The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 49

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,

    And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,

Thence to be wrench’d by an unlineal hand,

    No son of mine succeeding.

Macbeth.

After this period, but under the most strict precautions against discovery, the sisters corresponded occasionally, exchanging letters about twice every year. Those of Lady Staunton spoke of her husband’s health and spirits as being deplorably uncertain; her own seemed also to be sinking, and one of the topics on which she most frequently dwelt was their want of family. Sir George Staunton, always violent, had taken some aversion at the next heir, whom he suspected of having irritated his friends against him during his absence; and he declared, he would bequeath Willingham and all its lands to an hospital, ere that fetch-and-carry tell-tale should inherit an acre of it.

“Had he but a child,” said the unfortunate wife, “or had that luckless infant survived, it would be some motive for living and for exertion. But Heaven has denied us a blessing which we have not deserved.”

Such complaints, in varied form, but turning frequently on the same topic, filled the letters which passed from the spacious but melancholy halls of Willingham, to the quiet and happy parsonage at Knocktarlitie. Years meanwhile rolled on amid these fruitless repinings. John, Duke of Argyle and Greenwich, died in the year 1743, universally lamented, but by none more than by the Butlers, to whom his benevolence had been so distinguished. He was succeeded by his brother Duke Archibald, with whom they had not the same intimacy; but who continued the protection which his brother had extended towards them. This, indeed, became more necessary than ever; for, after the breaking out and suppression of the rebellion in 1745, the peace of the country, adjacent to the Highlands, was considerably disturbed. Marauders, or men that had been driven to that desperate mode of life, quartered themselves in the fastnesses nearest to the Lowlands, which were their scene of plunder; and there is scarce a glen in the romantic and now peaceable Highlands of Perth, Stirling, and Dumbartonshire, where one or more did not take up their residence.

The prime pest of the parish of Knocktarlitie was a certain Donacha dhu na Dunaigh, or Black Duncan the Mischievous, whom we have already casually mentioned. This fellow had been originally a tinkler, or caird, many of whom stroll about these districts; but when all police was disorganised by the civil war, he threw up his profession, and from half thief became whole robber; and being generally at the head of three or four active young fellows, and he himself artful, bold, and well acquainted with the passes, he plied his new profession with emolument to himself, and infinite plague to the country.

All were convinced that Duncan of Knock could have put down his namesake Donacha any morning he had a mind; for there were in the parish a set of stout young men, who had joined Argyle’s banner in the war under his old friend, and behaved very well on several occasions. And as for their leader, as no one doubted his courage, it was generally supposed that Donacha had found out the mode of conciliating his favour, a thing not very uncommon in that age and country. This was the more readily believed, as David Deans’s cattle (being the property of the Duke) were left untouched, when the minister’s cows were carried off by the thieves. Another attempt was made to renew the same act of rapine, and the cattle were in the act of being driven off, when Butler, laying his profession aside in a case of such necessity, put himself at the head of some of his neighbours, and rescued the creagh, an exploit at which Deans attended in person, notwithstanding his extreme old age, mounted on a Highland pony, and girded with an old broadsword, likening himself (for he failed not to arrogate the whole merit of the expedition) to David, the son of Jesse, when he recovered the spoil of Ziklag from the Amalekites. This spirited behaviour had so far a good effect, that Donacha dhu na Dunaigh kept his distance for some time to come; and, though his distant exploits were frequently spoken of, he did not exercise any depredations in that part of the country. He continued to flourish, and to be heard of occasionally, until the year 1751, when, if the fear of the second David had kept him in check, fate released him from that restraint, for the venerable patriarch of St. Leonard’s was that year gathered to his fathers.

David Deans died full of years and of honour. He is believed, for the exact time of his birth is not known, to have lived upwards of ninety years; for he used to speak of events as falling under his own knowledge, which happened about the time of the battle of Bothwell Bridge. It was said that he even bore arms there; for once, when a drunken Jacobite laird wished for a Bothwell Brigg whig, that “he might stow the lugs out of his head,” David informed him with a peculiar austerity of countenance, that, if he liked to try such a prank, there was one at his elbow; and it required the interference of Butler to preserve the peace.

He expired in the arms of his beloved daughter, thankful for all the blessings which Providence had vouchsafed to him while in this valley of strife and toil — and thankful also for the trials he had been visited with; having found them, he said, needful to mortify that spiritual pride and confidence in his own gifts, which was the side on which the wily Enemy did most sorely beset him. He prayed in the most affecting manner for Jeanie, her husband, and her family, and that her affectionate duty to the puir auld man might purchase her length of days here, and happiness hereafter; then, in a pathetic petition, too well understood by those who knew his family circumstances, he besought the Shepherd of souls, while gathering his flock, not to forget the little one that had strayed from the fold, and even then might be in the hands of the ravening wolf. — He prayed for the national Jerusalem, that peace might be in her land, and prosperity in her palaces — for the welfare of the honourable House of Argyle, and for the conversion of Duncan of Knockdunder. After this he was silent, being exhausted, nor did he again utter anything distinctly. He was heard, indeed, to mutter something about national defections, right-hand extremes, and left-hand failings off; but, as May Hettly observed, his head was carried at the time; and it is probable that these expressions occurred to him merely out of general habit, and that he died in the full spirit of charity with all men. About an hour afterwards he slept in the Lord.

Notwithstanding her father’s advanced age, his death was a severe shock to Mrs. Butler. Much of her time had been dedicated to attending to his health and his wishes, and she felt as if part of her business in the world was ended, when the good old man was no more. His wealth, which came nearly to fifteen hundred pounds, in disposable capital, served to raise the fortunes of the family at the Manse. How to dispose of this sum for the best advantage of his family, was matter of anxious consideration to Butler. “If we put it on heritable bond, we shall maybe lose the interest; for there’s that bond over Lounsbeck’s land, your father could neither get principal nor interest for it — If we bring it into the funds, we shall maybe lose the principal and all, as many did in the South Sea scheme. The little estate of Craigsture is in the market — it lies within two miles of the Manse, and Knock says his Grace has no thought to buy it. But they ask L2500, and they may, for it is worth the money; and were I to borrow the balance, the creditor might call it up suddenly, or in case of my death my family might be distressed.”

“And so if we had mair siller, we might buy that bonny pasture-ground, where the grass comes so early?” asked Jeanie.

“Certainly, my dear; and Knockdunder, who is a good judge, is strongly advising me to it. To be sure it is his nephew that is selling it.”

“Aweel, Reuben,” said Jeanie, “ye maun just look up a text in Scripture, as ye did when ye wanted siller before — just look up a text in the Bible.”

“Ah, Jeanie,” said Butler, laughing and pressing her hand at the same time, “the best people in these times can only work miracles once.”

“We will see,” said Jeanie composedly; and going to the closet in which she kept her honey, her sugar, her pots of jelly, her vials of the more ordinary medicines, and which served her, in short, as a sort of store-room, she jangled vials and gallipots, till, from out the darkest nook, well flanked by a triple row of bottles and jars, which she was under the necessity of displacing, she brought a cracked brown cann, with a piece of leather tied over the top. Its contents seemed to be written papers, thrust in disorder into this uncommon secre’taire. But from among these Jeanie brought an old clasped Bible, which had been David Deans’s companion in his earlier wanderings, and which he had given to his daughter when the failure of his eyes had compelled him to use one of a larger print. This she gave to Butler, who had been looking at her motions with some surprise, and desired him to see what that book could do for him. He opened the clasps, and to his astonishment a parcel of L50 bank-notes dropped out from betwixt the leaves, where they had been separately lodged, and fluttered upon the floor. “I didna think to hae tauld you o’ my wealth, Reuben,” said his wife, smiling at his surprise, “till on my deathbed, or maybe on some family pinch; but it wad be better laid out on yon bonny grass-holms, than lying useless here in this auld pigg.”

“How on earth came ye by that siller, Jeanie? — Why, here is more than a thousand pounds,” said Butler, lifting up and counting the notes.

“If it were ten thousand, it’s a’ honestly come by,” said Jeanie; “and troth I kenna how muckle there is o’t, but it’s a’ there that ever I got. — And as for how I came by it, Reuben — it’s weel come by, and honestly, as I said before — And it’s mair folk’s secret than mine, or ye wad hae kend about it lang syne; and as for onything else, I am not free to answer mair questions about it, and ye maun just ask me nane.”

“Answer me but one,” said Butler. “Is it all freely and indisputably your own property, to dispose of it as you think fit? — Is it possible no one has a claim in so large a sum except you?”

“It was mine, free to dispose of it as I like,” answered Jeanie; “and I have disposed of it already, for now it is yours, Reuben — You are Bible Butler now, as well as your forbear, that my puir father had sic an ill will at. Only, if ye like, I wad wish Femie to get a gude share o’t when we are gane.”

“Certainly, it shall be as you choose — But who on earth ever pitched on such a hiding-place for temporal treasures?”

“That is just ane o’ my auld-fashioned gates, as you ca’ them, Reuben. I thought if Donacha Dhu was to make an outbreak upon us, the Bible was the last thing in the house he wad meddle wi’— but an ony mair siller should drap in, as it is not unlikely, I shall e’en pay it ower to you, and ye may lay it out your ain way.”

“And I positively must not ask you how you have come by all this money?” said the clergyman.

“Indeed, Reuben, you must not; for if you were asking me very sair I wad maybe tell you, and then I am sure I would do wrong.”

“But tell me,” said Butler, “is it anything that distresses your own mind?”

“There is baith weal and woe come aye wi’ world’s gear, Reuben; but ye maun ask me naething mair — This siller binds me to naething, and can never be speered back again.”

“Surely,” said Mr. Butler, when he had again counted over the money, as if to assure himself that the notes were real, “there was never man in the world had a wife like mine — a blessing seems to follow her.”

“Never,” said Jeanie, “since the enchanted princess in the bairn’s fairy tale, that kamed gold nobles out o’ the tae side of her haffit locks, and Dutch dollars out o’ the tother. But gang away now, minister, and put by the siller, and dinna keep the notes wampishing in your hand that gate, or I shall wish them in the brown pigg again, for fear we get a black cast about them — we’re ower near the hills in these times to be thought to hae siller in the house. And, besides, ye maun gree wi’ Knockdunder, that has the selling o’ the lands; and dinna you be simple and let him ken o’ this windfa’, but keep him to the very lowest penny, as if ye had to borrow siller to make the price up.”

In the last admonition, Jeanie showed distinctly, that, although she did not understand how to secure the money which came into her hands otherwise than by saving and hoarding it, yet she had some part of her father David’s shrewdness, even upon worldly subjects. And Reuben Butler was a prudent man, and went and did even as his wife had advised him. The news quickly went abroad into the parish that the minister had bought Craigsture; and some wished him joy, and some “were sorry it had gane out of the auld name.” However, his clerical brethren, understanding that he was under the necessity of going to Edinburgh about the ensuing Whitsunday, to get together David Deans’s cash to make up the purchase-money of his new acquisition, took the opportunity to name him their delegate to the General Assembly, or Convocation of the Scottish Church, which takes place usually in the latter end of the month of May.

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