The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 5

Elswhair he colde right weel lay down the law,

    But in his house was meek as is a daw.

Davie Lindsay.

“There has been Jock Driver the carrier here, speering about his new graith,” said Mrs. Saddletree to her husband, as he crossed his threshold, not with the purpose, by any means, of consulting him upon his own affairs, but merely to intimate, by a gentle recapitulation, how much duty she had gone through in his absence.

“Weel,” replied Bartoline, and deigned not a word more.

“And the laird of Girdingburst has had his running footman here, and ca’d himsell (he’s a civil pleasant young gentleman), to see when the broidered saddle-cloth for his sorrel horse will be ready, for he wants it agane the Kelso races.”

“Weel, aweel,” replied Bartoline, as laconically as before.

“And his lordship, the Earl of Blazonbury, Lord Flash and Flame, is like to be clean daft, that the harness for the six Flanders mears, wi’ the crests, coronets, housings, and mountings conform, are no sent hame according to promise gien.”

“Weel, weel, weel — weel, weel, gudewife,” said Saddletree, “if he gangs daft, we’ll hae him cognosced — it’s a’ very weel.”

“It’s weel that ye think sae, Mr. Saddletree,” answered his helpmate, rather nettled at the indifference with which her report was received; “there’s mony ane wad hae thought themselves affronted, if sae mony customers had ca’d and naebody to answer them but women-folk; for a’ the lads were aff, as soon as your back was turned, to see Porteous hanged, that might be counted upon; and sae, you no being at hame.”

“Houts, Mrs. Saddletree,” said Bartoline, with an air of consequence, “dinna deave me wi’ your nonsense; I was under the necessity of being elsewhere — non omnia — as Mr. Crossmyloof said, when he was called by two macers at once — non omnia possumus — pessimus — possimis — I ken our law-latin offends Mr. Butler’s ears, but it means, Naebody, an it were the Lord President himsell, can do twa turns at ance.”

“Very right, Mr. Saddletree,” answered his careful helpmate, with a sarcastic smile; “and nae doubt it’s a decent thing to leave your wife to look after young gentlemen’s saddles and bridles, when ye gang to see a man, that never did ye nae ill, raxing a halter.”

“Woman,” said Saddletree, assuming an elevated tone, to which the meridian had somewhat contributed, “desist — I say forbear, from intromitting with affairs thou canst not understand. D’ye think I was born to sit here brogging an elshin through bend-leather, when sic men as Duncan Forbes, and that other Arniston chield there, without muckle greater parts, if the close-head speak true, than mysell maun be presidents and king’s advocates, nae doubt, and wha but they? Whereas, were favour equally distribute, as in the days of the wight Wallace.”

“I ken naething we wad hae gotten by the wight Wallace,” said Mrs. Saddletree, “unless, as I hae heard the auld folk tell, they fought in thae days wi’ bend-leather guns, and then it’s a chance but what, if he had bought them, he might have forgot to pay for them. And as for the greatness of your parts, Bartley, the folk in the close-head1 maun ken mair about them than I do, if they make sic a report of them.”

“I tell ye, woman,” said Saddletree, in high dudgeon, “that ye ken naething about these matters. In Sir William Wallace’s days there was nae man pinned down to sic a slavish wark as a saddler’s, for they got ony leather graith that they had use for ready-made out of Holland.”

“Well,” said Butler, who was, like many of his profession, something of a humorist and dry joker, “if that be the case, Mr. Saddletree, I think we have changed for the better; since we make our own harness, and only import our lawyers from Holland.”

“It’s ower true, Mr. Butler,” answered Bartoline, with a sigh; “if I had had the luck — or rather, if my father had had the sense to send me to Leyden and Utrecht to learn the Substitutes and Pandex.”

“You mean the Institutes — Justinian’s Institutes, Mr. Saddletree?” said Butler.

“Institutes and substitutes are synonymous words, Mr. Butler, and used indifferently as such in deeds of tailzie, as you may see in Balfour’s Practiques, or Dallas of St. Martin’s Styles. I understand these things pretty weel, I thank God but I own I should have studied in Holland.”

“To comfort you, you might not have been farther forward than you are now, Mr. Saddletree,” replied Mr. Butler; “for our Scottish advocates are an aristocratic race. Their brass is of the right Corinthian quality, and Non cuivis contigit adire Corinthum — Aha, Mr. Saddletree?”

“And aha, Mr. Butler,” rejoined Bartoline, upon whom, as may be well supposed, the jest was lost, and all but the sound of the words, “ye said a gliff syne it was quivis, and now I heard ye say cuivis with my ain ears, as plain as ever I heard a word at the fore-bar.”

“Give me your patience, Mr. Saddletree, and I’ll explain the discrepancy in three words,” said Butler, as pedantic in his own department, though with infinitely more judgment and learning, as Bartoline was in his self-assumed profession of the law —“Give me your patience for a moment — You’ll grant that the nominative case is that by which a person or thing is nominated or designed, and which may be called the primary case, all others being formed from it by alterations of the termination in the learned languages, and by prepositions in our modern Babylonian jargons — You’ll grant me that, I suppose, Mr. Saddletree?”

“I dinna ken whether I will or no — ad avisandum, ye ken — naebody should be in a hurry to make admissions, either in point of law, or in point of fact,” said Saddletree, looking, or endeavouring to look, as if he understood what was said.

“And the dative case,” continued Butler

“I ken what a tutor dative is,” said Saddletree, “readily enough.”

“The dative case,” resumed the grammarian, “is that in which anything is given or assigned as properly belonging to a person or thing — You cannot deny that, I am sure.”

“I am sure I’ll no grant it, though,” said Saddletree.

“Then, what the deevil d’ye take the nominative and the dative cases to be?” said Butler, hastily, and surprised at once out of his decency of expression and accuracy of pronunciation.

“I’ll tell you that at leisure, Mr. Butler,” said Saddletree, with a very knowing look; “I’ll take a day to see and answer every article of your condescendence, and then I’ll hold you to confess or deny as accords.”

“Come, come, Mr. Saddletree,” said his wife, “we’ll hae nae confessions and condescendences here; let them deal in thae sort o’ wares that are paid for them — they suit the like o’ us as all as a demipique saddle would suit a draught ox.”

“Aha!” said Mr. Butler, “Optat ephippia bos piger, nothing new under the sun — But it was a fair hit of Mrs. Saddletree, however.”

“And it wad far better become ye, Mr. Saddletree,” continued his helpmate, “since ye say ye hae skeel o’ the law, to try if ye can do onything for Effie Deans, puir thing, that’s lying up in the tolbooth yonder, cauld, and hungry, and comfortless — A servant lass of ours, Mr. Butler, and as innocent a lass, to my thinking, and as usefu’ in the shop — When Mr. Saddletree gangs out — and ye’re aware he’s seldom at hame when there’s ony o’ the plea-houses open — poor Effie used to help me to tumble the bundles o’ barkened leather up and down, and range out the gudes, and suit a’ body’s humours — And troth, she could aye please the customers wi’ her answers, for she was aye civil, and a bonnier lass wasna in Auld Reekie. And when folk were hasty and unreasonable, she could serve them better than me, that am no sae young as I hae been, Mr. Butler, and a wee bit short in the temper into the bargain. For when there’s ower mony folks crying on me at anes, and nane but ae tongue to answer them, folk maun speak hastily, or they’ll ne’er get through their wark — Sae I miss Effie daily.”

De die in diem,” added Saddletree.

“I think,” said Butler, after a good deal of hesitation, “I have seen the girl in the shop — a modest-looking, fair-haired girl?”

“Ay, ay, that’s just puir Effie,” said her mistress. “How she was abandoned to hersell, or whether she was sackless o’ the sinful deed, God in Heaven knows; but if she’s been guilty, she’s been sair tempted, and I wad amaist take my Bible-aith she hasna been hersell at the time.”

Butler had by this time become much agitated; he fidgeted up and down the shop, and showed the greatest agitation that a person of such strict decorum could be supposed to give way to. “Was not this girl,” he said, “the daughter of David Deans, that had the parks at St. Leonard’s taken? and has she not a sister?”

“In troth has she — puir Jeanie Deans, ten years aulder than hersell; she was here greeting a wee while syne about her tittie. And what could I say to her, but that she behoved to come and speak to Mr. Saddletree when he was at hame? It wasna that I thought Mr. Saddletree could do her or ony ither body muckle good or ill, but it wad aye serve to keep the puir thing’s heart up for a wee while; and let sorrow come when sorrow maun.”

“Ye’re mistaen though, gudewife,” said Saddletree scornfully, “for I could hae gien her great satisfaction; I could hae proved to her that her sister was indicted upon the statute saxteen hundred and ninety, chapter one — For the mair ready prevention of child-murder — for concealing her pregnancy, and giving no account of the child which she had borne.”

“I hope,” said Butler — “I trust in a gracious God, that she can clear herself.”

“And sae do I, Mr. Butler,” replied Mrs. Saddletree. “I am sure I wad hae answered for her as my ain daughter; but wae’s my heart, I had been tender a’ the simmer, and scarce ower the door o’ my room for twal weeks. And as for Mr. Saddletree, he might be in a lying-in hospital, and ne’er find out what the women cam there for. Sae I could see little or naething o’ her, or I wad hae had the truth o’ her situation out o’ her, I’se warrant ye — But we a’ think her sister maun be able to speak something to clear her.”

“The haill Parliament House,” said Saddletree, “was speaking o’ naething else, till this job o’ Porteous’s put it out o’ head — It’s a beautiful point of presumptive murder, and there’s been nane like it in the Justiciar Court since the case of Luckie Smith the howdie, that suffered in the year saxteen hundred and seventy-nine.”

“But what’s the matter wi’ you, Mr. Butler?” said the good woman; “ye are looking as white as a sheet; will ye tak a dram?”

“By no means,” said Butler, compelling himself to speak. “I walked in from Dumfries yesterday, and this is a warm day.”

“Sit down,” said Mrs. Saddletree, laying hands on him kindly, “and rest ye — yell kill yoursell, man, at that rate. — And are we to wish you joy o’ getting the scule, Mr. Butler?”

“Yes — no — I do not know,” answered the young man vaguely. But Mrs. Saddletree kept him to point, partly out of real interest, partly from curiosity.

“Ye dinna ken whether ye are to get the free scule o’ Dumfries or no, after hinging on and teaching it a’ the simmer?”

“No, Mrs. Saddletree — I am not to have it,” replied Butler, more collectedly. “The Laird of Black-at-the-Bane had a natural son bred to the kirk, that the Presbytery could not be prevailed upon to license; and so.”

“Ay, ye need say nae mair about it; if there was a laird that had a puir kinsman or a bastard that it wad suit, there’s enough said. — And ye’re e’en come back to Liberton to wait for dead men’s shoon? — and for as frail as Mr. Whackbairn is, he may live as lang as you, that are his assistant and successor.”

“Very like,” replied Butler, with a sigh; “I do not know if I should wish it otherwise.”

“Nae doubt, it’s a very vexing thing,” continued the good lady, “to be in that dependent station; and you that hae right and title to sae muckle better, I wonder how ye bear these crosses.”

Quos diligit castigat,” answered Butler; “even the pagan Seneca could see an advantage in affliction, The Heathens had their philosophy, and the Jews their revelation, Mrs. Saddletree, and they endured their distresses in their day. Christians have a better dispensation than either — but doubtless —”

He stopped and sighed.

“I ken what ye mean,” said Mrs. Saddletree, looking toward her husband; “there’s whiles we lose patience in spite of baith book and Bible — But ye are no gaun awa, and looking sae poorly — ye’ll stay and take some kale wi’ us?”

Mr. Saddletree laid aside Balfour’s Practiques (his favourite study, and much good may it do him), to join in his wife’s hospitable importunity. But the teacher declined all entreaty, and took his leave upon the spot.

“There’s something in a’ this,” said Mrs. Saddletree, looking after him as he walked up the street; “I wonder what makes Mr. Butler sae distressed about Effie’s misfortune — there was nae acquaintance atween them that ever I saw or heard of; but they were neighbours when David Deans was on the Laird o’ Dumbiedikes’ land. Mr. Butler wad ken her father, or some o’ her folk. — Get up, Mr. Saddletree — ye have set yoursell down on the very brecham that wants stitching — and here’s little Willie, the prentice. — Ye little rin-there-out deil that ye are, what takes you raking through the gutters to see folk hangit? — how wad ye like when it comes to be your ain chance, as I winna ensure ye, if ye dinna mend your manners? — And what are ye maundering and greeting for, as if a word were breaking your banes? — Gang in by, and be a better bairn another time, and tell Peggy to gie ye a bicker o’ broth, for ye’ll be as gleg as a gled, I’se warrant ye. — It’s a fatherless bairn, Mr. Saddletree, and motherless, whilk in some cases may be waur, and ane would take care o’ him if they could — it’s a Christian duty.”

“Very true, gudewife,” said Saddletree in reply, “we are in loco parentis to him during his years of pupillarity, and I hae had thoughts of applying to the Court for a commission as factor loco tutoris, seeing there is nae tutor nominate, and the tutor-at-law declines to act; but only I fear the expense of the procedure wad not be in rem versam, for I am not aware if Willie has ony effects whereof to assume the administration.”

He concluded this sentence with a self-important cough, as one who has laid down the law in an indisputable manner.

“Effects!” said Mrs. Saddletree, “what effects has the puir wean? — he was in rags when his mother died; and the blue polonie that Effie made for him out of an auld mantle of my ain, was the first decent dress the bairn ever had on. Poor Effie! can ye tell me now really, wi’ a’ your law, will her life be in danger, Mr. Saddletree, when they arena able to prove that ever there was a bairn ava?”

“Whoy,” said Mr. Saddletree, delighted at having for once in his life seen his wife’s attention arrested by a topic of legal discussion —“Whoy, there are two sorts of murdrum or murdragium, or what you populariter et vulgariser call murther. I mean there are many sorts; for there’s your murthrum per vigilias et insidias, and your murthrum under trust.”

“I am sure,” replied his moiety, “that murther by trust is the way that the gentry murther us merchants, and whiles make us shut the booth up — but that has naething to do wi’ Effie’s misfortune.”

“The case of Effie (or Euphemia) Deans,” resumed Saddletree, “is one of those cases of murder presumptive, that is, a murder of the law’s inferring or construction, being derived from certain indicia or grounds of suspicion.”

“So that,” said the good woman, “unless poor Effie has communicated her situation, she’ll be hanged by the neck, if the bairn was still-born, or if it be alive at this moment?”

“Assuredly,” said Saddletree, “it being a statute made by our Sovereign Lord and Lady, to prevent the horrid delict of bringing forth children in secret — The crime is rather a favourite of the law, this species of murther being one of its ain creation.”

“Then, if the law makes murders,” said Mrs. Saddletree, “the law should be hanged for them; or if they wad hang a lawyer instead, the country wad find nae faut.”

A summons to their frugal dinner interrupted the farther progress of the conversation, which was otherwise like to take a turn much less favourable to the science of jurisprudence and its professors, than Mr. Bartoline Saddletree, the fond admirer of both, had at its opening anticipated.

1 [Close-head, the entrance of a blind alley.]

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