The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 31

So free from danger, free from fear

They crossed the court — right glad they were.

Christabel.

Pursuing the path which Madge had chosen, Jeanie Deans observed, to her no small delight, that marks of more cultivation appeared, and the thatched roofs of houses, with their blue smoke arising in little columns, were seen embosomed in a tuft of trees at some distance. The track led in that direction, and Jeanie, therefore, resolved, while Madge continued to pursue it, that she would ask her no questions; having had the penetration to observe, that by doing so she ran the risk of irritating her guide, or awakening suspicions, to the impressions of which, persons in Madge’s unsettled state of mind are particularly liable.

Madge, therefore, uninterrupted, went on with the wild disjointed chat which her rambling imagination suggested; a mood in which she was much more communicative respecting her own history, and that of others, than when there was any attempt made, by direct queries, or cross-examinations, to extract information on these subjects.

“It’s a queer thing,” she said, “but whiles I can speak about the bit bairn and the rest of it, just as if it had been another body’s, and no my ain; and whiles I am like to break my heart about it — Had you ever a bairn, Jeanie?”

Jeanie replied in the negative.

“Ay; but your sister had, though — and I ken what came o’t too.”

“In the name of heavenly mercy,” said Jeanie, forgetting the line of conduct which she had hitherto adopted, “tell me but what became of that unfortunate babe, and —”

Madge stopped, looked at her gravely and fixedly, and then broke into a great fit of laughing —“Aha, lass — catch me if you can — I think it’s easy to gar you trow ony thing. — How suld I ken onything o’ your sister’s wean? Lasses suld hae naething to do wi’ weans till they are married — and then a’ the gossips and cummers come in and feast as if it were the blithest day in the warld. — They say maidens’ bairns are weel guided. I wot that wasna true of your tittie’s and mine; but these are sad tales to tell. — I maun just sing a bit to keep up my heart — It’s a sang that Gentle George made on me lang syne, when I went with him to Lockington wake, to see him act upon a stage, in fine clothes, with the player folk. He might hae dune waur than married me that night as he promised — better wed over the mixen1 as over the moor, as they say in Yorkshire — he may gang farther and fare waur — but that’s a’ ane to the sang,

‘I’m Madge of the country, I’m Madge of the town,

And I’m Madge of the lad I am blithest to own —

    The Lady of Beeve in diamonds may shine,

But has not a heart half so lightsome as mine.

‘I am Queen of the Wake, and I’m Lady of May,

And I lead the blithe ring round the May-pole today;

The wildfire that flashes so fair and so free,

    Was never so bright, or so bonny, as me.’

“I like that the best o’ a’ my sangs,” continued the maniac, “because he made it. I am often singing it, and that’s maybe the reason folk ca’ me Madge Wildfire. I aye answer to the name, though it’s no my ain, for what’s the use of making a fash?”

“But ye shouldna sing upon the Sabbath at least,” said Jeanie, who, amid all her distress and anxiety, could not help being scandalised at the deportment of her companion, especially as they now approached near to the little village.

“Ay! is this Sunday?” said Madge. “My mother leads sic a life, wi’ turning night into day, that ane loses a’ count o’ the days o’ the week, and disna ken Sunday frae Saturday. Besides, it’s a’ your whiggery — in England, folk sings when they like — And then, ye ken, you are Christiana and I am Mercy — and ye ken, as they went on their way, they sang.”— And she immediately raised one of John Bunyan’s ditties:—

“He that is down need fear no fall,

    He that is low no pride,

He that is humble ever shall

    Have God to be his guide.

“Fulness to such a burthen is

    That go on pilgrimage;

Here little, and hereafter bliss,

    Is best from age to age.”

“And do ye ken, Jeanie, I think there’s much truth in that book, the Pilgrim’s Progress. The boy that sings that song was feeding his father’s sheep in the Valley of Humiliation, and Mr. Great-heart says, that he lived a merrier life, and had more of the herb called heart’s-ease in his bosom, than they that wear silk and velvet like me, and are as bonny as I am.”

Jeanie Deans had never read the fanciful and delightful parable to which Madge alluded. Bunyan was, indeed, a rigid Calvinist, but then he was also a member of a Baptist congregation, so that his works had no place on David Deans’s shelf of divinity. Madge, however, at some time of her life, had been well acquainted, as it appeared, with the most popular of his performances, which, indeed, rarely fails to make a deep impression upon children, and people of the lower rank.

“I am sure,” she continued, “I may weel say I am come out of the city of Destruction, for my mother is Mrs. Bat’s-eyes, that dwells at Deadman’s corner; and Frank Levitt, and Tyburn Tam, they may be likened to Mistrust and Guilt, that came galloping up, and struck the poor pilgrim to the ground with a great club, and stole a bag of silver, which was most of his spending money, and so have they done to many, and will do to more. But now we will gang to the Interpreter’s house, for I ken a man that will play the Interpreter right weel; for he has eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth written on his lips, and he stands as if he pleaded wi’ men — Oh, if I had minded what he had said to me, I had never been the cutaway creature that I am! — But it is all over now. — But we’ll knock at the gate, and then the keeper will admit Christiana, but Mercy will be left out — and then I’ll stand at the door, trembling and crying, and then Christiana — that’s you, Jeanie — will intercede for me; and then Mercy — that’s me, ye ken, will faint; and then the Interpreter — yes, the Interpreter, that’s Mr. Staunton himself, will come out and take me — that’s poor, lost, demented me — by the hand, and give me a pomegranate, and a piece of honeycomb, and a small bottle of spirits, to stay my fainting — and then the good times will come back again, and we’ll be the happiest folk you ever saw.”

In the midst of the confused assemblage of ideas indicated in this speech, Jeanie thought she saw a serious purpose on the part of Madge, to endeavour to obtain the pardon and countenance of some one whom she had offended; an attempt the most likely of all others to bring them once more into contact with law and legal protection. She, therefore, resolved to be guided by her while she was in so hopeful a disposition, and act for her own safety according to circumstances.

They were now close by the village, one of those beautiful scenes which are so often found in merry England, where the cottages, instead of being built in two direct lines on each side of a dusty high-road, stand in detached groups, interspersed not only with large oaks and elms, but with fruit-trees, so many of which were at this time in flourish, that the grove seemed enamelled with their crimson and white blossoms. In the centre of the hamlet stood the parish church, and its little Gothic tower, from which at present was heard the Sunday chime of bells.

“We will wait here until the folk are a’ in the church — they ca’ the kirk a church in England, Jeanie, be sure you mind that — for if I was gaun forward amang them, a’ the gaitts o’ boys and lasses wad be crying at Madge Wildfire’s tail, the little hell-rakers! and the beadle would be as hard upon us as if it was our fault. I like their skirting as ill as he does, I can tell him; I’m sure I often wish there was a het peat doun their throats when they set them up that gate.”

Conscious of the disorderly appearance of her own dress after the adventure of the preceding night, and of the grotesque habit and demeanour of her guide, and sensible how important it was to secure an attentive and impatient audience to her strange story from some one who might have the means to protect her, Jeanie readily acquiesced in Madge’s proposal to rest under the trees, by which they were still somewhat screened, until the commencement of service should give them an opportunity of entering the hamlet without attracting a crowd around them. She made the less opposition, that Madge had intimated that this was not the village where her mother was in custody, and that the two squires of the pad were absent in a different direction.

She sate herself down, therefore, at the foot of an oak, and by the assistance of a placid fountain, which had been dammed up for the use of the villagers, and which served her as a natural mirror, she began — no uncommon thing with a Scottish maiden of her rank — to arrange her toilette in the open air, and bring her dress, soiled and disordered as it was, into such order as the place and circumstances admitted.

She soon perceived reason, however, to regret that she had set about this task, however decent and necessary, in the present time and society. Madge Wildfire, who, among other indications of insanity, had a most overweening opinion of those charms, to which, in fact, she had owed her misery, and whose mind, like a raft upon a lake, was agitated and driven about at random by each fresh impulse, no sooner beheld Jeanie begin to arrange her hair, place her bonnet in order, rub the dust from her shoes and clothes, adjust her neck-handkerchief and mittans, and so forth, than with imitative zeal she began to bedizen and trick herself out with shreds and remnants of beggarly finery, which she took out of a little bundle, and which, when disposed around her person, made her appearance ten times more fantastic and apish than it had been before.

Jeanie groaned in spirit, but dared not interfere in a matter so delicate. Across the man’s cap or riding hat which she wore, Madge placed a broken and soiled white feather, intersected with one which had been shed from the train of a peacock. To her dress, which was a kind of riding-habit, she stitched, pinned, and otherwise secured, a large furbelow of artificial flowers, all crushed, wrinkled and dirty, which had at first bedecked a lady of quality, then descended to her Abigail, and dazzled the inmates of the servants’ hall. A tawdry scarf of yellow silk, trimmed with tinsel and spangles, which had seen as hard service, and boasted as honourable a transmission, was next flung over one shoulder, and fell across her person in the manner of a shoulder-belt, or baldrick. Madge then stripped off the coarse ordinary shoes, which she wore, and replaced them by a pair of dirty satin ones, spangled and embroidered to match the scarf, and furnished with very high heels. She had cut a willow switch in her morning’s walk, almost as long as a boy’s fishing-rod. This she set herself seriously to peel, and when it was transformed into such a wand as the Treasurer or High Steward bears on public occasions, she told Jeanie that she thought they now looked decent, as young women should do upon the Sunday morning, and that, as the bells had done ringing, she was willing to conduct her to the Interpreter’s house.

Jeanie sighed heavily, to think it should be her lot on the Lord’s day, and during kirk time too, to parade the street of an inhabited village with so very grotesque a comrade; but necessity had no law, since, without a positive quarrel with the madwoman, which, in the circumstances, would have been very unadvisable, she could see no means of shaking herself free of her society.

As for poor Madge, she was completely elated with personal vanity, and the most perfect satisfaction concerning her own dazzling dress, and superior appearance. They entered the hamlet without being observed, except by one old woman, who, being nearly “high-gravel blind,” was only conscious that something very fine and glittering was passing by, and dropped as deep a reverence to Madge as she would have done to a countess. This filled up the measure of Madge’s self-approbation. She minced, she ambled, she smiled, she simpered, and waved Jeanie Deans forward with the condescension of a noble chaperone, who has undertaken the charge of a country miss on her first journey to the capital.

Jeanie followed in patience, and with her eyes fixed on the ground, that she might save herself the mortification of seeing her companion’s absurdities; but she started when, ascending two or three steps, she found herself in the churchyard, and saw that Madge was making straight for the door of the church. As Jeanie had no mind to enter the congregation in such company, she walked aside from the pathway, and said in a decided tone, “Madge, I will wait here till the church comes out — you may go in by yourself if you have a mind.”

As she spoke these words, she was about to seat herself upon one of the grave-stones.

Madge was a little before Jeanie when she turned aside; but, suddenly changing her course, she followed her with long strides, and, with every feature inflamed with passion, overtook and seized her by the arm. “Do ye think, ye ungratefu’ wretch, that I am gaun to let you sit doun upon my father’s grave? The deil settle ye doun, if ye dinna rise and come into the Interpreter’s house, that’s the house of God, wi’ me, but I’ll rive every dud aft your back!”

She adapted the action to the phrase; for with one clutch she stripped Jeanie of her straw bonnet and a handful of her hair to boot, and threw it up into an old yew-tree, where it stuck fast. Jeanie’s first impulse was to scream, but conceiving she might receive deadly harm before she could obtain the assistance of anyone, notwithstanding the vicinity of the church, she thought it wiser to follow the madwoman into the congregation, where she might find some means of escape from her, or at least be secured against her violence. But when she meekly intimated her consent to follow Madge, her guide’s uncertain brain had caught another train of ideas. She held Jeanie fast with one hand, and with the other pointed to the inscription on the grave-stone, and commanded her to read it. Jeanie obeyed, and read these words:—

“This Monument was erected to the Memory of Donald
Murdockson of the King’s xxvi., or Cameronian
Regiment, a sincere Christian, a brave Soldier, and
a faithful Servant, by his grateful and sorrowing
master, Robert Staunton.”

“It’s very weel read, Jeanie; it’s just the very words,” said Madge, whose ire had now faded into deep melancholy, and with a step which, to Jeanie’s great joy, was uncommonly quiet and mournful, she led her companion towards the door of the church.


Madge and Jennie

It was one of those old-fashioned Gothic parish churches which are frequent in England, the most cleanly, decent, and reverential places of worship that are, perhaps, anywhere to be found in the Christian world. Yet, notwithstanding the decent solemnity of its exterior, Jeanie was too faithful to the directory of the Presbyterian kirk to have entered a prelatic place of worship, and would, upon any other occasion, have thought that she beheld in the porch the venerable figure of her father waving her back from the entrance, and pronouncing in a solemn tone, “Cease, my child, to hear the instruction which causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” But in her present agitating and alarming situation, she looked for safety to this forbidden place of assembly, as the hunted animal will sometimes seek shelter from imminent danger in the human habitation, or in other places of refuge most alien to its nature and habits. Not even the sound of the organ, and of one or two flutes which accompanied the psalmody, prevented her from following her guide into the chancel of the church.

No sooner had Madge put her foot upon the pavement, and become sensible that she was the object of attention to the spectators, than she resumed all the fantastic extravagance of deportment which some transient touch of melancholy had banished for an instant. She swam rather than walked up the centre aisle, dragging Jeanie after her, whom she held fast by the hand. She would, indeed, have fain slipped aside into the pew nearest to the door, and left Madge to ascend in her own manner and alone to the high places of the synagogue; but this was impossible, without a degree of violent resistance, which seemed to her inconsistent with the time and place, and she was accordingly led in captivity up the whole length of the church by her grotesque conductress, who, with half-shut eyes, a prim smile upon her lips, and a mincing motion with her hands, which corresponded with the delicate and affected pace at which she was pleased to move, seemed to take the general stare of the congregation, which such an exhibition necessarily excited, as a high compliment, and which she returned by nods and half-courtesies to individuals amongst the audience, whom she seemed to distinguish as acquaintances. Her absurdity was enhanced in the eyes of the spectators by the strange contrast which she formed to her companion, who, with dishevelled hair, downcast eyes, and a face glowing with shame, was dragged, as it were in triumph after her.

Madge’s airs were at length fortunately cut short by her encountering in her progress the looks of the clergyman, who fixed upon her a glance, at once steady, compassionate, and admonitory. She hastily opened an empty pew which happened to be near her, and entered, dragging in Jeanie after her. Kicking Jeanie on the shins, by way of hint that she should follow her example, she sunk her head upon her hand for the space of a minute. Jeanie, to whom this posture of mental devotion was entirely new, did not attempt to do the like, but looked round her with a bewildered stare, which her neighbours, judging from the company in which they saw her, very naturally ascribed to insanity. Every person in their immediate vicinity drew back from this extraordinary couple as far as the limits of their pew permitted; but one old man could not get beyond Madge’s reach, ere, she had snatched the prayer-book from his hand, and ascertained the lesson of the day. She then turned up the ritual, and with the most overstrained enthusiasm of gesture and manner, showed Jeanie the passages as they were read in the service, making, at the same time, her own responses so loud as to be heard above those of every other person.

Notwithstanding the shame and vexation which Jeanie felt in being thus exposed in a place of worship, she could not and durst not omit rallying her spirits so as to look around her, and consider to whom she ought to appeal for protection so soon as the service should be concluded. Her first ideas naturally fixed upon the clergyman, and she was confirmed in the resolution by observing that he was an aged gentleman, of a dignified appearance and deportment, who read the service with an undisturbed and decent gravity, which brought back to becoming attention those younger members of the congregation who had been disturbed by the extravagant behaviour of Madge Wildfire. To the clergyman, therefore, Jeanie resolved to make her appeal when the service was over.

It is true she felt disposed to be shocked at his surplice, of which she had heard so much, but which she had never seen upon the person of a preacher of the word. Then she was confused by the change of posture adopted in different parts of the ritual, the more so as Madge Wildfire, to whom they seemed familiar, took the opportunity to exercise authority over her, pulling her up and pushing her down with a bustling assiduity, which Jeanie felt must make them both the objects of painful attention. But, notwithstanding these prejudices, it was her prudent resolution, in this dilemma, to imitate as nearly as she could what was done around her. The prophet, she thought, permitted Naaman the Syrian to bow even in the house of Rimmon. Surely if I, in this streight, worship the God of my fathers in mine own language, although the manner thereof be strange to me, the Lord will pardon me in this thing.

In this resolution she became so much confirmed, that, withdrawing herself from Madge as far as the pew permitted, she endeavoured to evince by serious and composed attention to what was passing, that her mind was composed to devotion. Her tormentor would not long have permitted her to remain quiet, but fatigue overpowered her, and she fell fast asleep in the other corner of the pew.

Jeanie, though her mind in her own despite sometimes reverted to her situation, compelled herself to give attention to a sensible, energetic, and well-composed discourse, upon the practical doctrines of Christianity, which she could not help approving, although it was every word written down and read by the preacher, and although it was delivered in a tone and gesture very different from those of Boanerges Stormheaven, who was her father’s favourite preacher. The serious and placid attention with which Jeanie listened, did not escape the clergyman. Madge Wildfire’s entrance had rendered him apprehensive of some disturbance, to provide against which, as far as possible, he often turned his eyes to the part of the church where Jeanie and she were placed, and became soon aware that, although the loss of her head-gear, and the awkwardness of her situation, had given an uncommon and anxious air to the features of the former, yet she was in a state of mind very different from that of her companion. When he dismissed the congregation, he observed her look around with a wild and terrified look, as if uncertain what course she ought to adopt, and noticed that she approached one or two of the most decent of the congregation, as if to address them, and then shrunk back timidly, on observing that they seemed to shun and to avoid her. The clergyman was satisfied there must be something extraordinary in all this, and as a benevolent man, as well as a good Christian pastor, he resolved to inquire into the matter more minutely.

1 A homely proverb, signifying better wed a neighbour than one fetched from a distance. — Mixen signifies dunghill.

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