The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 8

Arthur’s Seat shall be my bed,

The sheets shall ne’er be pressed by me,

St. Anton’s well shall be my drink,

Sin’ my true-love’s forsaken me.

Old Song.

If I were to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be seen to the greatest possible advantage, it would be that wild path winding around the foot of the high belt of semicircular rocks, called Salisbury Crags, and marking the verge of the steep descent which slopes down into the glen on the south-eastern side of the city of Edinburgh. The prospect, in its general outline, commands a close-built, high-piled city, stretching itself out beneath in a form, which, to a romantic imagination, may be supposed to represent that of a dragon; now, a noble arm of the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary of mountains; and now, a fair and fertile champaign country, varied with hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by the picturesque ridge of the Pentland mountains. But as the path gently circles around the base of the cliffs, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchanting and sublime objects, changes at every step, and presents them blended with, or divided from, each other, in every possible variety which can gratify the eye and the imagination. When a piece of scenery so beautiful, yet so varied — so exciting by its intricacy, and yet so sublime — is lighted up by the tints of morning or of evening, and displays all that variety of shadowy depth, exchanged with partial brilliancy, which gives character even to the tamest of landscapes, the effect approaches near to enchantment. This path used to be my favourite evening and morning resort, when engaged with a favourite author, or new subject of study. It is, I am informed, now become totally impassable; a circumstance which, if true, reflects little credit on the taste of the Good Town or its leaders.1

It was from this fascinating path — the scene to me of so much delicious musing, when life was young and promised to be happy, that I have been unable to pass it over without an episodical description — it was, I say, from this romantic path that Butler saw the morning arise the day after the murder of Porteous. It was possible for him with ease to have found a much shorter road to the house to which he was directing his course, and, in fact, that which he chose was extremely circuitous. But to compose his own spirits, as well as to while away the time, until a proper hour for visiting the family without surprise or disturbance, he was induced to extend his circuit by the foot of the rocks, and to linger upon his way until the morning should be considerably advanced. While, now standing with his arms across, and waiting the slow progress of the sun above the horizon, now sitting upon one of the numerous fragments which storms had detached from the rocks above him, he is meditating, alternately upon the horrible catastrophe which he had witnessed, and upon the melancholy, and to him most interesting, news which he had learned at Saddletree’s, we will give the reader to understand who Butler was, and how his fate was connected with that of Effie Deans, the unfortunate handmaiden of the careful Mrs. Saddletree.

Reuben Butler was of English extraction, though born in Scotland. His grandfather was a trooper in Monk’s army, and one of the party of dismounted dragoons which formed the forlorn hope at the storming of Dundee in 1651. Stephen Butler (called from his talents in reading and expounding, Scripture Stephen, and Bible Butler) was a stanch Independent, and received in its fullest comprehension the promise that the saints should inherit the earth. As hard knocks were what had chiefly fallen to his share hitherto in the division of this common property, he lost not the opportunity which the storm and plunder of a commercial place afforded him, to appropriate as large a share of the better things of this world as he could possibly compass. It would seem that he had succeeded indifferently well, for his exterior circumstances appeared, in consequence of this event, to have been much mended.

The troop to which he belonged was quartered at the village of Dalkeith, as forming the bodyguard of Monk, who, in the capacity of general for the Commonwealth, resided in the neighbouring castle. When, on the eve of the Restoration, the general commenced his march from Scotland, a measure pregnant with such important consequences, he new-modelled his troops, and more especially those immediately about his person, in order that they might consist entirely of individuals devoted to himself. On this occasion Scripture Stephen was weighed in the balance, and found wanting. It was supposed he felt no call to any expedition which might endanger the reign of the military sainthood, and that he did not consider himself as free in conscience to join with any party which might be likely ultimately to acknowledge the interest of Charles Stuart, the son of “the last man,” as Charles I. was familiarly and irreverently termed by them in their common discourse, as well as in their more elaborate predications and harangues. As the time did not admit of cashiering such dissidents, Stephen Butler was only advised in a friendly way to give up his horse and accoutrements to one of Middleton’s old troopers who possessed an accommodating conscience of a military stamp, and which squared itself chiefly upon those of the colonel and paymaster. As this hint came recommended by a certain sum of arrears presently payable, Stephen had carnal wisdom enough to embrace the proposal, and with great indifference saw his old corps depart for Coldstream, on their route for the south, to establish the tottering Government of England on a new basis.

The zone of the ex-trooper, to use Horace’s phrase, was weighty enough to purchase a cottage and two or three fields (still known by the name of Beersheba), within about a Scottish mile of Dalkeith; and there did Stephen establish himself with a youthful helpmate, chosen out of the said village, whose disposition to a comfortable settlement on this side of the grave reconciled her to the gruff manners, serious temper, and weather-beaten features of the martial enthusiast. Stephen did not long survive the falling on “evil days and evil tongues,” of which Milton, in the same predicament, so mournfully complains. At his death his consort remained an early widow, with a male child of three years old, which, in the sobriety wherewith it demeaned itself, in the old-fashioned and even grim cast of its features, and in its sententious mode of expressing itself, would sufficiently have vindicated the honour of the widow of Beersheba, had any one thought proper to challenge the babe’s descent from Bible Butler.

Butler’s principles had not descended to his family, or extended themselves among his neighbours. The air of Scotland was alien to the growth of independency, however favourable to fanaticism under other colours. But, nevertheless, they were not forgotten; and a certain neighbouring Laird, who piqued himself upon the loyalty of his principles “in the worst of times” (though I never heard they exposed him to more peril than that of a broken head, or a night’s lodging in the main guard, when wine and cavalierism predominated in his upper storey), had found it a convenient thing to rake up all matter of accusation against the deceased Stephen. In this enumeration his religious principles made no small figure, as, indeed, they must have seemed of the most exaggerated enormity to one whose own were so small and so faintly traced, as to be well nigh imperceptible. In these circumstances, poor widow Butler was supplied with her full proportion of fines for nonconformity, and all the other oppressions of the time, until Beersheba was fairly wrenched out of her hands, and became the property of the Laird who had so wantonly, as it had hitherto appeared, persecuted this poor forlorn woman. When his purpose was fairly achieved, he showed some remorse or moderation, of whatever the reader may please to term it, in permitting her to occupy her husband’s cottage, and cultivate, on no very heavy terms, a croft of land adjacent. Her son, Benjamin, in the meanwhile, grew up to mass estate, and, moved by that impulse which makes men seek marriage, even when its end can only be the perpetuation of misery, he wedded and brought a wife, and, eventually, a son, Reuben, to share the poverty of Beersheba.

The Laird of Dumbiedikes2 had hitherto been moderate in his exactions, perhaps because he was ashamed to tax too highly the miserable means of support which remained to the widow Butler.

But when a stout active young fellow appeared as the labourer of the croft in question, Dumbiedikes began to think so broad a pair of shoulders might bear an additional burden. He regulated, indeed, his management of his dependants (who fortunately were but few in number) much upon the principle of the carters whom he observed loading their carts at a neighbouring coal-hill, and who never failed to clap an additional brace of hundredweights on their burden, so soon as by any means they had compassed a new horse of somewhat superior strength to that which had broken down the day before. However reasonable this practice appeared to the Laird of Dumbiedikes, he ought to have observed, that it may be overdone, and that it infers, as a matter of course, the destruction and loss of both horse, and cart, and loading. Even so it befell when the additional “prestations” came to be demanded of Benjamin Butler. A man of few words, and few ideas, but attached to Beersheba with a feeling like that which a vegetable entertains to the spot in which it chances to be planted, he neither remonstrated with the Laird, nor endeavoured to escape from him, but, toiling night and day to accomplish the terms of his taskmaster, fell into a burning fever and died. His wife did not long survive him; and, as if it had been the fate of this family to be left orphans, our Reuben Butler was, about the year 1704-5, left in the same circumstances in which his father had been placed, and under the same guardianship, being that of his grandmother, the widow of Monk’s old trooper.

The same prospect of misery hung over the head of another tenant of this hardhearted lord of the soil. This was a tough true-blue Presbyterian, called Deans, who, though most obnoxious to the Laird on account of principles in church and state, contrived to maintain his ground upon the estate by regular payment of mail-duties, kain, arriage, carriage, dry multure, lock, gowpen, and knaveship, and all the various exactions now commuted for money, and summed up in the emphatic word rent. But the years 1700 and 1701, long remembered in Scotland for dearth and general distress, subdued the stout heart of the agricultural whig. Citations by the ground-officer, decreets of the Baron Court, sequestrations, poindings of outside and inside plenishing, flew about his ears as fast as the tory bullets whistled around those of the Covenanters at Pentland, Bothwell Brigg, or Airsmoss. Struggle as he might, and he struggled gallantly, “Douce David Deans” was routed horse and foot, and lay at the mercy of his grasping landlord just at the time that Benjamin Butler died. The fate of each family was anticipated; but they who prophesied their expulsion to beggary and ruin were disappointed by an accidental circumstance.

On the very term-day when their ejection should have taken place, when all their neighbours were prepared to pity, and not one to assist them, the minister of the parish, as well as a doctor from Edinburgh, received a hasty summons to attend the Laird of Dumbiedikes. Both were surprised, for his contempt for both faculties had been pretty commonly his theme over an extra bottle, that is to say, at least once every day. The leech for the soul, and he for the body, alighted in the court of the little old manor-house at almost the same time; and when they had gazed a moment at each other with some surprise, they in the same breath expressed their conviction that Dumbiedikes must needs be very ill indeed, since he summoned them both to his presence at once. Ere the servant could usher them to his apartment, the party was augmented by a man of law, Nichil Novit, writing himself procurator before the sheriff-court, for in those days there were no solicitors. This latter personage was first summoned to the apartment of the Laird, where, after some short space, the soul-curer and the body-curer were invited to join him.

Dumbiedikes had been by this time transported into the best bedroom, used only upon occasions of death and marriage, and called, from the former of these occupations, the Dead-Room. There were in this apartment, besides the sick person himself and Mr. Novit, the son and heir of the patient, a tall gawky silly-looking boy of fourteen or fifteen, and a housekeeper, a good buxom figure of a woman, betwixt forty and fifty, who had kept the keys and managed matters at Dumbiedikes since the lady’s death. It was to these attendants that Dumbiedikes addressed himself pretty nearly in the following words; temporal and spiritual matters, the care of his health and his affairs, being strangely jumbled in a head which was never one of the clearest.

“These are sair times wi’ me, gentlemen and neighbours! amaist as ill as at the aughty-nine, when I was rabbled by the collegeaners.3 — They mistook me muckle — they ca’d me a papist, but there was never a papist bit about me, minister. — Jock, ye’ll take warning — it’s a debt we maun a’ pay, and there stands Nichil Novit that will tell ye I was never gude at paying debts in my life. — Mr. Novit, ye’ll no forget to draw the annual rent that’s due on the yerl’s band — if I pay debt to other folk, I think they suld pay it to me — that equals aquals. — Jock, when ye hae naething else to do, ye may be aye sticking in a tree; it will be growing, Jock, when ye’re sleeping.4

“My father tauld me sae forty years sin’, but I ne’er fand time to mind him — Jock, ne’er drink brandy in the morning, it files the stamach sair; gin ye take a morning’s draught, let it be aqua mirabilis; Jenny there makes it weel — Doctor, my breath is growing as scant as a broken-winded piper’s, when he has played for four-and-twenty hours at a penny wedding — Jenny, pit the cod aneath my head — but it’s a’ needless! — Mass John, could ye think o’ rattling ower some bit short prayer, it wad do me gude maybe, and keep some queer thoughts out o’ my head, Say something, man.”

“I cannot use a prayer like a rat-rhyme,” answered the honest clergyman; “and if you would have your soul redeemed like a prey from the fowler, Laird, you must needs show me your state of mind.”

“And shouldna ye ken that without my telling you?” answered the patient. “What have I been paying stipend and teind, parsonage and vicarage, for, ever sin’ the aughty-nine, and I canna get a spell of a prayer for’t, the only time I ever asked for ane in my life? — Gang awa wi’ your whiggery, if that’s a’ ye can do; auld Curate Kilstoup wad hae read half the prayer-book to me by this time — Awa wi’ ye! — Doctor, let’s see if ye can do onything better for me.”

The doctor, who had obtained some information in the meanwhile from the housekeeper on the state of his complaints, assured him the medical art could not prolong his life many hours.

“Then damn Mass John and you baith!” cried the furious and intractable patient. “Did ye come here for naething but to tell me that ye canna help me at the pinch? Out wi’ them, Jenny — out o’ the house! and, Jock, my curse, and the curse of Cromwell, go wi’ ye, if ye gie them either fee or bountith, or sae muckle as a black pair o’ cheverons!”5

The clergyman and doctor made a speedy retreat out of the apartment, while Dumbiedikes fell into one of those transports of violent and profane language, which had procured him the surname of Damn-me-dikes. “Bring me the brandy bottle, Jenny, ye b — ” he cried, with a voice in which passion contended with pain. “I can die as I have lived, without fashing ony o’ them. But there’s ae thing,” he said, sinking his voice —“there’s ae fearful thing hings about my heart, and an anker of brandy winna wash it away. — The Deanses at Woodend! — I sequestrated them in the dear years, and now they are to flit, they’ll starve — and that Beersheba, and that auld trooper’s wife and her oe, they’ll starve — they’ll starve! — Look out, Jock; what kind o’ night is’t?”

“On-ding o’ snaw, father,” answered Jock, after having opened the window, and looked out with great composure.

“They’ll perish in the drifts!” said the expiring sinner —“they’ll perish wi’ cauld! — but I’ll be het eneugh, gin a’ tales be true.”

This last observation was made under breath, and in a tone which made the very attorney shudder. He tried his hand at ghostly advice, probably for the first time in his life, and recommended as an opiate for the agonised conscience of the Laird, reparation of the injuries he had done to these distressed families, which, he observed by the way, the civil law called restitutio in integrum. But Mammon was struggling with Remorse for retaining his place in a bosom he had so long possessed; and he partly succeeded, as an old tyrant proves often too strong for his insurgent rebels.

“I canna do’t,” he answered, with a voice of despair. “It would kill me to do’t — how can ye bid me pay back siller, when ye ken how I want it? or dispone Beersheba, when it lies sae weel into my ain plaid-nuik? Nature made Dumbiedikes and Beersheba to be ae man’s land — She did, by Nichil, it wad kill me to part them.”

“But ye maun die whether or no, Laird,” said Mr. Novit; “and maybe ye wad die easier — it’s but trying. I’ll scroll the disposition in nae time.”

“Dinna speak o’t, sir,” replied Dumbiedikes, “or I’ll fling the stoup at your head. — But, Jock, lad, ye see how the warld warstles wi’ me on my deathbed — be kind to the puir creatures, the Deanses and the Butlers — be kind to them, Jock. Dinna let the warld get a grip o’ ye, Jock — but keep the gear thegither! and whate’er ye do, dispone Beersheba at no rate. Let the creatures stay at a moderate mailing, and hae bite and soup; it will maybe be the better wi’ your father whare he’s gaun, lad.”

After these contradictory instructions, the Laird felt his mind so much at ease, that he drank three bumpers of brandy continuously, and “soughed awa,” as Jenny expressed it, in an attempt to sing “Deil stick the Minister.”

His death made a revolution in favour of the distressed families. John Dumbie, now of Dumbiedikes, in his own right, seemed to be close and selfish enough, but wanted the grasping spirit and active mind of his father; and his guardian happened to agree with him in opinion, that his father’s dying recommendation should be attended to. The tenants, therefore, were not actually turned out of doors among the snow-wreaths, and were allowed wherewith to procure butter-milk and peas-bannocks, which they ate under the full force of the original malediction. The cottage of Deans, called Woodend, was not very distant from that at Beersheba. Formerly there had been but little intercourse between the families. Deans was a sturdy Scotsman, with all sort of prejudices against the southern, and the spawn of the southern. Moreover, Deans was, as we have said, a stanch Presbyterian, of the most rigid and unbending adherence to what he conceived to be the only possible straight line, as he was wont to express himself, between right-hand heats and extremes and left-hand defections; and, therefore, he held in high dread and horror all Independents, and whomsoever he supposed allied to them.

But, notwithstanding these national prejudices and religious professions, Deans and the widow Butler were placed in such a situation, as naturally and at length created some intimacy between the families. They had shared a common danger and a mutual deliverance. They needed each other’s assistance, like a company, who, crossing a mountain stream, are compelled to cling close together, lest the current should be too powerful for any who are not thus supported.

On nearer acquaintance, too, Deans abated some of his prejudices. He found old Mrs. Butler, though not thoroughly grounded in the extent and bearing of the real testimony against the defections of the times, had no opinions in favour of the Independent party; neither was she an Englishwoman. Therefore, it was to be hoped, that, though she was the widow of an enthusiastic corporal of Cromwell’s dragoons, her grandson might be neither schismatic nor anti-national, two qualities concerning which Goodman Deans had as wholesome a terror as against papists and malignants, Above all (for Douce Davie Deans had his weak side), he perceived that widow Butler looked up to him with reverence, listened to his advice, and compounded for an occasional fling at the doctrines of her deceased husbands to which, as we have seen, she was by no means warmly attached, in consideration of the valuable counsels which the Presbyterian afforded her for the management of her little farm. These usually concluded with “they may do otherwise in England, neighbour Butler, for aught I ken;” or, “it may be different in foreign parts;” or, “they wha think differently on the great foundation of our covenanted reformation, overturning and mishguggling the government and discipline of the kirk, and breaking down the carved work of our Zion, might be for sawing the craft wi’ aits; but I say peace, peace.” And as his advice was shrewd and sensible, though conceitedly given, it was received with gratitude, and followed with respect.

The intercourse which took place betwixt the families at Beersheba and Woodend became strict and intimate, at a very early period, betwixt Reuben Butler, with whom the reader is already in some degree acquainted, and Jeanie Deans, the only child of Douce Davie Deans by his first wife, “that singular Christian woman,” as he was wont to express himself, “whose name was savoury to all that knew her for a desirable professor, Christian Menzies in Hochmagirdle.” The manner of which intimacy, and the consequences thereof, we now proceed to relate.

1 A beautiful and solid pathway has, within a few years, been formed around these romantic rocks; and the Author has the pleasure to think, that the passage in the text gave rise to the undertaking.

2 Dumbiedikes, selected as descriptive of the taciturn character of the imaginary owner, is really the name of a house bordering on the King’s Park, so called because the late Mr. Braidwood, an instructor of the deaf and dumb, resided there with his pupils. The situation of the real house is different from that assigned to the ideal mansion.

3 Immediately previous to the Revolution, the students at the Edinburgh College were violent anti-catholics. They were strongly suspected of burning the house of Prestonfield, belonging to Sir James Dick, the Lord Provost; and certainly were guilty of creating considerable riots in 1688-9.

4 The Author has been flattered by the assurance, that this naive mode of recommending arboriculture (which was actually delivered in these very words by a Highland laird, while on his death-bed, to his son) had so much weight with a Scottish earl as to lead to his planting a large tract of country.

5Cheverons — gloves.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/heart/chapter8.html

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