The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 32

There governed in that year

A stern, stout churl — an angry overseer.

Crabbe.

While Mr. Staunton, for such was this worthy clergyman’s name, was laying aside his gown in the vestry, Jeanie was in the act of coming to an open rupture with Madge.

“We must return to Mummer’s barn directly,” said Madge; “we’ll be ower late, and my mother will be angry.”

“I am not going back with you, Madge,” said Jeanie, taking out a guinea, and offering it to her; “I am much obliged to you, but I maun gang my ain road.”

“And me coming a’ this way out o’ my gate to pleasure you, ye ungratefu’ cutty,” answered Madge; “and me to be brained by my mother when I gang hame, and a’ for your sake! — But I will gar ye as good”

“For God’s sake,” said Jeanie to a man who stood beside them, “keep her off! — she is mad.”

“Ey, ey,” answered the boor; “I hae some guess of that, and I trow thou be’st a bird of the same feather. — Howsomever, Madge, I redd thee keep hand off her, or I’se lend thee a whisterpoop.”

Several of the lower class of the parishioners now gathered round the strangers, and the cry arose among the boys that “there was a-going to be a fite between mad Madge Murdockson and another Bess of Bedlam.” But while the fry assembled with the humane hope of seeing as much of the fun as possible, the laced cocked-hat of the beadle was discerned among the multitude, and all made way for that person of awful authority. His first address was to Madge.

“What’s brought thee back again, thou silly donnot, to plague this parish? Hast thou brought ony more bastards wi’ thee to lay to honest men’s doors? or does thou think to burden us with this goose, that’s as hare-brained as thysell, as if rates were no up enow? Away wi’ thee to thy thief of a mother; she’s fast in the stocks at Barkston town-end — Away wi’ ye out o’ the parish, or I’se be at ye with the ratan.”

Madge stood sulky for a minute; but she had been too often taught submission to the beadle’s authority by ungentle means to feel courage enough to dispute it.

“And my mother — my puir auld mother, is in the stocks at Barkston! — This is a’ your wyte, Miss Jeanie Deans; but I’ll be upsides wi’ you, as sure as my name’s Madge Wildfire — I mean Murdockson — God help me, I forget my very name in this confused waste!”

So saying, she turned upon her heel, and went off, followed by all the mischievous imps of the village, some crying, “Madge, canst thou tell thy name yet?” some pulling the skirts of her dress, and all, to the best of their strength and ingenuity, exercising some new device or other to exasperate her into frenzy.

Jeanie saw her departure with infinite delight, though she wished that, in some way or other, she could have requited the service Madge had conferred upon her.

In the meantime, she applied to the beadle to know whether “there was any house in the village where she could be civilly entertained for her money, and whether she could be permitted to speak to the clergyman?”

“Ay, ay, we’se ha’ reverend care on thee; and I think,” answered the man of constituted authority, “that, unless thou answer the Rector all the better, we’se spare thy money, and gie thee lodging at the parish charge, young woman.”

“Where am I to go then?” said Jeanie, in some alarm.

“Why, I am to take thee to his Reverence, in the first place, to gie an account o’ thysell, and to see thou comena to be a burden upon the parish.”

“I do not wish to burden anyone,” replied Jeanie; “I have enough for my own wants, and only wish to get on my journey safely.”

“Why, that’s another matter,” replied the beadle, “and if it be true — and I think thou dost not look so polrumptious as thy playfellow yonder — Thou wouldst be a mettle lass enow, an thou wert snog and snod a bid better. Come thou away, then — the Rector is a good man.”

“Is that the minister,” said Jeanie, “who preached”

“The minister? Lord help thee! What kind o’ Presbyterian art thou? — Why, ’tis the Rector — the Rector’s sell, woman, and there isna the like o’ him in the county, nor the four next to it. Come away — away with thee — we maunna bide here.”

“I am sure I am very willing to go to see the minister,” said Jeanie; “for though he read his discourse, and wore that surplice, as they call it here, I canna but think he must be a very worthy God-fearing man, to preach the root of the matter in the way he did.”

The disappointed rabble, finding that there was like to be no farther sport, had by this time dispersed, and Jeanie, with her usual patience, followed her consequential and surly, but not brutal, conductor towards the rectory.

This clerical mansion was large and commodious, for the living was an excellent one, and the advowson belonged to a very wealthy family in the neighbourhood, who had usually bred up a son or nephew to the church for the sake of inducting him, as opportunity offered, into this very comfortable provision. In this manner the rectory of Willingham had always been considered as a direct and immediate appanage of Willingham Hall; and as the rich baronets to whom the latter belonged had usually a son, or brother, or nephew, settled in the living, the utmost care had been taken to render their habitation not merely respectable and commodious, but even dignified and imposing.

It was situated about four hundred yards from the village, and on a rising ground which sloped gently upward, covered with small enclosures, or closes, laid out irregularly, so that the old oaks and elms, which were planted in hedge-rows, fell into perspective, and were blended together in beautiful irregularity. When they approached nearer to the house, a handsome gateway admitted them into a lawn, of narrow dimensions indeed, but which was interspersed with large sweet chestnut trees and beeches, and kept in handsome order. The front of the house was irregular. Part of it seemed very old, and had, in fact, been the residence of the incumbent in Romish times. Successive occupants had made considerable additions and improvements, each in the taste of his own age, and without much regard to symmetry. But these incongruities of architecture were so graduated and happily mingled, that the eye, far from being displeased with the combinations of various styles, saw nothing but what was interesting in the varied and intricate pile which they displayed. Fruit-trees displayed on the southern wall, outer staircases, various places of entrance, a combination of roofs and chimneys of different ages, united to render the front, not indeed beautiful or grand, but intricate, perplexed, or, to use Mr. Price’s appropriate phrase, picturesque. The most considerable addition was that of the present Rector, who, “being a bookish man,” as the beadle was at the pains to inform Jeanie, to augment, perhaps, her reverence for the person before whom she was to appear, had built a handsome library and parlour, and no less than two additional bedrooms.

“Mony men would hae scrupled such expense,” continued the parochial officer, “seeing as the living mun go as it pleases Sir Edmund to will it; but his Reverence has a canny bit land of his own, and need not look on two sides of a penny.”

Jeanie could not help comparing the irregular yet extensive and commodious pile of building before her to the “Manses” in her own country, where a set of penurious heritors, professing all the while the devotion of their lives and fortunes to the Presbyterian establishment, strain their inventions to discover what may be nipped, and clipped, and pared from a building which forms but a poor accommodation even for the present incumbent, and, despite the superior advantage of stone-masonry, must, in the course of forty or fifty years, again burden their descendants with an expense, which, once liberally and handsomely employed, ought to have freed their estates from a recurrence of it for more than a century at least.

Behind the Rector’s house the ground sloped down to a small river, which, without possessing the romantic vivacity and rapidity of a northern stream, was, nevertheless, by its occasional appearance through the ranges of willows and poplars that crowned its banks, a very pleasing accompaniment to the landscape. “It was the best trouting stream,” said the beadle, whom the patience of Jeanie, and especially the assurance that she was not about to become a burden to the parish, had rendered rather communicative, “the best trouting stream in all Lincolnshire; for when you got lower, there was nought to be done wi’ fly-fishing.”

Turning aside from the principal entrance, he conducted Jeanie towards a sort of portal connected with the older part of the building, which was chiefly occupied by servants, and knocking at the door, it was opened by a servant in grave purple livery, such as befitted a wealthy and dignified clergyman.

“How dost do, Tummas?” said the beadle —“and how’s young Measter Staunton?”

“Why, but poorly — but poorly, Measter Stubbs. — Are you wanting to see his Reverence?”

“Ay, ay, Tummas; please to say I ha’ brought up the young woman as came to service today with mad Madge Murdockson seems to be a decentish koind o’ body; but I ha’ asked her never a question. Only I can tell his Reverence that she is a Scotchwoman, I judge, and as flat as the fens of Holland.”

Tummas honoured Jeanie Deans with such a stare, as the pampered domestics of the rich, whether spiritual or temporal, usually esteem it part of their privilege to bestow upon the poor, and then desired Mr. Stubbs and his charge to step in till he informed his master of their presence.

The room into which he showed them was a sort of steward’s parlour, hung with a county map or two, and three or four prints of eminent persons connected with the county, as Sir William Monson, James York the blacksmith of Lincoln,1 and the famous Peregrine, Lord Willoughby, in complete armour, looking as when he said in the words of the legend below the engraving —

“Stand to it, noble pikemen,

    And face ye well about;

And shoot ye sharp, bold bowmen,

    And we will keep them out.

“Ye musquet and calliver-men,

    Do you prove true to me,

I’ll be the foremost man in fight,

    Said brave Lord Willoughbee.”


A “Summat” to Eat and Drink

When they had entered this apartment, Tummas as a matter of course offered, and as a matter of course Mr. Stubbs accepted, a “summat” to eat and drink, being the respectable relies of a gammon of bacon, and a whole whiskin, or black pot of sufficient double ale. To these eatables Mr. Beadle seriously inclined himself, and (for we must do him justice) not without an invitation to Jeanie, in which Tummas joined, that his prisoner or charge would follow his good example. But although she might have stood in need of refreshment, considering she had tasted no food that day, the anxiety of the moment, her own sparing and abstemious habits, and a bashful aversion to eat in company of the two strangers, induced her to decline their courtesy. So she sate in a chair apart, while Mr. Stubbs and Mr. Tummas, who had chosen to join his friend in consideration that dinner was to be put back till after the afternoon service, made a hearty luncheon, which lasted for half-an-hour, and might not then have concluded, had not his Reverence rung his bell, so that Tummas was obliged to attend his master. Then, and no sooner, to save himself the labour of a second journey to the other end of the house, he announced to his master the arrival of Mr. Stubbs, with the other madwoman, as he chose to designate Jeanie, as an event which had just taken place. He returned with an order that Mr. Stubbs and the young woman should be instantly ushered up to the library. The beadle bolted in haste his last mouthful of fat bacon, washed down the greasy morsel with the last rinsings of the pot of ale, and immediately marshalled Jeanie through one or two intricate passages which led from the ancient to the more modern buildings, into a handsome little hall, or anteroom, adjoining to the library, and out of which a glass door opened to the lawn.

“Stay here,” said Stubbs, “till I tell his Reverence you are come.”

So saying, he opened a door and entered the library. Without wishing to hear their conversation, Jeanie, as she was circumstanced, could not avoid it; for as Stubbs stood by the door, and his Reverence was at the upper end of a large room, their conversation was necessarily audible in the anteroom.

“So you have brought the young woman here at last, Mr. Stubbs. I expected you some time since. You know I do not wish such persons to remain in custody a moment without some inquiry into their situation.”

“Very true, your Reverence,” replied the beadle; “but the young woman had eat nought today, and so Measter Tummas did set down a drap of drink and a morsel, to be sure.”

“Thomas was very right, Mr. Stubbs; and what has, become of the other most unfortunate being?”

“Why,” replied Mr. Stubbs, “I did think the sight on her would but vex your Reverence, and soa I did let her go her ways back to her mother, who is in trouble in the next parish.”

“In trouble! — that signifies in prison, I suppose?” said Mr. Staunton.

“Ay, truly; something like it, an it like your Reverence.”

“Wretched, unhappy, incorrigible woman!” said the clergyman. “And what sort of person is this companion of hers?”

“Why, decent enow, an it like your Reverence,” said Stubbs; “for aught I sees of her, there’s no harm of her, and she says she has cash enow to carry her out of the county.”

“Cash! that is always what you think of, Stubbs — But, has she sense? — has she her wits? — has she the capacity of taking care of herself?”

“Why, your Reverence,” replied Stubbs, “I cannot just say — I will be sworn she was not born at Witt-ham;2 for Gaffer Gibbs looked at her all the time of service, and he says, she could not turn up a single lesson like a Christian, even though she had Madge Murdockson to help her — but then, as to fending for herself, why, she’s a bit of a Scotchwoman, your Reverence, and they say the worst donnot of them can look out for their own turn — and she is decently put on enow, and not bechounched like t’other.”

“Send her in here, then, and do you remain below, Mr. Stubbs.”

This colloquy had engaged Jeanie’s attention so deeply, that it was not until it was over that she observed that the sashed door, which, we have said, led from the anteroom into the garden, was opened, and that there entered, or rather was borne in by two assistants, a young man, of a very pale and sickly appearance, whom they lifted to the nearest couch, and placed there, as if to recover from the fatigue of an unusual exertion. Just as they were making this arrangement, Stubbs came out of the library, and summoned Jeanie to enter it. She obeyed him, not without tremor; for, besides the novelty of the situation, to a girl of her secluded habits, she felt also as if the successful prosecution of her journey was to depend upon the impression she should be able to make on Mr. Staunton.

It is true, it was difficult to suppose on what pretext a person travelling on her own business, and at her own charge, could be interrupted upon her route. But the violent detention she had already undergone, was sufficient to show that there existed persons at no great distance who had the interest, the inclination, and the audacity, forcibly to stop her journey, and she felt the necessity of having some countenance and protection, at least till she should get beyond their reach. While these things passed through her mind, much faster than our pen and ink can record, or even the reader’s eye collect the meaning of its traces, Jeanie found herself in a handsome library, and in presence of the Rector of Willingham. The well-furnished presses and shelves which surrounded the large and handsome apartment, contained more books than Jeanie imagined existed in the world, being accustomed to consider as an extensive collection two fir shelves, each about three feet long, which contained her father’s treasured volumes, the whole pith and marrow, as he used sometimes to boast, of modern divinity. An orrery, globes, a telescope, and some other scientific implements, conveyed to Jeanie an impression of admiration and wonder, not unmixed with fear; for, in her ignorant apprehension, they seemed rather adapted for magical purposes than any other; and a few stuffed animals (as the Rector was fond of natural history) added to the impressive character of the apartment.

Mr. Staunton spoke to her with great mildness. He observed, that, although her appearance at church had been uncommon, and in strange, and he must add, discreditable society, and calculated, upon the whole, to disturb the congregation during divine worship, he wished, nevertheless, to hear her own account of herself before taking any steps which his duty might seem to demand. He was a justice of peace, he informed her, as well as a clergyman.

“His Honour” (for she would not say his Reverence) “was very civil and kind,” was all that poor Jeanie could at first bring out.

“Who are you, young woman?” said the clergyman, more peremptorily —“and what do you do in this country, and in such company? — We allow no strollers or vagrants here.”

“I am not a vagrant or a stroller, sir,” said Jeanie, a little roused by the supposition. “I am a decent Scots lass, travelling through the land on my own business and my own expenses and I was so unhappy as to fall in with bad company, and was stopped a’ night on my journey. And this puir creature, who is something light-headed, let me out in the morning.”

“Bad company!” said the clergyman. “I am afraid, young woman, you have not been sufficiently anxious to avoid them.”

“Indeed, sir,” returned Jeanie, “I have been brought up to shun evil communication. But these wicked people were thieves, and stopped me by violence and mastery.”

“Thieves!” said Mr. Staunton; “then you charge them with robbery, I suppose?”

“No, sir; they did not take so much as a boddle from me,” answered Jeanie; “nor did they use me ill, otherwise than by confining me.”

The clergyman inquired into the particulars of her adventure, which she told him from point to point.

“This is an extraordinary, and not a very probable tale, young woman,” resumed Mr. Staunton. “Here has been, according to your account, a great violence committed without any adequate motive. Are you aware of the law of this country — that if you lodge this charge, you will be bound over to prosecute this gang?”

Jeanie did not understand him, and he explained, that the English law, in addition to the inconvenience sustained by persons who have been robbed or injured, has the goodness to intrust to them the care and the expense of appearing as prosecutors.

Jeanie said, “that her business at London was express; all she wanted was, that any gentleman would, out of Christian charity, protect her to some town where she could hire horses and a guide; and finally,” she thought, “it would be her father’s mind that she was not free to give testimony in an English court of justice, as the land was not under a direct gospel dispensation.”

Mr. Staunton stared a little, and asked if her father was a Quaker.

“God forbid, sir,” said Jeanie —“He is nae schismatic nor sectary, nor ever treated for sic black commodities as theirs, and that’s weel kend o’ him.”

“And what is his name, pray?” said Mr. Staunton.

“David Deans, sir, the cowfeeder at Saint Leonard’s Crags, near Edinburgh.”

A deep groan from the anteroom prevented the Rector from replying, and, exclaiming, “Good God! that unhappy boy!” he left Jeanie alone, and hastened into the outer apartment.

Some noise and bustle was heard, but no one entered the library for the best part of an hour.

1 [Author of the Union of Honour, a treatise on English Heraldry. London, 1641.]

2 A proverbial and punning expression in that county, to intimate that a person is not very clever.

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