The Heart of Mid-Lothian, Complete, Illustrated
Sir Walter Scott
Part 5 out of 13
"No, sir," said Ratcliffe, "that's a thing no easily put out o' memory;
and if my presence be judged necessary, nae doubt I maun gang wi' your
honour. But I was gaun to tell your honour of ane that has mair skeel o'
the gate than me, and that's e'en Madge Wildfire."
"The devil she has!--Do you think me as mad as she, is, to trust to her
guidance on such an occasion?"
"Your honour is the best judge," answered Ratcliffe; "but I ken I can
keep her in tune, and garr her haud the straight path--she often sleeps
out, or rambles about amang thae hills the haill simmer night, the daft
"Weel, Ratcliffe," replied the procurator-fiscal, "if you think she can
guide us the right way--but take heed to what you are about--your life
depends on your behaviour."
"It's a sair judgment on a man," said Ratcliffe, "when he has ance gane
sae far wrang as I hae done, that deil a bit he can be honest, try't
whilk way he will."
Such was the reflection of Ratcliffe, when he was left for a few minutes
to himself, while the retainer of justice went to procure a proper
warrant, and give the necessary directions.
The rising moon saw the whole party free from the walls of the city, and
entering upon the open ground. Arthur's Seat, like a couchant lion of
immense size--Salisbury Crags, like a huge belt or girdle of granite,
were dimly visible. Holding their path along the southern side of the
Canongate, they gained the Abbey of Holyrood House, and from thence found
their way by step and stile into the King's Park. They were at first four
in number--an officer of justice and Sharpitlaw, who were well armed with
pistols and cutlasses; Ratcliffe, who was not trusted with weapons, lest,
he might, peradventure, have used them on the wrong side; and the female.
But at the last stile, when they entered the Chase, they were joined by
other two officers, whom Sharpitlaw, desirous to secure sufficient force
for his purpose, and at the same time to avoid observation, had directed
to wait for him at this place. Ratcliffe saw this accession of strength
with some disquietude, for he had hitherto thought it likely that
Robertson, who was a bold, stout, and active young fellow, might have
made his escape from Sharpitlaw and the single officer, by force or
agility, without his being implicated in the matter. But the present
strength of the followers of justice was overpowering, and the only mode
of saving Robertson (which the old sinner was well disposed to do,
providing always he could accomplish his purpose without compromising his
own safety), must be by contriving that he should have some signal of
their approach. It was probably with this view that Ratcliffe had
requested the addition of Madge to the party, having considerable
confidence in her propensity to exert her lungs. Indeed, she had already
given them so many specimens of her clamorous loquacity, that Sharpitlaw
half determined to send her back with one of the officers, rather than
carry forward in his company a person so extremely ill qualified to be a
guide in a secret expedition. It seemed, too, as if the open air, the
approach to the hills, and the ascent of the moon, supposed to be so
portentous over those whose brain is infirm, made her spirits rise in a
degree tenfold more loquacious than she had hitherto exhibited. To
silence her by fair means seemed impossible; authoritative commands and
coaxing entreaties she set alike at defiance, and threats only made her
sulky and altogether intractable.
"Is there no one of you," said Sharpitlaw, impatiently, "that knows the
way to this accursed place--this Nichol Muschat's Cairn--excepting this
mad clavering idiot?"
"Deil ane o' them kens it except mysell," exclaimed Madge; "how suld
they, the puir fule cowards! But I hae sat on the grave frae batfleeing
time till cook-crow, and had mony a fine crack wi' Muschat and Ailie
Muschat, that are lying sleeping below."
"The devil take your crazy brain," said Sharpitlaw; "will you not allow
the men to answer a question?"
The officers obtaining a moment's audience while Ratcliffe diverted
Madge's attention, declared that, though they had a general knowledge of
the spot, they could not undertake to guide the party to it by the
uncertain light of the moon, with such accuracy as to insure success to
"What shall we do, Ratcliffe?" said Sharpitlaw, "if he sees us before we
see him,--and that's what he is certain to do, if we go strolling about,
without keeping the straight road,--we may bid gude day to the job, and I
would rather lose one hundred pounds, baith for the credit of the police,
and because the provost says somebody maun be hanged for this job o'
Porteous, come o't what likes."
"I think," said Ratcliffe, "we maun just try Madge; and I'll see if I can
get her keepit in ony better order. And at ony rate, if he suld hear her
skirting her auld ends o' sangs, he's no to ken for that that there's
onybody wi' her."
"That's true," said Sharpitlaw; "and if he thinks her alone, he's as like
to come towards her as to rin frae her. So set forward--we hae lost ower
muckle time already--see to get her to keep the right road."
"And what sort o' house does Nichol Muschat and his wife keep now?" said
Ratcliffe to the mad woman, by way of humouring her vein of folly; "they
were but thrawn folk lang syne, an a' tales be true."
"Ou, ay, ay, ay--but a's forgotten now," replied Madge, in the
confidential tone of a gossip giving the history of her next-door
neighbour--"Ye see, I spoke to them mysell, and tauld them byganes suld
be byganes--her throat's sair misguggled and mashackered though; she
wears her corpse-sheet drawn weel up to hide it, but that canna hinder
the bluid seiping through, ye ken. I wussed her to wash it in St.
Anthony's Well, and that will cleanse if onything can--But they say bluid
never bleaches out o' linen claith--Deacon Sanders's new cleansing draps
winna do't--I tried them mysell on a bit rag we hae at hame that was
mailed wi' the bluid of a bit skirting wean that was hurt some gate, but
out it winna come--Weel, yell say that's queer; but I will bring it out
to St. Anthony's blessed Well some braw night just like this, and I'll
cry up Ailie Muschat, and she and I will hae a grand bouking-washing, and
bleach our claes in the beams of the bonny Lady Moon, that's far
pleasanter to me than the sun--the sun's ower het, and ken ye, cummers,
my brains are het eneugh already. But the moon, and the dew, and the
night-wind, they are just like a caller kail-blade laid on my brow; and
whiles I think the moon just shines on purpose to pleasure me, when
naebody sees her but mysell."
This raving discourse she continued with prodigious volubility, walking
on at a great pace, and dragging Ratcliffe along with her, while he
endeavoured, in appearance at least, if not in reality, to induce her to
moderate her voice.
All at once she stopped short upon the top of a little hillock, gazed
upward fixedly, and said not one word for the space of five minutes.
"What the devil is the matter with her now?" said Sharpitlaw to
Ratcliffe--"Can you not get her forward?"
"Ye maun just take a grain o' patience wi' her, sir," said Ratcliffe.
"She'll no gae a foot faster than she likes herself."
"D--n her," said Sharpitlaw, "I'll take care she has her time in Bedlam
or Bridewell, or both, for she's both mad and mischievous."
In the meanwhile, Madge, who had looked very pensive when she first
stopped, suddenly burst into a vehement fit of laughter, then paused and
sighed bitterly,--then was seized with a second fit of laughter--then,
fixing her eyes on the moon, lifted up her voice and sung,--
"Good even, good fair moon, good even to thee;
I prithee, dear moon, now show to me
The form and the features, the speech and degree,
Of the man that true lover of mine shall be.
But I need not ask that of the bonny Lady Moon--I ken that weel eneugh
mysell--_true_-love though he wasna--But naebody shall sae that I ever
tauld a word about the matter--But whiles I wish the bairn had
lived--Weel, God guide us, there's a heaven aboon us a',"--(here she
sighed bitterly), "and a bonny moon, and sterns in it forby" (and here
she laughed once more).
"Are we to stand, here all night!" said Sharpitlaw, very impatiently.
"Drag her forward."
"Ay, sir," said Ratcliffe, "if we kend whilk way to drag her, that would
settle it at ance.--Come, Madge, hinny," addressing her, "we'll no be in
time to see Nichol and his wife, unless ye show us the road."
"In troth and that I will, Ratton," said she, seizing him by the arm, and
resuming her route with huge strides, considering it was a female who
took them. "And I'll tell ye, Ratton, blithe will Nichol Muschat be to
see ye, for he says he kens weel there isna sic a villain out o' hell as
ye are, and he wad be ravished to hae a crack wi' you--like to like ye
ken--it's a proverb never fails--and ye are baith a pair o' the deevil's
peats I trow--hard to ken whilk deserves the hettest corner o' his
Ratcliffe was conscience-struck, and could not forbear making an
involuntary protest against this classification. "I never shed blood," he
"But ye hae sauld it, Ratton--ye hae sauld blood mony a time. Folk kill
wi' the tongue as weel as wi' the hand--wi' the word as weel as wi' the
It is the 'bonny butcher lad,
That wears the sleeves of blue,
He sells the flesh on Saturday,
On Friday that he slew."
"And what is that I ain doing now?" thought Ratcliffe. "But I'll hae nae
wyte of Robertson's young bluid, if I can help it;" then speaking apart
to Madge, he asked her, "Whether she did not remember ony o' her auld
"Mony a dainty ane," said Madge; "and blithely can I sing them, for
lightsome sangs make merry gate." And she sang,--
"When the glede's in the blue cloud,
The lavrock lies still;
When the hound's in the greenwood.
The hind keeps the hill."
"Silence her cursed noise, if you should throttle her," said Sharpitlaw;
"I see somebody yonder.--Keep close, my boys, and creep round the
shoulder of the height. George Poinder, stay you with Ratcliffe and tha
mad yelling bitch; and you other two, come with me round under the shadow
of the brae."
And he crept forward with the stealthy pace of an Indian savage, who
leads his band to surprise an unsuspecting party of some hostile tribe.
Ratcliffe saw them glide of, avoiding the moonlight, and keeping as much
in: the shade as possible.
"Robertson's done up," said he to himself; "thae young lads are aye sae
thoughtless. What deevil could he hae to say to Jeanie Deans, or to ony
woman on earth, that he suld gang awa and get his neck raxed for her? And
this mad quean, after cracking like a pen-gun, and skirling like a
pea-hen for the haill night, behoves just to hae hadden her tongue when
her clavers might have dune some gude! But it's aye the way wi' women; if
they ever hand their tongues ava', ye may swear it's for mischief. I wish
I could set her on again without this blood-sucker kenning what I am
doing. But he's as gleg as MacKeachan's elshin,* that ran through sax
plies of bendleather and half-an-inch into the king's heel."
* [_Elshin,_ a shoemaker's awl.]
He then began to hum, but in a very low and suppressed tone, the first
stanza of a favourite ballad of Wildfire's, the words of which bore some
distant analogy with the situation of Robertson, trusting that the power
of association would not fail to bring the rest to her mind:--
"There's a bloodhound ranging Tinwald wood,
There's harness glancing sheen:
There's a maiden sits on Tinwald brae,
And she sings loud between."
Madge had no sooner received the catch-word, than she vindicated
Ratcliffe's sagacity by setting off at score with the song:--
"O sleep ye sound, Sir James, she said,
When ye suld rise and ride?
There's twenty men, wi' bow and blade,
Are seeking where ye hide."
Though Ratcliffe was at a considerable distance from the spot called
Muschat's Cairn, yet his eyes, practised like those of a cat to penetrate
darkness, could mark that Robertson had caught the alarm. George Poinder,
less keen of sight, or less attentive, was not aware of his flight any
more than Sharpitlaw and his assistants, whose view, though they were
considerably nearer to the cairn, was intercepted by the broken nature of
the ground under which they were screening themselves. At length,
however, after the interval of five or six minutes, they also perceived
that Robertson had fled, and rushed hastily towards the place, while
Sharpitlaw called out aloud, in the harshest tones of a voice which
resembled a saw-mill at work, "Chase, lads--chase--haud the brae--I see
him on the edge of the hill!" Then hollowing back to the rear-guard of
his detachment, he issued his farther orders: "Ratcliffe, come here, and
detain the woman--George, run and kepp the stile at the Duke's
Walk--Ratcliffe, come here directly--but first knock out that mad
"Ye had better rin for it, Madge," said Ratcliffe, "for it's ill dealing
wi' an angry man."
Madge Wildfire was not so absolutely void of common sense as not to
understand this innuendo; and while Ratcliffe, in seemingly anxious haste
of obedience, hastened to the spot where Sharpitlaw waited to deliver up
Jeanie Deans to his custody, she fled with all the despatch she could
exert in an opposite direction. Thus the whole party were separated, and
in rapid motion of flight or pursuit, excepting Ratcliffe and Jeanie,
whom, although making no attempt to escape, he held fast by the cloak,
and who remained standing by Muschat's Cairn.
You have paid the heavens your function,
and the prisoner the very debt of your calling.
Measure for Measure.
Jeanie Deans,--for here our story unites itself with that part of the
narrative which broke off at the end of the fourteenth chapter,--while
she waited, in terror and amazement, the hasty advance of three or four
men towards her, was yet more startled at their suddenly breaking
asunder, and giving chase in different directions to the late object of
her terror, who became at that moment, though she could not well assign a
reasonable cause, rather the cause of her interest. One of the party (it
was Sharpitlaw) came straight up to her, and saying, "Your name is Jeanie
Deans, and you are my prisoner," immediately added, "But if you will tell
me which way he ran I will let you go."
"I dinna ken, sir," was all the poor girl could utter; and, indeed, it is
the phrase which rises most readily to the lips of any person in her
rank, as the readiest reply to any embarrassing question.
"But," said Sharpitlaw, "ye _ken_ wha it was ye were speaking wi', my
leddy, on the hill side, and midnight sae near; ye surely ken _that,_ my
"I dinna ken, sir," again iterated Jeanie, who really did not comprehend
in her terror the nature of the questions which were so hastily put to
her in this moment of surprise.
"We will try to mend your memory by and by, hinny," said Sharpitlaw, and
shouted, as we have already told the reader, to Ratcliffe, to come up and
take charge of her, while he himself directed the chase after Robertson,
which he still hoped might be successful. As Ratcliffe approached,
Sharpitlaw pushed the young woman towards him with some rudeness, and
betaking himself to the more important object of his quest, began to
scale crags and scramble up steep banks, with an agility of which his
profession and his general gravity of demeanour would previously have
argued him incapable. In a few minutes there was no one within sight, and
only a distant halloo from one of the pursuers to the other, faintly
heard on the side of the hill, argued that there was any one within
hearing. Jeanie Deans was left in the clear moonlight, standing under the
guard of a person of whom she knew nothing, and, what was worse,
concerning whom, as the reader is well aware, she could have learned
nothing that would not have increased her terror.
When all in the distance was silent, Ratcliffe for the first time
addressed her, and it was in that cold sarcastic indifferent tone
familiar to habitual depravity, whose crimes are instigated by custom
rather than by passion. "This is a braw night for ye, dearie," he said,
attempting to pass his arm across her shoulder, "to be on the green hill
wi' your jo." Jeanie extricated herself from his grasp, but did not make
"I think lads and lasses," continued the ruffian, "dinna meet at
Muschat's Cairn at midnight to crack nuts," and he again attempted to
take hold of her.
"If ye are an officer of justice, sir," said Jeanie, again eluding his
attempt to seize her, "ye deserve to have your coat stripped from your
"Very true, hinny," said he, succeeding forcibly in his attempt to get
hold of her, "but suppose I should strip your cloak off first?"
"Ye are more a man, I am sure, than to hurt me, sir," said Jeanie; "for
God's sake have pity on a half-distracted creature!"
"Come, come," said Ratcliffe, "you're a good-looking wench, and should
not be cross-grained. I was going to be an honest man--but the devil has
this very day flung first a lawyer, and then a woman, in my gate. I'll
tell you what, Jeanie, they are out on the hill-side--if you'll be guided
by me, I'll carry you to a wee bit corner in the Pleasance, that I ken o'
in an auld wife's, that a' the prokitors o' Scotland wot naething o', and
we'll send Robertson word to meet us in Yorkshire, for there is a set o'
braw lads about the midland counties, that I hae dune business wi' before
now, and sae we'll leave Mr. Sharpitlaw to whistle on his thumb."
It was fortunate for Jeanie, in an emergency like the present, that she
possessed presence of mind and courage, so soon as the first hurry of
surprise had enabled her to rally her recollection. She saw the risk she
was in from a ruffian, who not only was such by profession, but had that
evening been stupifying, by means of strong liquors, the internal
aversion which he felt at the business on which Sharpitlaw had resolved
to employ him.
"Dinna speak sae loud," said she, in a low voice; "he's up yonder."
"Who?--Robertson?" said Ratcliffe, eagerly.
"Ay," replied Jeanie; "up yonder;" and she pointed to the ruins of the
hermitage and chapel.
"By G--d, then," said Ratcliffe, "I'll make my ain of him, either one way
or other--wait for me here."
But no sooner had he set off as fast as he could run, towards the chapel,
than Jeanie started in an opposite direction, over high and low, on the
nearest path homeward. Her juvenile exercise as a herdswoman had put
"life and mettle" in her heels, and never had she followed Dustiefoot,
when the cows were in the corn, with half so much speed as she now
cleared the distance betwixt Muschat's Cairn and her father's cottage at
St. Leonard's. To lift the latch--to enter--to shut, bolt, and double
bolt the door--to draw against it a heavy article of furniture (which she
could not have moved in a moment of less energy), so as to make yet
farther provision against violence, was almost the work of a moment, yet
done with such silence as equalled the celerity.
Her next anxiety was upon her father's account, and she drew silently to
the door of his apartment, in order to satisfy herself whether he had
been disturbed by her return. He was awake,--probably had slept but
little; but the constant presence of his own sorrows, the distance of his
apartment from the outer door of the house, and the precautions which
Jeanie had taken to conceal her departure and return, had prevented him
from being sensible of either. He was engaged in his devotions, and
Jeanie could distinctly hear him use these words:--"And for the other
child thou hast given me to be a comfort and stay to my old age, may her
days be long in the land, according to the promise thou hast given to
those who shall honour father and mother; may all her purchased and
promised blessings be multiplied upon her; keep her in the watches of the
night, and in the uprising of the morning, that all in this land may know
that thou hast not utterly hid thy face from those that seek thee in
truth and in sincerity." He was silent, but probably continued his
petition in the strong fervency of mental devotion.
His daughter retired to her apartment, comforted, that while she was
exposed to danger, her head had been covered by the prayers of the just
as by an helmet, and under the strong confidence, that while she walked
worthy of the protection of Heaven, she would experience its countenance.
It was in that moment that a vague idea first darted across her mind,
that something might yet be achieved for her sister's safety, conscious
as she now was of her innocence of the unnatural murder with which she
stood charged. It came, as she described it, on her mind, like a
sun-blink on a stormy sea; and although it instantly vanished, yet she
felt a degree of composure which she had not experienced for many days,
and could not help being strongly persuaded that, by some means or other,
she would be called upon, and directed, to work out her sister's
deliverance. She went to bed, not forgetting her usual devotions, the
more fervently made on account of her late deliverance, and she slept
soundly in spite of her agitation.
We must return to Ratcliffe, who had started, like a greyhound from the
slips when the sportsman cries halloo, as soon as Jeanie had pointed to
the ruins. Whether he meant to aid Robertson's escape, or to assist his
pursuers, may be very doubtful; perhaps he did not himself know but had
resolved to be guided by circumstances. He had no opportunity, however,
of doing either; for he had no sooner surmounted the steep ascent, and
entered under the broken arches of the rains, than a pistol was presented
at his head, and a harsh voice commanded him, in the king's name, to
surrender himself prisoner. "Mr. Sharpitlaw!" said Ratcliffe, surprised,
"is this your honour?"
"Is it only you, and be d--d to you?" answered the fiscal, still more
disappointed--"what made you leave the woman?"
"She told me she saw Robertson go into the ruins, so I made what haste I
could to cleek the callant."
"It's all over now," said Sharpitlaw; "we shall see no more of him
to-night; but he shall hide himself in a bean-hool, if he remains on
Scottish ground without my finding him. Call back the people, Ratcliffe."
Ratcliffe hollowed to the dispersed officers, who willingly obeyed the
signal; for probably there was no individual among them who would have
been much desirous of a rencontre, hand to hand, and at a distance from
his comrades, with such an active and desperate fellow as Robertson.
"And where are the two women?" said Sharpitlaw.
"Both made their heels serve them, I suspect," replied Ratcliffe, and he
hummed the end of the old song--
"Then hey play up the rin-awa bride,
For she has taen the gee."
"One woman," said Sharpitlaw,--for, like all rogues, he was a great
calumniator of the fair sex,*--"one woman is enough to dark the fairest
ploy that was ever planned; and how could I be such an ass as to expect
to carry through a job that had two in it?
* Note L. Calumniator of the Fair Sex.
But we know how to come by them both, if they are wanted, that's one good
Accordingly, like a defeated general, sad and sulky, he led back his
discomfited forces to the metropolis, and dismissed them for the night.
The next morning early, he was under the necessity of making his report
to the sitting magistrate of the day. The gentleman who occupied the
chair of office on this occasion (for the bailies, _Anglice',_ aldermen,
take it by rotation) chanced to be the same by whom Butler was committed,
a person very generally respected among his fellow-citizens. Something he
was of a humorist, and rather deficient in general education; but acute,
patient, and upright, possessed of a fortune acquired by honest industry
which made him perfectly independent; and, in short, very happily
qualified to support the respectability of the office, which he held.
Mr. Middleburgh had just taken his seat, and was debating in an animated
manner, with one of his colleagues, the doubtful chances of a game at
golf which they had played the day before, when a letter was delivered to
him, addressed "For Bailie Middleburgh; These: to be forwarded with
speed." It contained these words:--
"Sir,--I know you to be a sensible and a considerate magistrate, and one
who, as such, will be content to worship God, though the devil bid you. I
therefore expect that, notwithstanding the signature of this letter
acknowledges my share in an action, which, in a proper time and place, I
would not fear either to avow or to justify, you will not on that account
reject what evidence I place before you. The clergyman, Butler, is
innocent of all but involuntary presence at an action which he wanted
spirit to approve of, and from which he endeavoured, with his best set
phrases, to dissuade us. But it was not for him that it is my hint to
speak. There is a woman in your jail, fallen under the edge of a law so
cruel, that it has hung by the wall like unsecured armour, for twenty
years, and is now brought down and whetted to spill the blood of the most
beautiful and most innocent creature whom the walls of a prison ever
girdled in. Her sister knows of her innocence, as she communicated to her
that she was betrayed by a villain.--O that high Heaven
Would put in every honest hand a whip,
To scourge me such a villain through the world!
"I write distractedly--But this girl--this Jeanie Deans, is a peevish
puritan, superstitious and scrupulous after the manner of her sect; and I
pray your honour, for so my phrase must go, to press upon her, that her
sister's life depends upon her testimony. But though she should remain
silent, do not dare to think that the young woman is guilty--far less to
permit her execution. Remember the death of Wilson was fearfully avenged;
and those yet live who can compel you to drink the dregs of your poisoned
chalice.--I say, remember Porteous, and say that you had good counsel
"One of his Slayers."
The magistrate read over this extraordinary letter twice or thrice. At
first he was tempted to throw it aside as the production of a madman, so
little did "the scraps from play-books," as he termed the poetical
quotation, resemble the correspondence of a rational being. On a
re-perusal, however, he thought that, amid its incoherence, he could
discover something like a tone of awakened passion, though expressed in a
manner quaint and unusual.
"It is a cruelly severe statute," said the magistrate to his assistant,
"and I wish the girl could be taken from under the letter of it. A child
may have been born, and it may have been conveyed away while the mother
was insensible, or it may have perished for want of that relief which the
poor creature herself--helpless, terrified, distracted, despairing, and
exhausted--may have been unable to afford to it. And yet it is certain,
if the woman is found guilty under the statute, execution will follow.
The crime has been too common, and examples are necessary."
"But if this other wench," said the city-clerk, "can speak to her sister
communicating her situation, it will take the case from under the
"Very true," replied the Bailie; "and I will walk out one of these days
to St. Leonard's, and examine the girl myself. I know something of their
father Deans--an old true-blue Cameronian, who would see house and family
go to wreck ere he would disgrace his testimony by a sinful complying
with the defections of the times; and such he will probably uphold the
taking an oath before a civil magistrate. If they are to go on and
flourish with their bull-headed obstinacy, the legislature must pass an
act to take their affirmations, as in the case of Quakers. But surely
neither a father nor a sister will scruple in a case of this kind. As I
said before, I will go speak with them myself, when the hurry of this
Porteous investigation is somewhat over; their pride and spirit of
contradiction will be far less alarmed, than if they were called into a
court of justice at once."
"And I suppose Butler is to remain incarcerated?" said the city-clerk.
"For the present, certainly," said the magistrate. "But I hope soon to
set him at liberty upon bail."
"Do you rest upon the testimony of that light-headed letter?" asked the
"Not very much," answered the Bailie; "and yet there is something
striking about it too--it seems the letter of a man beside himself,
either from great agitation, or some great sense of guilt."
"Yes," said the town-clerk, "it is very like the letter of a mad
strolling play-actor, who deserves to be hanged with all the rest of his
gang, as your honour justly observes."
"I was not quite so bloodthirsty," continued the magistrate. "But to the
point, Butler's private character is excellent; and I am given to
understand, by some inquiries I have been making this morning, that he
did actually arrive in town only the day before yesterday, so that it was
impossible he could have been concerned in any previous machinations of
these unhappy rioters, and it is not likely that he should have joined
them on a suddenty."
"There's no saying anent that--zeal catches fire at a slight spark as
fast as a brunstane match," observed the secretary. "I hae kend a
minister wad be fair gude-day and fair gude-e'en wi' ilka man in the
parochine, and hing just as quiet as a rocket on a stick, till ye
mentioned the word abjuration-oath, or patronage, or siclike, and then,
whiz, he was off, and up in the air an hundred miles beyond common
manners, common sense, and common comprehension."
"I do not understand," answered the burgher-magistrate, "that the young
man Butler's zeal is of so inflammable a character. But I will make
farther investigation. What other business is there before us?"
And they proceeded to minute investigations concerning the affair of
Porteous's death, and other affairs through which this history has no
occasion to trace them.
In the course of their business they were interrupted by an old woman of
the lower rank, extremely haggard in look, and wretched in her
appearance, who thrust herself into the council room.
"What do you want, gudewife?--Who are you?" said Bailie Middleburgh.
"What do I want!" replied she, in a sulky tone--"I want my bairn, or I
want naething frae nane o' ye, for as grand's ye are." And she went on
muttering to herself with the wayward spitefulness of age--"They maun hae
lordships and honours, nae doubt--set them up, the gutter-bloods! and
deil a gentleman amang them."--Then again addressing the sitting
magistrate, "Will _your honour_ gie me back my puir crazy bairn?--_His_
honour!--I hae kend the day when less wad ser'd him, the oe of a Campvere
"Good woman," said the magistrate to this shrewish supplicant--"tell us
what it is you want, and do not interrupt the court."
"That's as muckle as till say, Bark, Bawtie, and be dune wi't!--I tell
ye," raising her termagant voice, "I want my bairn! is na that braid
"Who _are_ you?--who is your bairn?" demanded the magistrate.
"Wha am I?--wha suld I be, but Meg Murdockson, and wha suld my bairn be
but Magdalen Murdockson?--Your guard soldiers, and your constables, and
your officers, ken us weel eneugh when they rive the bits o' duds aff our
backs, and take what penny o' siller we hae, and harle us to the
Correctionhouse in Leith Wynd, and pettle us up wi' bread and water and
"Who is she?" said the magistrate, looking round to some of his people.
"Other than a gude ane, sir," said one of the city officers, shrugging
his shoulders and smiling.
"Will ye say sae?" said the termagant, her eye gleaming with impotent
fury; "an I had ye amang the Figgat-Whins,* wadna I set my ten talents in
your wuzzent face for that very word?" and she suited the word to the
action, by spreading out a set of claws resembling those of St. George's
dragon on a country sign-post.
* [This was a name given to a tract of sand hillocks extending along the
sea-shore from Leith to Portobello, and which at this time were covered
with _whin_-bushes or furze.]
"What does she want here?" said the impatient magistrate--"Can she not
tell her business, or go away?"
"It's my bairn!--it's Magdalen Murdockson I'm wantin'," answered the
beldam, screaming at the highest pitch of her cracked and mistuned
voice--"havena I been telling ye sae this half-hour? And if ye are deaf,
what needs ye sit cockit up there, and keep folk scraughin' t'ye this
"She wants her daughter, sir," said the same officer whose interference
had given the hag such offence before--"her daughter, who was taken up
last night--Madge Wildfire, as they ca' her."
"Madge Hellfire, as they ca' her!" echoed the beldam "and what business
has a blackguard like you to ca' an honest woman's bairn out o' her ain
"An _honest_ woman's bairn, Maggie?" answered the peace-officer, smiling
and shaking his head with an ironical emphasis on the adjective, and a
calmness calculated to provoke to madness the furious old shrew.
"If I am no honest now, I was honest ance," she replied; "and that's mair
than ye can say, ye born and bred thief, that never kend ither folks'
gear frae your ain since the day ye was cleckit. Honest, say ye?--ye
pykit your mother's pouch o' twalpennies Scots when ye were five years
auld, just as she was taking leave o' your father at the fit o' the
"She has you there, George," said the assistants, and there was a general
laugh; for the wit was fitted for the meridian of the place where it was
uttered. This general applause somewhat gratified the passions of the old
hag; the "grim feature" smiled and even laughed--but it was a laugh of
bitter scorn. She condescended, however, as if appeased by the success of
her sally, to explain her business more distinctly, when the magistrate,
commanding silence, again desired her either to speak out her errand, or
to leave the place.
"Her bairn," she said, "_was_ her bairn, and she came to fetch her out of
ill haft and waur guiding. If she wasna sae wise as ither folk, few ither
folk had suffered as muckle as she had done; forby that she could fend
the waur for hersell within the four wa's of a jail. She could prove by
fifty witnesses, and fifty to that, that her daughter had never seen Jock
Porteous, alive or dead, since he had gien her a laundering wi' his cane,
the neger that he was! for driving a dead cat at the provost's wig on the
Elector of Hanover's birthday."
Notwithstanding the wretched appearance and violent demeanour of this
woman, the magistrate felt the justice of her argument, that her child
might be as dear to her as to a more fortunate and more amiable mother.
He proceeded to investigate the circumstances which had led to Madge
Murdockson's (or Wildfire's) arrest, and as it was clearly shown that she
had not been engaged in the riot, he contented himself with directing
that an eye should be kept upon her by the police, but that for the
present she should be allowed to return home with her mother. During the
interval of fetching Madge from the jail, the magistrate endeavoured to
discover whether her mother had been privy to the change of dress betwixt
that young woman and Robertson. But on this point he could obtain no
light. She persisted in declaring, that she had never seen Robertson
since his remarkable escape during service-time; and that, if her
daughter had changed clothes with him, it must have been during her
absence at a hamlet about two miles out of town, called Duddingstone,
where she could prove that she passed that eventful night. And, in fact,
one of the town-officers, who had been searching for stolen linen at the
cottage of a washer-woman in that village, gave his evidence, that he had
seen Maggie Murdockson there, whose presence had considerably increased
his suspicion of the house in which she was a visitor, in respect that he
considered her as a person of no good reputation.
"I tauld ye sae," said the hag; "see now what it is to hae a character,
gude or bad!--Now, maybe, after a', I could tell ye something about
Porteous that you council-chamber bodies never could find out, for as
muckle stir as ye mak."
All eyes were turned towards her--all ears were alert. "Speak out!" said
"It will be for your ain gude," insinuated the town-clerk.
"Dinna keep the Bailie waiting," urged the assistants.
She remained doggedly silent for two or three minutes, casting around a
malignant and sulky glance, that seemed to enjoy the anxious suspense
with which they waited her answer. And then she broke forth at once,--"A'
that I ken about him is, that he was neither soldier nor gentleman, but
just a thief and a blackguard, like maist o' yoursells, dears--What will
ye gie me for that news, now?--He wad hae served the gude town lang or
provost or bailie wad hae fund that out, my jo!"
While these matters were in discussion, Madge Wildfire entered, and her
first exclamation was, "Eh! see if there isna our auld ne'er-do-weel
deevil's-buckie o' a mither--Hegh, sirs! but we are a hopeful family, to
be twa o' us in the Guard at ance--But there were better days wi' us
ance--were there na, mither?"
Old Maggie's eyes had glistened with something like an expression of
pleasure when she saw her daughter set at liberty. But either her natural
affection, like that of the tigress, could not be displayed without a
strain of ferocity, or there was something in the ideas which Madge's
speech awakened, that again stirred her cross and savage temper. "What
signifies what we, were, ye street-raking limmer!" she exclaimed, pushing
her daughter before her to the door, with no gentle degree of violence.
"I'se tell thee what thou is now--thou's a crazed hellicat Bess o'
Bedlam, that sall taste naething but bread and water for a fortnight, to
serve ye for the plague ye hae gien me--and ower gude for ye, ye idle
Madge, however, escaped from her mother at the door, ran back to the foot
of the table, dropped a very low and fantastic courtesy to the judge, and
said, with a giggling laugh,--"Our minnie's sair mis-set, after her
ordinar, sir--She'll hae had some quarrel wi' her auld gudeman--that's
Satan, ye ken, sirs." This explanatory note she gave in a low
confidential tone, and the spectators of that credulous generation did
not hear it without an involuntary shudder. "The gudeman and her disna
aye gree weel, and then I maun pay the piper; but my back's broad eneugh
to bear't a'--an' if she hae nae havings, that's nae reason why wiser
folk shouldna hae some." Here another deep courtesy, when the ungracious
voice of her mother was heard.
"Madge, ye limmer! If I come to fetch ye!"
"Hear till her," said Madge. "But I'll wun out a gliff the night for a'
that, to dance in the moonlight, when her and the gudeman will be
whirrying through the blue lift on a broom-shank, to see Jean Jap, that
they hae putten intill the Kirkcaldy Tolbooth--ay, they will hae a merry
sail ower Inchkeith, and ower a' the bits o' bonny waves that are
poppling and plashing against the rocks in the gowden glimmer o' the
moon, ye ken.--I'm coming, mother--I'm coming," she concluded, on hearing
a scuffle at the door betwixt the beldam and the officers, who were
endeavouring to prevent her re-entrance. Madge then waved her hand wildly
towards the ceiling, and sung, at the topmost pitch of her voice,
"Up in the air,
On my bonny grey mare,
And I see, and I see, and I see her yet;"
and with a hop, skip, and jump, sprung out of the room, as the witches of
Macbeth used, in less refined days, to seem to fly upwards from the
Some weeks intervened before Mr. Middleburgh, agreeably to his benevolent
resolution, found an opportunity of taking a walk towards St. Leonard's,
in order to discover whether it might be possible to obtain the evidence
hinted at in the anonymous letter respecting Effie Deans.
In fact, the anxious perquisitions made to discover the murderers of
Porteous occupied the attention of all concerned with the administration
In the course of these inquiries, two circumstances happened material to
our story. Butler, after a close investigation of his conduct, was
declared innocent of accession to the death of Porteous; but, as having
been present during the whole transaction, was obliged to find bail not
to quit his usual residence at Liberton, that he might appear as a
witness when called upon. The other incident regarded the disappearance
of Madge Wildfire and her mother from Edinburgh. When they were sought,
with the purpose of subjecting them to some farther interrogatories, it
was discovered by Mr. Sharpitlaw that they had eluded the observation of
the police, and left the city so soon as dismissed from the
council-chamber. No efforts could trace the place of their retreat.
In the meanwhile the excessive indignation of the Council of Regency, at
the slight put upon their authority by the murder of Porteous, had
dictated measures, in which their own extreme desire of detecting the
actors in that conspiracy were consulted in preference to the temper of
the people and the character of their churchmen. An act of Parliament was
hastily passed, offering two hundred pounds reward to those who should
inform against any person concerned in the deed, and the penalty of
death, by a very unusual and severe enactment, was denounced against
those who should harbour the guilty. But what was chiefly accounted
exceptionable, was a clause, appointing the act to be read in churches by
the officiating clergyman, on the first Sunday of every month, for a
certain period, immediately before the sermon. The ministers who should
refuse to comply with this injunction were declared, for the first
offence, incapable of sitting or voting in any church judicature, and for
the second, incapable of holding any ecclesiastical preferment in
This last order united in a common cause those who might privately
rejoice in Porteous's death, though they dared not vindicate the manner
of it, with the more scrupulous Presbyterians, who held that even the
pronouncing the name of the "Lords Spiritual" in a Scottish pulpit was,
_quodammodo,_ an acknowledgment of prelacy, and that the injunction of
the legislature was an interference of the civil government with the _jus
divinum_ of Presbytery, since to the General Assembly alone, as
representing the invisible head of the kirk, belonged the sole and
exclusive right of regulating whatever pertained to public worship. Very
many also, of different political or religious sentiments, and therefore
not much moved by these considerations, thought they saw, in so violent
an act of parliament, a more vindictive spirit than became the
legislature of a great country, and something like an attempt to trample
upon the rights and independence of Scotland. The various steps adopted
for punishing the city of Edinburgh, by taking away her charter and
liberties, for what a violent and overmastering mob had done within her
walls, were resented by many, who thought a pretext was too hastily taken
for degrading the ancient metropolis of Scotland. In short, there was
much heart-burning, discontent, and disaffection, occasioned by these
* The magistrates were closely interrogated before the House of Peers,
concerning the particulars of the Porteous Mob, and the _patois_ in which
these functionaries made their answers, sounded strange in the ears of
the Southern nobles. The Duke of Newcastle having demanded to know with
what kind of shot the guard which Porteous commanded had loaded their
muskets, was answered, naively, "Ow, just sic as ane shoots _dukes and
fools_ with." This reply was considered as a contempt of the House of
Lords, and the Provost would have suffered accordingly, but that the Duke
of Argyle explained, that the expression, properly rendered into English,
meant _ducks and waterfowls._
Amidst these heats and dissensions, the trial of Effie Deans, after she
had been many weeks imprisoned, was at length about to be brought
forward, and Mr. Middleburgh found leisure to inquire into the evidence
concerning her. For this purpose, he chose a fine day for his walk
towards her father's house.
The excursion into the country was somewhat distant, in the opinion of a
burgess of those days, although many of the present inhabit suburban
villas considerably beyond the spot to which we allude. Three-quarters of
an hour's walk, however, even at a pace of magisterial gravity, conducted
our benevolent office-bearer to the Crags of St. Leonard's, and the
humble mansion of David Deans.
The old man was seated on the deas, or turf-seat, at the end of his
cottage, busied in mending his cart-harness with his own hands; for in
those days any sort of labour which required a little more skill than
usual fell to the share of the goodman himself, and that even when he was
well to pass in the world. With stern and austere gravity he persevered
in his task, after having just raised his head to notice the advance of
the stranger. It would have been impossible to have discovered, from his
countenance and manner, the internal feelings of agony with which he
contended. Mr. Middleburgh waited an instant, expecting Deans would in
some measure acknowledge his presence, and lead into conversation; but,
as he seemed determined to remain silent, he was himself obliged to speak
"My name is Middleburgh--Mr. James Middleburgh, one of the present
magistrates of the city of Edinburgh."
"It may be sae," answered Deans laconically, and without interrupting his
"You must understand," he continued, "that the duty of a magistrate is
sometimes an unpleasant one."
"It may be sae," replied David; "I hae naething to say in the contrair;"
and he was again doggedly silent.
"You must be aware," pursued the magistrate, "that persons in my
situation are often obliged to make painful and disagreeable inquiries of
individuals, merely because it is their bounden duty."
"It may be sae," again replied Deans; "I hae naething to say anent it,
either the tae way or the t'other. But I do ken there was ance in a day a
just and God-fearing magistracy in yon town o' Edinburgh, that did not
bear the sword in vain, but were a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to
such as kept the path. In the glorious days of auld worthy faithfu'
Provost Dick,* when there was a true and faithfu' General Assembly of
* Note M. Sir William Dick of Braid.
the Kirk, walking hand in hand with the real noble Scottish-hearted
barons, and with the magistrates of this and other towns, gentles,
burgesses, and commons of all ranks, seeing with one eye, hearing with
one ear, and upholding the ark with their united strength--And then folk
might see men deliver up their silver to the state's use, as if it had
been as muckle sclate stanes. My father saw them toom the sacks of
dollars out o' Provost Dick's window intill the carts that carried them
to the army at Dunse Law; and if ye winna believe his testimony, there is
the window itsell still standing in the Luckenbooths--I think it's a
claith-merchant's booth the day*--at the airn stanchells, five doors
abune Gossford's Close.
* I think so too--But if the reader be curious, he may consult Mr.
Chambers's Traditions of Edinburgh.
--But now we haena sic spirit amang us; we think mair about the warst
wallydraigle in our ain byre, than about the blessing which the angel of
the covenant gave to the Patriarch even at Peniel and Mahanaim, or the
binding obligation of our national vows; and we wad rather gie a pund
Scots to buy an unguent to clear out auld rannell-trees and our beds o'
the English bugs as they ca' them, than we wad gie a plack to rid the
land of the swarm of Arminian caterpillars, Socinian pismires, and
deistical Miss Katies, that have ascended out of the bottomless pit, to
plague this perverse, insidious, and lukewarm generation."
It happened to Davie Deans on this occasion, as it has done to many other
habitual orators; when once he became embarked on his favourite subject,
the stream of his own enthusiasm carried him forward in spite of his
mental distress, while his well-exercised memory supplied him amply with
all the types and tropes of rhetoric peculiar to his sect and cause.
Mr. Middleburgh contented himself with answering--"All this may be very
true, my friend; but, as you said just now, I have nothing to say to it
at present, either one way or other.--You have two daughters, I think,
The old man winced, as one whose smarting sore is suddenly galled; but
instantly composed himself, resumed the work which, in the heat of his
declamation, he had laid down, and answered with sullen resolution, "Ae
daughter, sir--only _ane._"
"I understand you," said Mr. Middleburgh; "you have only one daughter
here at home with you--but this unfortunate girl who is a prisoner--she
is, I think, your youngest daughter?"
The Presbyterian sternly raised his eyes. "After the world, and according
to the flesh, she _is_ my daughter; but when she became a child of
Belial, and a company-keeper, and a trader in guilt and iniquity, she
ceased to be a bairn of mine."
"Alas, Mr. Deans," said Middleburgh, sitting down by him, and
endeavouring to take his hand, which the old man proudly withdrew, "we
are ourselves all sinners; and the errors of our offspring, as they ought
not to surprise us, being the portion which they derive of a common
portion of corruption inherited through us, so they do not entitle us to
cast them off because they have lost themselves."
"Sir," said Deans impatiently, "I ken a' that as weel as--I mean to say,"
he resumed, checking the irritation he felt at being schooled--a
discipline of the mind which those most ready to bestow it on others do
themselves most reluctantly submit to receive--"I mean to say, that what
ye o serve may be just and reasonable--But I hae nae freedom to enter
into my ain private affairs wi' strangers--And now, in this great
national emergency, When there's the Porteous' Act has come doun frae
London, that is a deeper blow to this poor sinfu' kingdom and suffering
kirk than ony that has been heard of since the foul and fatal Test--at a
time like this"
"But, goodman," interrupted Mr. Middleburgh, "you must think of your own
household first, or else you are worse even than the infidels."
"I tell ye, Bailie Middleburgh," retorted David Deans, "if ye be a
bailie, as there is little honour in being ane in these evil days--I tell
ye, I heard the gracious Saunders Peden--I wotna whan it was; but it was
in killing time, when the plowers were drawing alang their furrows on the
back of the Kirk of Scotland--I heard him tell his hearers, gude and
waled Christians they were too, that some o' them wad greet mair for a
bit drowned calf or stirk than for a' the defections and oppressions of
the day; and that they were some o' them thinking o' ae thing, some o'
anither, and there was Lady Hundleslope thinking o' greeting Jock at the
fireside! And the lady confessed in my hearing that a drow of anxiety had
come ower her for her son that she had left at hame weak of a decay*--And
what wad he hae said of me if I had ceased to think of the gude cause for
a castaway--a--It kills me to think of what she is!"
* See _Life of Peden,_ p. 14.
"But the life of your child, goodman--think of that--if her life could be
saved," said Middleburgh.
"Her life!" exclaimed David--"I wadna gie ane o' my grey hairs for her
life, if her gude name be gane--And yet," said he, relenting and
retracting as he spoke, "I wad make the niffer, Mr. Middleburgh--I wad
gie a' these grey hairs that she has brought to shame and sorrow--I wad
gie the auld head they grow on for her life, and that she might hae time
to amend and return, for what hae the wicked beyond the breath of their
nosthrils?--but I'll never see her mair--No!--that--that I am determined
in--I'll never see her mair!" His lips continued to move for a minute
after his voice ceased to be heard, as if he were repeating the same vow
"Well, sir," said Mr. Middleburgh, "I speak to you as a man of sense; if
you would save your daughter's life, you must use human means."
"I understand what you mean; but Mr. Novit, who is the procurator and
doer of an honourable person, the Laird of Dumbiedikes, is to do what
carnal wisdom can do for her in the circumstances. Mysell am not clear to
trinquet and traffic wi' courts o' justice as they are now constituted; I
have a tenderness and scruple in my mind anent them."
"That is to say," said Middleburgh, "that you are a Cameronian, and do
not acknowledge the authority of our courts of judicature, or present
"Sir, under your favour," replied David, who was too proud of his own
polemical knowledge to call himself the follower of any one, "ye take me
up before I fall down. I canna see why I suld be termed a Cameronian,
especially now that ye hae given the name of that famous and savoury
sufferer, not only until a regimental band of souldiers, [H. M. 26th
Foot] whereof I am told many can now curse, swear, and use profane
language, as fast as ever Richard Cameron could preach or pray, but also
because ye have, in as far as it is in your power, rendered that martyr's
name vain and contemptible, by pipes, drums, and fifes, playing the vain
carnal spring called the Cameronian Rant, which too many professors of
religion dance to--a practice maist unbecoming a professor to dance to
any tune whatsoever, more especially promiscuously, that is, with the
female sex.* A brutish fashion it is, whilk is the beginning of defection
with many, as I may hae as muckle cause as maist folk to testify."
* See Note F. Peter Walker.
"Well, but, Mr. Deans," replied Mr. Middleburgh, "I only meant to say
that you were a Cameronian, or MacMillanite, one of the society people,
in short, who think it inconsistent to take oaths under a government
where the Covenant is not ratified."
"Sir," replied the controversialist, who forgot even his present distress
in such discussions as these, "you cannot fickle me sae easily as you do
opine. I am _not_ a MacMillanite, or a Russelite, or a Hamiltonian, or a
Harleyite, or a Howdenite*--I will be led by the nose by none--I take my
name as a Christian from no vessel of clay. I have my own principles and
practice to answer for, and am an humble pleader for the gude auld cause
in a legal way."
* All various species of the great genus Cameronian.
"That is to say, Mr. Deans," said Middleburgh, "that you are a _Deanite,_
and have opinions peculiar to yourself."
"It may please you to say sae," said David Deans; "but I have maintained
my testimony before as great folk, and in sharper times; and though I
will neither exalt myself nor pull down others, I wish every man and
woman in this land had kept the true testimony, and the middle and
straight path, as it were, on the ridge of a hill, where wind and water
shears, avoiding right-hand snares and extremes, and left-hand
way-slidings, as weel as Johnny Dodds of Farthing's Acre, and ae man mair
that shall be nameless."
"I suppose," replied the magistrate, "that is as much as to say, that
Johnny Dodds of Farthing's Acre, and David Deans of St. Leonard's,
constitute the only members of the true, real, unsophisticated Kirk of
"God forbid that I suld make sic a vain-glorious speech, when there are
sae mony professing Christians!" answered David; "but this I maun say,
that all men act according to their gifts and their grace, 'sae that it
is nae marvel that"
"This is all very fine," interrupted Mr. Middleburgh; "but I have no time
to spend in hearing it. The matter in hand is this--I have directed a
citation to be lodged in your daughter's hands--If she appears on the day
of trial and gives evidence, there is reason to hope she may save her
sister's life--if, from any constrained scruples about the legality of
her performing the office of an affectionate sister and a good subject,
by appearing in a court held under the authority of the law and
government, you become the means of deterring her from the discharge of
this duty, I must say, though the truth may sound harsh in your ears,
that you, who gave life to this unhappy girl, will become the means of
her losing it by a premature and violent death."
So saying, Mr. Middleburgh turned to leave him.
"Bide awee--bide awee, Mr. Middleburgh," said Deans, in great perplexity
and distress of mind; but the Bailie, who was probably sensible that
protracted discussion might diminish the effect of his best and most
forcible argument, took a hasty leave, and declined entering farther into
Deans sunk down upon his seat, stunned with a variety of conflicting
emotions. It had been a great source of controversy among those holding
his opinions in religious matters how far the government which succeeded
the Revolution could be, without sin, acknowledged by true Presbyterians,
seeing that it did not recognise the great national testimony of the
Solemn League and Covenant? And latterly, those agreeing in this general
doctrine, and assuming the sounding title of "The anti-Popish,
anti-Prelatic, anti-Erastian, anti-Sectarian, true Presbyterian remnant,"
were divided into many petty sects among themselves, even as to the
extent of submission to the existing laws and rulers, which constituted
such an acknowledgment as amounted to sin.
At a very stormy and tumultuous meeting, held in 1682, to discuss these
important and delicate points, the testimonies of the faithful few were
found utterly inconsistent with each other.*
* This remarkable convocation took place upon 15th June 1682, and an
account of its confused and divisive proceedings may be found in Michael
Shield's _Faithful Contendings Displayed_ (first printed at Glasgow,
1780, p. 21). It affords a singular and melancholy example how much a
metaphysical and polemical spirit had crept in amongst these unhappy
sufferers, since amid so many real injuries which they had to sustain,
they were disposed to add disagreement and disunion concerning the
character and extent of such as were only imaginary.
The place where this conference took place was remarkably well adapted
for such an assembly. It was a wild and very sequestered dell in
Tweeddale, surrounded by high hills, and far remote from human
habitation. A small river, or rather a mountain torrent, called the
Talla, breaks down the glen with great fury, dashing successively over a
number of small cascades, which has procured the spot the name of Talla
Linns. Here the leaders among the scattered adherents to the Covenant,
men who, in their banishment from human society, and in the recollection
of the seventies to which they had been exposed, had become at once
sullen in their tempers, and fantastic in their religious opinions, met
with arms in their hands, and by the side of the torrent discussed, with
a turbulence which the noise of the stream could not drown, points of
controversy as empty and unsubstantial as its foam.
It was the fixed judgment of most of the meeting, that all payment of
cess or tribute to the existing government was utterly unlawful, and a
sacrificing to idols. About other impositions and degrees of submission
there were various opinions; and perhaps it is the best illustration of
the spirit of those military fathers of the church to say, that while all
allowed it was impious to pay the cess employed for maintaining the
standing army and militia, there was a fierce controversy on the
lawfulness of paying the duties levied at ports and bridges, for
maintaining roads and other necessary purposes; that there were some who,
repugnant to these imposts for turnpikes and pontages, were nevertheless
free in conscience to make payment of the usual freight at public
ferries, and that a person of exceeding and punctilious zeal, James
Russel, one of the slayers of the Archbishop of St. Andrews, had given
his testimony with great warmth even against this last faint shade of
subjection to constituted authority. This ardent and enlightened person
and his followers had also great scruples about the lawfulness of
bestowing the ordinary names upon the days of the week and the months of
the year, which savoured in their nostrils so strongly of paganism, that
at length they arrived at the conclusion that they who owned such names
as Monday, Tuesday, January, February, and so forth, "served themselves
heirs to the same, if not greater punishment, than had been denounced
against the idolaters of old."
David Deans had been present on this memorable occasion, although too
young to be a speaker among the polemical combatants. His brain, however,
had been thoroughly heated by the noise, clamour, and metaphysical
ingenuity of the discussion, and it was a controversy to which his mind
had often returned; and though he carefully disguised his vacillation
from others, and, perhaps from himself, he had never been able to come to
any precise line of decision on the subject. In fact, his natural sense
had acted as a counterpoise to his controversial zeal. He was by no means
pleased with the quiet and indifferent manner in which King William's
government slurred over the errors of the times, when, far from restoring
the Presbyterian kirk to its former supremacy, they passed an act of
oblivion even to those who had been its persecutors, and bestowed on many
of them titles, favours, and employments. When, in the first General
Assembly which succeeded the Revolution, an overture was made for the
revival of the League and Covenant, it was with horror that Douce David
heard the proposal eluded by the men of carnal wit and policy, as he
called them, as being inapplicable to the present times, and not falling
under the modern model of the church. The reign of Queen Anne had
increased his conviction, that the Revolution government was not one of
the true Presbyterian complexion. But then, more sensible than the bigots
of his sect, he did not confound the moderation and tolerance of these
two reigns with the active tyranny and oppression exercised in those of
Charles II. and James II. The Presbyterian form of religion, though
deprived of the weight formerly attached to its sentences of
excommunication, and compelled to tolerate the coexistence of Episcopacy,
and of sects of various descriptions, was still the National Church; and
though the glory of the second temple was far inferior to that which had
flourished from 1639 till the battle of Dunbar, still it was a structure
that, wanting the strength and the terrors, retained at least the form
and symmetry, of the original model. Then came the insurrection in 1715,
and David Deans's horror for the revival of the Popish and prelatical
faction reconciled him greatly to the government of King George, although
he grieved that that monarch might be suspected of a leaning unto
Erastianism. In short, moved by so many different considerations, he had
shifted his ground at different times concerning the degree of freedom
which he felt in adopting any act of immediate acknowledgment or
submission to the present government, which, however mild and paternal,
was still uncovenanted, and now he felt himself called upon, by the most
powerful motive conceivable, to authorise his daughter's giving testimony
in a court of justice, which all who have been since called Cameronians
accounted a step of lamentable and direct defection. The voice of nature,
however, exclaimed loud in his bosom against the dictates of fanaticism;
and his imagination, fertile in the solution of polemical difficulties,
devised an expedient for extricating himself from the fearful dilemma, in
which he saw, on the one side, a falling off from principle, and, on the
other, a scene from which a father's thoughts could not but turn in
"I have been constant and unchanged in my testimony," said David Deans;
"but then who has said it of me, that I have judged my neighbour over
closely, because he hath had more freedom in his walk than I have found
in mine? I never was a separatist, nor for quarrelling with tender souls
about mint, cummin, or other the lesser tithes. My daughter Jean may have
a light in this subject that is hid frae my auld een--it is laid on her
conscience, and not on mine--If she hath freedom to gang before this
judicatory, and hold up her hand for this poor castaway, surely I will
not say she steppeth over her bounds; and if not"--He paused in his
mental argument, while a pang of unutterable anguish convulsed his
features, yet, shaking it off, he firmly resumed the strain of his
reasoning--"And if not--God forbid that she should go into defection at
bidding of mine! I wunna fret the tender conscience of one bairn--no, not
to save the life of the other."
A Roman would have devoted his daughter to death from different feelings
and motives, but not upon a more heroic principle of duty.
To man, in this his trial state,
The privilege is given,
When tost by tides of human fate,
To anchor fast on heaven.
It was with a firm step that Deans sought his daughter's apartment,
determined to leave her to the light of her own conscience in the dubious
point of casuistry in which he supposed her to be placed.
The little room had been the sleeping apartment of both sisters, and
there still stood there a small occasional bed which had been made for
Effie's accommodation, when, complaining of illness, she had declined to
share, as in happier times, her sister's pillow. The eyes of Deans rested
involuntarily, on entering the room, upon this little couch, with its
dark-green coarse curtains, and the ideas connected with it rose so thick
upon his soul as almost to incapacitate him from opening his errand to
his daughter. Her occupation broke the ice. He found her gazing on a slip
of paper, which contained a citation to her to appear as a witness upon
her sister's trial in behalf of the accused. For the worthy magistrate,
determined to omit no chance of doing Effie justice, and to leave her
sister no apology for not giving the evidence which she was supposed to
possess, had caused the ordinary citation, or _subpoena,_ of the Scottish
criminal court, to be served upon her by an officer during his conference
This precaution was so far favourable to Deans, that it saved him the
pain of entering upon a formal explanation with his daughter; he only
said, with a hollow and tremulous voice, "I perceive ye are aware of the
"O father, we are cruelly sted between God's laws and man's laws--What
shall we do?--What can we do?"
Jeanie, it must be observed, had no hesitation whatever about the mere
act of appearing in a court of justice. She might have heard the point
discussed by her father more than once; but we have already noticed that
she was accustomed to listen with reverence to much which she was
incapable of understanding, and that subtle arguments of casuistry found
her a patient, but unedified hearer. Upon receiving the citation,
therefore, her thoughts did not turn upon the chimerical scruples which
alarmed her father's mind, but to the language which had been held to her
by the stranger at Muschat's Cairn. In a word, she never doubted but she
was to be dragged forward into the court of justice, in order to place
her in the cruel position of either sacrificing her sister by telling the
truth, or committing perjury in order to save her life. And so strongly
did her thoughts run in this channel, that she applied her father's
words, "Ye are aware of the matter," to his acquaintance with the advice
that had been so fearfully enforced upon her. She looked up with anxious
surprise, not unmingled with a cast of horror, which his next words, as
she interpreted and applied them, were not qualified to remove.
"Daughter," said David, "it has ever been my mind, that in things of ane
doubtful and controversial nature, ilk Christian's conscience suld be his
ain guide--Wherefore descend into yourself, try your ain mind with
sufficiency of soul exercise, and as you sall finally find yourself clear
to do in this matter--even so be it."
"But, father," said Jeanie, whose mind revolted at the construction which
she naturally put upon his language, "can this-this be a doubtful or
controversial matter?--Mind, father, the ninth command--'Thou shalt not
bear false witness against thy neighbour.'"
David Deans paused; for, still applying her speech to his preconceived
difficulties, it seemed to him as if _she,_ a woman, and a sister, was
scarce entitled to be scrupulous upon this occasion, where he, a man,
exercised in the testimonies of that testifying period, had given
indirect countenance to her following what must have been the natural
dictates of her own feelings. But he kept firm his purpose, until his
eyes involuntarily rested upon the little settle-bed, and recalled the
form of the child of his old age, as she sate upon it, pale, emaciated,
and broken-hearted. His mind, as the picture arose before him,
involuntarily conceived, and his tongue involuntarily uttered--but in a
tone how different from his usual dogmatical precision!--arguments for
the course of conduct likely to ensure his child's safety.
"Daughter," he said, "I did not say that your path was free from
stumbling--and, questionless, this act may be in the opinion of some a
transgression, since he who beareth witness unlawfully, and against his
conscience, doth in some sort bear false witness against his neighbour.
Yet in matters of compliance, the guilt lieth not in the compliance sae
muckle, as in the mind and conscience of him that doth comply; and,
therefore, although my testimony hath not been spared upon public
defections, I haena felt freedom to separate mysell from the communion of
many who have been clear to hear those ministers who have taken the fatal
indulgence because they might get good of them, though I could not."
When David had proceeded thus far, his conscience reproved him, that he
might be indirectly undermining the purity of his daughter's faith, and
smoothing the way for her falling off from strictness of principle. He,
therefore, suddenly stopped, and changed his tone:--"Jeanie, I perceive
that our vile affections,--so I call them in respect of doing the will of
our Father,--cling too heavily to me in this hour of trying sorrow, to
permit me to keep sight of my ain duty, or to airt you to yours. I will
speak nae mair anent this overtrying matter--Jeanie, if ye can, wi' God
and gude conscience, speak in favour of this puir unhappy"--(here his
voice faltered)--"She is your sister in the flesh--worthless and castaway
as she is, she is the daughter of a saint in heaven, that was a mother to
you, Jeanie, in place of your ain--but if ye arena free in conscience to
speak for her in the court of judicature, follow your conscience, Jeanie,
and let God's will be done." After this adjuration he left the apartment,
and his daughter remained in a state of great distress and perplexity.
It would have been no small addition to the sorrows of David Deans, even
in this extremity of suffering, had he known that his daughter was
applying the casuistical arguments which he had been using, not in the
sense of a permission to follow her own opinion on a dubious and disputed
point of controversy, but rather as an encouragement to transgress one of
those divine commandments which Christians of all sects and denominations
unite in holding most sacred.
"Can this be?" said Jeanie, as the door closed on her father--"Can these
be his words that I have heard, or has the Enemy taken his voice and
features to give weight unto the counsel which causeth to perish?--a
sister's life, and a father pointing out how to save it!--O God, deliver
me!--this is a fearfu' temptation."
Roaming from thought to thought, she at one time imagined her father
understood the ninth commandment literally, as prohibiting false witness
_against_ our neighbour, without extending the denunciation against
falsehood uttered _in favour_ of the criminal. But her clear and
unsophisticated power of discriminating between good and evil, instantly
rejected an interpretation so limited, and so unworthy of the Author of
the law. She remained in a state of the most agitating terror and
uncertainty--afraid to communicate her thoughts freely to her father,
lest she should draw forth an opinion with which she could not
comply,--wrung with distress on her sister's account, rendered the more
acute by reflecting that the means of saving her were in her power, but
were such as her conscience prohibited her from using,--tossed, in
short, like a vessel in an open roadstead during a storm, and, like that
vessel, resting on one only sure cable and anchor,--faith in Providence,
and a resolution to discharge her duty.
Butler's affection and strong sense of religion would have been her
principal support in these distressing circumstances, but he was still
under restraint, which did not permit him to come to St. Leonard's Crags;
and her distresses were of a nature, which, with her indifferent habits
of scholarship, she found it impossible to express in writing. She was
therefore compelled to trust for guidance to her own unassisted sense of
what was right or wrong. It was not the least of Jeanie's distresses,
that, although she hoped and believed her sister to be innocent, she had
not the means of receiving that assurance from her own mouth.
The double-dealing of Ratcliffe in the matter of Robertson had not
prevented his being rewarded, as double-dealers frequently have been,
with favour and preferment. Sharpitlaw, who found in him something of a
kindred genius, had been intercessor in his behalf with the magistrates,
and the circumstance of his having voluntarily remained in the prison,
when the doors were forced by the mob, would have made it a hard measure
to take the life which he had such easy means of saving. He received a
full pardon; and soon afterwards, James Ratcliffe, the greatest thief and
housebreaker in Scotland, was, upon the faith, perhaps, of an ancient
proverb, selected as a person to be entrusted with the custody of other
When Ratcliffe was thus placed in a confidential situation, he was
repeatedly applied to by the sapient Saddletree and others, who took some
interest in the Deans family, to procure an interview between the
sisters; but the magistrates, who were extremely anxious for the
apprehension of Robertson, had given strict orders to the contrary,
hoping that, by keeping them separate, they might, from the one or the
other, extract some information respecting that fugitive. On this subject
Jeanie had nothing to tell them. She informed Mr. Middleburgh, that she
knew nothing of Robertson, except having met him that night by
appointment to give her some advice respecting her sister's concern, the
purport of which, she said, was betwixt God and her conscience. Of his
motions, purposes, or plans, past, present, or future, she knew nothing,
and so had nothing to communicate.
Effie was equally silent, though from a different cause. It was in vain
that they offered a commutation and alleviation of her punishment, and
even a free pardon, if she would confess what she knew of her lover. She
answered only with tears; unless, when at times driven into pettish
sulkiness by the persecution of the interrogators, she made them abrupt
and disrespectful answers.
At length, after her trial had been delayed for many weeks, in hopes she
might be induced to speak out on a subject infinitely more interesting to
the magistracy than her own guilt or innocence, their patience was worn
out, and even Mr. Middleburgh finding no ear lent to farther intercession
in her behalf, the day was fixed for the trial to proceed.
It was now, and not sooner, that Sharpitlaw, recollecting his promise to
Effie Deans, or rather being dinned into compliance by the unceasing
remonstrances of Mrs. Saddletree, who was his next-door neighbour, and
who declared it was heathen cruelty to keep the twa brokenhearted
creatures separate, issued the important mandate, permitting them to see
On the evening which preceded the eventful day of trial, Jeanie was
permitted to see her sister--an awful interview, and occurring at a most
distressing crisis. This, however, formed a part of the bitter cup which
she was doomed to drink, to atone for crimes and follies to which she had
no accession; and at twelve o'clock noon, being the time appointed for
admission to the jail, she went to meet, for the first time for several
months, her guilty, erring, and most miserable sister, in that abode of
guilt, error, and utter misery.
Sweet sister, let me live!
What sin you do to save a brother's life,
Nature dispenses with the deed so far,
That it becomes a virtue.
Measure for Measure.
Jeanie Deans was admitted into the jail by Ratcliffe. This fellow, as
void of shame as of honesty, as he opened the now trebly secured door,
asked her, with a leer which made her shudder, "whether she remembered
A half-pronounced and timid "No," was her answer.
"What! not remember moonlight, and Muschat's Cairn, and Rob and Rat?"
said he, with the same sneer;--"Your memory needs redding up, my jo."
If Jeanie's distresses had admitted of aggravation, it must have been to
find her sister under the charge of such a profligate as this man. He was
not, indeed, without something of good to balance so much that was evil
in his character and habits. In his misdemeanours he had never been
bloodthirsty or cruel; and in his present occupation, he had shown
himself, in a certain degree, accessible to touches of humanity. But
these good qualities were unknown to Jeanie, who, remembering the scene
at Muschat's Cairn, could scarce find voice to acquaint him, that she had
an order from Bailie Middleburgh, permitting her to see her sister.
"I ken that fa' weel, my bonny doo; mair by token, I have a special
charge to stay in the ward with you a' the time ye are thegither."
"Must that be sae?" asked Jeanie, with an imploring voice.
"Hout, ay, hinny," replied the turnkey; "and what the waur will you and
your tittie be of Jim Ratcliffe hearing what ye hae to say to ilk
other?--Deil a word ye'll say that will gar him ken your kittle sex
better than he kens them already; and another thing is, that if ye dinna
speak o' breaking the Tolbooth, deil a word will I tell ower, either to
do ye good or ill."
Thus saying, Ratcliffe marshalled her the way to the apartment where
Effie was confined.
Shame, fear, and grief, had contended for mastery in the poor prisoner's
bosom during the whole morning, while she had looked forward to this
meeting; but when the door opened, all gave way to a confused and strange
feeling that had a tinge of joy in it, as, throwing herself on her
sister's neck, she ejaculated, "My dear Jeanie!--my dear Jeanie! it's
lang since I hae seen ye." Jeanie returned the embrace with an
earnestness that partook almost of rapture, but it was only a flitting
emotion, like a sunbeam unexpectedly penetrating betwixt the clouds of a
tempest, and obscured almost as soon as visible. The sisters walked
together to the side of the pallet bed, and sate down side by side, took
hold of each other's hands, and looked each other in the face, but
without speaking a word. In this posture they remained for a minute,
while the gleam of joy gradually faded from their features, and gave way
to the most intense expression, first of melancholy, and then of agony,
till, throwing themselves again into each other's arms, they, to use the
language of Scripture, lifted up their voices, and wept bitterly.
Even the hardhearted turnkey, who had spent his life in scenes calculated
to stifle both conscience and feeling, could not witness this scene
without a touch of human sympathy. It was shown in a trifling action, but
which had more delicacy in it than seemed to belong to Ratcliffe's
character and station. The unglazed window of the miserable chamber was
open, and the beams of a bright sun fell right upon the bed where the
sufferers were seated. With a gentleness that had something of reverence
in it, Ratcliffe partly closed the shutter, and seemed thus to throw a
veil over a scene so sorrowful.
"Ye are ill, Effie," were the first words Jeanie could utter; "ye are
"O, what wad I gie to be ten times waur, Jeanie!" was the reply--"what
wad I gie to be cauld dead afore the ten o'clock bell the morn! And our
father--but I am his bairn nae langer now--O, I hae nae friend left in
the warld!--O, that I were lying dead at my mother's side, in Newbattle
"Hout, lassie," said Ratcliffe, willing to show the interest which he
absolutely felt, "dinna be sae dooms doon-hearted as a' that; there's
mony a tod hunted that's no killed. Advocate Langtale has brought folk
through waur snappers than a' this, and there's no a cleverer agent than
Nichil Novit e'er drew a bill of suspension. Hanged or unhanged, they are
weel aff has sic an agent and counsel; ane's sure o' fair play. Ye are a
bonny lass, too, an ye wad busk up your cockernony a bit; and a bonny
lass will find favour wi' judge and jury, when they would strap up a
grewsome carle like me for the fifteenth part of a flea's hide and
tallow, d--n them."
To this homely strain of consolation the mourners returned no answer;
indeed, they were so much lost in their own sorrows as to have become
insensible of Ratcliffe's presence. "O Effie," said her elder sister,
"how could you conceal your situation from me? O woman, had I deserved
this at your hand?--had ye spoke but ae word--sorry we might hae been,
and shamed we might hae been, but this awfu' dispensation had never come
"And what gude wad that hae dune?" answered the prisoner. "Na, na,
Jeanie, a' was ower when ance I forgot what I promised when I faulded
down the leaf of my Bible. See," she said, producing the sacred volume,
"the book opens aye at the place o' itsell. O see, Jeanie, what a fearfu'
Jeanie took her sister's Bible, and found that the fatal mark was made at
this impressive text in the book of Job: "He hath stripped me of my
glory, and taken the crown from my head. He hath destroyed me on every
side, and I am gone. And mine hope hath he removed like a tree."
"Isna that ower true a doctrine?" said the prisoner "Isna my crown, my
honour, removed? And what am I but a poor, wasted, wan-thriven tree, dug
up by the roots, and flung out to waste in the highway, that man and
beast may tread it under foot? I thought o' the bonny bit them that our
father rooted out o' the yard last May, when it had a' the flush o'
blossoms on it; and then it lay in the court till the beasts had trod
them a' to pieces wi' their feet. I little thought, when I was wae for
the bit silly green bush and its flowers, that I was to gang the same
"O, if ye had spoken ae word," again sobbed Jeanie,--"if I were free to
swear that ye had said but ae word of how it stude wi' ye, they couldna
hae touched your life this day."
"Could they na?" said Effie, with something like awakened interest--for
life is dear even to those who feel it is a burden--"Wha tauld ye that,
"It was ane that kend what he was saying weel eneugh," replied Jeanie,
who had a natural reluctance at mentioning even the name of her sister's
"Wha was it?--I conjure you to tell me," said Effie, seating herself
upright.--"Wha could tak interest in sic a cast-by as I am now?--Was
it--was it _him?_"
"Hout," said Ratcliffe, "what signifies keeping the poor lassie in a
swither? I'se uphaud it's been Robertson that learned ye that doctrine
when ye saw him at Muschat's Cairn."
"Was it him?" said Effie, catching eagerly at his words--"was it him,
Jeanie, indeed?--O, I see it was him--poor lad, and I was thinking his
heart was as hard as the nether millstane--and him in sic danger on his
ain part--poor George!"
Somewhat indignant at this burst of tender feeling towards the author of
her misery, Jeanie could not help exclaiming--"O Effie, how can ye speak
that gate of sic a man as that?"
"We maun forgie our enemies, ye ken," said poor Effie, with a timid look
and a subdued voice; for her conscience told her what a different
character the feelings with which she regarded her seducer bore, compared
with the Christian charity under which she attempted to veil it.
"And ye hae suffered a' this for him, and ye can think of loving him
still?" said her sister, in a voice betwixt pity and blame.
"Love him!" answered Effie--"If I hadna loved as woman seldom loves, I
hadna been within these wa's this day; and trow ye, that love sic as mine
is lightly forgotten?--Na, na--ye may hew down the tree, but ye canna
change its bend--And, O Jeanie, if ye wad do good to me at this moment,
tell me every word that he said, and whether he was sorry for poor Effie
"What needs I tell ye onything about it?" said Jeanie. "Ye may be sure he
had ower muckle to do to save himsell, to speak lang or muckle about ony
[Illustration: Jeanie and Effie--304]
"That's no true, Jeanie, though a saunt had said it," replied Effie, with
a sparkle of her former lively and irritable temper. "But ye dinna ken,
though I do, how far he pat his life in venture to save mine." And
looking at Ratcliffe, she checked herself and was silent.
"I fancy," said Ratcliffe, with one of his familiar sneers, "the lassie
thinks that naebody has een but hersell--Didna I see when Gentle Geordie
was seeking to get other folk out of the Tolbooth forby Jock
Porteous?--but ye are of my mind, hinny--better sit and rue, than flit
and rue--ye needna look in my face sae amazed. I ken mair things than
"O my God! my God!" said Effie, springing up and throwing herself down on
her knees before him--"D'ye ken where they hae putten my bairn?--O my
bairn! my bairn! the poor sackless innocent new-born wee ane--bone of my
bone, and flesh of my flesh!--O man, if ye wad e'er deserve a portion in
Heaven, or a brokenhearted creature's blessing upon earth, tell me where
they hae put my bairn--the sign of my shame, and the partner of my
suffering! tell me wha has taen't away, or what they hae dune wi't?"
"Hout tout," said the turnkey, endeavouring to extricate himself from the
firm grasp with which she held him, "that's taking me at my word wi' a
witness--Bairn, quo' she? How the deil suld I ken onything of your bairn,
huzzy? Ye maun ask that of auld Meg Murdockson, if ye dinna ken ower
muckle about it yoursell."
As his answer destroyed the wild and vague hope which had suddenly
gleamed upon her, the unhappy prisoner let go her hold of his coat, and
fell with her face on the pavement of the apartment in a strong
Jeanie Deans possessed, with her excellently clear understanding, the
concomitant advantage of promptitude of spirit, even in the extremity of
She did not suffer herself to be overcome by her own feelings of
exquisite sorrow, but instantly applied herself to her sister's relief,
with the readiest remedies which circumstances afforded; and which, to do
Ratcliffe justice, he showed himself anxious to suggest, and alert in
procuring. He had even the delicacy to withdraw to the farthest corner of
the room, so as to render his official attendance upon them as little
intrusive as possible, when Effie was composed enough again to resume her
conference with her sister.
The prisoner once more, in the most earnest and broken tones, conjured
Jeanie to tell her the particulars of the conference with Robertson, and
Jeanie felt it was impossible to refuse her this gratification.
"Do ye mind," she said, "Effie, when ye were in the fever before we left
Woodend, and how angry your mother, that's now in a better place, was wi'
me for gieing ye milk and water to drink, because ye grat for it? Ye were
a bairn then, and ye are a woman now, and should ken better than ask what
canna but hurt you--But come weal or woe, I canna refuse ye onything that
ye ask me wi' the tear in your ee."
Again Effie threw herself into her arms, and kissed her cheek and
forehead, murmuring, "O, if ye kend how lang it is since I heard his name
mentioned?--if ye but kend how muckle good it does me but to ken onything
o' him, that's like goodness or kindness, ye wadna wonder that I wish to
hear o' him!"
Jeanie sighed, and commenced her narrative of all that had passed betwixt
Robertson and her, making it as brief as possible. Effie listened in
breathless anxiety, holding her sister's hand in hers, and keeping her
eye fixed upon her face, as if devouring every word she uttered. The
interjections of "Poor fellow,"--"Poor George," which escaped in
whispers, and betwixt sighs, were the only sounds with which she
interrupted the story. When it was finished she made a long pause.
"And this was his advice?" were the first words she uttered.
"Just sic as I hae tell'd ye," replied her sister.
"And he wanted you to say something to yon folks, that wad save my young
"He wanted," answered Jeanie, "that I suld be man-sworn."
"And you tauld him," said Effie, "that ye wadna hear o' coming between me
and the death that I am to die, and me no aughten year auld yet?"
"I told him," replied Jeanie, who now trembled at the turn which her
sister's reflection seemed about to take, "that I daured na swear to an
"And what d'ye ca' an untruth?" said Effie, again showing a touch of her
former spirit--"Ye are muckle to blame, lass, if ye think a mother would,
or could, murder her ain bairn--Murder!--I wad hae laid down my life just
to see a blink o' its ee!"
"I do believe," said Jeanie, "that ye are as innocent of sic a purpose as
the new-born babe itsell."
"I am glad ye do me that justice," said Effie, haughtily; "ifs whiles the
faut of very good folk like you, Jeanie, that, they think a' the rest of
the warld are as bad as the warst temptations can make them."
"I didna deserve this frae ye, Effie," said her sister, sobbing, and
feeling at once the injustice of the reproach, and compassion for the
state of mind which dictated it.
"Maybe no, sister," said Effie. "But ye are angry because I love
Robertson--How can I help loving him, that loves me better than body and
soul baith?--Here he put his life in a niffer, to break the prison to let
me out; and sure am I, had it stude wi' him as it stands wi' you"--Here
she paused and was silent.
"O, if it stude wi' me to save ye wi' risk of my life!" said Jeanie.
"Ay, lass," said her sister, "that's lightly said, but no sae lightly
credited, frae ane that winna ware a word for me; and if it be a wrang
word, ye'll hae time eneugh to repent o't."
"But that word is a grievous sin, and it's a deeper offence when it's a
sin wilfully and presumptuously committed."
"Weel, weel, Jeanie," said Effie, "I mind a' about the sins o'
presumption in the questions--we'll speak nae mair about this matter, and
ye may save your breath to say your carritch and for me, I'll soon hae
nae breath to waste on onybody."
"I must needs say," interposed Ratcliffe, "that it's d--d hard, when
three words of your mouth would give the girl the chance to nick Moll
Blood,* that you make such scrupling about rapping** to them. D--n me, if
they would take me, if I would not rap to all what d'ye callums--Hyssop's
Fables, for her life--I am us'd to't, b--t me, for less matters. Why, I
have smacked calf-skin*** fifty times in England for a keg of brandy."
* The gallows.
*** Kissed the book.
"Never speak mair o't," said the prisoner. "It's just as weel as it
is--and gude-day, sister; ye keep Mr. Ratcliffe waiting on--Ye'll come
back and see me, I reckon, before"--here she stopped and became deadly
"And are we to part in this way," said Jeanie, "and you in sic deadly
peril? O Effie, look but up, and say what ye wad hae me to do, and I
could find in my heart amaist to say that I wad do't."
"No, Jeanie," replied her sister after an effort, "I am better minded
now. At my best, I was never half sae gude as ye were, and what for suld
you begin to mak yoursell waur to save me, now that I am no worth saving?
God knows, that in my sober mind, I wadna wuss ony living creature to do
a wrang thing to save my life. I might have fled frae this Tolbooth on
that awfu' night wi' ane wad hae carried me through the warld, and
friended me, and fended for me. But I said to them, let life gang when
gude fame is gane before it. But this lang imprisonment has broken my
spirit, and I am whiles sair left to mysell, and then I wad gie the
Indian mines of gold and diamonds, just for life and breath--for I think,
Jeanie, I have such roving fits as I used to hae in the fever; but,
instead of the fiery een and wolves, and Widow Butler's bullseg, that I
used to see spieling upon my bed, I am thinking now about a high, black
gibbet, and me standing up, and such seas of faces all looking up at poor
Effie Deans, and asking if it be her that George Robertson used to call
the Lily of St. Leonard's. And then they stretch out their faces, and
make mouths, and girn at me, and whichever way I look, I see a face
laughing like Meg Murdockson, when she tauld me I had seen the last of my
wean. God preserve us, Jeanie, that carline has a fearsome face!"
She clapped her hands before her eyes as she uttered this exclamation, as
if to secure herself against seeing the fearful object she had alluded
Jeanie Deans remained with her sister for two hours, during which she
endeavoured, if possible, to extract something from her that might be
serviceable in her exculpation. But she had nothing to say beyond what
she had declared on her first examination, with the purport of which the
reader will be made acquainted in proper time and place. "They wadna
believe her," she said, "and she had naething mair to tell them."
At length, Ratcliffe, though reluctantly, informed the sisters that there
was a necessity that they should part. "Mr. Novit," he said, "was to see
the prisoner, and maybe Mr. Langtale too. Langtale likes to look at a
bonny lass, whether in prison or out o' prison."
Reluctantly, therefore, and slowly, after many a tear, and many an
embrace, Jeanie retired from the apartment, and heard its jarring bolts
turned upon the dear being from whom she was separated. Somewhat
familiarised now even with her rude conductor, she offered him a small
present in money, with a request he would do what he could for her
sister's accommodation. To her surprise, Ratcliffe declined the fee.
"I wasna bloody when I was on the pad," he said, "and I winna be
greedy--that is, beyond what's right and reasonable--now that I am in
the lock.--Keep the siller; and for civility, your sister sall hae sic
as I can bestow; but I hope you'll think better on it, and rap an oath
for her--deil a hair ill there is in it, if ye are rapping again the
crown. I kend a worthy minister, as gude a man, bating the deed they
deposed him for, as ever ye heard claver in a pu'pit, that rapped to a
hogshead of pigtail tobacco, just for as muckle as filled his
But maybe ye are keeping your ain counsel--weel, weel, there's nae harm
in that. As for your sister, I'se see that she gets her meat clean and
warm, and I'll try to gar her lie down and take a sleep after dinner, for
deil a ee she'll close the night. I hae gude experience of these matters.
The first night is aye the warst o't. I hae never heard o' ane that
sleepit the night afore trial, but of mony a ane that sleepit as sound as
a tap the night before their necks were straughted. And it's nae
wonder--the warst may be tholed when it's kend--Better a finger aff
as aye wagging."
Yet though thou mayst be dragg'd in scorn
To yonder ignominious tree,
Thou shalt not want one faithful friend
To share the cruel fates' decree.
After spending the greater part of the morning in his devotions (for his
benevolent neighbours had kindly insisted upon discharging his task of
ordinary labour), David Deans entered the apartment when the breakfast
meal was prepared. His eyes were involuntarily cast down, for he was
afraid to look at Jeanie, uncertain as he was whether she might feel
herself at liberty, with a good conscience, to attend the Court of
Justiciary that day, to give the evidence which he understood that she
possessed, in order to her sister's exculpation. At length, after a
minute of apprehensive hesitation, he looked at her dress to discover
whether it seemed to be in her contemplation to go abroad that morning.
Her apparel was neat and plain, but such as conveyed no exact intimation
of her intentions to go abroad. She had exchanged her usual garb for
morning labour, for one something inferior to that with which, as her
best, she was wont to dress herself for church, or any more rare occasion
of going into society. Her sense taught her, that it was respectful to be
decent in her apparel on such an occasion, while her feelings induced her
to lay aside the use of the very few and simple personal ornaments,
which, on other occasions, she permitted herself to wear. So that there
occurred nothing in her external appearance which could mark out to her
father, with anything like certainty, her intentions on this occasion.
The preparations for their humble meal were that morning made in vain.
The father and daughter sat, each assuming the appearance of eating, when
the other's eyes were turned to them, and desisting from the effort with
disgust, when the affectionate imposture seemed no longer necessary.
At length these moments of constraint were removed. The sound of St.
Giles's heavy toll announced the hour previous to the commencement of the
trial; Jeanie arose, and with a degree of composure for which she herself
could not account, assumed her plaid, and made her other preparations for
a distant walking. It was a strange contrast between the firmness of her
demeanour, and the vacillation and cruel uncertainty of purpose indicated
in all her father's motions; and one unacquainted with both could
scarcely have supposed that the former was, in her ordinary habits of
life, a docile, quiet, gentle, and even timid country maiden, while her
father, with a mind naturally proud and strong, and supported by
religious opinions of a stern, stoical, and unyielding character, had in
his time undergone and withstood the most severe hardships, and the most
imminent peril, without depression of spirit, or subjugation of his
constancy. The secret of this difference was, that Jeanie's mind had
already anticipated the line of conduct which she must adopt, with all
its natural and necessary consequences; while her father, ignorant of
every other circumstance, tormented himself with imagining what the one
sister might say or swear, or what effect her testimony might have upon
the awful event of the trial.
He watched his daughter, with a faltering and indecisive look, until she
looked back upon him, with a look of unutterable anguish, as she was
about to leave the apartment.
"My dear lassie," said he, "I will." His action, hastily and confusedly
searching for his worsted mittans* and staff, showed his purpose of
accompanying her, though his tongue failed distinctly to announce it.
* A kind of worsted gloves, used by the lower orders.
"Father," said Jeanie, replying rather to his action than his words, "ye
had better not."
"In the strength of my God," answered Deans, assuming firmness, "I will
And, taking his daughter's arm under his, he began to walk from the door
with a step so hasty, that she was almost unable to keep up with him. A
trifling circumstance, but which marked the perturbed state of his mind,
checked his course.
"Your bonnet, father?" said Jeanie, who observed he had come out with his
grey hairs uncovered. He turned back with a slight blush on his cheek,
being ashamed to have been detected in an omission which indicated so
much mental confusion, assumed his large blue Scottish bonnet, and with a
step slower, but more composed, as if the circumstance, had obliged him
to summon up his resolution, and collect his scattered ideas, again
placed his daughter's arm under his, and resumed the way to Edinburgh.
The courts of justice were then, and are still, held in what is called
the Parliament Close, or, according to modern phrase, Parliament Square,
and occupied the buildings intended for the accommodation of the Scottish
Estates. This edifice, though in an imperfect and corrupted style of
architecture, had then a grave, decent, and, as it were, a judicial
aspect, which was at least entitled to respect from its antiquity. For
which venerable front, I observed, on my last occasional visit to the
metropolis, that modern taste had substituted, at great apparent expense,
a pile so utterly inconsistent with every monument of antiquity around,
and in itself so clumsy at the same time and fantastic, that it may be
likened to the decorations of Tom Errand the porter, in the _Trip to the
Jubilee,_ when he appears bedizened with the tawdry finery of Beau
Clincher. _Sed transeat cum caeteris erroribus._
The small quadrangle, or Close, if we may presume still to give it that
appropriate, though antiquated title, which at Lichfield, Salisbury, and
elsewhere, is properly applied to designate the enclosure adjacent to a
cathedral, already evinced tokens of the fatal scene which was that day
to be acted. The soldiers of the City Guard were on their posts, now
enduring, and now rudely repelling with the butts of their muskets, the
motley crew who thrust each other forward, to catch a glance at the
unfortunate object of trial, as she should pass from the adjacent prison
to the Court in which her fate was to be determined. All must have
occasionally observed, with disgust, the apathy with which the vulgar
gaze on scenes of this nature, and how seldom, unless when their
sympathies are called forth by some striking and extraordinary
circumstance, the crowd evince any interest deeper than that of callous,
unthinking bustle, and brutal curiosity. They laugh, jest, quarrel, and
push each other to and fro, with the same unfeeling indifference as if
they were assembled for some holiday sport, or to see an idle procession.
Occasionally, however, this demeanour, so natural to the degraded
populace of a large town, is exchanged for a temporary touch of human
affections; and so it chanced on the present occasion.
When Deans and his daughter presented themselves in the Close, and
endeavoured to make their way forward to the door of the Court-house,
they became involved in the mob, and subject, of course, to their
insolence. As Deans repelled with some force the rude pushes which he
received on all sides, his figure and antiquated dress caught the
attention of the rabble, who often show an intuitive sharpness in
ascribing the proper character from external appearance,--
"Ye're welcome, whigs,
Frae Bothwell briggs,"
sung one fellow (for the mob of Edinburgh were at that time jacobitically
disposed, probably because that was the line of sentiment most
diametrically opposite to existing authority).
"Mess David Williamson,
Chosen of twenty,
Ran up the pu'pit stair,
And sang Killiecrankie,"
chanted a siren, whose profession might be guessed by her appearance. A
tattered caidie, or errand-porter, whom David Deans had jostled in his
attempt to extricate himself from the vicinity of these scorners,
exclaimed in a strong north-country tone, "Ta deil ding out her
Cameronian een--what gies her titles to dunch gentlemans about?"
"Make room for the ruling elder," said yet another; "he comes to see a
precious sister glorify God in the Grassmarket!"
"Whisht; shame's in ye, sirs," said the voice of a man very loudly,
which, as quickly sinking, said in a low but distinct tone, "It's her
father and sister."
All fell back to make way for the sufferers; and all, even the very
rudest and most profligate, were struck with shame and silence. In the
space thus abandoned to them by the mob, Deans stood, holding his
daughter by the hand, and said to her, with a countenance strongly and
sternly expressive of his internal emotion, "Ye hear with your ears, and
ye see with your eyes, where and to whom the backslidings and defections
of professors are ascribed by the scoffers. Not to themselves alone, but
to the kirk of which they are members, and to its blessed and invisible
Head. Then, weel may we take wi' patience our share and portion of this
The man who had spoken, no other than our old friend, Dumbiedikes, whose
mouth, like that of the prophet's ass, had been opened by the emergency
of the case, now joined them, and, with his usual taciturnity, escorted
them into the Court-house. No opposition was offered to their entrance
either by the guards or doorkeepers; and it is even said that one of the
latter refused a shilling of civility-money tendered him by the Laird of
Dumbiedikes, who was of opinion that "siller wad make a' easy." But this
last incident wants confirmation.
Admitted within the precincts of the Court-house, they found the usual
number of busy office-bearers, and idle loiterers, who attend on these
scenes by choice, or from duty. Burghers gaped and stared; young lawyers
sauntered, sneered, and laughed, as in the pit of the theatre; while
others apart sat on a bench retired, and reasoned highly, _inter apices
juris,_ on the doctrines of constructive crime, and the true import of
the statute. The bench was prepared for the arrival of the judges. The
jurors were in attendance. The crown-counsel, employed in looking over
their briefs and notes of evidence, looked grave, and whispered with each
other. They occupied one side of a large table placed beneath the bench;
on the other sat the advocates, whom the humanity of the Scottish law (in
this particular more liberal than that of the sister-country) not only
permits, but enjoins, to appear and assist with their advice and skill
all persons under trial. Mr. Nichil Novit was seen actively instructing
the counsel for the panel (so the prisoner is called in Scottish
law-phraseology), busy, bustling, and important. When they entered the
Court-room, Deans asked the Laird, in a tremulous whisper, "Where will
Dumbiedikes whispered Novit, who pointed to a vacant space at the bar,
fronting the judges, and was about to conduct Deans towards it.
"No!" he said; "I cannot sit by her--I cannot own her--not as yet,
at least--I will keep out of her sight, and turn mine own eyes
elsewhere--better for us baith."
Saddletree, whose repeated interference with the counsel had procured him
one or two rebuffs, and a special request that he would concern himself
with his own matters, now saw with pleasure an opportunity of playing the
person of importance. He bustled up to the poor old man, and proceeded to
exhibit his consequence, by securing, through his interest with the
bar-keepers and macers, a seat for Deans, in a situation where he was
hidden from the general eye by the projecting corner of the bench.
"It's gude to have a friend at court," he said, continuing his heartless
harangues to the passive auditor, who neither heard nor replied to them;
"few folk but mysell could hae sorted ye out a seat like this--the Lords
will be here incontinent, and proceed _instanter_ to trial. They wunna
fence the Court as they do at the Circuit--the High Court of Justiciary
is aye fenced.--But, Lord's sake, what's this o't--Jeanie, ye are a cited
witness--Macer, this lass is a witness--she maun be enclosed--she maun on
nae account be at large.--Mr. Novit, suldna Jeanie Deans be enclosed?"
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