The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 44

“I come,” he said, “my love, my life,

And — nature’s dearest name — my wife:

Thy father’s house and friends resign,

My home, my friends, my sire, are thine.”

Logan.

The meeting of Jeanie and Butler, under circumstances promising to crown an affection so long delayed, was rather affecting, from its simple sincerity than from its uncommon vehemence of feeling. David Deans, whose practice was sometimes a little different from his theory, appalled them at first, by giving them the opinion of sundry of the suffering preachers and champions of his younger days, that marriage, though honourable by the laws of Scripture, was yet a state over-rashly coveted by professors, and specially by young ministers, whose desire, he said, was at whiles too inordinate for kirks, stipends, and wives, which had frequently occasioned over-ready compliance with the general defections of the times. He endeavoured to make them aware also, that hasty wedlock had been the bane of many a savoury professor — that the unbelieving wife had too often reversed the text and perverted the believing husband — that when the famous Donald Cargill, being then hiding in Lee-Wood, in Lanarkshire, it being killing-time, did, upon importunity, marry Robert Marshal of Starry Shaw, he had thus expressed himself: “What hath induced Robert to marry this woman? her ill will overcome his good — he will not keep the way long — his thriving days are done.” To the sad accomplishment of which prophecy David said he was himself a living witness, for Robert Marshal, having fallen into foul compliances with the enemy, went home, and heard the curates, declined into other steps of defection, and became lightly esteemed. Indeed, he observed, that the great upholders of the standard, Cargill, Peden, Cameron, and Renwick, had less delight in tying the bonds of matrimony than in any other piece of their ministerial work; and although they would neither dissuade the parties, nor refuse their office, they considered the being called to it as an evidence of indifference, on the part of those between whom it was solemnised, to the many grievous things of the day. Notwithstanding, however, that marriage was a snare unto many, David was of opinion (as, indeed, he had showed in his practice) that it was in itself honourable, especially if times were such that honest men could be secure against being shot, hanged, or banished, and had ane competent livelihood to maintain themselves, and those that might come after them. “And, therefore,” as he concluded something abruptly, addressing Jeanie and Butler, who, with faces as high-coloured as crimson, had been listening to his lengthened argument for and against the holy state of matrimony, “I will leave you to your ain cracks.”

As their private conversation, however interesting to themselves, might probably be very little so to the reader, so far as it respected their present feelings and future prospects, we shall pass it over, and only mention the information which Jeanie received from Butler concerning her sister’s elopement, which contained many particulars that she had been unable to extract from her father.

Jeanie learned, therefore, that, for three days after her pardon had arrived, Effie had been the inmate of her father’s house at St. Leonard’s — that the interviews betwixt David and his erring child, which had taken place before she was liberated from prison, had been touching in the extreme; but Butler could not suppress his opinion, that, when he was freed from the apprehension of losing her in a manner so horrible, her father had tightened the bands of discipline, so as, in some degree, to gall the feelings, and aggravate the irritability of a spirit naturally impatient and petulant, and now doubly so from the sense of merited disgrace.

On the third night, Effie disappeared from St. Leonard’s, leaving no intimation whatever of the route she had taken. Butler, however, set out in pursuit of her, and with much trouble traced her towards a little landing-place, formed by a small brook which enters the sea betwixt Musselburgh and Edinburgh. This place, which has been since made into a small harbour, surrounded by many villas and lodging-houses, is now termed Portobello. At this time it was surrounded by a waste common, covered with furze, and unfrequented, save by fishing-boats, and now and then a smuggling lugger. A vessel of this description had been hovering in the firth at the time of Effie’s elopement, and, as Butler ascertained, a boat had come ashore in the evening on which the fugitive had disappeared, and had carried on board a female. As the vessel made sail immediately, and landed no part of their cargo, there seemed little doubt that they were accomplices of the notorious Robertson, and that the vessel had only come into the firth to carry off his paramour.

This was made clear by a letter which Butler himself soon afterwards received by post, signed E. D., but without bearing any date of place or time. It was miserably ill written and spelt; sea-sickness having apparently aided the derangement of Effie’s very irregular orthography and mode of expression. In this epistle, however, as in all that unfortunate girl said or did, there was something to praise as well as to blame. She said in her letter, “That she could not endure that her father and her sister should go into banishment, or be partakers of her shame — that if her burden was a heavy one, it was of her own binding, and she had the more right to bear it alone — that in future they could not be a comfort to her, or she to them, since every look and word of her father put her in mind of her transgression, and was like to drive her mad — that she had nearly lost her judgment during the three days she was at St. Leonard’s — her father meant weel by her, and all men, but he did not know the dreadful pain he gave her in casting up her sins. If Jeanie had been at hame, it might hae dune better — Jeanie was ane, like the angels in heaven, that rather weep for sinners, than reckon their transgressions. But she should never see Jeanie ony mair, and that was the thought that gave her the sairest heart of a’ that had come and gane yet. On her bended knees would she pray for Jeanie night and day, baith for what she had done, and what she had scorned to do, in her behalf; for what a thought would it have been to her at that moment o’ time, if that upright creature had made a fault to save her! She desired her father would give Jeanie a’ the gear — her ain (i.e. Effie’s) mother’s and a’— She had made a deed, giving up her right, and it was in Mr. Novit’s hand — Warld’s gear was henceforward the least of her care, nor was it likely to be muckle her mister — She hoped this would make it easy for her sister to settle;” and immediately after this expression, she wished Butler himself all good things, in return for his kindness to her. “For herself,” she said, “she kend her lot would be a waesome ane, but it was of her own framing, sae she desired the less pity. But, for her friends’ satisfaction, she wished them to know that she was gaun nae ill gate — that they who had done her maist wrong were now willing to do her what justice was in their power; and she would, in some warldly respects, be far better off than she deserved. But she desired her family to remain satisfied with this assurance, and give themselves no trouble in making farther inquiries after her.”

To David Deans and to Butler this letter gave very little comfort; for what was to be expected from this unfortunate girl’s uniting her fate to that of a character so notorious as Robertson, who they readily guessed was alluded to in the last sentence, excepting that she should become the partner and victim of his future crimes? Jeanie, who knew George Staunton’s character and real rank, saw her sister’s situation under a ray of better hope. She augured well of the haste he had shown to reclaim his interest in Effie, and she trusted he had made her his wife. If so, it seemed improbable that, with his expected fortune, and high connections, he should again resume the life of criminal adventure which he had led, especially since, as matters stood, his life depended upon his keeping his own secret, which could only be done by an entire change of his habits, and particularly by avoiding all those who had known the heir of Willingham under the character of the audacious, criminal, and condemned Robertson.

She thought it most likely that the couple would go abroad for a few years, and not return to England until the affair of Porteous was totally forgotten. Jeanie, therefore, saw more hopes for her sister than Butler or her father had been able to perceive; but she was not at liberty to impart the comfort which she felt in believing that she would be secure from the pressure of poverty, and in little risk of being seduced into the paths of guilt. She could not have explained this without making public what it was essentially necessary for Effie’s chance of comfort to conceal, the identity, namely, of George Staunton and George Robertson. After all, it was dreadful to think that Effie had united herself to a man condemned for felony, and liable to trial for murder, whatever might be his rank in life, and the degree of his repentance. Besides, it was melancholy to reflect, that, she herself being in possession of the whole dreadful secret, it was most probable he would, out of regard to his own feelings, and fear for his safety, never again permit her to see poor Effie. After perusing and re-perusing her sister’s valedictory letter, she gave ease to her feelings in a flood of tears, which Butler in vain endeavoured to check by every soothing attention in his power. She was obliged, however, at length to look up and wipe her eyes, for her father, thinking he had allowed the lovers time enough for conference, was now advancing towards them from the Lodge, accompanied by the Captain of Knockdunder, or, as his friends called him for brevity’s sake, Duncan Knock, a title which some youthful exploits had rendered peculiarly appropriate.

This Duncan of Knockdunder was a person of first-rate importance in the island of Roseneath,1 and the continental parishes of Knocktarlitie, Kilmun, and so forth; nay, his influence extended as far as Cowal, where, however, it was obscured by that of another factor.

The Tower of Knockdunder still occupies, with its remains, a cliff overhanging the Holy Loch. Duncan swore it had been a royal castle; if so, it was one of the smallest, the space within only forming a square of sixteen feet, and bearing therefore a ridiculous proportion to the thickness of the walls, which was ten feet at least. Such as it was, however, it had long given the title of Captain, equivalent to that of Chatellain, to the ancestors of Duncan, who were retainers of the house of Argyle, and held a hereditary jurisdiction under them, of little extent indeed, but which had great consequence in their own eyes, and was usually administered with a vigour somewhat beyond the law.

The present representative of that ancient family was a stout short man about fifty, whose pleasure it was to unite in his own person the dress of the Highlands and Lowlands, wearing on his head a black tie-wig, surmounted by a fierce cocked-hat, deeply guarded with gold lace, while the rest of his dress consisted of the plaid and philabeg. Duncan superintended a district which was partly Highland, partly Lowland, and therefore might be supposed to combine their national habits, in order to show his impartiality to Trojan or Tyrian. The incongruity, however, had a whimsical and ludicrous effect, as it made his head and body look as if belonging to different individuals; or, as some one said who had seen the executions of the insurgent prisoners in 1715, it seemed as if some Jacobite enchanter, having recalled the sufferers to life, had clapped, in his haste, an Englishman’s head on a Highlander’s body. To finish the portrait, the bearing of the gracious Duncan was brief, bluff, and consequential, and the upward turn of his short copper-coloured nose indicated that he was somewhat addicted to wrath and usquebaugh.

When this dignitary had advanced up to Butler and to Jeanie, “I take the freedom, Mr. Deans,” he said in a very consequential manner, “to salute your daughter, whilk I presume this young lass to be — I kiss every pretty girl that comes to Roseneath, in virtue of my office.” Having made this gallant speech, he took out his quid, saluted Jeanie with a hearty smack, and bade her welcome to Argyle’s country. Then addressing Butler, he said, “Ye maun gang ower and meet the carle ministers yonder the Morn, for they will want to do your job, and synd it down with usquebaugh doubtless — they seldom make dry wark in this kintra.”

“And the Laird”— said David Deans, addressing Butler in farther explanation —

“The Captain, man,” interrupted Duncan; “folk winna ken wha ye are speaking aboot, unless ye gie shentlemens their proper title.”

“The Captain, then,” said David, “assures me that the call is unanimous on the part of the parishioners — a real harmonious call, Reuben.”

“I pelieve,” said Duncan, “it was as harmonious as could pe expected, when the tae half o’ the bodies were clavering Sassenach, and the t’other skirting Gaelic, like sea-maws and clackgeese before a storm. Ane wad hae needed the gift of tongues to ken preceesely what they said — but I pelieve the best end of it was, ‘Long live MacCallummore and Knockdunder!’— And as to its being an unanimous call, I wad be glad to ken fat business the carles have to call ony thing or ony body but what the Duke and mysell likes!”

“Nevertheless,” said Mr. Butler, “if any of the parishioners have any scruples, which sometimes happen in the mind of sincere professors, I should be happy of an opportunity of trying to remove —”

“Never fash your peard about it, man,” interrupted Duncan Knock —“Leave it a’ to me. — Scruple! deil ane o’ them has been bred up to scruple onything that they’re bidden to do. And if sic a thing suld happen as ye speak o’, ye sall see the sincere professor, as ye ca’ him, towed at the stern of my boat for a few furlongs. I’ll try if the water of the Haly Loch winna wash off scruples as weel as fleas — Cot tam!”

The rest of Duncan’s threat was lost in a growling gargling sort of sound, which he made in his throat, and which menaced recusants with no gentle means of conversion. David Deans would certainly have given battle in defence of the right of the Christian congregation to be consulted in the choice of their own pastor, which, in his estimation, was one of the choicest and most inalienable of their privileges; but he had again engaged in close conversation with Jeanie, and, with more interest than he was in use to take in affairs foreign alike to his occupation and to his religious tenets, was inquiring into the particulars of her London journey. This was, perhaps, fortunate for the newformed friendship betwixt him and the Captain of Knockdunder, which rested, in David’s estimation, upon the proofs he had given of his skill in managing stock; but, in reality, upon the special charge transmitted to Duncan from the Duke and his agent, to behave with the utmost attention to Deans and his family.

“And now, sirs,” said Duncan, in a commanding tone, “I am to pray ye a’ to come in to your supper, for yonder is Mr. Archibald half famished, and a Saxon woman, that looks as if her een were fleeing out o’ her head wi’ fear and wonder, as if she had never seen a shentleman in a philabeg pefore.”

“And Reuben Butler,” said David, “will doubtless desire instantly to retire, that he may prepare his mind for the exercise of tomorrow, that his work may suit the day, and be an offering of a sweet savour in the nostrils of the reverend Presbytery!”

“Hout tout, man, it’s but little ye ken about them,” interrupted the Captain. “Teil a ane o’ them wad gie the savour of the hot venison pasty which I smell” (turning his squab nose up in the air) “a’ the way frae the Lodge, for a’ that Mr. Putler, or you either, can say to them.”

David groaned; but judging he had to do with a Gallio, as he said, did not think it worth his while to give battle. They followed the Captain to the house, and arranged themselves with great ceremony round a well-loaded supper-table. The only other circumstance of the evening worthy to be recorded is, that Butler pronounced the blessing; that Knockdunder found it too long, and David Deans censured it as too short, from which the charitable reader may conclude it was exactly the proper length.

1 [This is, more correctly speaking, a peninsula.]

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