The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 36

    Ascend

While radiant summer opens all its pride,

Thy hill, delightful Shene! Here let us sweep

    The boundless landscape.

Thomson.

From her kind and officious, but somewhat gossiping friend, Mrs. Glass, Jeanie underwent a very close catechism on their road to the Strand, where the Thistle of the good lady flourished in full glory, and, with its legend of Nemo me impune, distinguished a shop then well known to all Scottish folk of high and low degree.

“And were you sure aye to say your Grace to him?” said the good old lady; “for ane should make a distinction between MacCallummore and the bits o’ southern bodies that they ca’ lords here — there are as mony o’ them, Jeanie, as would gar ane think they maun cost but little fash in the making — some of them I wadna trust wi’ six pennies-worth of black-rappee — some of them I wadna gie mysell the trouble to put up a hapnyworth in brown paper for — But I hope you showed your breeding to the Duke of Argyle, for what sort of folk would he think your friends in London, if you had been lording him, and him a Duke?”

“He didna seem muckle to mind,” said Jeanie; “he kend that I was landward bred.”

“Weel, weel,” answered the good lady. “His Grace kens me weel; so I am the less anxious about it. I never fill his snug-box but he says, ‘How d’ye do, good Mrs. Glass? — How are all our friends in the North?’ or it may be —‘Have ye heard from the North lately?’ And you may be sure, I make my best courtesy, and answer, ‘My Lord Duke, I hope your Grace’s noble Duchess, and your Grace’s young ladies, are well; and I hope the snuff continues to give your Grace satisfaction.’ And then ye will see the people in the shop begin to look about them; and if there’s a Scotsman, as there may be three or half-a-dozen, aff go the hats, and mony a look after him, and ‘There goes the Prince of Scotland, God bless him!’ But ye have not told me yet the very words he said t’ye.”

Jeanie had no intention to be quite so communicative. She had, as the reader may have observed, some of the caution and shrewdness, as well as of the simplicity of her country. She answered generally, that the Duke had received her very compassionately, and had promised to interest himself in her sister’s affair, and to let her hear from him in the course of the next day, or the day after. She did not choose to make any mention of his having desired her to be in readiness to attend him, far less of his hint, that she should not bring her landlady. So that honest Mrs. Glass was obliged to remain satisfied with the general intelligence above mentioned, after having done all she could to extract more.

It may easily be conceived, that, on the next day, Jeanie declined all invitations and inducements, whether of exercise or curiosity, to walk abroad, and continued to inhale the close, and somewhat professional atmosphere of Mrs. Glass’s small parlour. The latter flavour it owed to a certain cupboard, containing, among other articles, a few canisters of real Havannah, which, whether from respect to the manufacture, or out of a reverend fear of the exciseman, Mrs. Glass did not care to trust in the open shop below, and which communicated to the room a scent, that, however fragrant to the nostrils of the connoisseur, was not very agreeable to those of Jeanie.

“Dear sirs,” she said to herself, “I wonder how my cousin’s silk manty, and her gowd watch, or ony thing in the world, can be worth sitting sneezing all her life in this little stilling room, and might walk on green braes if she liked.”

Mrs. Glass was equally surprised at her cousin’s reluctance to stir abroad, and her indifference to the fine sights of London. “It would always help to pass away the time,” she said, “to have something to look at, though ane was in distress.” But Jeanie was unpersuadable.

The day after her interview with the Duke was spent in that “hope delayed, which maketh the heart sick.” Minutes glided after minutes — hours fled after hours — it became too late to have any reasonable expectation of hearing from the Duke that day; yet the hope which she disowned, she could not altogether relinquish, and her heart throbbed, and her ears tingled, with every casual sound in the shop below. It was in vain. The day wore away in the anxiety of protracted and fruitless expectation.

The next morning commenced in the same manner. But before noon, a well-dressed gentleman entered Mrs. Glass’s shop, and requested to see a young woman from Scotland.

“That will be my cousin Jeanie Deans, Mr. Archibald,” said Mrs. Glass, with a courtesy of recognisance. “Have you any message for her from his Grace the Duke of Argyle, Mr. Archibald? I will carry it to her in a moment.”

“I believe I must give her the trouble of stepping down, Mrs. Glass.”

“Jeanie — Jeanie Deans!” said Mrs. Glass, screaming at the bottom of the little staircase, which ascended from the corner of the shop to the higher regions. “Jeanie — Jeanie Deans, I say! come down stairs instantly; here is the Duke of Argyle’s groom of the chambers desires to see you directly.” This was announced in a voice so loud, as to make all who chanced to be within hearing aware of the important communication.

It may easily be supposed, that Jeanie did not tarry long in adjusting herself to attend the summons, yet her feet almost failed her as she came down stairs.

“I must ask the favour of your company a little way,” said Archibald, with civility.

“I am quite ready, sir,” said Jeanie.

“Is my cousin going out, Mr. Archibald? then I will hae to go wi’ her, no doubt. — James Rasper — Look to the shop, James. — Mr. Archibald,” pushing a jar towards him, “you take his Grace’s mixture, I think. Please to fill your box, for old acquaintance’ sake, while I get on my things.”

Mr. Archibald transferred a modest parcel of snuff from the jar to his own mull, but said he was obliged to decline the pleasure of Mrs. Glass’s company, as his message was particularly to the young person.

“Particularly to the young person?” said Mrs. Glass; “is not that uncommon, Mr. Archibald? But his Grace is the best judge; and you are a steady person, Mr. Archibald. It is not every one that comes from a great man’s house I would trust my cousin with. — But, Jeanie, you must not go through the streets with Mr. Archibald with your tartan what-d’ye-call-it there upon your shoulders, as if you had come up with a drove of Highland cattle. Wait till I bring down my silk cloak. Why, we’ll have the mob after you!”

“I have a hackney-coach in waiting, madam,” said Mr. Archibald, interrupting the officious old lady, from whom Jeanie might otherwise have found it difficult to escape; “and, I believe, I must not allow her time for any change of dress.”

So saying, he hurried Jeanie into the coach, while she internally praised and wondered at the easy manner in which he shifted off Mrs. Glass’s officious offers and inquiries, without mentioning his master’s orders, or entering into any explanation,

On entering the coach, Mr. Archibald seated himself in the front seat opposite to our heroine, and they drove on in silence. After they had driven nearly half-an-hour, without a word on either side, it occurred to Jeanie, that the distance and time did not correspond with that which had been occupied by her journey on the former occasion, to and from the residence of the Duke of Argyle. At length she could not help asking her taciturn companion, “Whilk way they were going?”

“My Lord Duke will inform you himself, madam,” answered Archibald, with the same solemn courtesy which marked his whole demeanour. Almost as he spoke, the hackney-coach drew up, and the coachman dismounted and opened the door. Archibald got out, and assisted Jeanie to get down. She found herself in a large turnpike road, without the bounds of London, upon the other side of which road was drawn up a plain chariot and four horses, the panels without arms, and the servants without liveries.

“You have been punctual, I see, Jeanie,” said the Duke of Argyle, as Archibald opened the carriage-door. “You must be my companion for the rest of the way. Archibald will remain here with the hackney-coach till your return.”

Ere Jeanie could make answer, she found herself, to her no small astonishment, seated by the side of a duke, in a carriage which rolled forward at a rapid yet smooth rate, very different in both particulars from the lumbering, jolting vehicle which she had just left; and which, lumbering and jolting as it was, conveyed to one who had seldom been in a coach before a certain feeling of dignity and importance.

“Young woman,” said the Duke, “after thinking as attentively on your sister’s case as is in my power, I continue to be impressed with the belief that great injustice may be done by the execution of her sentence. So are one or two liberal and intelligent lawyers of both countries whom I have spoken with. — Nay, pray hear me out before you thank me. — I have already told you my personal conviction is of little consequence, unless I could impress the same upon others. Now I have done for you what I would certainly not have done to serve any purpose of my own — I have asked an audience of a lady whose interest with the king is deservedly very high. It has been allowed me, and I am desirous that you should see her and speak for yourself. You have no occasion to be abashed; tell your story simply, as you did to me.”

“I am much obliged to your Grace,” said Jeanie, remembering Mrs. Glass’s charge, “and I am sure, since I have had the courage to speak to your Grace in poor Effie’s cause, I have less reason to be shame-faced in speaking to a leddy. But, sir, I would like to ken what to ca’ her, whether your grace or your honour, or your leddyship, as we say to lairds and leddies in Scotland, and I will take care to mind it; for I ken leddies are full mair particular than gentlemen about their titles of honour.”

“You have no occasion to call her anything but Madam. Just say what you think is likely to make the best impression — look at me from time to time — and if I put my hand to my cravat so —(showing her the motion)— you will stop; but I shall only do this when you say anything that is not likely to please.”

“But, sir, your Grace,” said Jeanie, “if it wasna ower muckle trouble, wad it no be better to tell me what I should say, and I could get it by heart?”

“No, Jeanie, that would not have the same effect — that would be like reading a sermon, you know, which we good Presbyterians think has less unction than when spoken without book,” replied the Duke. “Just speak as plainly and boldly to this lady, as you did to me the day before yesterday, and if you can gain her consent, I’ll wad ye a plack, as we say in the north, that you get the pardon from the king.”

As he spoke, he took a pamphlet from his pocket, and began to read. Jeanie had good sense and tact, which constitute betwixt them that which is called natural good breeding. She interpreted the Duke’s manoeuvre as a hint that she was to ask no more questions, and she remained silent accordingly.

The carriage rolled rapidly onwards through fertile meadows, ornamented with splendid old oaks, and catching occasionally a glance of the majestic mirror of a broad and placid river. After passing through a pleasant village, the equipage stopped on a commanding eminence, where the beauty of English landscape was displayed in its utmost luxuriance. Here the Duke alighted, and desired Jeanie to follow him. They paused for a moment on the brow of a hill, to gaze on the unrivalled landscape which it presented. A huge sea of verdure, with crossing and intersecting promontories of massive and tufted groves, was tenanted by numberless flocks and herds, which seemed to wander unrestrained and unbounded through the rich pastures. The Thames, here turreted with villas, and there garlanded with forests, moved on slowly and placidly, like the mighty monarch of the scene, to whom all its other beauties were but accessories, and bore on its bosom an hundred barks and skiffs, whose white sails and gaily fluttering pennons gave life to the whole.

The Duke of Argyle was, of course, familiar with this scene; but to a man of taste it must be always new. Yet, as he paused and looked on this inimitable landscape, with the feeling of delight which it must give to the bosom of every admirer of nature, his thoughts naturally reverted to his own more grand, and scarce less beautiful, domains of Inverary. — “This is a fine scene,” he said to his companion, curious, perhaps, to draw out her sentiments; “we have nothing like it in Scotland.”

“It’s braw rich feeding for the cows, and they have a fine breed o’ cattle here,” replied Jeanie; “but I like just as weel to look at the craigs of Arthur’s Seat, and the sea coming in ayont them as at a’ thae muckle trees.”

The Duke smiled at a reply equally professional and national, and made a signal for the carriage to remain where it was. Then adopting an unfrequented footpath, he conducted Jeanie through several complicated mazes to a postern-door in a high brick wall.

It was shut; but as the Duke tapped slightly at it, a person in waiting within, after reconnoitring through a small iron grate, contrived for the purpose, unlocked the door and admitted them. They entered, and it was immediately closed and fastened behind them. This was all done quickly, the door so instantly closing, and the person who opened it so suddenly disappearing, that Jeanie could not even catch a glimpse of his exterior.

They found themselves at the extremity of a deep and narrow alley, carpeted with the most verdant and close-shaven turf, which felt like velvet under their feet, and screened from the sun by the branches of the lofty elms which united over the path, and caused it to resemble, in the solemn obscurity of the light which they admitted, as well as from the range of columnar stems, and intricate union of their arched branches, one of the narrow side aisles in an ancient Gothic cathedral.

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