The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 42

Did Fortune guide,

    Or rather Destiny, our bark, to which

We could appoint no port, to this best place?

Fletcher.

The islands in the Firth of Clyde, which the daily passage of so many smoke-pennoned steamboats now renders so easily accessible, were in our fathers’ times secluded spots, frequented by no travellers, and few visitants of any kind. They are of exquisite, yet varied beauty. Arran, a mountainous region, or Alpine island, abounds with the grandest and most romantic scenery. Bute is of a softer and more woodland character. The Cumbrays, as if to exhibit a contrast to both, are green, level, and bare, forming the links of a sort of natural bar which is drawn along the mouth of the firth, leaving large intervals, however, of ocean. Roseneath, a smaller isle, lies much higher up the firth, and towards its western shore, near the opening of the lake called the Gare Loch, and not far from Loch Long and Loch Scant, or the Holy Loch, which wind from the mountains of the Western Highlands to join the estuary of the Clyde.

In these isles the severe frost winds which tyrannise over the vegetable creation during a Scottish spring, are comparatively little felt; nor, excepting the gigantic strength of Arran, are they much exposed to the Atlantic storms, lying landlocked and protected to the westward by the shores of Ayrshire. Accordingly, the weeping-willow, the weeping-birch, and other trees of early and pendulous shoots, flourish in these favoured recesses in a degree unknown in our eastern districts; and the air is also said to possess that mildness which is favourable to consumptive cases.

The picturesque beauty of the island of Roseneath, in particular, had such recommendations, that the Earls and Dukes of Argyle, from an early period, made it their occasional residence, and had their temporary accommodation in a fishing or hunting-lodge, which succeeding improvements have since transformed into a palace. It was in its original simplicity when the little bark which we left traversing the firth at the end of last CHAPTER approached the shores of the isle.

When they touched the landing-place, which was partly shrouded by some old low but wide-spreading oak-trees, intermixed with hazel-bushes, two or three figures were seen as if awaiting their arrival. To these Jeanie paid little attention, so that it was with a shock of surprise almost electrical, that, upon being carried by the rowers out of the boat to the shore, she was received in the arms of her father!

It was too wonderful to be believed — too much like a happy dream to have the stable feeling of reality — She extricated herself from his close and affectionate embrace, and held him at arm’s length, to satisfy her mind that it was no illusion. But the form was indisputable — Douce David Deans himself, in his best light-blue Sunday’s coat, with broad metal buttons, and waistcoat and breeches of the same, his strong gramashes or leggins of thick grey cloth — the very copper buckles — the broad Lowland blue bonnet, thrown back as he lifted his eyes to Heaven in speechless gratitude — the grey locks that straggled from beneath it down his weather-beaten “haffets”— the bald and furrowed forehead — the clear blue eye, that, undimmed by years, gleamed bright and pale from under its shaggy grey pent-house — the features, usually so stern and stoical, now melted into the unwonted expression of rapturous joy, affection, and gratitude — were all those of David Deans; and so happily did they assort together, that, should I ever again see my friends Wilkie or Allan, I will try to borrow or steal from them a sketch of this very scene.

“Jeanie — my ain Jeanie — my best — my maist dutiful bairn — the Lord of Israel be thy father, for I am hardly worthy of thee! Thou hast redeemed our captivity — brought back the honour of our house — Bless thee, my bairn, with mercies promised and purchased! But He has blessed thee, in the good of which He has made thee the instrument.”

These words broke from him not without tears, though David was of no melting mood. Archibald had, with delicate attention, withdrawn the spectators from the interview, so that the wood and setting sun alone were witnesses of the expansion of their feelings.

“And Effie? — and Effie, dear father?” was an eager interjectional question which Jeanie repeatedly threw in among her expressions of joyful thankfulness.

“Ye will hear — Ye will hear,” said David hastily, and over and anon renewed his grateful acknowledgments to Heaven for sending Jeanie safe down from the land of prelatic deadness and schismatic heresy; and had delivered her from the dangers of the way, and the lions that were in the path.

“And Effie?” repeated her affectionate sister again and again. “And — and” (fain would she have said Butler, but she modified the direct inquiry)—“and Mr. and Mrs. Saddletree — and Dumbiedikes — and a’ friends?”

“A’ weel — a’ weel, praise to His name!”

“And — Mr. Butler — he wasna weel when I gaed awa?”

“He is quite mended — quite weel,” replied her father.

“Thank God — but O, dear father, Effie? — Effie?”

“You will never see her mair, my bairn,” answered Deans in a solemn tone — “You are the ae and only leaf left now on the auld tree — hale be your portion!”

“She is dead! — She is slain! — It has come ower late!” exclaimed Jeanie, wringing her hands.

“No, Jeanie,” returned Deans, in the same grave melancholy tone. “She lives in the flesh, and is at freedom from earthly restraint, if she were as much alive in faith, and as free from the bonds of Satan.”

“The Lord protect us!” said Jeanie. —“Can the unhappy bairn hae left you for that villain?”

“It is ower truly spoken,” said Deans —“She has left her auld father, that has wept and prayed for her — She has left her sister, that travailed and toiled for her like a mother — She has left the bones of her mother, and the land of her people, and she is ower the march wi’ that son of Belial — She has made a moonlight flitting of it.” He paused, for a feeling betwixt sorrow and strong resentment choked his utterance.

“And wi’ that man? — that fearfu’ man?” said Jeanie. “And she has left us to gang aff wi’ him? — O Effie, Effie, wha could hae thought it, after sic a deliverance as you had been gifted wi’!”

“She went out from us, my bairn, because she was not of us,” replied David. “She is a withered branch will never bear fruit of grace — a scapegoat gone forth into the wilderness of the world, to carry wi’ her, as I trust, the sins of our little congregation. The peace of the warld gang wi’ her, and a better peace when she has the grace to turn to it! If she is of His elected, His ain hour will come. What would her mother have said, that famous and memorable matron, Rebecca MacNaught, whose memory is like a flower of sweet savour in Newbattle, and a pot of frankincense in Lugton? But be it sae — let her part — let her gang her gate — let her bite on her ain bridle — The Lord kens his time — She was the bairn of prayers, and may not prove an utter castaway. But never, Jeanie, never more let her name be spoken between you and me — She hath passed from us like the brook which vanisheth when the summer waxeth warm, as patient Job saith — let her pass, and be forgotten.”

There was a melancholy pause which followed these expressions. Jeanie would fain have asked more circumstances relating to her sister’s departure, but the tone of her father’s prohibition was positive. She was about to mention her interview with Staunton at his father’s rectory; but, on hastily running over the particulars in her memory, she thought that, on the whole, they were more likely to aggravate than diminish his distress of mind. She turned, therefore, the discourse from this painful subject, resolving to suspend farther inquiry until she should see Butler, from whom she expected to learn the particulars of her sister’s elopement.

But when was she to see Butler? was a question she could not forbear asking herself, especially while her father, as if eager to escape from the subject of his youngest daughter, pointed to the opposite shore of Dumbartonshire, and asking Jeanie “if it werena a pleasant abode?” declared to her his intention of removing his earthly tabernacle to that country, “in respect he was solicited by his Grace the Duke of Argyle, as one well skilled in country labour, and a’ that appertained to flocks and herds, to superintend a store-farm, whilk his Grace had taen into his ain hand for the improvement of stock.”

Jeanie’s heart sunk within her at this declaration. “She allowed it was a goodly and pleasant land, and sloped bonnily to the western sun; and she doubtedna that the pasture might be very gude, for the grass looked green, for as drouthy as the weather had been. But it was far frae hame, and she thought she wad be often thinking on the bonny spots of turf, sae fu’ of gowans and yellow king-cups, amang the Crags at St. Leonard’s.”

“Dinna speak on’t, Jeanie,” said her father; “I wish never to hear it named mair — that is, after the rouping is ower, and the bills paid. But I brought a’ the beasts owerby that I thought ye wad like best. There is Gowans, and there’s your ain brockit cow, and the wee hawkit ane, that ye ca’d — I needna tell ye how ye ca’d it — but I couldna bid them sell the petted creature, though the sight o’ it may sometimes gie us a sair heart — it’s no the poor dumb creature’s fault — And ane or twa beasts mair I hae reserved, and I caused them to be driven before the other beasts, that men might say, as when the son of Jesse returned from battle, ‘This is David’s spoil.’”

Upon more particular inquiry, Jeanie found new occasion to admire the active beneficence of her friend the Duke of Argyle. While establishing a sort of experimental farm on the skirts of his immense Highland estates, he had been somewhat at a loss to find a proper person in whom to vest the charge of it. The conversation his Grace had upon country matters with Jeanie Deans during their return from Richmond, had impressed him with a belief that the father, whose experience and success she so frequently quoted, must be exactly the sort of person whom he wanted. When the condition annexed to Effie’s pardon rendered it highly probable that David Deans would choose to change his place of residence, this idea again occurred to the Duke more strongly, and as he was an enthusiast equally in agriculture and in benevolence, he imagined he was serving the purposes of both, when he wrote to the gentleman in Edinburgh entrusted with his affairs, to inquire into the character of David Deans, cowfeeder, and so forth, at St. Leonard’s Crags; and if he found him such as he had been represented, to engage him without delay, and on the most liberal terms, to superintend his fancy-farm in Dumbartonshire.

The proposal was made to old David by the gentleman so commissioned, on the second day after his daughter’s pardon had reached Edinburgh. His resolution to leave St. Leonard’s had been already formed; the honour of an express invitation from the Duke of Argyle to superintend a department where so much skill and diligence was required, was in itself extremely flattering; and the more so, because honest David, who was not without an exeellent opinion of his own talents, persuaded himself that, by accepting this charge, he would in some sort repay the great favour he had received at the hands of the Argyle family. The appointments, including the right of sufficient grazing for a small stock of his own, were amply liberal; and David’s keen eye saw that the situation was convenient for trafficking to advantage in Highland cattle. There was risk of “her’ship”1 from the neighbouring mountains, indeed, but the awful name of the Duke of Argyle would be a great security, and a trifle of black-mail would, David was aware, assure his safety.

Still however, there were two points on which he haggled. The first was the character of the clergyman with whose worship he was to join; and on this delicate point he received, as we will presently show the reader, perfect satisfaction. The next obstacle was the condition of his youngest daughter, obliged as she was to leave Scotland for so many years.

The gentleman of the law smiled, and said, “There was no occasion to interpret that clause very strictly — that if the young woman left Scotland for a few months, or even weeks, and came to her father’s new residence by sea from the western side of England, nobody would know of her arrival, or at least nobody who had either the right or inclination to give her disturbance. The extensive heritable jurisdictions of his Grace excluded the interference of other magistrates with those living on his estates, and they who were in immediate dependence on him would receive orders to give the young woman no disturbance. Living on the verge of the Highlands, she might, indeed, be said to be out of Scotland, that is, beyond the bounds of ordinary law and civilisation.”

Old Deans was not quite satisfied with this reasoning; but the elopement of Effie, which took place on the third night after her liberation, rendered his residence at St. Leonard’s so detestable to him, that he closed at once with the proposal which had been made him, and entered with pleasure into the idea of surprising Jeanie, as had been proposed by the Duke, to render the change of residence more striking to her. The Duke had apprised Archibald of these circumstances, with orders to act according to the instructions he should receive from Edinburgh, and by which accordingly he was directed to bring Jeanie to Roseneath.

The father and daughter communicated these matters to each other, now stopping, now walking slowly towards the Lodge, which showed itself among the trees, at about half-a-mile’s distance from the little bay in which they had landed. As they approached the house, David Deans informed his daughter, with somewhat like a grim smile, which was the utmost advance he ever made towards a mirthful expression of visage, that “there was baith a worshipful gentleman, and ane reverend gentleman, residing therein. The worshipful gentleman was his honour the Laird of Knocktarlitie, who was bailie of the lordship under the Duke of Argyle, ane Highland gentleman, tarr’d wi’ the same stick,” David doubted, “as mony of them, namely, a hasty and choleric temper, and a neglect of the higher things that belong to salvation, and also a gripping unto the things of this world, without muckle distinction of property; but, however, ane gude hospitable gentleman, with whom it would be a part of wisdom to live on a gude understanding (for Hielandmen were hasty, ower hasty). As for the reverend person of whom he had spoken, he was candidate by favour of the Duke of Argyle (for David would not for the universe have called him presentee) for the kirk of the parish in which their farm was situated, and he was likely to be highly acceptable unto the Christian souls of the parish, who were hungering for spiritual manna, having been fed but upon sour Hieland sowens by Mr. Duncan MacDonought, the last minister, who began the morning duly, Sunday and Saturday, with a mutchkin of usquebaugh. But I need say the less about the present lad,” said David, again grimly grimacing, “as I think ye may hae seen him afore; and here he is come to meet us.”

She had indeed seen him before, for it was no other than Reuben Butler himself.

1 Her’ship, a Scottish word which may be said to be now obsolete; because, fortunately, the practice of “plundering by armed force,” which is its meaning, does not require to be commonly spoken of.

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