The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 48

Happy thou art! then happy be,

    Nor envy me my lot;

Thy happy state I envy thee,

    And peaceful cot.

Lady Charlotte Campbell.

The letter, which Mrs. Butler, when retired into her own apartment, perused with anxious wonder, was certainly from Effie, although it had no other signature than the letter E.; and although the orthography, style, and penmanship, were very far superior not only to anything which Effie could produce, who, though a lively girl, had been a remarkably careless scholar, but even to her more considerate sister’s own powers of composition and expression. The manuscript was a fair Italian hand, though something stiff and constrained — the spelling and the diction that of a person who had been accustomed to read good composition, and mix in good society.

The tenor of the letter was as follows:—

“My Dearest Sister — At many risks I venture to write to you, to inform you that I am still alive, and, as to worldly situation, that I rank higher than I could expect or merit. If wealth, and distinction, and an honourable rank, could make a woman happy, I have them all; but you, Jeanie, whom the world might think placed far beneath me in all these respects, are far happier than I am. I have had means of hearing of your welfare, my dearest Jeanie, from time to time — I think I should have broken my heart otherwise. I have learned with great pleasure of your increasing family. We have not been worthy of such a blessing; two infants have been successively removed, and we are now childless — God’s will be done! But, if we had a child, it would perhaps divert him from the gloomy thoughts which make him terrible to himself and others. Yet do not let me frighten you, Jeanie; he continues to be kind, and I am far better off than I deserve. You will wonder at my better scholarship; but when I was abroad, I had the best teachers, and I worked hard, because my progress pleased him. He is kind, Jeanie, only he has much to distress him, especially when he looks backward. When I look backward myself, I have always a ray of comfort: it is in the generous conduct of a sister, who forsook me not when I was forsaken by every one. You have had your reward. You live happy in the esteem and love of all who know you, and I drag on the life of a miserable impostor, indebted for the marks of regard I receive to a tissue of deceit and lies, which the slightest accident may unravel. He has produced me to his friends, since the estate opened to him, as a daughter of a Scotchman of rank, banished on account of the Viscount of Dundee’s wars — that is, our Fr’s old friend Clavers, you know — and he says I was educated in a Scotch convent; indeed, I lived in such a place long enough to enable me to support the character. But when a countryman approaches me, and begins to talk, as they all do, of the various families engaged in Dundee’s affair, and to make inquiries into my connections, and when I see his eye bent on mine with such an expression of agony, my terror brings me to the very risk of detection. Good-nature and politeness have hitherto saved me, as they prevented people from pressing on me with distressing questions. But how long — O how long, will this be the case! — And if I bring this disgrace on him, he will hate me — he will kill me, for as much as he loves me; he is as jealous of his family honour now, as ever he was careless about it. I have been in England four months, and have often thought of writing to you; and yet, such are the dangers that might arise from an intercepted letter, that I have hitherto forborne. But now I am obliged to run the risk. Last week I saw your great friend, the D. of A. He came to my box, and sate by me; and something in the play put him in mind of you — Gracious Heaven! he told over your whole London journey to all who were in the box, but particularly to the wretched creature who was the occasion of it all. If he had known — if he could have conceived, beside whom he was sitting, and to whom the story was told! — I suffered with courage, like an Indian at the stake, while they are rending his fibres and boring his eyes, and while he smiles applause at each well-imagined contrivance of his torturers. It was too much for me at last, Jeanie — I fainted; and my agony was imputed partly to the heat of the place, and partly to my extreme sensibility; and, hypocrite all over, I encouraged both opinions — anything but discovery! Luckily, he was not there. But the incident has more alarms. I am obliged to meet your great man often; and he seldom sees me without talking of E. D. and J. D., and R. B. and D. D., as persons in whom my amiable sensibility is interested. My amiable sensibility!!! — And then the cruel tone of light indifference with which persons in the fashionable world speak together on the most affecting subjects! To hear my guilt, my folly, my agony, the foibles and weaknesses of my friends — even your heroic exertions, Jeanie, spoken of in the drolling style which is the present tone in fashionable life — Scarce all that I formerly endured is equal to this state of irritation — then it was blows and stabs — now it is pricking to death with needles and pins. — He — I mean the D. — goes down next month to spend the shooting-season in Scotland — he says, he makes a point of always dining one day at the Manse — be on your guard, and do not betray yourself, should he mention me — Yourself, alas! you have nothing to betray — nothing to fear; you, the pure, the virtuous, the heroine of unstained faith, unblemished purity, what can you have to fear from the world or its proudest minions? It is E. whose life is once more in your hands — it is E. whom you are to save from being plucked of her borrowed plumes, discovered, branded, and trodden down, first by him, perhaps, who has raised her to this dizzy pinnacle! — The enclosure will reach you twice a-year — do not refuse it — it is out of my own allowance, and may be twice as much when you want it. With you it may do good — with me it never can.

“Write to me soon, Jeanie, or I shall remain in the agonising apprehension that this has fallen into wrong hands — Address simply to L. S., under cover, to the Reverend George Whiterose, in the Minster-Close, York. He thinks I correspond with some of my noble Jacobite relations who are in Scotland. How high-church and jacobitical zeal would burn in his checks, if he knew he was the agent, not of Euphemia Setoun, of the honourable house of Winton, but of E. D., daughter of a Cameronian cowfeeder! — Jeanie, I can laugh yet sometimes — but God protect you from such mirth. — My father — I mean your father, would say it was like the idle crackling of thorns; but the thorns keep their poignancy, they remain unconsumed. Farewell, my dearest Jeanie — Do not show this even to Mr. Butler, much less to any one else. I have every respect for him, but his principles are over strict, and my case will not endure severe handling. — I rest your affectionate sister, E.”

In this long letter there was much to surprise as well as to distress Mrs. Butler. That Effie — her sister Effie, should be mingling freely in society, and apparently on not unequal terms, with the Duke of Argyle, sounded like something so extraordinary, that she even doubted if she read truly. Not was it less marvellous, that, in the space of four years, her education should have made such progress. Jeanie’s humility readily allowed that Effie had always, when she chose it, been smarter at her book than she herself was, but then she was very idle, and, upon the whole, had made much less proficiency. Love, or fear, or necessity, however, had proved an able school-mistress, and completely supplied all her deficiencies.

What Jeanie least liked in the tone of the letter, was a smothered degree of egotism. “We should have heard little about her,” said Jeanie to herself, “but that she was feared the Duke might come to learn wha she was, and a’ about her puir friends here; but Effie, puir thing, aye looks her ain way, and folk that do that think mair o’ themselves than of their neighbours. — I am no clear about keeping her siller,” she added, taking up a L50 note which had fallen out of the paper to the floor. “We hae eneugh, and it looks unco like theftboot, or hushmoney, as they ca’ it; she might hae been sure that I wad say naething wad harm her, for a’ the gowd in Lunnon. And I maun tell the minister about it. I dinna see that she suld be sae feared for her ain bonny bargain o’ a gudeman, and that I shouldna reverence Mr. Butler just as much; and sae I’ll e’en tell him, when that tippling body the Captain has ta’en boat in the morning. — But I wonder at my ain state of mind,” she added, turning back, after she had made a step or two to the door to join the gentlemen; “surely I am no sic a fule as to be angry that Effie’s a braw lady, while I am only a minister’s wife? — and yet I am as petted as a bairn, when I should bless God, that has redeemed her from shame, and poverty, and guilt, as ower likely she might hae been plunged into.”

Sitting down upon a stool at the foot of the bed, she folded her arms upon her bosom, saying within herself, “From this place will I not rise till I am in a better frame of mind;” and so placed, by dint of tearing the veil from the motives of her little temporary spleen against her sister, she compelled herself to be ashamed of them, and to view as blessings the advantages of her sister’s lot, while its embarrassments were the necessary consequences of errors long since committed. And thus she fairly vanquished the feeling of pique which she naturally enough entertained, at seeing Effie, so long the object of her care and her pity, soar suddenly so high above her in life, as to reckon amongst the chief objects of her apprehension the risk of their relationship being discovered.

When this unwonted burst of amour propre was thoroughly subdued, she walked down to the little parlour where the gentlemen were finishing their game, and heard from the Captain a confirmation of the news intimated in her letter, that the Duke of Argyle was shortly expected at Roseneath.

“He’ll find plenty of moor-fowls and plack-cock on the moors of Auchingower, and he’ll pe nae doubt for taking a late dinner, and a ped at the Manse, as he has done pefore now.”

“He has a gude right, Captain,” said Jeanie.

“Teil ane potter to ony ped in the kintra,” answered the Captain. “And ye had potter tell your father, puir body, to get his beasts a’ in order, and put his tamn’d Cameronian nonsense out o’ his head for twa or three days, if he can pe so opliging; for fan I speak to him apout prute pestil, he answers me out o’ the Pible, whilk is not using a shentleman weel, unless it be a person of your cloth, Mr. Putler.”

No one understood better than Jeanie the merit of the soft answer, which turneth away wrath; and she only smiled, and hoped that his Grace would find everything that was under her father’s care to his entire satisfaction.

But the Captain, who had lost the whole postage of the letter at backgammon, was in the pouting mood not unusual to losers, and which, says the proverb, must be allowed to them.

“And, Master Putler, though you know I never meddle with the things of your kirk-sessions, yet I must pe allowed to say that I will not be pleased to allow Ailie MacClure of Deepheugh to be poonished as a witch, in respect she only spaes fortunes, and does not lame, or plind, or pedevil any persons, or coup cadger’s carts, or ony sort of mischief; put only tells people good fortunes, as anent our poats killing so many seals and doug-fishes, whilk is very pleasant to hear.”

“The woman,” said Butler, “is, I believe, no witch, but a cheat: and it is only on that head that she is summoned to the kirk-session, to cause her to desist in future from practising her impostures upon ignorant persons.”

“I do not know,” replied the gracious Duncan, “what her practices or postures are, but I pelieve that if the poys take hould on her to duck her in the Clachan purn, it will be a very sorry practice — and I pelieve, moreover, that if I come in thirdsman among you at the kirk-sessions, you will be all in a tamn’d pad posture indeed.”

Without noticing this threat, Mr. Butler replied, “That he had not attended to the risk of ill-usage which the poor woman might undergo at the hands of the rabble, and that he would give her the necessary admonition in private, instead of bringing her before the assembled session.”

“This,” Duncan said, “was speaking like a reasonable shentleman;” and so the evening passed peaceably off.

Next morning, after the Captain had swallowed his morning draught of Athole brose, and departed in his coach and six, Mrs. Butler anew deliberated upon communicating to her husband her sister’s letter. But she was deterred by the recollection, that, in doing so, she would unveil to him the whole of a dreadful secret, of which, perhaps, his public character might render him an unfit depositary. Butler already had reason to believe that Effie had eloped with that same Robertson who had been a leader in the Porteous mob, and who lay under sentence of death for the robbery at Kirkcaldy. But he did not know his identity with George Staunton, a man of birth and fortune, who had now apparently reassumed his natural rank in society. Jeanie had respected Staunton’s own confession as sacred, and upon reflection she considered the letter of her sisteras equally so, and resolved to mention the contents to no one.

On reperusing the letter, she could not help observing the staggering and unsatisfactory condition of those who have risen to distinction by undue paths, and the outworks and bulwarks of fiction and falsehood, by which they are under the necessity of surrounding and defending their precarious advantages. But she was not called upon, she thought, to unveil her sister’s original history — it would restore no right to any one, for she was usurping none — it would only destroy her happiness, and degrade her in the public estimation. Had she been wise, Jeanie thought she would have chosen seclusion and privacy, in place of public life and gaiety; but the power of choice might not be hers. The money, she thought, could not be returned without her seeming haughty and unkind. She resolved, therefore, upon reconsidering this point, to employ it as occasion should serve, either in educating her children better than her own means could compass, or for their future portion. Her sister had enough, was strongly bound to assist Jeanie by any means in her power, and the arrangement was so natural and proper, that it ought not to be declined out of fastidious or romantic delicacy. Jeanie accordingly wrote to her sister, acknowledging her letter, and requesting to hear from her as often as she could. In entering into her own little details of news, chiefly respecting domestic affairs, she experienced a singular vacillation of ideas; for sometimes she apologised for mentioning things unworthy the notice of a lady of rank, and then recollected that everything which concerned her should be interesting to Effie. Her letter, under the cover of Mr. Whiterose, she committed to the post-office at Glasgow, by the intervention of a parishioner who had business at that city.

The next week brought the Duke to Roseneath, and shortly afterwards he intimated his intention of sporting in their neighbourhood, and taking his bed at the Manse; an honour which he had once or twice done to its inmates on former occasions.

Effie proved to be perfectly right in her auticipations. The Duke had hardly set himself down at Mrs. Butler’s right hand, and taken upon himself the task of carving the excellent “barn-door chucky,” which had been selected as the high dishes upon this honourable occasion, before he began to speak of Lady Staunton of Willingham, in Lincolnshire, and the great noise which her wit and beauty made in London. For much of this Jeanie was, in some measure, prepared — but Effie’s wit! that would never have entered into her imagination, being ignorant how exactly raillery in the higher rank resembles flippancy among their inferiors.

“She has been the ruling belle — the blazing star — the universal toast of the winter,” said the Duke; “and is really the most beautiful creature that was seen at court upon the birth-day.”

The birthday! and at court! — Jeanie was annihilated, remembering well her own presentation, all its extraordinary circumstances, and particularly the cause of it.

“I mention this lady particularly to you, Mrs. Butler,” said the Duke, “because she has something in the sound of her voice, and cast of her countenance, that reminded me of you — not when you look so pale though — you have over-fatigued yourself — you must pledge me in a glass of wine.”

She did so, and Butler observed, “It was dangerous flattery in his Grace to tell a poor minister’s wife that she was like a court-beauty.”

“Oho, Mr. Butler,” said the Duke, “I find you are growing jealous; but it’s rather too late in the day, for you know how long I have admired your wife. But seriously, there is betwixt them one of those inexplicable likenesses which we see in countenances, that do not otherwise resemble each other.”

“The perilous part of the compliment has flown off,” thought Mr. Butler.

His wife, feeling the awkwardness of silence, forced herself to say, “That, perhaps, the lady might be her countrywoman, and the language might have made some resemblance.”

“You are quite right,” replied the Duke. “She is a Scotch-woman, and speaks with a Scotch accent, and now and then a provincial word drops out so prettily, that it is quite Doric, Mr. Butler.”

“I should have thought,” said the clergyman, “that would have sounded vulgar in the great city.”

“Not at all,” replied the Duke; “you must suppose it is not the broad coarse Scotch that is spoken in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, or in the Gorbals. This lady has been very little in Scotland, in fact she was educated in a convent abroad, and speaks that pure court-Scotch, which was common in my younger days; but it is so generally disused now, that it sounds like a different dialect, entirely distinct from our modern patois.

Notwithstanding her anxiety, Jeanie could not help admiring within herself, how the most correct judges of life and manners can be imposed on by their own preconceptions, while the Duke proceeded thus: “She is of the unfortunate house of Winton, I believe; but, being bred abroad, she had missed the opportunity of learning her own pedigree, and was obliged to me for informing her, that she must certainly come of the Setons of Windygoul. I wish you could have seen how prettily she blushed at her own ignorance. Amidst her noble and elegant manners, there is now and then a little touch of bashfulness and conventual rusticity, if I may call it so, that makes her quite enchanting. You see at once the rose that had bloomed untouched amid the chaste precincts of the cloister, Mr. Butler.”

True to the hint, Mr. Butler failed not to start with his

“Ut flos in septis secretus nascitur hortis,” etc.,

while his wife could hardly persuade herself that all this was spoken of Effie Deans, and by so competent a judge as the Duke of Argyle; and had she been acquainted with Catullus, would have thought the fortunes of her sister had reversed the whole passage.

She was, however, determined to obtain some indemnification for the anxious feelings of the moment, by gaining all the intelligence she could; and therefore ventured to make some inquiry about the husband of the lady his Grace admired so much.

“He is very rich,” replied the Duke; “of an ancient family, and has good manners: but he is far from being such a general favourite as his wife. Some people say he can be very pleasant — I never saw him so; but should rather judge him reserved, and gloomy, and capricious. He was very wild in his youth, they say, and has bad health; yet he is a good-looking man enough — a great friend of your Lord High Commissioner of the Kirk, Mr. Butler.”

“Then he is the friend of a very worthy and honourable nobleman,” said Butler.

“Does he admire his lady as much as other people do?” said Jeanie, in a low voice.

“Who — Sir George? They say he is very fond of her,” said the Duke; “but I observe she trembles a little when he fixes his eye on her, and that is no good sign — But it is strange how I am haunted by this resemblance of yours to Lady Staunton, in look and tone of voice. One would almost swear you were sisters.”

Jeanie’s distress became uncontrollable, and beyond concealment. The Duke of Argyle was much disturbed, good-naturedly ascribing it to his having unwittingly recalled, to her remembrance her family misfortunes. He was too well-bred to attempt to apologise; but hastened to change the subject, and arrange certain points of dispute which had occurred betwixt Duncan of Knock and the minister, acknowledging that his worthy substitute was sometimes a little too obstinate, as well as too energetic, in his executive measures.

Mr. Butler admitted his general merits; but said, “He would presume to apply to the worthy gentleman the words of the poet to Marrucinus Asinius,

Manu

Non belle uteris in joco atque vino.”

The discourse being thus turned on parish business, nothing farther occurred that can interest the reader.

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