The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 50

But who is this? what thing of sea or land —

    Female of sex it seems —

That so bedeck’d, ornate, and gay,

    Comes this way sailing?

Milton.

Not long after the incident of the Bible and the bank-notes, Fortune showed that she could surprise Mrs Butler as well as her husband. The Minister, in order to accomplish the various pieces of business which his unwonted visit to Edinburgh rendered necessary, had been under the necessity of setting out from home in the latter end of the month of February, concluding justly that he would find the space betwixt his departure and the term of Whitsunday (24th May) short enough for the purpose of bringing forward those various debtors of old David Deans, out of whose purses a considerable part of the price of his new purchase was to be made good.

Jeanie was thus in the unwonted situation of inhabiting a lonely house, and she felt yet more solitary from the death of the good old man who used to divide her cares with her husband. Her children were her principal resource, and to them she paid constant attention.

It happened a day or two after Butler’s departure that, while she was engaged in some domestic duties, she heard a dispute among the young folk, which, being maintained with obstinacy, appeared to call for her interference. All came to their natural umpire with their complaints. Femie, not yet ten years old, charged Davie and Reubie with an attempt to take away her book by force; and David and Reuben replied, the elder, “That it was not a book for Femie to read,” and Reuben, “That it was about a bad woman.”

“Where did you get the book, ye little hempie?” said Mrs. Butler. “How dare ye touch papa’s books when he is away?” But the little lady, holding fast a sheet of crumpled paper, declared “It was nane o’ papa’s books, and May Hettly had taken it off the muckle cheese which came from Inverara;” for, as was very natural to suppose, a friendly intercourse, with interchange of mutual civilities, was kept up from time to time between Mrs. Dolly Dutton, now Mrs. MacCorkindale, and her former friends.

Jeanie took the subject of contention out of the child’s hand, to satisfy herself of the propriety of her studies; but how much was she struck when she read upon the title of the broadside-sheet, “The Last Speech, Confession, and Dying Words of Margaret MacCraw, or Murdockson, executed on Harabee Hill, near Carlisle, the day of 1737.” It was, indeed, one of those papers which Archibald had bought at Longtown, when he monopolised the pedlar’s stock, which Dolly had thrust into her trunk out of sheer economy. One or two copies, it seems, had remained in her repositories at Inverary, till she chanced to need them in packing a cheese, which, as a very superior production, was sent, in the way of civil challenge, to the dairy at Knocktarlitie.

The title of this paper, so strangely fallen into the very hands from which, in well-meant respect to her feelings, it had been so long detained, was of itself sufficiently startling; but the narrative itself was so interesting, that Jeanie, shaking herself loose from the children, ran upstairs to her own apartment, and bolted the door, to peruse it without interruption.

The narrative, which appeared to have been drawn up, or at least corrected, by the clergyman who attended this unhappy woman, stated the crime for which she suffered to have been “her active part in that atrocious robbery and murder, committed near two years since near Haltwhistle, for which the notorious Frank Levitt was committed for trial at Lancaster assizes. It was supposed the evidence of the accomplice Thomas Tuck, commonly called Tyburn Tom, upon which the woman had been convicted, would weigh equally heavy against him; although many were inclined to think it was Tuck himself who had struck the fatal blow, according to the dying statement of Meg Murdockson.”

After a circumstantial account of the crime for which she suffered, there was a brief sketch of Margaret’s life. It was stated that she was a Scotchwoman by birth, and married a soldier in the Cameronian regiment — that she long followed the camp, and had doubtless acquired in fields of battle, and similar scenes, that ferocity and love of plunder for which she had been afterwards distinguished — that her husband, having obtained his discharge, became servant to a beneficed clergyman of high situation and character in Lincolnshire, and that she acquired the confidence and esteem of that honourable family. She had lost this many years after her husband’s death, it was stated, in consequence of conniving at the irregularities of her daughter with the heir of the family, added to the suspicious circumstances attending the birth of a child, which was strongly suspected to have met with foul play, in order to preserve, if possible, the girl’s reputation. After this she had led a wandering life both in England and Scotland, under colour sometimes of telling fortunes, sometimes of driving a trade in smuggled wares, but, in fact, receiving stolen goods, and occasionally actively joining in the exploits by which they were obtained. Many of her crimes she had boasted of after conviction, and there was one circumstance for which she seemed to feel a mixture of joy and occasional compunction. When she was residing in the suburbs of Edinburgh during the preceding summer, a girl, who had been seduced by one of her confederates, was intrusted to her charge, and in her house delivered of a male infant. Her daughter, whose mind was in a state of derangement ever since she had lost her own child, according to the criminal’s account, carried off the poor girl’s infant, taking it for her own, of the reality of whose death she at times could not be persuaded.

Margaret Murdockson stated that she, for some time, believed her daughter had actually destroyed the infant in her mad fits, and that she gave the father to understand so, but afterwards learned that a female stroller had got it from her. She showed some compunction at having separated mother and child, especially as the mother had nearly suffered death, being condemned, on the Scotch law, for the supposed murder of her infant. When it was asked what possible interest she could have had in exposing the unfortunate girl to suffer for a crime she had not committed, she asked, if they thought she was going to put her own daughter into trouble to save another? She did not know what the Scotch law would have done to her for carrying the child away. This answer was by no means satisfactory to the clergyman, and he discovered, by close examination, that she had a deep and revengeful hatred against the young person whom she had thus injured. But the paper intimated, that, whatever besides she had communicated upon this subject was confided by her in private to the worthy and reverend Archdeacon who had bestowed such particular pains in affording her spiritual assistance. The broadside went on to intimate, that, after her execution, of which the particulars were given, her daughter, the insane person mentioned more than once, and who was generally known by the name of Madge Wildfire, had been very ill-used by the populace, under the belief that she was a sorceress, and an accomplice in her mother’s crimes, and had been with difficulty rescued by the prompt interference of the police.

Such (for we omit moral reflections, and all that may seem unnecessary to the explanation of our story) was the tenor of the broadside. To Mrs. Butler it contained intelligence of the highest importance, since it seemed to afford the most unequivocal proof of her sister’s innocence respecting the crime for which she had so nearly suffered. It is true, neither she nor her husband, nor even her father, had ever believed her capable of touching her infant with an unkind hand when in possession of her reason; but there was a darkness on the subject, and what might have happened in a moment of insanity was dreadful to think upon. Besides, whatever was their own conviction, they had no means of establishing Effie’s innocence to the world, which, according to the tenor of this fugitive publication, was now at length completely manifested by the dying confession of the person chiefly interested in concealing it.

After thanking God for a discovery so dear to her feelings, Mrs. Butler began to consider what use she should make of it. To have shown it to her husband would have been her first impulse; but, besides that he was absent from home, and the matter too delicate to be the subject of correspondence by an indifferent penwoman, Mrs. Butler recollected that he was not possessed of the information necessary to form a judgment upon the occasion; and that, adhering to the rule which she had considered as most advisable, she had best transmit the information immediately to her sister, and leave her to adjust with her husband the mode in which they should avail themselves of it. Accordingly, she despatched a special messenger to Glasgow with a packet, enclosing the Confession of Margaret Murdockson, addressed, as usual, under cover, to Mr. Whiterose of York. She expected, with anxiety, an answer, but none arrived in the usual course of post, and she was left to imagine how many various causes might account for Lady Staunton’s silence. She began to be half sorry that she had parted with the printed paper, both for fear of its having fallen into bad hands, and from the desire of regaining the document which might be essential to establish her sister’s innocence. She was even doubting whether she had not better commit the whole matter to her husband’s consideration, when other incidents occurred to divert her purpose.

Jeanie (she is a favourite, and we beg her pardon for still using the familiar title) had walked down to the sea-side with her children one morning after breakfast, when the boys, whose sight was more discriminating than hers, exclaimed, that “the Captain’s coach and six was coming right for the shore, with ladies in it.” Jeanie instinctively bent her eyes on the approaching boat, and became soon sensible that there were two females in the stern, seated beside the gracious Duncan, who acted as pilot. It was a point of politeness to walk towards the landing-place, in order to receive them, especially as she saw that the Captain of Knockdunder was upon honour and ceremony. His piper was in the bow of the boat, sending forth music, of which one half sounded the better that the other was drowned by the waves and the breeze. Moreover, he himself had his brigadier wig newly frizzed, his bonnet (he had abjured the cocked-hat) decorated with Saint George’s red cross, his uniform mounted as a captain of militia, the Duke’s flag with the boar’s head displayed — all intimated parade and gala.

As Mrs. Butler approached the landing-place, she observed the Captain hand the ladies ashore with marks of great attention, and the parties advanced towards her, the Captain a few steps before the two ladies, of whom the taller and elder leaned on the shoulder of the other, who seemed to be an attendant or servant.

As they met, Duncan, in his best, most important, and deepest tone of Highland civility, “pegged leave to introduce to Mrs. Putler, Lady — eh — eh — I hae forgotten your leddyship’s name!”

“Never mind my name, sir,” said the lady; “I trust Mrs. Butler will be at no loss. The Duke’s letter”— And, as she observed Mrs. Butler look confused, she said again to Duncan somethin sharply, “Did you not send the letter last night, sir?”

“In troth and I didna, and I crave your leddyship’s pardon; but you see, matam, I thought it would do as weel to-tay, pecause Mrs. Putler is never taen out o’sorts — never — and the coach was out fishing — and the gig was gane to Greenock for a cag of prandy — and — Put here’s his Grace’s letter.”

“Give it me, sir,” said the lady, taking it out of his hand; “since you have not found it convenient to do me the favour to send it before me, I will deliver it myself.”

Mrs. Butler looked with great attention, and a certain dubious feeling of deep interest, on the lady, who thus expressed herself with authority over the man of authority, and to whose mandates he seemed to submit, resigning the letter with a “Just as your leddyship is pleased to order it.”

The lady was rather above the middle size, beautifully made, though something embonpoint, with a hand and arm exquisitely formed. Her manner was easy, dignified, and commanding, and seemed to evince high birth and the habits of elevated society. She wore a travelling dress — a grey beaver hat, and a veil of Flanders lace. Two footmen, in rich liveries, who got out of the barge, and lifted out a trunk and portmanteau, appeared to belong to her suite.

“As you did not receive the letter, madam, which should have served for my introduction — for I presume you are Mrs. Butler — I will not present it to you till you are so good as to admit me into your house without it.”

“To pe sure, matam,” said Knockdunder, “ye canna doubt Mrs. Putler will do that. — Mrs. Putler, this is Lady — Lady — these tamned Southern names rin out o’ my head like a stane trowling down hill — put I believe she is a Scottish woman porn — the mair our credit — and I presume her leddyship is of the house of —”

“The Duke of Argyle knows my family very well, sir,” said the lady, in a tone which seemed designed to silence Duncan, or, at any rate, which had that effect completely.

There was something about the whole of this stranger’s address, and tone, and manner, which acted upon Jeanie’s feelings like the illusions of a dream, that tease us with a puzzling approach to reality. Something there was of her sister in the gait and manner of the stranger, as well as in the sound of her voice, and something also, when, lifting her veil, she showed features, to which, changed as they were in expression and complexion, she could not but attach many remembrances.

The stranger was turned of thirty certainly; but so well were her personal charms assisted by the power of dress, and arrangement of ornament, that she might well have passed for one-and-twenty. And her behaviour was so steady and so composed, that, as often as Mrs. Butler perceived anew some point of resemblance to her unfortunate sister, so often the sustained self-command and absolute composure of the stranger destroyed the ideas which began to arise in her imagination. She led the way silently towards the Manse, lost in a confusion of reflections, and trusting the letter with which she was to be there intrusted, would afford her satisfactory explanation of what was a most puzzling and embarrassing scene.

The lady maintained in the meanwhile the manners of a stranger of rank. She admired the various points of view like one who has studied nature, and the best representations of art. At length she took notice of the children.

“These are two fine young mountaineers — Yours, madam, I presume?”

Jeanie replied in the affirmative. The stranger sighed, and sighed once more as they were presented to her by name.

“Come here, Femie,” said Mrs. Butler, “and hold your head up.”

“What is your daughter’s name, madam?” said the lady.

“Euphemia, madam,” answered Mrs. Butler.

“I thought the ordinary Scottish contraction of the name had been Effie;” replied the stranger, in a tone which went to Jeanie’s heart; for in that single word there was more of her sister — more of lang syne ideas — than in all the reminiscences which her own heart had anticipated, or the features and manner of the stranger had suggested.

When they reached the Manse, the lady gave Mrs. Butler the letter which she had taken out of the hands of Knockdunder; and as she gave it she pressed her hand, adding aloud, “Perhaps, madam, you will have the goodness to get me a little milk!”

“And me a drap of the grey-peard, if you please, Mrs. Putler,” added Duncan.

Mrs. Butler withdrew; but, deputing to May Hettly and to David the supply of the strangers’ wants, she hastened into her own room to read the letter. The envelope was addressed in the Duke of Argyle’s hand, and requested Mrs. Butler’s attentions and civility to a lady of rank, a particular friend of his late brother, Lady Staunton of Willingham, who, being recommended to drink goats’ whey by the physicians, was to honour the Lodge at Roseneath with her residence, while her husband made a short tour in Scotland. But within the same cover, which had been given to Lady Staunton unsealed, was a letter from that lady, intended to prepare her sister for meeting her, and which, but for the Captain’s negligence, she ought to have received on the preceding evening. It stated that the news in Jeanie’s last letter had been so interesting to her husband, that he was determined to inquire farther into the confession made at Carlisle, and the fate of that poor innocent, and that, as he had been in some degree successful, she had, by the most earnest entreaties, extorted rather than obtained his permission, under promise of observing the most strict incognito, to spend a week or two with her sister, or in her neighbourhood, while he was prosecuting researches, to which (though it appeared to her very vainly) he seemed to attach some hopes of success.

There was a postscript, desiring that Jeanie would trust to Lady S. the management of their intercourse, and be content with assenting to what she should propose. After reading and again reading the letter, Mrs. Butler hurried down stairs, divided betwixt the fear of betraying her secret, and the desire to throw herself upon her sister’s neck. Effie received her with a glance at once affectionate and cautionary, and immediately proceeded to speak.

“I have been telling Mr. ——— Captain, this gentleman, Mrs. Butler, that if you could accommodate me with an apartment in your house, and a place for Ellis to sleep, and for the two men, it would suit me better than the Lodge, which his Grace has so kindly placed at my disposal. I am advised I should reside as near where the goats feed as possible.”

“I have peen assuring my leddy, Mrs. Putler,” said Duncan, “that though it could not discommode you to receive any of his Grace’s visitors or mine, yet she had mooch petter stay at the Lodge; and for the gaits, the creatures can be fetched there, in respect it is mair fitting they suld wait upon her Leddyship, than she upon the like o’ them.”

“By no means derange the goats for me,” said Lady Staunton; “I am certain the milk must be much better here.” And this she said with languid negligence, as one whose slightest intimation of humour is to bear down all argument.

Mrs. Butler hastened to intimate, that her house, such as it was, was heartily at the disposal of Lady Staunton; but the Captain continued to remonstrate..

“The Duke,” he said, “had written”

“I will settle all that with his Grace”

“And there were the things had been sent down frae Glasco”

“Anything necessary might be sent over to the Parsonage — She would beg the favour of Mrs. Butler to show her an apartment, and of the Captain to have her trunks, etc., sent over from Roseneath.”

So she courtesied off poor Duncan, who departed, saying in his secret soul, “Cot tamn her English impudence! — she takes possession of the minister’s house as an it were her ain — and speaks to shentlemens as if they were pounden servants, and per tamned to her! — And there’s the deer that was shot too — but we will send it ower to the Manse, whilk will pe put civil, seeing I hae prought worthy Mrs. Putler sic a fliskmahoy.”— And with these kind intentions, he went to the shore to give his orders accordingly.

In the meantime, the meeting of the sisters was as affectionate as it was extraordinary, and each evinced her feelings in the way proper to her character. Jeanie was so much overcome by wonder, and even by awe, that her feelings were deep, stunning, and almost overpowering. Effie, on the other hand, wept, laughed, sobbed, screamed, and clapped her hands for joy, all in the space of five minutes, giving way at once, and without reserve, to a natural excessive vivacity of temper, which no one, however, knew better how to restrain under the rules of artificial breeding.

After an hour had passed like a moment in their expressions of mutual affection, Lady Staunton observed the Captain walking with impatient steps below the window. “That tiresome Highland fool has returned upon our hands,” she said. “I will pray him to grace us with his absence.”

“Hout no! hout no!” said Mrs. Butler, in a tone of entreaty; “ye maunna affront the Captain.”

“Affront?” said Lady Staunton; “nobody is ever affronted at what I do or say, my dear. However, I will endure him, since you think it proper.”

The Captain was accordingly graciously requested by Lady Staunton to remain during dinner. During this visit his studious and punctilious complaisance towards the lady of rank was happily contrasted by the cavalier air of civil familiarity in which he indulged towards the minister’s wife.

“I have not been able to persuade Mrs. Butler,” said Lady Staunton to the Captain, during the interval when Jeanie had left the parlour, “to let me talk of making any recompense for storming her house, and garrisoning it in the way I have done.”

“Doubtless, matam,” said the Captain, “it wad ill pecome Mrs. Putler, wha is a very decent pody, to make any such sharge to a lady who comes from my house, or his Grace’s, which is the same thing. — And speaking of garrisons, in the year forty-five, I was poot with a garrison of twenty of my lads in the house of Inver-Garry, whilk had near been unhappily, for —”

“I beg your pardon, sir — But I wish I could think of some way of indemnifying this good lady.”

“O, no need of intemnifying at all — no trouble for her, nothing at all — So, peing in the house of Inver-Garry, and the people about it being uncanny, I doubted the warst, and —”

“Do you happen to know, sir,” said Lady Staunton, “if any of these two lads, these young Butlers, I mean, show any turn for the army?”

“Could not say, indeed, my leddy,” replied Knockdunder —“So, I knowing the people to pe unchancy, and not to lippen to, and hearing a pibroch in the wood, I pegan to pid my lads look to their flints, and then —”

“For,” said Lady Staunton, with the most ruthless disregard to the narrative which she mangled by these interruptions, “if that should be the case, it should cost Sir George but the asking a pair of colours for one of them at the War-Office, since we have always supported Government, and never had occasion to trouble ministers.”

“And if you please, my leddy,” said Duncan, who began to find some savour in this proposal, “as I hae a braw weel-grown lad of a nevoy, ca’d Duncan MacGilligan, that is as pig as paith the Putler pairns putten thegither, Sir George could ask a pair for him at the same time, and it wad pe put ae asking for a’.”

Lady Staunton only answered this hint with a well-bred stare, which gave no sort of encouragement.

Jeanie, who now returned, was lost in amazement at the wonderful difference betwixt the helpless and despairing girl, whom she had seen stretched on a flock-bed in a dungeon, expecting a violent and disgraceful death, and last as a forlorn exile upon the midnight beach, with the elegant, well-bred, beautiful woman before her. The features, now that her sister’s veil was laid aside, did not appear so extremely different, as the whole manner, expression, look, and bearing. In outside show, Lady Staunton seemed completely a creature too soft and fair for sorrow to have touched; so much accustomed to have all her whims complied with by those around her, that she seemed to expect she should even be saved the trouble of forming them; and so totally unacquainted with contradiction, that she did not even use the tone of self-will, since to breathe a wish was to have it fulfilled. She made no ceremony of ridding herself of Duncan as soon as the evening approached; but complimented him out of the house under pretext of fatigue, with the utmost nonchalance.

When they were alone, her sister could not help expressing her wonder at the self-possession with which Lady Staunton sustained her part.

“I daresay you are surprised at it,” said Lady Staunton composedly; “for you, my dear Jeanie, have been truth itself from your cradle upwards; but you must remember that I am a liar of fifteen years’ standing, and therefore must by this time be used to my character.”

In fact, during the feverish tumult of feelings excited during the two or three first days, Mrs. Butler thought her sister’s manner was completely contradictory of the desponding tone which pervaded her correspondence. She was moved to tears, indeed, by the sight of her father’s grave, marked by a modest stone recording his piety and integrity; but lighter impressions and associations had also power over her. She amused herself with visiting the dairy, in which she had so long been assistant, and was so near discovering herself to May Hettly, by betraying her acquaintance with the celebrated receipt for Dunlop cheese, that she compared herself to Bedreddin Hassan, whom the vizier, his father-inlaw, discovered by his superlative skill in composing cream-tarts with pepper in them. But when the novelty of such avocations ceased to amuse her, she showed to her sister but too plainly, that the gaudy colouring with which she veiled her unhappiness afforded as little real comfort, as the gay uniform of the soldier when it is drawn over his mortal wound. There were moods and moments, in which her despondence seemed to exceed even that which she herself had described in her letters, and which too well convinced Mrs. Butler how little her sister’s lot, which in appearance was so brilliant, was in reality to be envied.

There was one source, however, from which Lady Staunton derived a pure degree of pleasure. Gifted in every particular with a higher degree of imagination than that of her sister, she was an admirer of the beauties of nature, a taste which compensates many evils to those who happen to enjoy it. Here her character of a fine lady stopped short, where she ought to have

Scream’d at ilk cleugh, and screech’d at ilka how,

    As loud as she had seen the worrie-cow.

On the contrary, with the two boys for her guides, she undertook long and fatiguing walks among the neighbouring mountains, to visit glens, lakes, waterfalls, or whatever scenes of natural wonder or beauty lay concealed among their recesses. It is Wordsworth, I think, who, talking of an old man under difficulties, remarks, with a singular attention to nature,

Whether it was care that spurr’d him,

God only knows; but to the very last,

He had the lightest foot in Ennerdale.

In the same manner, languid, listless, and unhappy, within doors, at times even indicating something which approached near to contempt of the homely accommodations of her sister’s house, although she instantly endeavoured, by a thousand kindnesses, to atone for such ebullitions of spleen, Lady Staunton appeared to feel interest and energy while in the open air, and traversing the mountain landscapes in society with the two boys, whose ears she delighted with stories of what she had seen in other countries, and what she had to show them at Willingham Manor. And they, on the other hand, exerted themselves in doing the honours of Dumbartonshire to the lady who seemed so kind, insomuch that there was scarce a glen in the neighbouring hills to which they did not introduce her.

Upon one of these excursions, while Reuben was otherwise employed, David alone acted as Lady Staunton’s guide, and promised to show her a cascade in the hills, grander and higher than any they had yet visited. It was a walk of five long miles, and over rough ground, varied, however, and cheered, by mountain views, and peeps now of the firth and its islands, now of distant lakes, now of rocks and precipices. The scene itself, too, when they reached it, amply rewarded the labour of the walk. A single shoot carried a considerable stream over the face of a black rock, which contrasted strongly in colour with the white foam of the cascade, and, at the depth of about twenty feet, another rock intercepted the view of the bottom of the fall. The water, wheeling out far beneath, swept round the crag, which thus bounded their view, and tumbled down the rocky glen in a torrent of foam. Those who love nature always desire to penetrate into its utmost recesses, and Lady Staunton asked David whether there was not some mode of gaining a view of the abyss at the foot of the fall. He said that he knew a station on a shelf on the farther side of the intercepting rock, from which the whole waterfall was visible, but that the road to it was steep and slippery and dangerous. Bent, however, on gratifying her curiosity, she desired him to lead the way; and accordingly he did so over crag and stone, anxiously pointing out to her the resting-places where she ought to step, for their mode of advancing soon ceased to be walking, and became scrambling.

In this manner, clinging like sea-birds to the face of the rock, they were enabled at length to turn round it, and came full in front of the fall, which here had a most tremendous aspect, boiling, roaring, and thundering with unceasing din, into a black cauldron, a hundred feet at least below them, which resembled the crater of a volcano. The noise, the dashing of the waters, which gave an unsteady appearance to all around them, the trembling even of the huge crag on which they stood, the precariousness of their footing, for there was scarce room for them to stand on the shelf of rock which they had thus attained, had so powerful an effect on the senses and imagination of Lady Staunton, that she called out to David she was falling, and would in fact have dropped from the crag had he not caught hold of her. The boy was bold and stout of his age — still he was but fourteen years old, and as his assistance gave no confidence to Lady Staunton, she felt her situation become really perilous. The chance was, that, in the appalling novelty of the circumstances, he might have caught the infection of her panic, in which case it is likely that both must have perished. She now screamed with terror, though without hope of calling any one to her assistance. To her amazement, the scream was answered by a whistle from above, of a tone so clear and shrill, that it was heard even amid the noise of the waterfall.

In this moment of terror and perplexity, a human face, black, and having grizzled hair hanging down over the forehead and cheeks, and mixing with mustaches and a beard of the same colour, and as much matted and tangled, looked down on them from a broken part of the rock above.

“It is the Enemy!” said the boy, who had very nearly become incapable of supporting Lady Staunton.

“No, no,” she exclaimed, inaccessible to supernatural terrors, and restored to the presence of mind of which she had been deprived by the danger of her situation, “it is a man — For God’s sake, my friend, help us!”

The face glared at them, but made no answer; in a second or two afterwards, another, that of a young lad, appeared beside the first, equally swart and begrimed, but having tangled black hair, descending in elf-locks, which gave an air of wildness and ferocity to the whole expression of the countenance. Lady Staunton repeated her entreaties, clinging to the rock with more energy, as she found that, from the superstitious terror of her guide, he became incapable of supporting her. Her words were probably drowned in the roar of the falling stream, for, though she observed the lips of the young being whom she supplicated move as he spoke in reply, not a word reached her ear.

A moment afterwards it appeared he had not mistaken the nature of her supplication, which, indeed, was easy to be understood from her situation and gestures. The younger apparition disappeared, and immediately after lowered a ladder of twisted osiers, about eight feet in length, and made signs to David to hold it fast while the lady ascended. Despair gives courage, and finding herself in this fearful predicament, Lady Staunton did not hesitate to risk the ascent by the precarious means which this accommodation afforded; and, carefully assisted by the person who had thus providentially come to her aid, she reached the summit in safety. She did not, however, even look around her until she saw her nephew lightly and actively follow her examples although there was now no one to hold the ladder fast. When she saw him safe she looked round, and could not help shuddering at the place and company in which she found herself. They were on a sort of platform of rock, surrounded on every side by precipices, or overhanging cliffs, and which it would have been scarce possible for any research to have discovered, as it did not seem to be commanded by any accessible position. It was partly covered by a huge fragment of stone, which, having fallen from the cliffs above, had been intercepted by others in its descent, and jammed so as to serve for a sloping roof to the farther part of the broad shelf or platform on which they stood. A quantity of withered moss and leaves, strewed beneath this rude and wretched shelter, showed the lairs — they could not be termed the beds — of those who dwelt in this eyrie, for it deserved no other name. Of these, two were before Lady Staunton. One, the same who had afforded such timely assistance, stood upright before them, a tall, lathy, young savage; his dress a tattered plaid and philabeg, no shoes, no stockings, no hat or bonnet, the place of the last being supplied by his hair, twisted and matted like the glibbe of the ancient wild Irish, and, like theirs, forming a natural thick-set stout enough to bear off the cut of a sword. Yet the eyes of the lad were keen and sparkling; his gesture free and noble, like that of all savages. He took little notice of David Butler, but gazed with wonder on Lady Staunton, as a being different probably in dress, and superior in beauty, to anything he had ever beheld. The old man, whose face they had first seen, remained recumbent in the same posture as when he had first looked down on them, only his face was turned towards them as he lay and looked up with a lazy and listless apathy, which belied the general expression of his dark and rugged features. He seemed a very tall man, but was scarce better clad than the younger. He had on a loose Lowland greatcoat, and ragged tartan trews or pantaloons. All around looked singularly wild and unpropitious. Beneath the brow of the incumbent rock was a charcoal fire, on which there was a still working, with bellows, pincers, hammers, a movable anvil, and other smith’s tools; three guns, with two or three sacks and barrels, were disposed against the wall of rock, under shelter of the superincumbent crag; a dirk and two swords, and a Lochaber axe, lay scattered around the fire, of which the red glare cast a ruddy tinge on the precipitous foam and mist of the cascade. The lad, when he had satisfied his curiosity with staring at Lady Staunton, fetched an earthen jar and a horn-cup, into which he poured some spirits, apparently hot from the still, and offered them successively to the lady and to the boy. Both declined, and the young savage quaffed off the draught, which could not amount to less than three ordinary glasses. He then fetched another ladder from the corner of the cavern, if it could be termed so, adjusted it against the transverse rock, which served as a roof, and made signs for the lady to ascend it, while he held it fast below. She did so, and found herself on the top of a broad rock, near the brink of the chasm into which the brook precipitates itself. She could see the crest of the torrent flung loose down the rock, like the mane of a wild horse, but without having any view of the lower platform from which she had ascended.

David was not suffered to mount so easily; the lad, from sport or love of mischief, shook the ladder a good deal as he ascended, and seemed to enjoy the terror of young Butler, so that, when they had both come up, they looked on each other with no friendly eyes. Neither, however, spoke. The young caird, or tinker, or gipsy, with a good deal of attention, assisted Lady Staunton up a very perilous ascent which she had still to encounter, and they were followed by David Butler, until all three stood clear of the ravine on the side of a mountain, whose sides were covered with heather and sheets of loose shingle. So narrow was the chasm out of which they ascended, that, unless when they were on the very verge, the eye passed to the other side without perceiving the existence of a rent so fearful, and nothing was seen of the cataract, though its deep hoarse voice was still heard.

Lady Staunton, freed from the danger of rock and river, had now a new subject of anxiety. Her two guides confronted each other with angry countenances; for David, though younger by two years at least, and much shorter, was a stout, well-set, and very bold boy.

“You are the black-coat’s son of Knocktarlitie,” said the young caird; “if you come here again, I’ll pitch you down the linn like a foot-ball.”

“Ay, lad, ye are very short to be sae lang,” retorted young Butler undauntedly, and measuring his opponent’s height with an undismayed eye; “I am thinking you are a gillie of Black Donacha; if you come down the glen, we’ll shoot you like a wild buck.”

“You may tell your father,” said the lad, “that the leaf on the timber is the last he shall see — we will hae amends for the mischief he has done to us.”

“I hope he will live to see mony simmers, and do ye muckle mair,” answered David.

More might have passed, but Lady Staunton stepped between them with her purse in her hand, and taking out a guinea, of which it contained several, visible through the net-work, as well as some silver in the opposite end, offered it to the caird.

“The white siller, lady — the white siller,” said the young savage, to whom the value of gold was probably unknown. Lady Staunton poured what silver she had into his hand, and the juvenile savage snatched it greedily, and made a sort of half inclination of acknowledgment and adieu.

“Let us make haste now, Lady Staunton,” said David, “for there will be little peace with them since they hae seen your purse.”

They hurried on as fast as they could; but they had not descended the hill a hundred yards or two before they heard a halloo behind them, and looking back, saw both the old man and the young one pursuing them with great speed, the former with a gun on his shoulder. Very fortunately, at this moment a sportsman, a gamekeeper of the Duke, who was engaged in stalking deer, appeared on the face of the hill. The bandits stopped on seeing him, and Lady Staunton hastened to put herself under his protection. He readily gave them his escort home, and it required his athletic form and loaded rifle to restore to the lady her usual confidence and courage.

Donald listened with much gravity to the account of their adventure; and answered with great composure to David’s repeated inquiries, whether he could have suspected that the cairds had been lurking there — “Inteed, Master Tavie, I might hae had some guess that they were there, or thereabout, though maybe I had nane. But I am aften on the hill; and they are like wasps — they stang only them that fashes them; sae, for my part, I make a point not to see them, unless I were ordered out on the preceese errand by MacCallummore or Knockdunder, whilk is a clean different case.”

They reached the Manse late; and Lady Staunton, who had suffered much both from fright and fatigue, never again permitted her love of the picturesque to carry her so far among the mountains without a stronger escort than David, though she acknowledged he had won the stand of colours by the intrepidity he had displayed, so soon as assured he had to do with an earthly antagonist. “I couldna maybe hae made muckle o’ a bargain wi’ yon lang callant,” said David, when thus complimented on his valour; “but when ye deal wi’ thae folk, it’s tyne heart tyne a’.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/heart/chapter50.html

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