What see you there,
That hath so cowarded and chased your blood
Out of appearance?
Henry the Fifth.
We are under the necessity of returning to Edinburgh, where the General Assembly was now sitting. It is well known, that some Scottish nobleman is usually deputed as High Commissioner, to represent the person of the King in this convocation; that he has allowances for the purpose of maintaining a certain outward show and solemnity, and supporting the hospitality of the representative of Majesty. Whoever are distinguished by rank, or office, in or near the capital, usually attend the morning levees of the Lord Commissioner, and walk with him in procession to the place where the Assembly meets.
The nobleman who held this office chanced to be particularly connected with Sir George Staunton, and it was in his train that he ventured to tread the High Street of Edinburgh for the first time since the fatal night of Porteous’s execution. Walking at the right hand of the representative of Sovereignty, covered with lace and embroidery, and with all the paraphernalia of wealth and rank, the handsome though wasted figure of the English stranger attracted all eyes. Who could have recognised in a form so aristocratic the plebeian convict, that, disguised in the rags of Madge Wildfire, had led the formidable rioters to their destined revenge? There was no possibility that this could happen, even if any of his ancient acquaintances, a race of men whose lives are so brief, had happened to survive the span commonly allotted to evil-doers. Besides, the whole affair had long fallen asleep, with the angry passions in which it originated. Nothing is more certain than that persons known to have had a share in that formidable riot, and to have fled from Scotland on that account, had made money abroad, returned to enjoy it in their native country, and lived and died undisturbed by the law.1
The forbearance of the magistrate was, in these instances, wise, certainly, and just; for what good impression could be made on the public mind by punishment, when the memory of the offence was obliterated, and all that was remembered was the recent inoffensive, or perhaps exemplary conduct of the offender?
Sir George Staunton might, therefore, tread the scene of his former audacious exploits, free from the apprehension of the law, or even of discovery or suspicion. But with what feelings his heart that day throbbed, must be left to those of the reader to imagine. It was an object of no common interest which had brought him to encounter so many painful remembrances.
In consequence of Jeanie’s letter to Lady Staunton, transmitting the confession, he had visited the town of Carlisle, and had found Archdeacon Fleming still alive, by whom that confession had been received. This reverend gentleman, whose character stood deservedly very high, he so far admitted into his confidence, as to own himself the father of the unfortunate infant which had been spirited away by Madge Wildfire, representing the intrigue as a matter of juvenile extravagance on his own part, for which he was now anxious to atone, by tracing, if possible, what had become of the child. After some recollection of the circumstances, the clergyman was able to call to memory, that the unhappy woman had written a letter to George Staunton, Esq., younger, Rectory, Willingham, by Grantham; that he had forwarded it to the address accordingly, and that it had been returned, with a note from the Reverend Mr. Staunton, Rector of Willingham, saying, he knew no such person as him to whom the letter was addressed. As this had happened just at the time when George had, for the last time, absconded from his father’s house to carry off Effie, he was at no loss to account for the cause of the resentment, under the influence of which his father had disowned him. This was another instance in which his ungovernable temper had occasioned his misfortune; had he remained at Willingham but a few days longer, he would have received Margaret Murdockson’s letter, in which were exactly described the person and haunts of the woman, Annaple Bailzou, to whom she had parted with the infant. It appeared that Meg Murdockson had been induced to make this confession, less from any feelings of contrition, than from the desire of obtaining, through George Staunton or his father’s means, protection and support for her daughter Madge. Her letter to George Staunton said, “That while the writer lived, her daughter would have needed nought from any body, and that she would never have meddled in these affairs, except to pay back the ill that George had done to her and hers. But she was to die, and her daughter would be destitute, and without reason to guide her. She had lived in the world long enough to know that people did nothing for nothing — so she had told George Staunton all he could wish to know about his wean, in hopes he would not see the demented young creature he had ruined perish for want. As for her motives for not telling them sooner, she had a long account to reckon for in the next world, and she would reckon for that too.”
The clergyman said that Meg had died in the same desperate state of mind, occasionally expressing some regret about the child which was lost, but oftener sorrow that the mother had not been hanged — her mind at once a chaos of guilt, rage, and apprehension for her daughter’s future safety; that instinctive feeling of parental anxiety which she had in common with the she-wolf and lioness, being the last shade of kindly affection that occupied a breast equally savage.
The melancholy catastrophe of Madge Wildfire was occasioned by her taking the confusion of her mother’s execution, as affording an opportunity of leaving the workhouse to which the clergyman had sent her, and presenting herself to the mob in their fury, to perish in the way we have already seen. When Dr. Fleming found the convict’s letter was returned from Lincolnshire, he wrote to a friend in Edinburgh, to inquire into the fate of the unfortunate girl whose child had been stolen, and was informed by his correspondent, that she had been pardoned, and that, with all her family, she had retired to some distant part of Scotland, or left the kingdom entirely. And here the matter rested, until, at Sir George Staunton’s application, the clergyman looked out, and produced Margaret Murdockson’s returned letter, and the other memoranda which he had kept concerning the affair.
Whatever might be Sir George Staunton’s feelings in ripping up this miserable history, and listening to the tragical fate of the unhappy girl whom he had ruined, he had so much of his ancient wilfulness of disposition left, as to shut his eyes on everything, save the prospect which seemed to open itself of recovering his son. It was true, it would be difficult to produce him, without telling much more of the history of his birth, and the misfortunes of his parents, than it was prudent to make known. But let him once be found, and, being found, let him but prove worthy of his father’s protection, and many ways might be fallen upon to avoid such risk. Sir George Staunton was at liberty to adopt him as his heir, if he pleased, without communicating the secret of his birth; or an Act of Parliament might be obtained, declaring him legitimate, and allowing him the name and arms of his father. He was indeed already a legitimate child according to the law of Scotland, by the subsequent marriage of his parents. Wilful in everything, Sir George’s sole desire now was to see this son, even should his recovery bring with it a new series of misfortunes, as dreadful as those which followed on his being lost.
But where was the youth who might eventually be called to the honours and estates of this ancient family? On what heath was he wandering, and shrouded by what mean disguise? Did he gain his precarious bread by some petty trade, by menial toil, by violence, or by theft? These were questions on which Sir George’s anxious investigations could obtain no light. Many remembered that Annaple Bailzou wandered through the country as a beggar and fortune-teller, or spae-wife — some remembered that she had been seen with an infant in 1737 or 1738 — but for more than ten years she had not travelled that district; and that she had been heard to say she was going to a distant part of Scotland, of which country she was a native. To Scotland, therefore, came Sir George Staunton, having parted with his lady at Glasgow; and his arrival at Edinburg happening to coincide with the sitting of the General Assembly of the Kirk, his acquaintance with the nobleman who held the office of Lord High Commissioner forced him more into public than suited either his views or inclinations.
At the public table of this nobleman, Sir George Staunton was placed next to a clergyman of respectable appearance, and well-bred, though plain demeanour, whose name he discovered to be Butler. It had been no part of Sir George’s plan to take his brother-inlaw into his confidence, and he had rejoiced exceedingly in the assurances he received from his wife, that Mrs. Butler, the very soul of integrity and honour, had never suffered the account he had given of himself at Willingham Rectory to transpire, even to her husband. But he was not sorry to have an opportunity to converse with so near a connection without being known to him, and to form a judgment of his character and understanding. He saw much, and heard more, to raise Butler very high in his opinion. He found he was generally respected by those of his own profession, as well as by the laity who had seats in the Assembly. He had made several public appearances in the Assembly, distinguished by good sense, candour, and ability; and he was followed and admired as a sound, and, at the same time, an eloquent preacher.
This was all very satisfactory to Sir George Staunton’s pride, which had revolted at the idea of his wife’s sister being obscurely married. He now began, on the contrary, to think the connection so much better than he expected, that, if it should be necessary to acknowledge it, in consequence of the recovery of his son, it would sound well enough that Lady Staunton had a sister, who, in the decayed state of the family, had married a Scottish clergyman, high in the opinion of his countrymen, and a leader in the church.
It was with these feelings, that, when the Lord High Commissioner’s company broke up, Sir George Staunton, under pretence of prolonging some inquiries concerning the constitution of the Church of Scotland, requested Butler to go home to his lodgings in the Lawnmarket, and drink a cup of coffee. Butler agreed to wait upon him, providing Sir George would permit him, in passing, to call at a friend’s house where he resided, and make his apology for not coming to partake her tea. They proceeded up the High Street, entered the Krames, and passed the begging-box, placed to remind those at liberty of the distresses of the poor prisoners. Sir George paused there one instant, and next day a L20 note was found in that receptacle for public charity.
When he came up to Butler again, he found him with his eyes fixed on the entrance of the Tolbooth, and apparently in deep thought.
“That seems a very strong door,” said Sir George, by way of saying something.
“It is so, sir,” said Butler, turning off and beginning to walk forward, “but it was my misfortune at one time to see it prove greatly too weak.”
At this moment, looking at his companion, he asked him whether he felt himself ill? and Sir George Staunton admitted, that he had been so foolish as to eat ice, which sometimes disagreed with him. With kind officiousness, that would not be gainsaid, and ere he could find out where he was going, Butler hurried Sir George into the friend’s house, near to the prison, in which he himself had lived since he came to town, being, indeed, no other than that of our old friend Bartoline Saddletree, in which Lady Staunton had served a short noviciate as a shop-maid. This recollection rushed on her husband’s mind, and the blush of shame which it excited overpowered the sensation of fear which had produced his former paleness. Good Mrs. Saddletree, however, bustled about to receive the rich English baronet as the friend of Mr. Butler, and requested an elderly female in a black gown to sit still, in a way which seemed to imply a wish, that she would clear the way for her betters. In the meanwhile, understanding the state of the case, she ran to get some cordial waters, sovereign, of course, in all cases of faintishness whatsoever. During her absence, her visitor, the female in black, made some progress out of the room, and might have left it altogether without particular observation, had she not stumbled at the threshold, so near Sir George Staunton, that he, in point of civility, raised her and assisted her to the door.
“Mrs. Porteous is turned very doited now, puir body,” said Mrs. Saddletree, as she returned with her bottle in her hand —“She is no sae auld, but she got a sair back-cast wi’ the slaughter o’ her husband — Ye had some trouble about that job, Mr. Butler. — I think, sir,” to Sir George, “ye had better drink out the haill glass, for to my een ye look waur than when ye came in.”
And, indeed, he grew as pale as a corpse, on recollecting who it was that his arm had so lately supported — the widow whom he had so large a share in making such.
“It is a prescribed job that case of Porteous now,” said old Saddletree, who was confined to his chair by the gout —“clean prescribed and out of date.”
“I am not clear of that, neighbour,” said Plumdamas, “for I have heard them say twenty years should rin, and this is but the fifty-ane — Porteous’s mob was in thretty-seven.”
“Ye’ll no teach me law, I think, neighbour — me that has four gaun pleas, and might hae had fourteen, an it hadna been the gudewife? I tell ye, if the foremost of the Porteous mob were standing there where that gentleman stands, the King’s Advocate wadna meddle wi’ him — it fa’s under the negative prescription.”
“Haud your din, carles,” said Mrs. Saddletree, “and let the gentleman sit down and get a dish of comfortable tea.”
But Sir George had had quite enough of their conversation; and Butler, at his request, made an apology to Mrs. Saddletree, and accompanied him to his lodgings. Here they found another guest waiting Sir George Staunton’s return. This was no other than our reader’s old acquaintance, Ratcliffe.
This man had exercised the office of turnkey with so much vigilance, acuteness, and fidelity, that he gradually rose to be governor, or captain of the Tolbooth. And it is yet to be remembered in tradition, that young men, who rather sought amusing than select society in their merry-meetings, used sometimes to request Ratcliffe’s company, in order that he might regale them with legends of his extraordinary feats in the way of robbery and escape.2
But he lived and died without resuming his original vocation, otherwise than in his narratives over a bottle.
Under these circumstances, he had been recommended to Sir George Staunton by a man of the law in Edinburgh, as a person likely to answer any questions he might have to ask about Annaple Bailzou, who, according to the colour which Sir George Staunton gave to his cause of inquiry, was supposed to have stolen a child in the west of England, belonging to a family in which he was interested. The gentleman had not mentioned his name, but only his official title; so that Sir George Staunton, when told that the captain of the Tolbooth was waiting for him in his parlour, had no idea of meeting his former acquaintance, Jem Ratcliffe.
This, therefore, was another new and most unpleasant surprise, for he had no difficulty in recollecting this man’s remarkable features. The change, however, from George Robertson to Sir George Staunton, baffled even the penetration of Ratcliffe, and he bowed very low to the baronet and his guest, hoping Mr. Butler would excuse his recollecting that he was an old acquaintance.
“And once rendered my wife a piece of great service,” said Mr. Butler, “for which she sent you a token of grateful acknowledgment, which I hope came safe and was welcome.”
“Deil a doubt on’t,” said Ratcliffe, with a knowing nod; “but ye are muckle changed for the better since I saw ye, Maister Butler.”
“So much so, that I wonder you knew me.”
“Aha, then! — Deil a face I see I ever forget,” said Ratcliffe while Sir George Staunton, tied to the stake, and incapable of escaping, internally cursed the accuracy of his memory. “And yet, sometimes,” continued Ratcliffe, “the sharpest hand will be ta’en in. There is a face in this very room, if I might presume to be sae bauld, that, if I didna ken the honourable person it belangs to, I might think it had some cut of an auld acquaintance.”
“I should not be much flattered,” answered the Baronet, sternly, and roused by the risk in which he saw himself placed, “if it is to me you mean to apply that compliment.”
“By no manner of means, sir,” said Ratcliffe, bowing very low; “I am come to receive your honour’s commands, and no to trouble your honour wi’ my poor observations.”
“Well, sir,” said Sir George, “I am told you understand police matters — So do I. — To convince you of which, here are ten guineas of retaining fee — I make them fifty when you can find me certain notice of a person, living or dead, whom you will find described in that paper. I shall leave town presently — you may send your written answer to me to the care of Mr. ——” (naming his highly respectable agent), “or of his Grace the Lord High Commissioner.” Rateliffe bowed and withdrew.
“I have angered the proud peat now,” he said to himself, “by finding out a likeness; but if George Robertson’s father had lived within a mile of his mother, d — n me if I should not know what to think, for as high as he carries his head.”
When he was left alone with Butler, Sir George Staunton ordered tea and coffee, which were brought by his valet, and then, after considering with himself for a minute, asked his guest whether he had lately heard from his wife and family. Butler, with some surprise at the question, replied, “that he had received no letter for some time; his wife was a poor penwoman.”
“Then,” said Sir George Staunton, “I am the first to inform you there has been an invasion of your quiet premises since you left home. My wife, whom the Duke of Argyle had the goodness to permit to use Roseneath Lodge, while she was spending some weeks in your country, has sallied across and taken up her quarters in the Manse, as she says, to be nearer the goats, whose milk she is using; but, I believe, in reality, because she prefers Mrs. Butler’s company to that of the respectable gentleman who acts as seneschal on the Duke’s domains.”
Mr. Butler said, “He had often heard the late Duke and the present speak with high respect of Lady Staunton, and was happy if his house could accommodate any friend of theirs — it would be but a very slight acknowledgment of the many favours he owed them.”
“That does not make Lady Staunton and myself the less obliged to your hospitality, sir,” said Sir George. “May I inquire if you think of returning home soon?”
“In the course of two days,” Mr. Butler answered, “his duty in the Assembly would be ended; and the other matters he had in town being all finished, he was desirous of returning to Dumbartonshire as soon as he could; but he was under the necessity of transporting a considerable sum in bills and money with him, and therefore wished to travel in company with one or two of his brethren of the clergy.”
“My escort will be more safe,” said Sir George Staunton, “and I think of setting off tomorrow or next day. If you will give me the pleasure of your company, I will undertake to deliver you and your charge safe at the Manse, provided you will admit me along with you.”
Mr. Butler gratefully accepted of this proposal; the appointment was made accordingly, and, by despatches with one of Sir George’s servants, who was sent forward for the purpose, the inhabitants of the manse of Knocktarlitie were made acquainted with the intended journey; and the news rung through the whole vicinity, “that the minister was coming back wi’ a braw English gentleman and a’ the siller that was to pay for the estate of Craigsture.”
This sudden resolution of going to Knocktarlitie had been adopted by Sir George Staunton in consequence of the incidents of the evening. In spite of his present consequence, he felt he had presumed too far in venturing so near the scene of his former audacious acts of violence, and he knew too well, from past experience, the acuteness of a man like Ratcliffe, again to encounter him. The next two days he kept his lodgings, under pretence of indisposition, and took leave by writing of his noble friend the High Commissioner, alleging the opportunity of Mr. Butler’s company as a reason for leaving Edinburgh sooner than he had proposed. He had a long conference with his agent on the subject of Annaple Bailzou; and the professional gentleman, who was the agent also of the Argyle family, had directions to collect all the information which Ratcliffe or others might be able to obtain concerning the fate of that woman and the unfortunate child, and so soon as anything transpired which had the least appearance of being important, that he should send an express with it instantly to Knocktarlitie. These instructions were backed with a deposit of money, and a request that no expense might be spared; so that Sir George Staunton had little reason to apprehend negligence on the part of the persons intrusted with the commission.
The journey, which the brothers made in company, was attended with more pleasure, even to Sir George Staunton, than he had ventured to expect. His heart lightened in spite of himself when they lost sight of Edinburgh; and the easy, sensible conversation of Butler was well calculated to withdraw his thoughts from painful reflections. He even began to think whether there could be much difficulty in removing his wife’s connections to the rectory of Willingham; it was only on his part procuring some still better preferment for the present incumbent, and on Butler’s, that he should take orders according to the English Church, to which he could not conceive a possibility of his making objection, and then he had them residing under his wing. No doubt there was pain in seeing Mrs. Butler, acquainted, as he knew her to be, with the full truth of his evil history; but then her silence, though he had no reason to complain of her indiscretion hitherto, was still more absolutely ensured. It would keep his lady, also, both in good temper and in more subjection; for she was sometimes troublesome to him by insisting on remaining in town when he desired to retire to the country, alleging the total want of society at Willingham. “Madam, your sister is there,” would, he thought, be a sufficient answer to this ready argument.
He sounded Butler on this subject, asking what he would think of an English living of twelve hundred pounds yearly, with the burden of affording his company now and then to a neighbour, whose health was not strong or his spirits equal. “He might meet,” he said, “occasionally, a very learned and accomplished gentleman, who was in orders as a Catholic priest, but he hoped that would be no insurmountable objection to a man of his liberality of sentiment. What,” he said, “would Mr. Butler think of as an answer, if the offer should be made to him?”
“Simply that I could not accept of it,” said Mr. Butler. “I have no mind to enter into the various debates between the churches; but I was brought up in mine own, have received her ordination, am satisfied of the truth of her doctrines, and will die under the banner I have enlisted to.”
“What may be the value of your preferment?” said Sir George Staunton, “unless I am asking an indiscreet question.”
“Probably one hundred a-year, one year with another, besides my glebe and pasture-ground.”
“And you scruple to exchange that for twelve hundred a-year, without alleging any damning difference of doctrine betwixt the two churches of England and Scotland?”
“On that, sir, I have reserved my judgment; there may be much good, and there are certainly saving means in both; but every man must act according to his own lights. I hope I have done, and am in the course of doing, my Master’s work in this Highland parish; and it would ill become me, for the sake of lucre, to leave my sheep in the wilderness. But, even in the temporal view which you have taken of the matter, Sir George, this hundred pounds a-year of stipend hath fed and clothed us, and left us nothing to wish for; my father-inlaw’s succession, and other circumstances, have added a small estate of about twice as much more, and how we are to dispose of it I do not know — So I leave it to you, sir, to think if I were wise, not having the wish or opportunity of spending three hundred a-year, to covet the possession of four times that sum.”
“This is philosophy,” said Sir George; “I have heard of it, but I never saw it before.”
“It is common sense,” replied Butler, “which accords with philosophy and religion more frequently than pedants or zealots are apt to admit.”
Sir George turned the subject, and did not again resume it. Although they travelled in Sir George’s chariot, he seemed so much fatigued with the motion, that it was necessary for him to remain for a day at a small town called Mid-Calder, which was their first stage from Edinburgh. Glasgow occupied another day, so slow were their motions.
They travelled on to Dumbarton, where they had resolved to leave the equipage and to hire a boat to take them to the shores near the manse, as the Gare-Loch lay betwixt them and that point, besides the impossibility of travelling in that district with wheel-carriages. Sir George’s valet, a man of trust, accompanied them, as also a footman; the grooms were left with the carriage. Just as this arrangement was completed, which was about four o’clock in the afternoon, an express arrived from Sir George’s agent in Edinburgh, with a packet, which he opened and read with great attention, appearing much interested and agitated by the contents. The packet had been despatched very soon after their leaving Edinburgh, but the messenger had missed the travellers by passing through Mid-Calder in the night, and overshot his errand by getting to Roseneath before them. He was now on his return, after having waited more than four-and-twenty hours. Sir George Staunton instantly wrote back an answer, and rewarding the messenger liberally, desired him not to sleep till he placed it in his agent’s hands.
At length they embarked in the boat, which had waited for them some time. During their voyage, which was slow, for they were obliged to row the whole way, and often against the tide, Sir George Staunton’s inquiries ran chiefly on the subject of the Highland banditti who had infested that country since the year 1745. Butler informed him that many of them were not native Highlanders, but gipsies, tinkers, and other men of desperate fortunes, who had taken advantage of the confusion introduced by the civil war, the general discontent of the mountaineers, and the unsettled state of police, to practise their plundering trade with more audacity. Sir George next inquired into their lives, their habits, whether the violences which they committed were not sometimes atoned for by acts of generosity, and whether they did not possess the virtues as well as the vices of savage tribes?
Butler answered, that certainly they did sometimes show sparks of generosity, of which even the worst class of malefactors are seldom utterly divested; but that their evil propensities were certain and regular principles of action, while any occasional burst of virtuous feeling was only a transient impulse not to be reckoned upon, and excited probably by some singular and unusual concatenation of circumstances. In discussing these inquiries, which Sir George pursued with an apparent eagerness that rather surprised Butler, the latter chanced to mention the name of Donacha dhu na Dunaigh, with which the reader is already acquainted. Sir George caught the sound up eagerly, and as if it conveyed particular interest to his ear. He made the most minute inquiries concerning the man whom he mentioned, the number of his gang, and even the appearance of those who belonged to it. Upon these points Butler could give little answer. The man had a name among the lower class, but his exploits were considerably exaggerated; he had always one or two fellows with him, but never aspired to the command of above three or four. In short, he knew little about him, and the small acquaintance he had had by no means inclined him to desire more.
“Nevertheless, I should like to see him some of these days.”
“That would be a dangerous meeting, Sir George, unless you mean we are to see him receive his deserts from the law, and then it were a melancholy one.”
“Use every man according to his deserts, Mr. Butler, and who shall escape whipping? But I am talking riddles to you. I will explain them more fully to you when I have spoken over the subject with Lady Staunton. — Pull away, my lads,” he added, addressing himself to the rowers; “the clouds threaten us with a storm.”
In fact, the dead and heavy closeness of the air, the huge piles of clouds which assembled in the western horizon, and glowed like a furnace under the influence of the setting sun — that awful stillness in which nature seems to expect the thunder-burst, as a condemned soldier waits for the platoon fire which is to stretch him on the earth, all betokened a speedy storm. Large broad drops fell from time to time, and induced the gentlemen to assume the boat-cloaks; but the rain again ceased, and the oppressive heat, so unusual in Scotland in the end of May, inclined them to throw them aside. “There is something solemn in this delay of the storm,” said Sir George; “it seems as if it suspended its peal till it solemnised some important event in the world below.”
“Alas!” replied Butler, “what are we that the laws of nature should correspond in their march with our ephemeral deeds or sufferings! The clouds will burst when surcharged with the electric fluid, whether a goat is falling at that instant from the cliffs of Arran, or a hero expiring on the field of battle he has won.”
“The mind delights to deem it otherwise,” said Sir George Staunton; “and to dwell on the fate of humanity as on that which is the prime central movement of the mighty machine. We love not to think that we shall mix with the ages that have gone before us, as these broad black raindrops mingle with the waste of waters, making a trifling and momentary eddy, and are then lost for ever.”
“For ever! — we are not — we cannot be lost for ever,” said Butler, looking upward; “death is to us change, not consummation; and the commencement of a new existence, corresponding in character to the deeds which we have done in the body.”
While they agitated these grave subjects, to which the solemnity of the approaching storm naturally led them, their voyage threatened to be more tedious than they expected, for gusts of wind, which rose and fell with sudden impetuosity, swept the bosom of the firth, and impeded the efforts of the rowers. They had now only to double a small headland, in order to get to the proper landing-place in the mouth of the little river; but in the state of the weather, and the boat being heavy, this was like to be a work of time, and in the meanwhile they must necessarily be exposed to the storm.
“Could we not land on this side of the headland,” asked Sir George, “and so gain some shelter?”
Butler knew of no landing-place, at least none affording a convenient or even practicable passage up the rocks which surrounded the shore.
“Think again,” said Sir George Staunton; “the storm will soon be violent.”
“Hout, ay,” said one of the boatmen, “there’s the Caird’s Cove; but we dinna tell the minister about it, and I am no sure if I can steer the boat to it, the bay is sae fa’ o’ shoals and sunk rocks.”
“Try,” said Sir George, “and I will give you half-a-guinea.”
The old fellow took the helm, and observed, “That, if they could get in, there was a steep path up from the beach, and half-an-hour’s walk from thence to the Manse.”
“Are you sure you know the way?” said Butler to the old man.
“I maybe kend it a wee better fifteen years syne, when Dandie Wilson was in the firth wi’ his clean-ganging lugger. I mind Dandie had a wild young Englisher wi’ him, that they ca’d —”
“If you chatter so much,” said Sir George Staunton, “you will have the boat on the Grindstone — bring that white rock in a line with the steeple.”
“By G— ” said the veteran, staring, “I think your honour kens the bay as weel as me. — Your honour’s nose has been on the Grindstone ere now, I’m thinking.”
As they spoke thus, they approached the little cove, which, concealed behind crags, and defended on every point by shallows and sunken rocks, could scarce be discovered or approached, except by those intimate with the navigation. An old shattered boat was already drawn up on the beach within the cove, close beneath the trees, and with precautions for concealment.
Upon observing this vessel, Butler remarked to his companion, “It is impossible for you to conceive, Sir George, the difficulty I have had with my poor people, in teaching them the guilt and the danger of this contraband trade — yet they have perpetually before their eyes all its dangerous consequences. I do not know anything that more effectually depraves and ruins their moral and religious principles.”
Sir George forced himself to say something in a low voice about the spirit of adventure natural to youth, and that unquestionably many would become wiser as they grew older.
“Too seldom, sir,” replied Butler. “If they have been deeply engaged, and especially if they, have mingled in the scenes of violence and blood to which their occupation naturally leads, I have observed, that, sooner or later, they come to an evil end. Experience, as well as Scripture, teaches us, Sir George, that mischief shall hunt the violent man, and that the bloodthirsty man shall not live half his days — But take my arm to help you ashore.”
Sir George needed assistance, for he was contrasting in his altered thought the different feelings of mind and frame with which he had formerly frequented the same place. As they landed, a low growl of thunder was heard at a distance.
“That is ominous, Mr. Butler,” said Sir George.
“Intonuit laevum — it is ominous of good, then,” answered Butler, smiling.
The boatmen were ordered to make the best of their way round the headland to the ordinary landing-place; the two gentlemen, followed by their servant, sought their way by a blind and tangled path, through a close copsewood, to the Manse of Knocktarlitie, where their arrival was anxiously expected.
The sisters in vain had expected their husbands’ return on the preceding day, which was that appointed by Sir George’s letter. The delay of the travellers at Calder had occasioned this breach of appointment. The inhabitants of the Manse began even to doubt whether they would arrive on the present day. Lady Staunton felt this hope of delay as a brief reprieve, for she dreaded the pangs which her husband’s pride must undergo at meeting with a sister-inlaw, to whom the whole of his unhappy and dishonourable history was too well known. She knew, whatever force or constraint he might put upon his feelings in public, that she herself must be doomed to see them display themselves in full vehemence in secret — consume his health, destroy his temper, and render him at once an object of dread and compassion. Again and again she cautioned Jeanie to display no tokens of recognition, but to receive him as a perfect stranger — and again and again Jeanie renewed her promise to comply with her wishes.
Jeanie herself could not fail to bestow an anxious thought on the awkwardness of the approaching meeting; but her conscience was ungalled — and then she was cumbered with many household cares of an unusual nature, which, joined to the anxious wish once more to see Butler, after an absence of unusual length, made her extremely desirous that the travellers should arrive as soon as possible. And — why should I disguise the truth? — ever and anon a thought stole across her mind that her gala dinner had now been postponed for two days; and how few of the dishes, after every art of her simple cuisine had been exerted to dress them, could with any credit or propriety appear again upon the third; and what was she to do with the rest? — Upon this last subject she was saved the trouble of farther deliberation, by the sudden appearance of the Captain at the head of half-a-dozen stout fellows, dressed and armed in the Highland fashion.
“Goot-morrow morning to ye, Leddy Staunton, and I hope I hae the pleasure to see you weel — And goot-morrow to you, goot Mrs. Putler — I do peg you will order some victuals and ale and prandy for the lads, for we hae peen out on firth and moor since afore daylight, and a’ to no purpose neither — Cot tam!”
So saying, he sate down, pushed back his brigadier wig, and wiped his head with an air of easy importance; totally regardless of the look of well-bred astonishment by which Lady Staunton endeavoured to make him comprehend that he was assuming too great a liberty.
“It is some comfort, when one has had a sair tussel,” continued the Captain, addressing Lady Staunton, with an air of gallantry, “that it is in a fair leddy’s service, or in the service of a gentleman whilk has a fair leddy, whilk is the same thing, since serving the husband is serving the wife, as Mrs. Putler does very weel know.”
“Really, sir,” said Lady Staunton, “as you seem to intend this compliment for me, I am at a loss to know what interest Sir George or I can have in your movements this morning.”
“O, Cot tam! — this is too cruel, my leddy — as if it was not py special express from his Grace’s honourable agent and commissioner at Edinburgh, with a warrant conform, that I was to seek for and apprehend Donacha dhu na Dunaigh, and pring him pefore myself and Sir George Staunton, that he may have his deserts, that is to say, the gallows, whilk he has doubtless deserved, py peing the means of frightening your leddyship, as weel as for something of less importance.”
“Frightening me!” said her ladyship; “why, I never wrote to Sir George about my alarm at the waterfall.”
“Then he must have heard it otherwise; for what else can give him sic an earnest tesire to see this rapscallion, that I maun ripe the haill mosses and muirs in the country for him, as if I were to get something for finding him, when the pest o’t might pe a pall through my prains?”
“Can it be really true, that it is on Sir George’s account that you have been attempting to apprehend this fellow?”
“Py Cot, it is for no other cause that I know than his honour’s pleasure; for the creature might hae gone on in a decent quiet way for me, sae lang as he respectit the Duke’s pounds — put reason goot he suld be taen, and hangit to poet, if it may pleasure ony honourable shentleman that is the Duke’s friend — Sae I got the express over night, and I caused warn half a score of pretty lads, and was up in the morning pefore the sun, and I garr’d the lads take their kilts and short coats.”
“I wonder you did that, Captain,” said Mrs. Butler, “when you know the act of Parliament against wearing the Highland dress.”
“Hout, tout, ne’er fash your thumb, Mrs. Putler. The law is put twa-three years auld yet, and is ower young to hae come our length; and pesides, how is the lads to climb the praes wi’ thae tamn’d breekens on them? It makes me sick to see them. Put ony how, I thought I kend Donacha’s haunt gey and weel, and I was at the place where he had rested yestreen; for I saw the leaves the limmers had lain on, and the ashes of them; by the same token, there was a pit greeshoch purning yet. I am thinking they got some word oat o’ the island what was intended — I sought every glen and clench, as if I had been deer-stalking, but teil a want of his coat-tail could I see — Cot tam!”
“He’ll be away down the Firth to Cowal,” said David; and Reuben, who had been out early that morning a-nutting, observed, “That he had seen a boat making for the Caird’s Cove;” a place well known to the boys, though their less adventurous father was ignorant of its existence.
“Py Cot,” said Duncan, “then I will stay here no longer than to trink this very horn of prandy and water, for it’s very possible they will pe in the wood. Donacha’s a clever fellow, and maype thinks it pest to sit next the chimley when the lum reeks. He thought naebody would look for him sae near hand! I peg your leddyship will excuse my aprupt departure, as I will return forthwith, and I will either pring you Donacha in life, or else his head, whilk I dare to say will be as satisfactory. And I hope to pass a pleasant evening with your leddyship; and I hope to have mine revenges on Mr. Putler at backgammon, for the four pennies whilk he won, for he will pe surely at home soon, or else he will have a wet journey, seeing it is apout to pe a scud.”
Thus saying, with many scrapes and bows, and apologies for leaving them, which were very readily received, and reiterated assurances of his speedy return (of the sincerity whereof Mrs. Butler entertained no doubt, so long as her best greybeard of brandy was upon duty), Duncan left the Manse, collected his followers, and began to scour the close and entangled wood which lay between the little glen and the Caird’s Cove. David, who was a favourite with the Captain, on account of his spirit and courage, took the opportunity of escaping, to attend the investigations of that great man.
1 See Arnot’s Criminal Trials, 4to ed. p. 235.
2 There seems an anachronism in the history of this person. Ratcliffe, among other escapes from justice, was released by the Porteous mob when under sentence of death; and he was again under the same predicament, when the Highlanders made a similar jail-delivery in 1745. He was too sincere a whig to embrace liberation at the hands of the Jacobites, and in reward was made one of the keepers of the Tolbooth. So at least runs constant tradition.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00