The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 47

Lord! who would live turmoiled in a court,

And may enjoy such quiet walks as these?

Shakespeare.

Within a reasonable time after Butler was safely and comfortably settled in his living, and Jeanie had taken up her abode at Auchingower with her father — the precise extent of which interval we request each reader to settle according to his own sense of what is decent and proper upon the occasion — and after due proclamation of banns, and all other formalities, the long wooing of this worthy pair was ended by their union in the holy bands of matrimony. On this occasion, David Deans stoutly withstood the iniquities of pipes, fiddles, and promiscuous dancing, to the great wrath of the Captain of Knockdunder, who said, if he “had guessed it was to be sic a tamn’d Quakers’ meeting, he wad hae seen them peyont the cairn before he wad hae darkened their doors.”

And so much rancour remained on the spirits of the gracious Duncan upon this occasion, that various “picqueerings,” as David called them, took place upon the same and similar topics and it was only in consequence of an accidental visit of the Duke to his Lodge at Roseneath, that they were put a stop to. But upon that occasion his Grace showed such particular respect to Mr. and Mrs. Butler, and such favour even to old David, that Knockdunder held it prudent to change his course towards the latter. He, in future, used to express himself among friends, concerning the minister and his wife, as “very worthy decent folk, just a little over strict in their notions; put it was pest for thae plack cattle to err on the safe side.” And respecting David, he allowed that “he was an excellent judge of nowte and sheep, and a sensible eneugh carle, an it werena for his tamn’d Cameronian nonsense, whilk it is not worth while of a shentleman to knock out of an auld silly head, either by force of reason or otherwise.” So that, by avoiding topics of dispute, the personages of our tale lived in great good habits with the gracious Duncan, only that he still grieved David’s soul, and set a perilous example to the congregation, by sometimes bringing his pipe to the church during a cold winter day, and almost always sleeping during sermon in the summer time.

Mrs. Butler, whom we must no longer, if we can help it, term by the familiar name of Jeanie, brought into the married state the same firm mind and affectionate disposition — the same natural and homely good sense, and spirit of useful exertion — in a word, all the domestic good qualities of which she had given proof during her maiden life. She did not indeed rival Butler in learning; but then no woman more devoutly venerated the extent of her husband’s erudition. She did not pretend to understand his expositions of divinity; but no minister of the Presbytery had his humble dinner so well arranged, his clothes and linen in equal good order, his fireside so neatly swept, his parlour so clean, and his books so well dusted.

If he talked to Jeanie of what she did not understand — and (for the man was mortal, and had been a schoolmaster) he sometimes did harangue more scholarly and wisely than was necessary — she listened in placid silence; and whenever the point referred to common life, and was such as came under the grasp of a strong natural understanding, her views were more forcible, and her observations more acute, than his own. In acquired politeness of manners, when it happened that she mingled a little in society, Mrs. Butler was, of course, judged deficient. But then she had that obvious wish to oblige, and that real and natural good-breeding depending on, good sense and good humour, which, joined to a considerable degree of archness and liveliness of manner, rendered her behaviour acceptable to all with whom she was called upon to associate. Notwithstanding her strict attention to all domestic affairs, she always appeared the clean well-dressed mistress of the house, never the sordid household drudge. When complimented on this occasion by Duncan Knock, who swore “that he thought the fairies must help her, since her house was always clean, and nobody ever saw anybody sweeping it,” she modestly replied, “That much might be dune by timing ane’s turns.”

Duncan replied, “He heartily wished she could teach that art to the huzzies at the Lodge, for he could never discover that the house was washed at a’, except now and then by breaking his shins over the pail — Cot tamn the jauds!”

Of lesser matters there is not occasion to speak much. It may easily be believed that the Duke’s cheese was carefully made, and so graciously accepted, that the offering became annual. Remembrances and acknowledgments of past favours were sent to Mrs. Bickerton and Mrs. Glass, and an amicable intercourse maintained from time to time with these two respectable and benevolent persons.

It is especially necessary to mention that, in the course of five years, Mrs. Butler had three children, two boys and a girl, all stout healthy babes of grace, fair-haired, blue-eyed, and strong-limbed. The boys were named David and Reuben, an order of nomenclature which was much to the satisfaction of the old hero of the Covenant, and the girl, by her mother’s special desire, was christened Euphemia, rather contrary to the wish both of her father and husband, who nevertheless loved Mrs. Butler too well, and were too much indebted to her for their hours of happiness, to withstand any request which she made with earnestness, and as a gratification to herself. But from some feeling, I know not of what kind, the child was never distinguished by the name of Effie, but by the abbreviation of Femie, which in Scotland is equally commonly applied to persons called Euphemia.

In this state of quiet and unostentatious enjoyment, there were, besides the ordinary rubs and ruffles which disturb even the most uniform life, two things which particularly chequered Mrs. Butler’s happiness. “Without these,” she said to our informer, “her life would have been but too happy; and perhaps,” she added, “she had need of some crosses in this world to remind her that there was a better to come behind it.”

The first of these related to certain polemical skirmishes betwixt her father and her husband, which, notwithstanding the mutual respect and affection they entertained for each other, and their great love for her — notwithstanding, also, their general agreement in strictness, and even severity, of Presbyterian principle — often threatened unpleasant weather between them. David Deans, as our readers must be aware, was sufficiently opinionative and intractable, and having prevailed on himself to become a member of a kirk-session under the Established Church, he felt doubly obliged to evince that, in so doing, he had not compromised any whit of his former professions, either in practice or principle. Now Mr. Butler, doing all credit to his father-inlaw’s motives, was frequently of opinion that it were better to drop out of memory points of division and separation, and to act in the manner most likely to attract and unite all parties who were serious in religion. Moreover, he was not pleased, as a man and a scholar, to be always dictated to by his unlettered father-inlaw; and as a clergyman, he did not think it fit to seem for ever under the thumb of an elder of his own kirk-session. A proud but honest thought carried his opposition now and then a little farther than it would otherwise have gone. “My brethren,” he said, “will suppose I am flattering and conciliating the old man for the sake of his succession, if I defer and give way to him on every occasion; and, besides, there are many on which I neither can nor will conscientiously yield to his notions. I cannot be persecuting old women for witches, or ferreting out matter of scandal among the young ones, which might otherwise have remained concealed.”

From this difference of opinion it happened that, in many cases of nicety, such as in owning certain defections, and failing to testify against certain backslidings of the time, in not always severely tracing forth little matters of scandal and fama clamosa, which David called a loosening of the reins of discipline, and in failing to demand clear testimonies in other points of controversy which had, as it were, drifted to leeward with the change of times, Butler incurred the censure of his father-inlaw; and sometimes the disputes betwixt them became eager and almost unfriendly. In all such cases Mrs Butler was a mediating spirit, who endeavoured, by the alkaline smoothness of her own disposition, to neutralise the acidity of theological controversy. To the complaints of both she lent an unprejudiced and attentive ear, and sought always rather to excuse than absolutely to defend the other party.

She reminded her father that Butler had not “his experience of the auld and wrastling times, when folk were gifted wi’ a far look into eternity, to make up for the oppressions whilk they suffered here below in time. She freely allowed that many devout ministers and professors in times past had enjoyed downright revelation, like the blessed Peden, and Lundie, and Cameron, and Renwick, and John Caird the tinkler, wha entered into the secrets, and Elizabeth Melvil, Lady Culross, wha prayed in her bed, surrounded by a great many Christians in a large room, in whilk it was placed on purpose, and that for three hours’ time, with wonderful assistance; and Lady Robertland, whilk got six sure outgates of grace, and mony other in times past; and of a specially, Mr. John Scrimgeour, minister of Kinghorn, who, having a beloved child sick to death of the crewels, was free to expostulate with his Maker with such impatience of displeasure, and complaining so bitterly, that at length it was said unto him, that he was heard for this time, but that he was requested to use no such boldness in time coming; so that when he returned he found the child sitting up in the bed hale and fair, with all its wounds closed, and supping its parritch, whilk babe he had left at the time of death. But though these things might be true in these needful times, she contended that those ministers who had not seen such vouchsafed and especial mercies, were to seek their rule in the records of ancient times; and therefore Reuben was carefu’ both to search the Scriptures and the books written by wise and good men of old; and sometimes in this way it wad happen that twa precious saints might pu’ sundry wise, like twa cows riving at the same hayband.”

To this David used to reply, with a sigh, “Ah, hinny, thou kenn’st little o’t; but that saam John Scrimgeour, that blew open the gates of heaven as an it had been wi’ a sax-pund cannonball, used devoutly to wish that most part of books were burnt, except the Bible. Reuben’s a gude lad and a kind — I have aye allowed that; but as to his not allowing inquiry anent the scandal of Marjory Kittlesides and Rory MacRand, under pretence that they have southered sin wi’ marriage, it’s clear agane the Christian discipline o’ the kirk. And then there’s Aily MacClure of Deepheugh, that practises her abominations, spacing folks’ fortunes wi’ egg-shells, and mutton-banes, and dreams and divinations, whilk is a scandal to ony Christian land to suffer sic a wretch to live; and I’ll uphaud that, in a’ judicatures, civil or ecclesiastical.”

“I daresay ye are very right, father,” was the general style of Jeanie’s answer; “but ye maun come down to the Manse to your dinner the day. The bits o’ bairns, puir things, are wearying to see their luckie dad; and Reuben never sleeps weel, nor I neither, when you and he hae had ony bit outcast.”

“Nae outcast, Jeanie; God forbid I suld cast out wi’ thee, or aught that is dear to thee!” And he put on his Sundays coat, and came to the Manse accordingly.

With her husband, Mrs. Butler had a more direct conciliatory process. Reuben had the utmost respect for the old man’s motives, and affection for his person, as well as gratitude for his early friendship. So that, upon any such occasion of accidental irritation, it was only necessary to remind him with delicacy of his father-inlaw’s age, of his scanty education, strong prejudices, and family distresses. The least of these considerations always inclined Butler to measures of conciliation, in so far as he could accede to them without compromising principle; and thus our simple and unpretending heroine had the merit of those peacemakers, to whom it is pronounced as a benediction, that they shall inherit the earth.

The second crook in Mrs. Butler’s lot, to use the language of her father, was the distressing circumstance, that she had never heard of her sister’s safety, or of the circumstances in which she found herself, though betwixt four and five years had elapsed since they had parted on the beach of the island of Roseneath. Frequent intercourse was not to be expected — not to be desired, perhaps, in their relative situations; but Effie had promised, that, if she lived and prospered, her sister should hear from her. She must then be no more, or sunk into some abyss of misery, since she had never redeemed her pledge. Her silence seemed strange and portentous, and wrung from Jeanie, who could never forget the early years of their intimacy, the most painful anticipation concerning her fate. At length, however, the veil was drawn aside.

One day, as the Captain of Knockdunder had called in at the Manse, on his return from some business in the Highland part of the parish, and had been accommodated, according to his special request, with a mixture of milk, brandy, honey, and water, which he said Mrs. Butler compounded “potter than ever a woman in Scotland,”— for, in all innocent matters, she studied the taste of every one around her — he said to Butler, “Py the py, minister, I have a letter here either for your canny pody of a wife or you, which I got when I was last at Glasco; the postage comes to fourpence, which you may either pay me forthwith, or give me tooble or quits in a hit at packcammon.”

The playing at backgammon and draughts had been a frequent amusement of Mr. Whackbairn, Butler’s principal, when at Liberton school. The minister, therefore, still piqued himself on his skill at both games, and occasionally practised them, as strictly canonical, although David Deans, whose notions of every kind were more rigorous, used to shake his head, and groan grievously, when he espied the tables lying in the parlour, or the children playing with the dice boxes or backgammon men. Indeed, Mrs. Butler was sometimes chidden for removing these implements of pastime into some closet or corner out of sight. “Let them be where they are, Jeanie,” would Butler say upon such occasions; “I am not conscious of following this, or any other trifling relaxation, to the interruption of my more serious studies, and still more serious duties. I will not, therefore, have it supposed that I am indulging by stealth, and against my conscience, in an amusement which, using it so little as I do, I may well practise openly, and without any check of mind — Nil conscire sibi, Jeanie, that is my motto; which signifies, my love, the honest and open confidence which a man ought to entertain when he is acting openly, and without any sense of doing wrong.”

Such being Butler’s humour, he accepted the Captain’s defiance to a twopenny hit at backgammon, and handed the letter to his wife, observing the post-mark was York, but, if it came from her friend Mrs. Bickerton, she had considerably improved her handwriting, which was uncommon at her years.

Leaving the gentlemen to their game, Mrs. Butler went to order something for supper, for Captain Duncan had proposed kindly to stay the night with them, and then carelessly broke open her letter. It was not from Mrs. Bickerton; and, after glancing over the first few lines, she soon found it necessary to retire to her own bedroom, to read the document at leisure.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/heart/chapter47.html

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