The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 35

My name is Argyle, you may well think it strange,

    To live at the court and never to change.

Ballad.

Few names deserve more honourable mention in the history of Scotland, during this period, than that of John, Duke of Argyle and Greenwich. His talents as a statesman and a soldier were generally admitted; he was not without ambition, but “without the illness that attends it”— without that irregularity of thought and aim, which often excites great men, in his peculiar situation, (for it was a very peculiar one), to grasp the means of raising themselves to power, at the risk of throwing a kingdom into confusion. Pope has distinguished him as

Argyle, the state’s whole thunder born to wield,

    And shake alike the senate and the field.

He was alike free from the ordinary vices of statesmen, falsehood, namely, and dissimulation; and from those of warriors, inordinate and violent thirst after self-aggrandisement.

Scotland, his native country, stood at this time in a very precarious and doubtful situation. She was indeed united to England, but the cement had not had time to acquire consistence. The irritation of ancient wrongs still subsisted, and betwixt the fretful jealousy of the Scottish, and the supercilious disdain of the English, quarrels repeatedly occurred, in the course of which the national league, so important to the safety of both, was in the utmost danger of being dissolved. Scotland had, besides, the disadvantage of being divided into intestine factions, which hated each other bitterly, and waited but a signal to break forth into action.

In such circumstances, another man, with the talents and rank of Argyle, but without a mind so happily regulated, would have sought to rise from the earth in the whirlwind, and direct its fury. He chose a course more safe and more honourable. Soaring above the petty distinctions of faction, his voice was raised, whether in office or opposition, for those measures which were at once just and lenient. His high military talents enabled him, during the memorable year 1715, to render such services to the House of Hanover, as, perhaps, were too great to be either acknowledged or repaid. He had employed, too, his utmost influence in softening the consequences of that insurrection to the unfortunate gentlemen whom a mistaken sense of loyalty had engaged in the affair, and was rewarded by the esteem and affection of his country in an uncommon degree. This popularity, with a discontented and warlike people, was supposed to be a subject of jealousy at court, where the power to become dangerous is sometimes of itself obnoxious, though the inclination is not united with it. Besides, the Duke of Argyle’s independent and somewhat haughty mode of expressing himself in Parliament, and acting in public, were ill calculated to attract royal favour. He was, therefore, always respected, and often employed; but he was not a favourite of George the Second, his consort, or his ministers. At several different periods in his life, the Duke might be considered as in absolute disgrace at court, although he could hardly be said to be a declared member of opposition. This rendered him the dearer to Scotland, because it was usually in her cause that he incurred the displeasure of his sovereign; and upon this very occasion of the Porteous mob, the animated and eloquent opposition which he had offered to the severe measures which were about to be adopted towards the city of Edinburgh, was the more gratefully received in that metropolis, as it was understood that the Duke’s interposition had given personal offence to Queen Caroline.

His conduct upon this occasion, as, indeed, that of all the Scottish members of the legislature, with one or two unworthy exceptions, had been in the highest degree spirited. The popular tradition, concerning his reply to Queen Caroline, has been given already, and some fragments of his speech against the Porteous Bill are still remembered. He retorted upon the Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke, the insinuation that he had stated himself in this case rather as a party than as a judge:—“I appeal,” said Argyle, “to the House — to the nation, if I can be justly branded with the infamy of being a jobber or a partisan. Have I been a briber of votes? — a buyer of boroughs? — the agent of corruption for any purpose, or on behalf of any party? — Consider my life; examine my actions in the field and in the cabinet, and see where there lies a blot that can attach to my honour. I have shown myself the friend of my country — the loyal subject of my king. I am ready to do so again, without an instant’s regard to the frowns or smiles of a court. I have experienced both, and am prepared with indifference for either. I have given my reasons for opposing this bill, and have made it appear that it is repugnant to the international treaty of union, to the liberty of Scotland, and, reflectively, to that of England, to common justice, to common sense, and to the public interest. Shall the metropolis of Scotland, the capital of an independent nation, the residence of a long line of monarchs, by whom that noble city was graced and dignified — shall such a city, for the fault of an obscure and unknown body of rioters, be deprived of its honours and its privileges — its gates and its guards? — and shall a native Scotsman tamely behold the havoc? I glory, my Lords, in opposing such unjust rigour, and reckon it my dearest pride and honour to stand up in defence of my native country while thus laid open to undeserved shame, and unjust spoliation.”

Other statesmen and orators, both Scottish and English, used the same arguments, the bill was gradually stripped of its most oppressive and obnoxious clauses, and at length ended in a fine upon the city of Edinburgh in favour of Porteous’s widow. So that, as somebody observed at the time, the whole of these fierce debates ended in making the fortune of an old cook-maid, such having been the good woman’s original capacity.

The court, however, did not forget the baffle they had received in this affair, and the Duke of Argyle, who had contributed so much to it, was thereafter considered as a person in disgrace. It is necessary to place these circumstances under the reader’s observation, both because they are connected with the preceding and subsequent part of our narrative.

The Duke was alone in his study, when one of his gentlemen acquainted him, that a country-girl, from Scotland, was desirous of speaking with his Grace.

“A country-girl, and from Scotland!” said the Duke; “what can have brought the silly fool to London? — Some lover pressed and sent to sea, or some stock sank in the South-Sea funds, or some such hopeful concern, I suppose, and then nobody to manage the matter but MacCallummore — Well, this same popularity has its inconveniences. — However, show our countrywoman up, Archibald — it is ill manners to keep her in attendance.”

A young woman of rather low stature, and whose countenance might be termed very modest and pleasing in expression, though sun-burnt, somewhat freckled, and not possessing regular features, was ushered into the splendid library. She wore the tartan plaid of her country, adjusted so as partly to cover her head, and partly to fall back over her shoulders. A quantity of fair hair, disposed with great simplicity and neatness, appeared in front of her round and good-humoured face, to which the solemnity of her errand, and her sense of the Duke’s rank and importance, gave an appearance of deep awe, but not of slavish fear, or fluttered bashfulness. The rest of Jeanie’s dress was in the style of Scottish maidens of her own class; but arranged with that scrupulous attention to neatness and cleanliness, which we often find united with that purity of mind, of which it is a natural emblem.

She stopped near the entrance of the room, made her deepest reverence, and crossed her hands upon her bosom, without uttering a syllable. The Duke of Argyle advanced towards her; and, if she admired his graceful deportment and rich dress, decorated with the orders which had been deservedly bestowed on him, his courteous manner, and quick and intelligent cast of countenance, he on his part was not less, or less deservedly, struck with the quiet simplicity and modesty expressed in the dress, manners, and countenance of his humble countrywoman.

“Did you wish to speak with me, my bonny lass?” said the Duke, using the encouraging epithet which at once acknowledged the connection betwixt them as country-folk; “or did you wish to see the Duchess?”

“My business is with your honour, my Lord — I mean your Lordship’s Grace.”

“And what is it, my good girl?” said the Duke, in the same mild and encouraging tone of voice. Jeanie looked at the attendant. “Leave us, Archibald,” said the Duke, “and wait in the anteroom.” The domestic retired. “And now sit down, my good lass,” said the Duke; “take your breath — take your time, and tell me what you have got to say. I guess by your dress, you are just come up from poor Scotland — Did you come through the streets in your tartan plaid?”

“No, sir,” said Jeanie; “a friend brought me in ane o’ their street coaches — a very decent woman,” she added, her courage increasing as she became familiar with the sound of her own voice in such a presence; “your Lordship’s Grace kens her — it’s Mrs. Glass, at the sign o’ the Thistle.”

“O, my worthy snuff-merchant — I have always a chat with Mrs. Glass when I purchase my Scots high-dried. Well, but your business, my bonny woman — time and tide, you know, wait for no one.”

“Your honour — I beg your Lordship’s pardon — I mean your Grace,”— for it must be noticed, that this matter of addressing the Duke by his appropriate title had been anxiously inculcated upon Jeanie by her friend Mrs. Glass, in whose eyes it was a matter of such importance, that her last words, as Jeanie left the coach, were, “Mind to say your Grace;” and Jeanie, who had scarce ever in her life spoke to a person of higher quality than the Laird of Dumbiedikes, found great difficulty in arranging her language according to the rules of ceremony.

The Duke, who saw her embarrassment, said, with his usual affability, “Never mind my grace, lassie; just speak out a plain tale, and show you have a Scots tongue in your head.”

“Sir, I am muckle obliged — Sir, I am the sister of that poor unfortunate criminal, Effie Deans, who is ordered for execution at Edinburgh.”’

“Ah!” said the Duke, “I have heard of that unhappy story, I think — a case of child-murder, under a special act of parliament — Duncan Forbes mentioned it at dinner the other day.”

“And I was come up frae the north, sir, to see what could be done for her in the way of getting a reprieve or pardon, sir, or the like of that.”

“Alas! my poor girl,” said the Duke; “you have made a long and a sad journey to very little purpose — Your sister is ordered for execution.”

“But I am given to understand that there is law for reprieving her, if it is in the king’s pleasure,” said Jeanie.

“Certainly, there is,” said the Duke; “but that is purely in the king’s breast. The crime has been but too common — the Scots crown-lawyers think it is right there should be an example. Then the late disorders in Edinburgh have excited a prejudice in government against the nation at large, which they think can only be managed by measures of intimidation and severity. What argument have you, my poor girl, except the warmth of your sisterly affection, to offer against all this? — What is your interest? — What friends have you at court?”

“None, excepting God and your Grace,” said Jeanie, still keeping her ground resolutely, however.

“Alas!” said the Duke, “I could almost say with old Ormond, that there could not be any, whose influence was smaller with kings and ministers. It is a cruel part of our situation, young woman — I mean of the situation of men in my circumstances, that the public ascribe to them influence which they do not possess; and that individuals are led to expect from them assistance which we have no means of rendering. But candour and plain dealing is in the power of every one, and I must not let you imagine you have resources in my influence, which do not exist, to make your distress the heavier — I have no means of averting your sister’s fate — She must die.”

“We must a’ die, sir,” said Jeanie; “it is our common doom for our father’s transgression; but we shouldna hasten ilk other out o’ the world, that’s what your honour kens better than me.”

“My good young woman,” said the Duke, mildly, “we are all apt to blame the law under which we immediately suffer; but you seem to have been well educated in your line of life, and you must know that it is alike the law of God and man, that the murderer shall surely die.”

“But, sir, Effie — that is, my poor sister, sir — canna be proved to be a murderer; and if she be not, and the law take her life notwithstanding, wha is it that is the murderer then?”

“I am no lawyer,” said the Duke; “and I own I think the statute a very severe one.”

“You are a law-maker, sir, with your leave; and, therefore, ye have power over the law,” answered Jeanie.

“Not in my individual capacity,” said the Duke; “though, as one of a large body, I have a voice in the legislation. But that cannot serve you — nor have I at present, I care not who knows it, so much personal influence with the sovereign, as would entitle me to ask from him the most insignificant favour. What could tempt you, young woman, to address yourself to me?”

“It was yourself, sir.”

“Myself?” he replied —“I am sure you have never seen me before.”

“No, sir; but a’ the world kens that the Duke of Argyle is his country’s friend; and that ye fight for the right, and speak for the right, and that there’s nane like you in our present Israel, and so they that think themselves wranged draw to refuge under your shadow; and if ye wunna stir to save the blood of an innocent countrywoman of your ain, what should we expect frae southerns and strangers? And maybe I had another reason for troubling your honour.”

“And what is that?” asked the Duke.

“I hae understood from my father, that your honour’s house, and especially your gudesire and his father, laid down their lives on the scaffold in the persecuting time. And my father was honoured to gie his testimony baith in the cage and in the pillory, as is specially mentioned in the books of Peter Walker the packman, that your honour, I dare say, kens, for he uses maist partly the westland of Scotland. And, sir, there’s ane that takes concern in me, that wished me to gang to your Grace’s presence, for his gudesire had done your gracious gudesire some good turn, as ye will see frae these papers.”

With these words, she delivered to the Duke the little parcel which she had received from Butler. He opened it, and, in the envelope, read with some surprise, “‘Musterroll of the men serving in the troop of that godly gentleman, Captain Salathiel Bangtext. — Obadiah Muggleton, Sin-Despise Double-knock, Stand-fast-infaith Gipps, Turn-to-the-right Thwack-away’— What the deuce is this? A list of Praise-God Barebone’s Parliament I think, or of old Noll’s evangelical army — that last fellow should understand his wheelings, to judge by his name. — But what does all this mean, my girl?”

“It was the other paper, sir,” said Jeanie, somewhat abashed at the mistake.

“O, this is my unfortunate grandfather’s hand sure enough —‘To all who may have friendship for the house of Argyle, these are to certify, that Benjamin Butler, of Monk’s regiment of dragoons, having been, under God, the means of saving my life from four English troopers who were about, to slay me, I, having no other present means of recompense in my power, do give him this acknowledgment, hoping that it may be useful to him or his during these troublesome times; and do conjure my friends, tenants, kinsmen, and whoever will do aught for me, either in the Highlands or Lowlands, to protect and assist the said Benjamin Butler, and his friends or family, on their lawful occasions, giving them such countenance, maintenance, and supply, as may correspond with the benefit he hath bestowed on me; witness my hand — Lorne.’

“This is a strong injunction — This Benjamin Butler was your grandfather, I suppose? — You seem too young to have been his daughter.”

“He was nae akin to me, sir — he was grandfather to ane — to a neighbour’s son — to a sincere weel-wisher of mine, sir,” dropping her little courtesy as she spoke.

“O, I understand,” said the Duke —“a true-love affair. He was the grandsire of one you are engaged to?”

“One I was engaged to, sir,” said Jeanie, sighing; “but this unhappy business of my poor sister —”

“What!” said the Duke, hastily —“he has not deserted you on that account, has he?”

“No, sir; he wad be the last to leave a friend in difficulties,” said Jeanie; “but I maun think for him as weel as for mysell. He is a clergyman, sir, and it would not beseem him to marry the like of me, wi’ this disgrace on my kindred.”

“You are a singular young woman,” said the Duke. “You seem to me to think of every one before yourself. And have you really come up from Edinburgh on foot, to attempt this hopeless solicitation for your sister’s life?”

“It was not a’thegither on foot, sir,” answered Jeanie; “for I sometimes got a cast in a waggon, and I had a horse from Ferrybridge, and then the coach ——”

“Well, never mind all that,” interrupted the Duke —“What reason have you for thinking your sister innocent?”

“Because she has not been proved guilty, as will appear from looking at these papers.”

She put into his hand a note of the evidence, and copies of her sister’s declaration. These papers Butler had procured after her departure, and Saddletree had them forwarded to London, to Mrs. Glass’s care, so that Jeanie found the documents, so necessary for supporting her suit, lying in readiness at her arrival.

“Sit down in that chair, my good girl,” said the Duke — “until I glance over the papers.”

She obeyed, and watched with the utmost anxiety each change in his countenance as he cast his eye through the papers briefly, yet with attention, and making memoranda as he went along. After reading them hastily over, he looked up, and seemed about to speak, yet changed his purpose, as if afraid of committing himself by giving too hasty an opinion, and read over again several passages which he had marked as being most important. All this he did in shorter time than can be supposed by men of ordinary talents; for his mind was of that acute and penetrating character which discovers, with the glance of intuition, what facts bear on the particular point that chances to be subjected to consideration. At length he rose, after a few minutes’ deep reflection. — “Young woman,” said he, “your sister’s case must certainly be termed a hard one.”

“God bless you, sir, for that very word!” said Jeanie.

“It seems contrary to the genius of British law,” continued the Duke, “to take that for granted which is not proved, or to punish with death for a crime, which, for aught the prosecutor has been able to show, may not have been committed at all.”

“God bless you, sir!” again said Jeanie, who had risen from her seat, and, with clasped hands, eyes glittering through tears, and features which trembled with anxiety, drank in every word which the Duke uttered.

“But, alas! my poor girl,” he continued, “what good will my opinion do you, unless I could impress it upon those in whose hands your sister’s life is placed by the law? Besides, I am no lawyer; and I must speak with some of our Scottish gentlemen of the gown about the matter.”

“O, but, sir, what seems reasonable to your honour, will certainly be the same to them,” answered Jeanie.

“I do not know that,” replied the Duke; “ilka man buckles his belt his ain gate — you know our old Scots proverb? — But you shall not have placed this reliance on me altogether in vain. Leave these papers with me, and you shall hear from me tomorrow or next day. Take care to be at home at Mrs. Glass’s, and ready to come to me at a moment’s warning. It will be unnecessary for you to give Mrs. Glass the trouble to attend you — and by the by, you will please to be dressed just as you are at present.”

“I wad hae putten on a cap, sir,” said Jeanie, “but your honour kens it isna the fashion of my country for single women; and I judged that, being sae mony hundred miles frae hame, your Grace’s heart wad warm to the tartan,” looking at the corner of her plaid.

“You judged quite right,” said the Duke. “I know the full value of the snood; and MacCallummore’s heart will be as cold as death can make it, when it does not warm to the tartan. Now, go away, and don’t be out of the way when I send.”

Jeanie replied — “There is little fear of that, sir, for I have little heart to go to see sights amang this wilderness of black houses. But if I might say to your gracious honour, that if ye ever condescend to speak to ony ane that is of greater degree than yoursell, though maybe it isna civil in me to say sae, just if you would think there can be nae sic odds between you and them, as between poor Jeanie Deans from St. Leonard’s and the Duke of Argyle; and so dinna be chappit back or cast down wi’ the first rough answer.”

“I am not apt,” said the Duke, laughing, “to mind rough answers much — Do not you hope too much from what I have promised. I will do my best, but God has the hearts of Kings in his own hand.”

Jeanie courtesied reverently and withdrew, attended by the Duke’s gentleman, to her hackney-coach, with a respect which her appearance did not demand, but which was perhaps paid to the length of the interview with which his master had honoured her.

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