on my hand,

I glance like the wildfire through brugh and through land.”

The tramp of the horse, and the increasing distance, drowned the rest of her song, but Jeanie heard for some time the inarticulate sounds ring along the waste.

Our pilgrim remained stupified with undefined apprehensions. The being named by her name in so wild a manner, and in a strange country, without farther explanation or communing, by a person who thus strangely flitted forward and disappeared before her, came near to the supernatural sounds in Comus:—

The airy tongues, which syllable men’s names

On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.

And although widely different in features, deportment, and rank, from the Lady of that enchanting masque, the continuation of the passage may be happily applied to Jeanie Deans upon this singular alarm:—

These thoughts may startle well, but not astound

The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended

By a strong siding champion — Conscience.

In fact, it was, with the recollection of the affectionate and dutiful errand on which she was engaged, her right, if such a word could be applicable, to expect protection in a task so meritorious. She had not advanced much farther, with a mind calmed by these reflections, when she was disturbed by a new and more instant subject of terror. Two men, who had been lurking among some copse, started up as she advanced, and met her on the road in a menacing manner. “Stand and deliver,” said one of them, a short stout fellow, in a smock-frock, such as are worn by waggoners.

“The woman,” said the other, a tall thin figure, “does not understand the words of action. — Your money, my precious, or your life.”

“I have but very little money, gentlemen,” said poor Jeanie, tendering that portion which she had separated from her principal stock, and kept apart for such an emergency; “but if you are resolved to have it, to be sure you must have it.”

“This won’t do, my girl. D— n me, if it shall pass!” said the shorter ruffian; “do ye think gentlemen are to hazard their lives on the road to be cheated in this way? We’ll have every farthing you have got, or we will strip you to the skin, curse me.”

His companion, who seemed to have something like compassion for the horror which Jeanie’s countenance now expressed, said, “No, no, Tom, this is one of the precious sisters, and we’ll take her word, for once, without putting her to the stripping proof — Hark ye, my lass, if ye look up to heaven, and say, this is the last penny you have about ye, why, hang it, we’ll let you pass.”

“I am not free,” answered Jeanie, “to say what I have about me, gentlemen, for there’s life and death depends on my journey; but if you leave me as much as finds me bread and water, I’ll be satisfied, and thank you, and pray for you.”

“D— n your prayers!” said the shorter fellow, “that’s a coin that won’t pass with us;” and at the same time made a motion to seize her.

“Stay, gentlemen,” Ratcliffe’s pass suddenly occurring to her; “perhaps you know this paper.”

“What the devil is she after now, Frank?” said the more savage ruffian —“Do you look at it, for, d — n me if I could read it if it were for the benefit of my clergy.”

“This is a jark from Jim Ratcliffe,” said the taller, having looked at the bit of paper. “The wench must pass by our cutter’s law.”

“I say no,” answered his companion; “Rat has left the lay, and turned bloodhound, they say.”

“We may need a good turn from him all the same,” said the taller ruffian again.

“But what are we to do then?” said the shorter man —“We promised, you know, to strip the wench, and send her begging back to her own beggarly country, and now you are for letting her go on.”

“I did not say that,” said the other fellow, and whispered to his companion, who replied, “Be alive about it then, and don’t keep chattering till some travellers come up to nab us.”

“You must follow us off the road, young woman,” said the taller.

“For the love of God!” exclaimed Jeanie, “as you were born of woman, dinna ask me to leave the road! rather take all I have in the world.”

“What the devil is the wench afraid of?” said the other fellow. “I tell you you shall come to no harm; but if you will not leave the road and come with us, d — n me, but I’ll beat your brains out where you stand.”

“Thou art a rough bear, Tom,” said his companion. —“An ye touch her, I’ll give ye a shake by the collar shall make the Leicester beans rattle in thy guts. — Never mind him, girl; I will not allow him to lay a finger on you, if you walk quietly on with us; but if you keep jabbering there, d — n me, but I’ll leave him to settle it with you.”

This threat conveyed all that is terrible to the imagination of poor Jeanie, who saw in him that “was of milder mood” her only protection from the most brutal treatment. She, therefore, not only followed him, but even held him by the sleeve, lest he should escape from her; and the fellow, hardened as he was, seemed something touched by these marks of confidence, and repeatedly assured her, that he would suffer her to receive no harm.

They conducted their prisoner in a direction leading more and more from the public road, but she observed that they kept a sort of track or by-path, which relieved her from part of her apprehensions, which would have been greatly increased had they not seemed to follow a determined and ascertained route. After about half-an-hour’s walking, all three in profound silence, they approached an old barn, which stood on the edge of some cultivated ground, but remote from everything like a habitation. It was itself, however, tenanted, for there was light in the windows.

One of the footpads scratched at the door, which was opened by a female, and they entered with their unhappy prisoner. An old woman, who was preparing food by the assistance of a stifling fire of lighted charcoal, asked them, in the name of the devil, what they brought the wench there for, and why they did not strip her and turn her abroad on the common?

“Come, come, Mother Blood,” said the tall man, “we’ll do what’s right to oblige you, and we’ll do no more; we are bad enough, but not such as you would make us — devils incarnate.”

“She has got a jark from Jim Ratcliffe,” said the short fellow, “and Frank here won’t hear of our putting her through the mill.”

“No, that I will not, by G— d!” answered Frank; “but if old Mother Blood could keep her here for a little while, or send her back to Scotland, without hurting her, why, I see no harm in that — not I.”

“I’ll tell you what, Frank Levitt,” said the old woman, “if you call me Mother Blood again, I’ll paint this gully” (and she held a knife up as if about to make good her threat) “in the best blood in your body, my bonny boy.”

“The price of ointment must be up in the north,” said Frank, “that puts Mother Blood so much out of humour.”

Without a moment’s hesitation the fury darted her knife at him with the vengeful dexterity of a wild Indian. As he was on his guard, he avoided the missile by a sudden motion of his head, but it whistled past his ear, and stuck deep in the clay wall of a partition behind.

“Come, come, mother,” said the robber, seizing her by both wrists, “I shall teach you who’s master;” and so saying, he forced the hag backwards by main force, who strove vehemently until she sunk on a bunch of straw, and then, letting go her hands, he held up his finger towards her in the menacing posture by which a maniac is intimidated by his keeper. It appeared to produce the desired effect; for she did not attempt to rise from the seat on which he had placed her, or to resume any measures of actual violence, but wrung her withered hands with impotent rage, and brayed and howled like a demoniac.

“I will keep my promise with you, you old devil,” said Frank; “the wench shall not go forward on the London road, but I will not have you touch a hair of her head, if it were but for your insolence.”

This intimation seemed to compose in some degree the vehement passion of the old hag; and while her exclamations and howls sunk into a low, maundering, growling tone of voice, another personage was added to this singular party.

“Eh, Frank Levitt,” said this new-comer, who entered with a hop, step, and jump, which at once conveyed her from the door into the centre of the party, “were ye killing our mother? or were ye cutting the grunter’s weasand that Tam brought in this morning? or have ye been reading your prayers backward, to bring up my auld acquaintance the deil amang ye?”

The tone of the speaker was so particular, that Jeanie immediately recognised the woman who had rode foremost of the pair which passed her just before she met the robbers; a circumstance which greatly increased her terror, as it served to show that the mischief designed against her was premeditated, though by whom, or for what cause, she was totally at a loss to conjecture. From the style of her conversation, the reader also may probably acknowledge in this female an old acquaintance in the earlier part of our narrative.

“Out, ye mad devil!” said Tom, whom she had disturbed in the middle of a draught of some liquor with which he had found means of accommodating himself; “betwixt your Bess of Bedlam pranks, and your dam’s frenzies, a man might live quieter in the devil’s ken than here.”— And he again resumed the broken jug out of which he had been drinking.

“And wha’s this o’t?” said the mad woman, dancing up to Jeanie Deans, who, although in great terror, yet watched the scene with a resolution to let nothing pass unnoticed which might be serviceable in assisting her to escape, or informing her as to the true nature of her situation, and the danger attending it — “Wha’s this o’t?” again exclaimed Madge Wildfire.

“Douce Davie Deans, the auld doited whig body’s daughter, in a gipsy’s barn, and the night setting in? This is a sight for sair een! — Eh, sirs, the falling off o’ the godly! — and the t’other sister’s in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh; I am very sorry for her, for my share — it’s my mother wusses ill to her, and no me — though maybe I hae as muckle cause.”

“Hark ye, Madge,” said the taller ruffian, “you have not such a touch of the devil’s blood as the hag your mother, who may be his dam for what I know — take this young woman to your kennel, and do not let the devil enter, though he should ask in God’s name.”

“Ou ay; that I will, Frank,” said Madge, taking hold of Jeanie by the arm, and pulling her along; “for it’s no for decent Christian young leddies, like her and me, to be keeping the like o’ you and Tyburn Tam company at this time o’ night. Sae gude-e’en t’ye, sirs, and mony o’ them; and may ye a’ sleep till the hangman wauken ye, and then it will be weel for the country.”

She then, as her wild fancy seemed suddenly to prompt her, walked demurely towards her mother, who, seated by the charcoal fire, with the reflection of the red light on her withered and distorted features marked by every evil passion, seemed the very picture of Hecate at her infernal rites; and, suddenly dropping on her knees, said, with the manner of a six years’ old child, “Mammie, hear me say my prayers before I go to bed, and say God bless my bonny face, as ye used to do lang syne.”

“The deil flay the hide o’ it to sole his brogues wi’!” said the old lady, aiming a buffet at the supplicant, in answer to her duteous request.

The blow missed Madge, who, being probably acquainted by experience with the mode in which her mother was wont to confer her maternal benedictions, slipt out of arm’s length with great dexterity and quickness. The hag then started up, and, seizing a pair of old fire-tongs, would have amended her motion, by beating out the brains either of her daughter or Jeanie (she did not seem greatly to care which), when her hand was once more arrested by the man whom they called Frank Levitt, who, seizing her by the shoulder, flung her from him with great violence, exclaiming, “What, Mother Damnable — again, and in my sovereign presence! — Hark ye, Madge of Bedlam! get to your hole with your playfellow, or we shall have the devil to pay here, and nothing to pay him with.”

Madge took Levitt’s advice, retreating as fast as she could, and dragging Jeanie along with her into a sort of recess, partitioned off from the rest of the barn, and filled with straw, from which it appeared that it was intended for the purpose of slumber. The moonlight shone, through an open hole, upon a pillion, a pack-saddle, and one or two wallets, the travelling furniture of Madge and her amiable mother. —“Now, saw ye e’er in your life,” said Madge, “sae dainty a chamber of deas? see as the moon shines down sae caller on the fresh strae! There’s no a pleasanter cell in Bedlam, for as braw a place as it is on the outside. — Were ye ever in Bedlam?”

“No,” answered Jeanie faintly, appalled by the question, and the way in which it was put, yet willing to soothe her insane companion, being in circumstances so unhappily precarious, that even the society of this gibbering madwoman seemed a species of protection.

“Never in Bedlam?” said Madge, as if with some surprise. —“But ye’ll hae been in the cells at Edinburgh!”

“Never,” repeated Jeanie.

“Weel, I think thae daft carles the magistrates send naebody to Bedlam but me — thae maun hae an unco respect for me, for whenever I am brought to them, thae aye hae me back to Bedlam. But troth, Jeanie” (she said this in a very confidential tone), “to tell ye my private mind about it, I think ye are at nae great loss; for the keeper’s a cross-patch, and he maun hae it a’ his ain gate, to be sure, or he makes the place waur than hell. I often tell him he’s the daftest in a’ the house. — But what are they making sic a skirling for? — Deil ane o’ them’s get in here — it wadna be mensfu’! I will sit wi’ my back again the door; it winna be that easy stirring me.”

“Madge!”—“Madge!”—“Madge Wildfire!”—“Madge devil! what have ye done with the horse?” was repeatedly asked by the men without.

“He’s e’en at his supper, puir thing,” answered Madge; “deil an ye were at yours, too, an it were scauding brimstone, and then we wad hae less o’ your din.”

“His supper!” answered the more sulky ruffian —“What d’ye mean by that! — Tell me where he is, or I will knock your Bedlam brains out!”

“He’s in Gaffer Gablewood’s wheat-close, an ye maun ken.”

“His wheat-close, you crazed jilt!” answered the other, with an accent of great indignation.

“O, dear Tyburn Tam, man, what ill will the blades of the young wheat do to the puir nag?”

“That is not the question,” said the other robber; “but what the country will say to us tomorrow, when they see him in such quarters? — Go, Tom, and bring him in; and avoid the soft ground, my lad; leave no hoof-track behind you.”

“I think you give me always the fag of it, whatever is to be done,” grumbled his companion.

“Leap, Laurence, you’re long enough,” said the other; and the fellow left the barn accordingly, without farther remonstrance.

In the meanwhile, Madge had arranged herself for repose on the straw; but still in a half-sitting posture, with her back resting against the door of the hovel, which, as it opened inwards, was in this manner kept shut by the weight of the person.

“There’s mair shifts by stealing, Jeanie,” said Madge Wildfire; “though whiles I can hardly get our mother to think sae. Wha wad hae thought but mysell of making a bolt of my ain back-bane? But it’s no sae strong as thae that I hae seen in the Tolbooth at Edinburgh. The hammermen of Edinburgh are to my mind afore the warld for making stancheons, ring-bolts, fetter-bolts, bars, and locks. And they arena that bad at girdles for carcakes neither, though the Cu’ross hammermen have the gree for that. My mother had ance a bonny Cu’ross girdle, and I thought to have baked carcakes on it for my puir wean that’s dead and gane nae fair way — But we maun a’ dee, ye ken, Jeanie — You Cameronian bodies ken that brawlies; and ye’re for making a hell upon earth that ye may be less unwillin’ to part wi’ it. But as touching Bedlam that ye were speaking about, I’se ne’er recommend it muckle the tae gate or the other, be it right — be it wrang. But ye ken what the sang says.” And, pursuing the unconnected and floating wanderings of her mind, she sung aloud —

“In the bonny cells of Bedlam,

    Ere I was ane-and-twenty,

I had hempen bracelets strong,

    And merry whips, ding-dong,

And prayer and fasting plenty.

“Weel, Jeanie, I am something herse the night, and I canna sing muckle mair; and troth, I think, I am gaun to sleep.”

She drooped her head on her breast, a posture from which Jeanie, who would have given the world for an opportunity of quiet to consider the means and the probability of her escape, was very careful not to disturb her. After nodding, however, for a minute’or two, with her eyes half-closed, the unquiet and restless spirit of her malady again assailed Madge. She raised her head, and spoke, but with a lowered tone, which was again gradually overcome by drowsiness, to which the fatigue of a day’s journey on horseback had probably given unwonted occasion — “I dinna ken what makes me sae sleepy — I amaist never sleep till my bonny Lady Moon gangs till her bed — mair by token, when she’s at the full, ye ken, rowing aboon us yonder in her grand silver coach — I have danced to her my lane sometimes for very joy — and whiles dead folk came and danced wi’ me — the like o’ Jock Porteous, or ony body I had ken’d when I was living — for ye maun ken I was ance dead mysell.” Here the poor maniac sung, in a low and wild tone,

“My banes are buried in yon kirkyard

    Sae far ayont the sea,

And it is but my blithesome ghaist

    That’s speaking now to thee.

“But after a’, Jeanie, my woman, naebody kens weel wha’s living and wha’s dead — or wha’s gone to Fairyland — there’s another question. Whiles I think my puir bairn’s dead — ye ken very weel it’s buried — but that signifies naething. I have had it on my knee a hundred times, and a hundred till that, since it was buried — and how could that be were it dead, ye ken? — it’s merely impossible.”— And here, some conviction half-overcoming the reveries of her imagination, she burst into a fit of crying and ejaculation, “Wae’s me! wae’s me! wae’s me!” till at length she moaned and sobbed herself into a deep sleep, which was soon intimated by her breathing hard, leaving Jeanie to her own melancholy reflections and observations.

1 [John Emery, an eminent comedian, played successfully at Covent Garden Theatre between 1798 and 1820. Among his characters, were those of Dandie Dinmont in Guy Mannering, Dougal in Rob Roy, and Ratcliffe in the Heart of Mid-Lothian.]

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