The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 33

Fantastic passions’ maddening brawl!

    And shame and terror over all!

Deeds to be hid which were not hid,

Which, all confused, I could not know

    Whether I suffer’d or I did,

For all seem’d guilt, remorse, or woe;

    My own, or others, still the same

Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.

Coleridge.

During the interval while she was thus left alone, Jeanie anxiously revolved in her mind what course was best for her to pursue. She was impatient to continue her journey, yet she feared she could not safely adventure to do so while the old hag and her assistants were in the neighbourhood, without risking a repetition of their violence. She thought she could collect from the conversation which she had partly overheard, and also from the wild confessions of Madge Wildfire, that her mother had a deep and revengeful motive for obstructing her journey if possible. And from whom could she hope for assistance if not from Mr. Staunton? His whole appearance and demeanour seemed to encourage her hopes. His features were handsome, though marked with a deep cast of melancholy; his tone and language were gentle and encouraging; and, as he had served in the army for several years during his youth, his air retained that easy frankness which is peculiar to the profession of arms. He was, besides, a minister of the gospel; and, although a worshipper, according to Jeanie’s notions, in the court of the Gentiles, and so benighted as to wear a surplice; although he read the Common Prayer, and wrote down every word of his sermon before delivering it; and although he was, moreover, in strength of lungs, as well as pith and marrow of doctrine, vastly inferior to Boanerges Stormheaven, Jeanie still thought he must be a very different person from Curate Kilstoup, and other prelatical divines of her father’s earlier days, who used to get drunk in their canonical dress, and hound out the dragoons against the wandering Cameronians. The house seemed to be in some disturbance, but as she could not suppose she was altogether forgotten, she thought it better to remain quiet in the apartment where she had been left, till some one should take notice of her.

The first who entered was, to her no small delight, one of her own sex, a motherly-looking aged person of a housekeeper. To her Jeanie explained her situation in a few words, and begged her assistance.

The dignity of a housekeeper did not encourage too much familiarity with a person who was at the Rectory on justice-business, and whose character might seem in her eyes somewhat precarious; but she was civil, although distant.

“Her young master,” she said, “had had a bad accident by a fall from his horse, which made him liable to fainting fits; he had been taken very ill just now, and it was impossible his Reverence could see Jeanie for some time; but that she need not fear his doing all that was just and proper in her behalf the instant he could get her business attended to.”— She concluded by offering to show Jeanie a room, where she might remain till his Reverence was at leisure.

Our heroine took the opportunity to request the means of adjusting and changing her dress.

The housekeeper, in whose estimation order and cleanliness ranked high among personal virtues, gladly complied with a request so reasonable; and the change of dress which Jeanie’s bundle furnished made so important an improvement in her appearance, that the old lady hardly knew the soiled and disordered traveller, whose attire showed the violence she had sustained, in the neat, clean, quiet-looking little Scotch-woman, who now stood before her. Encouraged by such a favourable alteration in her appearance, Mrs. Dalton ventured to invite Jeanie to partake of her dinner, and was equally pleased with the decent propriety of her conduct during the meal.

“Thou canst read this book, canst thou, young woman?” said the old lady, when their meal was concluded, laying her hand upon a large Bible.

“I hope sae, madam,” said Jeanie, surprised at the question “my father wad hae wanted mony a thing ere I had wanted that schuling.”

“The better sign of him, young woman. There are men here, well to pass in the world, would not want their share of a Leicester plover, and that’s a bag-pudding, if fasting for three hours would make all their poor children read the Bible from end to end. Take thou the book, then, for my eyes are something dazed, and read where thou listest — it’s the only book thou canst not happen wrong in.”

Jeanie was at first tempted to turn up the parable of the good Samaritan, but her conscience checked her, as if it were a use of Scripture, not for her own edification, but to work upon the mind of others for the relief of her worldly afflictions; and under this scrupulous sense of duty, she selected, in preference, a CHAPTER of the prophet Isaiah, and read it, notwithstanding her northern’ accent and tone, with a devout propriety, which greatly edified Mrs. Dalton.

“Ah,” she said, “an all Scotchwomen were sic as thou but it was our luck to get born devils of thy country, I think — every one worse than t’other. If thou knowest of any tidy lass like thysell that wanted a place, and could bring a good character, and would not go laiking about to wakes and fairs, and wore shoes and stockings all the day round — why, I’ll not say but we might find room for her at the Rectory. Hast no cousin or sister, lass, that such an offer would suit?”

This was touching upon a sore point, but Jeanie was spared the pain of replying by the entrance of the same man-servant she had seen before.

“Measter wishes to see the young woman from Scotland,” was Tummas’s address.

“Go to his Reverence, my dear, as fast as you can, and tell him all your story — his Reverence is a kind man,” said Mrs. Dalton. “I will fold down the leaf, and wake you a cup of tea, with some nice muffin, against you come down, and that’s what you seldom see in Scotland, girl.”

“Measter’s waiting for the young woman,” said Tummas impatiently.

“Well, Mr. Jack-Sauce, and what is your business to put in your oar? — And how often must I tell you to call Mr. Staunton his Reverence, seeing as he is a dignified clergyman, and not be meastering, meastering him, as if he were a little petty squire?”

As Jeanie was now at the door, and ready to accompany Tummas, the footman said nothing till he got into the passage, when he muttered, “There are moe masters than one in this house, and I think we shall have a mistress too, an Dame Dalton carries it thus.”

Tummas led the way through a more intricate range of passages than Jeanie had yet threaded, and ushered her into an apartment which was darkened by the closing of most of the window-shutters, and in which was a bed with the curtains partly drawn.

“Here is the young woman, sir,” said Tummas.

“Very well,” said a voice from the bed, but not that of his Reverence; “be ready to answer the bell, and leave the room.”

“There is some mistake,” said Jeanie, confounded at finding herself in the apartment of an invalid; “the servant told me that the minister —”

“Don’t trouble yourself,” said the invalid, “there is no mistake. I know more of your affairs than my father, and I can manage them better. — Leave the room, Tom.” The servant obeyed. —“We must not,” said the invalid, “lose time, when we have little to lose. Open the shutters of that window.”

She did so, and as he drew aside the curtain of his bed, the light fell on his pale countenance, as, turban’d with bandages, and dressed in a night-gown, he lay, seemingly exhausted, upon the bed.

“Look at me,” he said, “Jeanie Deans; can you not recollect me?”

“No, sir,” said she, full of surprise. “I was never in this country before.”

“But I may have been in yours. Think — recollect. I should faint did I name the name you are most dearly bound to loathe and to detest. Think — remember!”

A terrible recollection flashed on Jeanie, which every tone of the speaker confirmed, and which his next words rendered certainty.

“Be composed — remember Muschat’s Cairn, and the moonlight night!”

Jeanie sunk down on a chair with clasped hands, and gasped in agony.

“Yes, here I lie,” he said, “like a crushed snake, writhing with impatience at my incapacity of motion — here I lie, when I ought to have been in Edinburgh, trying every means to save a life that is dearer to me than my own. — How is your sister? — how fares it with her? — condemned to death, I know it, by this time! O, the horse that carried me safely on a thousand errands of folly and wickedness, that he should have broke down with me on the only good mission I have undertaken for years! But I must rein in my passion — my frame cannot endure it, and I have much to say. Give me some of the cordial which stands on that table. — Why do you tremble? But you have too good cause. — Let it stand — I need it not.”

Jeanie, however reluctant, approached him with the cup into which she had poured the draught, and could not forbear saying, “There is a cordial for the mind, sir, if the wicked will turn from their transgressions, and seek to the Physician of souls.”

“Silence!” he said sternly —“and yet I thank you. But tell me, and lose no time in doing so, what you are doing in this country? Remember, though I have been your sister’s worst enemy, yet I will serve her with the best of my blood, and I will serve you for her sake; and no one can serve you to such purpose, for no one can know the circumstances so well — so speak without fear.”

“I am not afraid, sir,” said Jeanie, collecting her spirits. “I trust in God; and if it pleases Him to redeem my sister’s captivity, it is all I seek, whosoever be the instrument. But, sir, to be plain with you, I dare not use your counsel, unless I were enabled to see that it accords with the law which I must rely upon.”

“The devil take the Puritan!” cried George Staunton, for so we must now call him —“I beg your pardon; but I am naturally impatient, and you drive me mad! What harm can it possibly do to tell me in what situation your sister stands, and your own expectations of being able to assist her? It is time enough to refuse my advice when I offer any which you may think improper. I speak calmly to you, though ’tis against my nature; but don’t urge me to impatience — it will only render me incapable of serving Effie.”

There was in the looks and words of this unhappy young man a sort of restrained eagerness and impetuosity which seemed to prey upon itself, as the impatience of a fiery steed fatigues itself with churning upon the bit. After a moment’s consideration, it occurred to Jeanie that she was not entitled to withhold from him, whether on her sister’s account or her own, the fatal account of the consequences of the crime which he had committed, nor to reject such advice, being in itself lawful and innocent, as he might be able to suggest in the way of remedy. Accordingly, in as few words as she could express it, she told the history of her sister’s trial and condemnation, and of her own journey as far as Newark. He appeared to listen in the utmost agony of mind, yet repressed every violent symptom of emotion, whether by gesture or sound, which might have interrupted the speaker, and, stretched on his couch like the Mexican monarch on his bed of live coals, only the contortions of his cheek, and the quivering of his limbs, gave indication of his sufferings. To much of what she said he listened with stifled groans, as if he were only hearing those miseries confirmed, whose fatal reality he had known before; but when she pursued her tale through the circumstances which had interrupted her journey, extreme surprise and earnest attention appeared to succeed to the symptoms of remorse which he had before exhibited. He questioned Jeanie closely concerning the appearance of the two men, and the conversation which she had overheard between the taller of them and the woman.

When Jeanie mentioned the old woman having alluded to her foster-son —“It is too true,” he said; “and the source from which I derived food, when an infant, must have communicated to me the wretched — the fated — propensity to vices that were strangers in my own family. — But go on.”

Jeanie passed slightly over her journey in company with Madge, having no inclination to repeat what might be the effect of mere raving on the part of her companion, and therefore her tale was now closed.

Young Staunton lay for a moment in profound meditation and at length spoke with more composure than he had yet displayed during their interview. —“You are a sensible, as well as a good young woman, Jeanie Deans, and I will tell you more of my story than I have told to any one. — Story did I call it? — it is a tissue of folly, guilt, and misery. — But take notice — I do it because I desire your confidence in return — that is, that you will act in this dismal matter by my advice and direction. Therefore do I speak.”

“I will do what is fitting for a sister, and a daughter, and a Christian woman to do,” said Jeanie; “but do not tell me any of your secrets. — It is not good that I should come into your counsel, or listen to the doctrine which causeth to err.”

“Simple fool!” said the young man. “Look at me. My head is not horned, my foot is not cloven, my hands are not garnished with talons; and, since I am not the very devil himself, what interest can any one else have in destroying the hopes with which you comfort or fool yourself? Listen to me patiently, and you will find that, when you have heard my counsel, you may go to the seventh heaven with it in your pocket, if you have a mind, and not feel yourself an ounce heavier in the ascent.”

At the risk of being somewhat heavy, as explanations usually prove, we must here endeavour to combine into a distinct narrative, information which the invalid communicated in a manner at once too circumstantial, and too much broken by passion, to admit of our giving his precise words. Part of it indeed he read from a manuscript, which he had perhaps drawn up for the information of his relations after his decease.

“To make my tale short — this wretched hag — this Margaret Murdockson, was the wife of a favourite servant of my father — she had been my nurse — her husband was dead — she resided in a cottage near this place — she had a daughter who grew up, and was then a beautiful but very giddy girl; her mother endeavoured to promote her marriage with an old and wealthy churl in the neighbourhood — the girl saw me frequently — She was familiar with me, as our connection seemed to permit — and I— in a word, I wronged her cruelly — It was not so bad as your sister’s business, but it was sufficiently villanous — her folly should have been her protection. Soon after this I was sent abroad — To do my father justice, if I have turned out a fiend it is not his fault — he used the best means. When I returned, I found the wretched mother and daughter had fallen into disgrace, and were chased from this country. — My deep share in their shame and misery was discovered — my father used very harsh language — we quarrelled. I left his house, and led a life of strange adventure, resolving never again to see my father or my father’s home.

“And now comes the story! — Jeanie, I put my life into your hands, and not only my own life, which, God knows, is not worth saving, but the happiness of a respectable old man, and the honour of a family of consideration. My love of low society, as such propensities as I was cursed with are usually termed, was, I think of an uncommon kind, and indicated a nature, which, if not depraved by early debauchery, would have been fit for better things. I did not so much delight in the wild revel, the low humour, the unconfined liberty of those with whom I associated as in the spirit of adventure, presence of mind in peril, and sharpness of intellect which they displayed in prosecuting their maraudings upon the revenue, or similar adventures. — Have you looked round this rectory? — is it not a sweet and pleasant retreat?”

Jeanie, alarmed at this sudden change of subject, replied in the affirmative.

“Well! I wish it had been ten thousand fathoms under ground, with its church-lands, and tithes, and all that belongs to it. Had it not been for this cursed rectory, I should have been permitted to follow the bent of my own inclinations and the profession of arms, and half the courage and address that I have displayed among smugglers and deer-stealers would have secured me an honourable rank among my contemporaries. Why did I not go abroad when I left this house! — Why did I leave it at all! — why — But it came to that point with me that it is madness to look back, and misery to look forward!”

He paused, and then proceeded with more composure.

“The chances of a wandering life brought me unhappily to Scotland, to embroil myself in worse and more criminal actions than I had yet been concerned in. It was now I became acquainted with Wilson, a remarkable man in his station of life; quiet, composed, and resolute, firm in mind, and uncommonly strong in person, gifted with a sort of rough eloquence which raised him above his companions. Hitherto I had been

As dissolute as desperate, yet through both

Were seen some sparkles of a better hope.

“But it was this man’s misfortune, as well as mine, that, notwithstanding the difference of our rank and education, he acquired an extraordinary and fascinating influence over me, which I can only account for by the calm determination of his character being superior to the less sustained impetuosity of mine. Where he led I felt myself bound to follow; and strange was the courage and address which he displayed in his pursuits. While I was engaged in desperate adventures, under so strange and dangerous a preceptor, I became acquainted with your unfortunate sister at some sports of the young people in the suburbs, which she frequented by stealth — and her ruin proved an interlude to the tragic scenes in which I was now deeply engaged. Yet this let me say — the villany was not premeditated, and I was firmly resolved to do her all the justice which marriage could do, so soon as I should be able to extricate myself from my unhappy course of life, and embrace some one more suited to my birth. I had wild visions — visions of conducting her as if to some poor retreat, and introducing her at once to rank and fortune she never dreamt of. A friend, at my request, attempted a negotiation with my father, which was protracted for some time, and renewed at different intervals. At length, and just when I expected my father’s pardon, he learned by some means or other my infamy, painted in even exaggerated colours, which was, God knows, unnecessary. He wrote me a letter — how it found me out I know not — enclosing me a sum of money, and disowning me for ever. I became desperate — I became frantic — I readily joined Wilson in a perilous smuggling adventure in which we miscarried, and was willingly blinded by his logic to consider the robbery of the officer of the customs in Fife as a fair and honourable reprisal. Hitherto I had observed a certain line in my criminality, and stood free of assaults upon personal property, but now I felt a wild pleasure in disgracing myself as much as possible.

“The plunder was no object to me. I abandoned that to my comrades, and only asked the post of danger. I remember well that when I stood with my drawn sword guarding the door while they committed the felony, I had not a thought of my own safety. I was only meditating on my sense of supposed wrong from my family, my impotent thirst of vengeance, and how it would sound in the haughty cars of the family of Willingham, that one of their descendants, and the heir apparent of their honours, should perish by the hands of the hangman for robbing a Scottish gauger of a sum not equal to one-fifth part of the money I had in my pocket-book. We were taken — I expected no less. We were condemned — that also I looked for. But death, as he approached nearer, looked grimly; and the recollection of your sister’s destitute condition determined me on an effort to save my life. — I forgot to tell you, that in Edinburgh I again met the woman Murdockson and her daughter. She had followed the camp when young, and had now, under pretence of a trifling traffic, resumed predatory habits, with which she had already been too familiar. Our first meeting was stormy; but I was liberal of what money I had, and she forgot, or seemed to forget, the injury her daughter had received. The unfortunate girl herself seemed hardly even to know her seducer, far less to retain any sense of the injury she had received. Her mind is totally alienated, which, according to her mother’s account, is sometimes the consequence of an unfavourable confinement. But it was my doing. Here was another stone knitted round my neck to sink me into the pit of perdition. Every look — every word of this poor creature — her false spirits — her imperfect recollections — her allusions to things which she had forgotten, but which were recorded in my conscience, were stabs of a poniard — stabs did I say? — they were tearing with hot pincers, and scalding the raw wound with burning sulphur — they were to be endured however, and they were endured. — I return to my prison thoughts.

“It was not the least miserable of them that your sister’s time approached. I knew her dread of you and of her father. She often said she would die a thousand deaths ere you should know her shame — yet her confinement must be provided for. I knew this woman Murdockson was an infernal hag, but I thought she loved me, and that money would make her true. She had procured a file for Wilson, and a spring-saw for me; and she undertook readily to take charge of Effie during her illness, in which she had skill enough to give the necessary assistance. I gave her the money which my father had sent me. It was settled that she should receive Effie into her house in the meantime, and wait for farther directions from me, when I should effect my escape. I communicated this purpose, and recommended the old hag to poor Effie by a letter, in which I recollect that I endeavoured to support the character of Macheath under condemnation-a fine, gay, bold-faced ruffian, who is game to the last. Such, and so wretchedly poor, was my ambition! Yet I had resolved to forsake the courses I had been engaged in, should I be so fortunate as to escape the gibbet. My design was to marry your sister, and go over to the West Indies. I had still a considerable sum of money left, and I trusted to be able, in one way or other, to provide for myself and my wife.

“We made the attempt to escape, and by the obstinacy of Wilson, who insisted upon going first, it totally miscarried. The undaunted and self-denied manner in which he sacrificed himself to redeem his error, and accomplish my escape from the Tolbooth Church, you must have heard of — all Scotland rang with it. It was a gallant and extraordinary deed — All men spoke of it — all men, even those who most condemned the habits and crimes of this self-devoted man, praised the heroism of his friendship. I have many vices, but cowardice or want of gratitude, are none of the number. I resolved to requite his generosity, and even your sister’s safety became a secondary consideration with me for the time. To effect Wilson’s liberation was my principal object, and I doubted not to find the means.

“Yet I did not forget Effie neither. The bloodhounds of the law were so close after me, that I dared not trust myself near any of my old haunts, but old Murdockson met me by appointment, and informed me that your sister had happily been delivered of a boy. I charged the hag to keep her patient’s mind easy, and let her want for nothing that money could purchase, and I retreated to Fife, where, among my old associates of Wilson’s gang, I hid myself in those places of concealment where the men engaged in that desperate trade are used to find security for themselves and their uncustomed goods. Men who are disobedient both to human and divine laws are not always insensible to the claims of courage and generosity. We were assured that the mob of Edinburgh, strongly moved with the hardship of Wilson’s situation, and the gallantry of his conduct, would back any bold attempt that might be made to rescue him even from the foot of the gibbet. Desperate as the attempt seemed, upon my declaring myself ready to lead the onset on the guard, I found no want of followers who engaged to stand by me, and returned to Lothian, soon followed by some steady associates, prepared to act whenever the occasion might require.

“I have no doubt I should have rescued him from the very noose that dangled over his head,” he continued with animation, which seemed a flash of the interest which he had taken in such exploits; “but amongst other precautions, the magistrates had taken one, suggested, as we afterwards learned, by the unhappy wretch Porteous, which effectually disconcerted my measures. They anticipated, by half-an-hour, the ordinary period for execution; and, as it had been resolved amongst us, that, for fear of observation from the officers of justice, we should not show ourselves upon the street until the time of action approached, it followed, that all was over before our attempt at a rescue commenced. It did commence, however, and I gained the scaffold and cut the rope with my own hand. It was too late! The bold, stouthearted, generous criminal was no more — and vengeance was all that remained to us — a vengeance, as I then thought, doubly due from my hand, to whom Wilson had given life and liberty when he could as easily have secured his own.”

“O sir,” said Jeanie, “did the Scripture never come into your mind, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay it?’”

“Scripture! Why, I had not opened a Bible for five years,” answered Staunton.

“Wae’s me, sirs,” said Jeanie —“and a minister’s son too!”

“It is natural for you to say so; yet do not interrupt me, but let me finish my most accursed history. The beast, Porteous, who kept firing on the people long after it had ceased to be necessary, became the object of their hatred for having overdone his duty, and of mine for having done it too well. We that is, I and the other determined friends of Wilson, resolved to be avenged — but caution was necessary. I thought I had been marked by one of the officers, and therefore continued to lurk about the vicinity of Edinburgh, but without daring to venture within the walls. At length I visited, at the hazard of my life, the place where I hoped to find my future wife and my son — they were both gone. Dame Murdockson informed me, that so soon as Effie heard of the miscarriage of the attempt to rescue Wilson, and the hot pursuit after me, she fell into a brain fever; and that being one day obliged to go out on some necessary business and leave her alone, she had taken that opportunity to escape, and she had not seen her since. I loaded her with reproaches, to which she listened with the most provoking and callous composure; for it is one of her attributes, that, violent and fierce as she is upon most occasions, there are some in which she shows the most imperturbable calmness. I threatened her with justice; she said I had more reason to fear justice than she had. I felt she was right, and was silenced. I threatened her with vengeance; she replied in nearly the same words, that, to judge by injuries received, I had more reason to fear her vengeance, than she to dread mine. She was again right, and I was left without an answer. I flung myself from her in indignation, and employed a comrade to make inquiry in the neighbourhood of Saint Leonard’s concerning your sister; but ere I received his answer, the opening quest of a well-scented terrier of the law drove me from the vicinity of Edinburgh, to a more distant and secluded place of concealment. A secret and trusty emissary at length brought me the account of Porteous’s condemnation, and of your sister’s imprisonment on a criminal charge; thus astounding one of mine ears, while he gratified the other.

“I again ventured to the Pleasance — again charged Murdockson with treachery to the unfortunate Effie and her child, though I could conceive no reason, save that of appropriating the whole of the money I had lodged with her. Your narrative throws light on this, and shows another motive, not less powerful because less evident — the desire of wreaking vengeance on the seducer of her daughter — the destroyer at once of her reason and reputation. Great God! how I wish that, instead of the revenge she made choice of, she had delivered me up to the cord!”

“But what account did the wretched woman give of Effie and the bairn?” said Jeanie, who, during this long and agitating narrative, had firmness and discernment enough to keep her eye on such points as might throw light on her sister’s misfortunes.

“She would give none,” said Staunton; “she said the mother made a moonlight flitting from her house, with the infant in her arms — that she had never seen either of them since — that the lass might have thrown the child into the North Loch or the Quarry Holes for what she knew, and it was like enough she had done so.”

“And how came you to believe that she did not speak the fatal truth?” said Jeanie, trembling.

“Because, on this second occasion, I saw her daughter, and I understood from her, that, in fact, the child had been removed or destroyed during the illness of the mother. But all knowledge to be got from her is so uncertain and indirect, that I could not collect any farther circumstances. Only the diabolical character of old Murdockson makes me augur the worst.”

“The last account agrees with that given by my poor sister,” said Jeanie; “but gang on wi’ your ain tale, sir.”

“Of this I am certain,” said Staunton, “that Effie, in her senses, and with her knowledge, never injured living creature. — But what could I do in her exculpation? — Nothing — and, therefore, my whole thoughts were turned toward her safety. I was under the cursed necessity of suppressing my feelings towards Murdockson; my life was in the hag’s hand — that I cared not for; but on my life hung that of your sister. I spoke the wretch fair; I appeared to confide in her; and to me, so far as I was personally concerned, she gave proofs of extraordinary fidelity. I was at first uncertain what measures I ought to adopt for your sister’s liberation, when the general rage excited among the citizens of Edinburgh on account of the reprieve, of Porteous, suggested to me the daring idea of forcing the jail, and at once carrying off your sister from the clutches of the law, and bringing to condign punishment a miscreant, who had tormented the unfortunate Wilson, even in the hour of death as if he had been a wild Indian taken captive by a hostile tribe. I flung myself among the multitude in the moment of fermentation — so did others among Wilson’s mates, who had, like me, been disappointed in the hope of glutting their eyes with Porteous’s execution. All was organised, and I was chosen for the captain. I felt not — I do not now feel, compunction for what was to be done, and has since been executed.”

“O, God forgive ye, sir, and bring ye to a better sense of your ways!” exclaimed Jeanie, in horror at the avowal of such violent sentiments.

“Amen,” replied Staunton, “if my sentiments are wrong. But I repeat, that, although willing to aid the deed, I could have wished them to have chosen another leader; because I foresaw that the great and general duty of the night would interfere with the assistance which I proposed to render Effie. I gave a commission however, to a trusty friend to protect her to a place of safety, so soon as the fatal procession had left the jail. But for no persuasions which I could use in the hurry of the moment, or which my comrade employed at more length, after the mob had taken a different direction, could the unfortunate girl be prevailed upon to leave the prison. His arguments were all wasted upon the infatuated victim, and he was obliged to leave her in order to attend to his own safety. Such was his account; but, perhaps, he persevered less steadily in his attempts to persuade her than I would have done.”

“Effie was right to remain,” said Jeanie; “and I love her the better for it.”

“Why will you say so?” said Staunton.

“You cannot understand my reasons, sir, if I should render them,” answered Jeanie composedly; “they that thirst for the blood of their enemies have no taste for the well-spring of life.”

“My hopes,” said Staunton, “were thus a second time disappointed. My next efforts were to bring her through her trial by means of yourself. How I urged it, and where, you cannot have forgotten. I do not blame you for your refusal; it was founded, I am convinced, on principle, and not on indifference to your sister’s fate. For me, judge of me as a man frantic; I knew not what hand to turn to, and all my efforts were unavailing. In this condition, and close beset on all sides, I thought of what might be done by means of my family, and their influence. I fled from Scotland — I reached this place — my miserably wasted and unhappy appearance procured me from my father that pardon, which a parent finds it so hard to refuse, even to the most undeserving son. And here I have awaited in anguish of mind, which the condemned criminal might envy, the event of your sister’s trial.”

“Without taking any steps for her relief?” said Jeanie.

“To the last I hoped her ease might terminate more favourably; and it is only two days since that the fatal tidings reached me. My resolution was instantly taken. I mounted my best horse with the purpose of making the utmost haste to London and there compounding with Sir Robert Walpole for your sister’s safety, by surrendering to him, in the person of the heir of the family of Willingham, the notorious George Robertson, the accomplice of Wilson, the breaker of the Tolbooth prison, and the well-known leader of the Porteous mob.”

“But would that save my sister?” said Jeanie, in astonishment.

“It would, as I should drive my bargain,” said Staunton. “Queens love revenge as well as their subjects — Little as you seem to esteem it, it is a poison which pleases all palates, from the prince to the peasant. Prime ministers love no less the power of gratifying sovereigns by gratifying their passions. — The life of an obscure village girl! Why, I might ask the best of the crown-jewels for laying the head of such an insolent conspiracy at the foot of her majesty, with a certainty of being gratified. All my other plans have failed, but this could not — Heaven is just, however, and would not honour me with making this voluntary atonement for the injury I have done your sister. I had not rode ten miles, when my horse, the best and most sure-footed animal in this country, fell with me on a level piece of road, as if he had been struck by a cannon-shot. I was greatly hurt, and was brought back here in the condition in which you now see me.”

As young Staunton had come to the conclusion, the servant opened the door, and, with a voice which seemed intended rather for a signal, than merely the announcing of a visit, said, “His Reverence, sir, is coming up stairs to wait upon you.”

“For God’s sake, hide yourself, Jeanie,” exclaimed Staunton, “in that dressing closet!”

“No, sir,” said Jeanie; “as I am here for nae ill, I canna take the shame of hiding mysell frae the master of the house.”

“But, good Heavens!” exclaimed George Staunton, “do but consider —”

Ere he could complete the sentence, his father entered the apartment.

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