The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 45

Now turn the Psalms of David ower,

    And lilt wi’ holy clangor;

Of double verse come gie us four,

    And skirl up the Bangor.


The next was the important day, when, according to the forms and ritual of the Scottish Kirk, Reuben Butler was to be ordained minister of Knocktarlitie, by the Presbytery of ———. And so eager were the whole party, that all, excepting Mrs. Dutton, the destined Cowslip of Inverary, were stirring at an early hour.

Their host, whose appetite was as quick and keen as his temper, was not long in summoning them to a substantial breakfast, where there were at least a dozen of different preparations of milk, plenty of cold meat, scores boiled and roasted eggs, a huge cag of butter, half-a-firkin herrings boiled and broiled, fresh and salt, and tea and coffee for them that liked it, which, as their landlord assured them, with a nod and a wink, pointing, at the same time, to a little cutter which seemed dodging under the lee of the island, cost them little beside the fetching ashore.

“Is the contraband trade permitted here so openly?” said Butler. “I should think it very unfavourable to the people’s morals.”

“The Duke, Mr. Putler, has gien nae orders concerning the putting of it down,” said the magistrate, and seemed to think that he had said all that was necessary to justify his connivance. Butler was a man of prudence, and aware that real good can only be obtained by remonstrance when remonstrance is well-timed; so for the present he said nothing more on the subject.

When breakfast was half over, in flounced Mrs. Dolly, as fine as a blue sacque and cherry-coloured ribands could make her.

“Good morrow to you, madam,” said the master of ceremonies; “I trust your early rising will not skaith ye.”

The dame apologised to Captain Knockunder, as she was pleased to term their entertainer; “but, as we say in Cheshire,” she added, “I was like the Mayor of Altringham, who lies in bed while his breeches are mending, for the girl did not bring up the right bundle to my room, till she had brought up all the others by mistake one after t’other — Well, I suppose we are all for church today, as I understand — Pray may I be so bold as to ask, if it is the fashion for your North country gentlemen to go to church in your petticoats, Captain Knockunder?”

“Captain of Knockdunder, madam, if you please, for I knock under to no man; and in respect of my garb, I shall go to church as I am, at your service, madam; for if I were to lie in bed like your Major What-d’ye-callum, till my preeches were mended, I might be there all my life, seeing I never had a pair of them on my person but twice in my life, which I am pound to remember, it peing when the Duke brought his Duchess here, when her Grace pehoved to be pleasured; so I e’en porrowed the minister’s trews for the twa days his Grace was pleased to stay — but I will put myself under sic confinement again for no man on earth, or woman either, but her Grace being always excepted, as in duty pound.”

The mistress of the milking-pail stared but, making no answer to this round declaration, immediately proceeded to show, that the alarm of the preceding evening had in no degree injured her appetite.

When the meal was finished, the Captain proposed to them to take boat, in order that Mrs. Jeanie might see her new place of residence, and that he himself might inquire whether the necessary preparations had been made there, and at the Manse, for receiving the future inmates of these mansions.

The morning was delightful, and the huge mountain-shadows slept upon the mirrored wave of the firth, almost as little disturbed as if it had been an inland lake. Even Mrs. Dutton’s fears no longer annoyed her. She had been informed by Archibald, that there was to be some sort of junketting after the sermon, and that was what she loved dearly; and as for the water, it was so still that it would look quite like a pleasuring on the Thames.

The whole party being embarked, therefore, in a large boat, which the captain called his coach and six, and attended by a smaller one termed his gig, the gallant Duncan steered straight upon the little tower of the old-fashioned church of Knocktarlitie, and the exertions of six stout rowers sped them rapidly on their voyage. As they neared the land, the hills appeared to recede from them, and a little valley, formed by the descent of a small river from the mountains, evolved itself as it were upon their approach. The style of the country on each side was simply pastoral, and resembled, in appearance and character, the description of a forgotten Scottish poet, which runs nearly thus:—

The water gently down a level slid,

    With little din, but couthy what it made;

On ilka side the trees grew thick and lang,

    And wi’ the wild birds’ notes were a’ in sang;

On either side, a full bow-shot and mair,

    The green was even, gowany, and fair;

With easy slope on every hand the braes

    To the hills’ feet with scatter’d bushes raise;

With goats and sheep aboon, and kye below,

    The bonny banks all in a swarm did go.1

They landed in this Highland Arcadia, at the mouth of the small stream which watered the delightful and peaceable valley. Inhabitants of several descriptions came to pay their respects to the Captain of Knockdunder, a homage which he was very peremptory in exacting, and to see the new settlers. Some of these were men after David Deans’s own heart, elders of the kirk-session, zealous professors, from the Lennox, Lanarkshire, and Ayrshire, to whom the preceding Duke of Argyle had given rooms in this corner of his estate, because they had suffered for joining his father, the unfortunate Earl, during his ill-fated attempt in 1686. These were cakes of the right leaven for David regaling himself with; and, had it not been for this circumstance, he has been heard to say, “that the Captain of Knockdunder would have swore him out of the country in twenty-four hours, sae awsome it was to ony thinking soul to hear his imprecations, upon the slightest temptation that crossed his humour.”

Besides these, there were a wilder set of parishioners, mountaineers from the upper glen and adjacent hill, who spoke Gaelic, went about armed, and wore the Highland dress. But the strict commands of the Duke had established such good order in this part of his territories, that the Gael and Saxons lived upon the best possible terms of good neighbourhood. They first visited the Manse, as the parsonage is termed in Scotland. It was old, but in good repair, and stood snugly embosomed in a grove of sycamore, with a well-stocked garden in front, bounded by the small river, which was partly visible from the windows, partly concealed by the bushes, trees, and bounding hedge. Within, the house looked less comfortable than it might have been, for it had been neglected by the late incumbent; but workmen had been labouring, under the directions of the Captain of Knockdunder, and at the expense of the Duke of Argyle, to put it into some order. The old “plenishing” had been removed, and neat, but plain household furniture had been sent down by the Duke in a brig of his own called the Caroline, and was now ready to be placed in order in the apartments.

The gracious Duncan, finding matters were at a stand among the workmen, summoned before him the delinquents, and impressed all who heard him with a sense of his authority, by the penalties with which he threatened them for their delay. Mulcting them in half their charge, he assured them, would be the least of it; for, if they were to neglect his pleasure and the Duke’s, “he would be tamn’d if he paid them the t’other half either, and they might seek law for it where they could get it.” The work-people humbled themselves before the offended dignitary, and spake him soft and fair; and at length, upon Mr. Butler recalling to his mind that it was the ordination-day, and that the workmen were probably thinking of going to church, Knockdunder agreed to forgive them, out of respect to their new minister.

“But an I catch them neglecking my duty again, Mr. Putler, the teil pe in me if the kirk shall be an excuse; for what has the like o’ them rapparees to do at the kirk ony day put Sundays, or then either, if the Duke and I has the necessitous uses for them?”

It may be guessed with what feelings of quiet satisfaction and delight Butler looked forward to spending his days, honoured and useful as he trusted to be, in this sequestered valley, and how often an intelligent glance was exchanged betwixt him and Jeanie, whose good-humoured face looked positively handsome, from the expression of modesty, and, at the same time, of satisfaction, which she wore when visiting the apartments of which she was soon to call herself mistress. She was left at liberty to give more open indulgence to her feelings of delight and admiration, when, leaving the Manse, the company proceeded to examine the destined habitation of David Deans.

Jeanie found with pleasure that it was not above a musket-shot from the Manse; for it had been a bar to her happiness to think she might be obliged to reside at a distance from her father, and she was aware that there were strong objections to his actually living in the same house with Butler. But this brief distance was the very thing which she could have wished.

The farmhouse was on the plan of an improved cottage, and contrived with great regard to convenience; an excellent little garden, an orchard, and a set of offices complete, according to the best ideas of the time, combined to render it a most desirable habitation for the practical farmer, and far superior to the hovel at Woodend, and the small house at Saint Leonard’s Crags. The situation was considerably higher than that of the Manse, and fronted to the west. The windows commanded an enchanting view of the little vale over which the mansion seemed to preside, the windings of the stream, and the firth, with its associated lakes and romantic islands. The hills of Dumbartonshire, once possessed by the fierce clan of MacFarlanes, formed a crescent behind the valley, and far to the right were seen the dusky and more gigantic mountains of Argyleshire, with a seaward view of the shattered and thunder-splitten peaks of Arran.

But to Jeanie, whose taste for the picturesque, if she had any by nature, had never been awakened or cultivated, the sight of the faithful old May Hettly, as she opened the door to receive them in her clean toy, Sunday’s russet-gown, and blue apron, nicely smoothed down before her, was worth the whole varied landscape. The raptures of the faithful old creature at seeing Jeanie were equal to her own, as she hastened to assure her, “that baith the gudeman and the beasts had been as weel seen after as she possibly could contrive.” Separating her from the rest of the company, May then hurried her young mistress to the offices, that she might receive the compliments she expected for her care of the cows. Jeanie rejoiced, in the simplicity of her heart, to see her charge once more; and the mute favourites of our heroine, Gowans, and the others, acknowledged her presence by lowing, turning round their broad and decent brows when they heard her well-known “Pruh, my leddy — pruh, my woman,” and, by various indications, known only to those who have studied the habits of the milky mothers, showing sensible pleasure as she approached to caress them in their turn.

“The very brute beasts are glad to see ye again,” said May; “but nae wonder, Jeanie, for ye were aye kind to beast and body. And I maun learn to ca’ ye mistress now, Jeanie, since ye hae been up to Lunnon, and seen the Duke, and the King, and a’ the braw folk. But wha kens,” added the old dame slily, “what I’ll hae to ca’ ye forby mistress, for I am thinking it wunna lang be Deans.”

“Ca’ me your ain Jeanie, May, and then ye can never gang wrang.”

In the cow-house which they examined, there was one animal which Jeanie looked at till the tears gushed from her eyes. May, who had watched her with a sympathising expression, immediately observed, in an under-tone, “The gudeman aye sorts that beast himself, and is kinder to it than ony beast in the byre; and I noticed he was that way e’en when he was angriest, and had maist cause to be angry. — Eh, sirs! a parent’s heart’s a queer thing! — Mony a warsle he has had for that puir lassie — I am thinking he petitions mair for her than for yoursell, hinny; for what can he plead for you but just to wish you the blessing ye deserve? And when I sleepit ayont the hallan, when we came first here, he was often earnest a’ night, and I could hear him come ower and ower again wi’, ‘Effie — puir blinded misguided thing!’ it was aye ‘Effie! Effie!’— If that puir wandering lamb comena into the sheepfauld in the Shepherd’s ain time, it will be an unco wonder, for I wot she has been a child of prayers. Oh, if the puir prodigal wad return, sae blithely as the goodman wad kill the fatted calf! — though Brockie’s calf will no be fit for killing this three weeks yet.”

And then, with the discursive talent of persons of her description, she got once more afloat in her account of domestic affairs, and left this delicate and affecting topic.

Having looked at every thing in the offices and the dairy, and expressed her satisfaction with the manner in which matters had been managed in her absence, Jeanie rejoined the rest of the party, who were surveying the interior of the house, all excepting David Deans and Butler, who had gone down to the church to meet the kirk-session and the clergymen of the Presbytery, and arrange matters for the duty of the day.

In the interior of the cottage all was clean, neat, and suitable to the exterior. It had been originally built and furnished by the Duke, as a retreat for a favourite domestic of the higher class, who did not long enjoy it, and had been dead only a few months, so that every thing was in excellent taste and good order. But in Jeanie’s bedroom was a neat trunk, which had greatly excited Mrs. Dutton’s curiosity, for she was sure that the direction, “For Mrs. Jean Deans, at Auchingower, parish of Knocktarlitie,” was the writing of Mrs. Semple, the Duchess’s own woman. May Hettly produced the key in a sealed parcel, which bore the same address, and attached to the key was a label, intimating that the trunk and its contents were “a token of remembrance to Jeanie Deans, from her friends the Duchess of Argyle and the young ladies.” The trunk, hastily opened, as the reader will not doubt, was found to be full of wearing apparel of the best quality, suited to Jeanie’s rank in life; and to most of the articles the names of the particular donors were attached, as if to make Jeanie sensible not only of the general, but of the individual interest she had excited in the noble family. To name the various articles by their appropriate names, would be to attempt things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme; besides that the old-fashioned terms of manteaus, sacques, kissing-strings, and so forth, would convey but little information even to the milliners of the present day. I shall deposit, however, an accurate inventory of the contents of the trunk with my kind friend, Miss Martha Buskbody, who has promised, should the public curiosity seem interested in the subject, to supply me with a professional glossary and commentary. Suffice it to say, that the gift was such as became the donors, and was suited to the situation of the receiver; that every thing was handsome and appropriate, and nothing forgotten which belonged to the wardrobe of a young person in Jeanie’s situation in life, the destined bride of a respectable clergyman.

Article after article was displayed, commented upon, and admired, to the wonder of May, who declared, “she didna think the queen had mair or better claise,” and somewhat to the envy of the northern Cowslip. This unamiable, but not very unnatural, disposition of mind, broke forth in sundry unfounded criticisms to the disparagement of the articles, as they were severally exhibited. But it assumed a more direct character, when, at the bottom of all, was found a dress of white silk, very plainly made, but still of white silk, and French silk to boot, with a paper pinned to it, bearing that it was a present from the Duke of Argyle to his travelling companion, to be worn on the day when she should change her name.

Mrs. Dutton could forbear no longer, but whispered into Mr. Archibald’s ear, that it was a clever thing to be a Scotchwoman: “She supposed all her sisters, and she had half-a-dozen, might have been hanged, without any one sending her a present of a pocket handkerchief.”

“Or without your making any exertion to save them, Mrs. Dolly,” answered Archibald drily. —“But I am surprised we do not hear the bell yet,” said he, looking at his watch.

“Fat ta deil, Mr. Archibald,” answered the Captain of Knockdunder, “wad ye hae them ring the bell before I am ready to gang to kirk? — I wad gar the bedral eat the bell-rope, if he took ony sic freedom. But if ye want to hear the bell, I will just show mysell on the knowe-head, and it will begin jowing forthwith.”

Accordingly, so soon as they sallied out, and that the gold-laced hat of the Captain was seen rising like Hesper above the dewy verge of the rising ground, the clash (for it was rather a clash than a clang) of the bell was heard from the old moss-grown tower, and the clapper continued to thump its cracked sides all the while they advanced towards the kirk, Duncan exhorting them to take their own time, “for teil ony sport wad be till he came.”2

Accordingly, the bell only changed to the final and impatient chime when they crossed the stile; and “rang in,” that is, concluded its mistuned summons, when they had entered the Duke’s seat, in the little kirk, where the whole party arranged themselves, with Duncan at their head, excepting David Deans, who already occupied a seat among the elders.

The business of the day, with a particular detail of which it is unnecessary to trouble the reader, was gone through according to the established form, and the sermon pronounced upon the occasion had the good fortune to please even the critical David Deans, though it was only an hour and a quarter long, which David termed a short allowance of spiritual provender.

The preacher, who was a divine that held many of David’s opinions, privately apologised for his brevity by saying, “That he observed the Captain was gaunting grievously, and that if he had detained him longer, there was no knowing how long he might be in paying the next term’s victual stipend.”

David groaned to find that such carnal motives could have influence upon the mind of a powerful preacher. He had, indeed, been scandalised by another circumstance during the service.

So soon as the congregation were seated after prayers, and the clergyman had read his text, the gracious Duncan, after rummaging the leathern purse which hung in front of his petticoat, produced a short tobacco-pipe made of iron, and observed, almost aloud, “I hae forgotten my spleuchan — Lachlan, gang down to the clachan, and bring me up a pennyworth of twist.” Six arms, the nearest within reach, presented, with an obedient start, as many tobacco-pouches to the man of office. He made choice of one with an nod of acknowledgment, filled his pipe, lighted it with the assistance of his pistol-flint, and smoked with infinite composure during the whole time of the sermon. When the discourse was finished, he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, replaced it in his sporran, returned the tobacco-pouch or spleuchan to its owner, and joined in the prayer with decency and attention.

The Captain of Knockdunder

At the end of the service, when Butler had been admitted minister of the kirk of Knocktarlitie, with all its spiritual immunities and privileges, David, who had frowned, groaned, and murmured at Knockdunder’s irreverent demeanour, communicated his plain thoughts of the matter to Isaac Meiklehose, one of the elders, with whom a reverential aspect and huge grizzle wig had especially disposed him to seek fraternisation. “It didna become a wild Indian,” David said, “much less a Christian, and a gentleman, to sit in the kirk puffing tobacco-reek, as if he were in a change-house.”

Meiklehose shook his head, and allowed it was “far frae beseeming — But what will ye say? The Captain’s a queer hand, and to speak to him about that or onything else that crosses the maggot, wad be to set the kiln a-low. He keeps a high hand ower the country, and we couldna deal wi’ the Hielandmen without his protection, sin’ a’ the keys o’ the kintray hings at his belt; and he’s no an ill body in the main, and maistry, ye ken, maws the meadows doun.”

“That may be very true, neighbour,” said David; “but Reuben Butler isna the man I take him to be, if he disna learn the Captain to fuff his pipe some other gate than in God’s house, or the quarter be ower.”

“Fair and softly gangs far,” said Meiklehose; “and if a fule may gie a wise man a counsel, I wad hae him think twice or he mells with Knockdunder — He auld hae a lang-shankit spune that wad sup kail wi’ the deil. But they are a’ away to their dinner to the change-house, and if we dinna mend our pace, we’ll come short at meal-time.”

David accompanied his friend without answer; but began to feel from experience, that the glen of Knocktarlitie, like the rest of the world, was haunted by its own special subjects of regret and discontent. His mind was, so much occupied by considering the best means of converting Duncan of Knock to a sense of reverend decency during public worship, that he altogether forgot to inquire whether Butler was called upon to subscribe the oaths to Government.

Some have insinuated, that his neglect on this head was, in some degree, intentional; but I think this explanation inconsistent with the simplicity of my friend David’s character. Neither have I ever been able, by the most minute inquiries, to know whether the formula, at which he so much scrupled, had been exacted from Butler, ay or no. The books of the kirk-session might have thrown some light on this matter; but unfortunately they were destroyed in the year 1746, by one Donacha Dhu na Dunaigh, at the instance, it was said, or at least by the connivance, of the gracious Duncan of Knock, who had a desire to obliterate the recorded foibles of a certain Kate Finlayson.

1 Ross’s Fortunate Shepherdess. Edit. 1778, p. 23.

2 Tolling to service in Scotland.

In the old days of Scotland, when persons of property (unless they happened to be non-jurors) were as regular as their inferiors in attendance on parochial worship, there was a kind of etiquette, in waiting till the patron or acknowledged great man of the parish should make his appearance. This ceremonial was so sacred in the eyes of a parish beadle in the Isle of Bute, that the kirk bell being out of order, he is said to have mounted the steeple every Sunday, to imitate with his voice the successive summonses which its mouth of metal used to send forth. The first part of this imitative harmony was simply the repetition of the words Bell bell, bell bell, two or three times in a manner as much resembling the sound as throat of flesh could imitate throat of iron. Bellu’m! bellu’m! was sounded forth in a more urgent manner; but he never sent forth the third and conclusive peal, the varied tone of which is called in Scotland the ringing-in, until the two principal heritors of the parish approached, when the chime ran thus:—

    Bellu’m Belle’llum,

Bernera and Knockdow’s coming!

    Bellu’m Belle’llum,

Bernera and Knockdow’s coming!

Thereby intimating that service was instantly to proceed.

[Mr. Mackinlay of Borrowstounness, a native of Bute, states that Sir Walter Scott had this story from Sir Adam Ferguson; but that the gallant knight had not given the lairds’ titles correctly — the bellman’s great men being “Craich, Drumbuie, and Barnernie!”— 1842.]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00