The Heart of Mid-Lothian, Volume 1.
Sir Walter Scott
Part 4 out of 6
had the gift of the gab as weel."
"Who is she?" again reiterated Butler impatiently.--"Who could that woman
"Ay, wha kens that but herself?" said Saddletree; "she deponed farther,
and declined to answer that interrogatory."
"Then to herself will I instantly go," said Butler; "farewell, Jeanie;"
then coming close up to her--"Take no /rash steps/ till you hear from me.
Farewell!" and he immediately left the cottage.
"I wad gang too," said the landed proprietor, in an anxious, jealous, and
repining tone, "but my powny winna for the life o' me gang ony other road
than just frae Dumbiedikes to this house-end, and sae straight back
"Yell do better for them," said Saddletree, as they left the house
together, "by sending me the thretty punds."
"Thretty punds!" hesitated Dumbiedikes, who was now out of the reach of
those eyes which had inflamed his generosity; "I only said /twenty/
"Ay; but," said Saddletree, "that was under protestation to add and eik;
and so ye craved leave to amend your libel, and made it thretty."
"Did I? I dinna mind that I did," answered Dumbiedikes. "But whatever I
said I'll stand to." Then bestriding his steed with some difficulty, he
added, "Dinna ye think poor Jeanie's een wi' the tears in them glanced
like lamour beads, Mr. Saddletree?"
"I kenna muckle about women's een, Laird," replied the insensible
Bartoline; "and I care just as little. I wuss I were as weel free o'
their tongues; though few wives," he added, recollecting the necessity of
keeping up his character for domestic rule, "are under better command
than mine, Laird. I allow neither perduellion nor lese-majesty against my
The Laird saw nothing so important in this observation as to call for a
rejoinder, and when they had exchanged a mute salutation, they parted in
peace upon their different errands.
I'll warrant that fellow from drowning,
were the ship no stronger than a nut-shell.
Butler felt neither fatigue nor want of refreshment, although, from the
mode in which he had spent the night, he might well have been overcome
with either. But in the earnestness with which he hastened to the
assistance of the sister of Jeanie Deans, he forgot both.
In his first progress he walked with so rapid a pace as almost approached
to running, when he was surprised to hear behind him a call upon his
name, contending with an asthmatic cough, and half-drowned amid the
resounding trot of a Highland pony. He looked behind, and saw the Laird
of Dumbiedikes making after him with what speed he might, for it
happened, fortunately for the Laird's purpose of conversing with Butler,
that his own road homeward was for about two hundred yards the same with
that which led by the nearest way to the city. Butler stopped when he
heard himself thus summoned, internally wishing no good to the panting
equestrian who thus retarded his journey.
"Uh! uh! uh!" ejaculated Dumbiedikes, as he checked the hobbling pace of
the pony by our friend Butler. "Uh! uh! it's a hard-set willyard beast
this o' mine." He had in fact just overtaken the object of his chase at
the very point beyond which it would have been absolutely impossible for
him to have continued the pursuit, since there Butler's road parted from
that leading to Dumbiedikes, and no means of influence or compulsion
which the rider could possibly have used towards his Bucephalus could
have induced the Celtic obstinacy of Rory Bean (such was the pony's name)
to have diverged a yard from the path that conducted him to his own
Even when he had recovered from the shortness of breath occasioned by a
trot much more rapid than Rory or he were accustomed to, the high purpose
of Dumbiedikes seemed to stick as it were in his throat, and impede his
utterance, so that Butler stood for nearly three minutes ere he could
utter a syllable; and when he did find voice, it was only to say, after
one or two efforts, "Uh! uh! uhm! I say, Mr.--Mr. Butler, it's a braw day
for the har'st."
"Fine day, indeed," said Butler. "I wish you good morning, sir."
"Stay--stay a bit," rejoined Dumbiedikes; "that was no what I had gotten
"Then, pray be quick, and let me have your commands," rejoined Butler; "I
crave your pardon, but I am in haste, and /Tempus nemini/--you know the
Dumbiedikes did not know the proverb, nor did he even take the trouble to
endeavour to look as if he did, as others in his place might have done.
He was concentrating all his intellects for one grand proposition, and
could not afford any detachment to defend outposts. "I say, Mr. Butler,"
said he, "ken ye if Mr. Saddletree's a great lawyer?"
"I have no person's word for it but his own," answered Butler, drily;
"but undoubtedly he best understands his own qualities."
"Umph!" replied the taciturn Dumbiedikes, in a tone which seemed to say,
"Mr. Butler, I take your meaning." "In that case," he pursued, "I'll
employ my ain man o' business, Nichil Novit (auld Nichil's son, and
amaist as gleg as his father), to agent Effie's plea."
And having thus displayed more sagacity than Butler expected from him, he
courteously touched his gold-laced cocked hat, and by a punch on the
ribs, conveyed to Rory Bean, it was his rider's pleasure that he should
forthwith proceed homewards; a hint which the quadruped obeyed with that
degree of alacrity with which men and animals interpret and obey
suggestions that entirely correspond with their own inclinations.
Butler resumed his pace, not without a momentary revival of that jealousy
which the honest Laird's attention to the family of Deans had at
different times excited in his bosom. But he was too generous long to
nurse any feeling which was allied to selfishness. "He is," said Butler
to himself, "rich in what I want; why should I feel vexed that he has the
heart to dedicate some of his pelf to render them services, which I can
only form the empty wish of executing? In God's name, let us each do what
we can. May she be but happy!--saved from the misery and disgrace that
seems impending--Let me but find the means of preventing the fearful
experiment of this evening, and farewell to other thoughts, though my
heart-strings break in parting with them!"
He redoubled his pace, and soon stood before the door of the Tolbooth, or
rather before the entrance where the door had formerly been placed. His
interview with the mysterious stranger, the message to Jeanie, his
agitating conversation with her on the subject of breaking off their
mutual engagements, and the interesting scene with old Deans, had so
entirely occupied his mind as to drown even recollection of the tragical
event which he had witnessed the preceding evening. His attention was not
recalled to it by the groups who stood scattered on the street in
conversation, which they hushed when strangers approached, or by the
bustling search of the agents of the city police, supported by small
parties of the military, or by the appearance of the Guard-House, before
which were treble sentinels, or, finally, by the subdued and intimidated
looks of the lower orders of society, who, conscious that they were
liable to suspicion, if they were not guilty of accession to a riot
likely to be strictly inquired into, glided about with an humble and
dismayed aspect, like men whose spirits being exhausted in the revel and
the dangers of a desperate debauch over-night, are nerve-shaken,
timorous, and unenterprising on the succeeding day.
None of these symptoms of alarm and trepidation struck Butler, whose mind
was occupied with a different, and to him still more interesting subject,
until he stood before the entrance to the prison, and saw it defended by
a double file of grenadiers, instead of bolts and bars. Their "Stand,
stand!" the blackened appearance of the doorless gateway, and the winding
staircase and apartments of the Tolbooth, now open to the public eye,
recalled the whole proceedings of the eventful night. Upon his requesting
to speak with Effie Deans, the same tall, thin, silver-haired turnkey,
whom he had seen on the preceding evening, made his appearance,
"I think," he replied to Butler's request of admission, with true
Scottish indirectness, "ye will be the same lad that was for in to see
Butler admitted he was the same person.
"And I am thinking," pursued the turnkey, "that ye speered at me when we
locked up, and if we locked up earlier on account of Porteous?"
"Very likely I might make some such observation," said Butler; "but the
question now is, can I see Effie Deans?"
"I dinna ken--gang in by, and up the turnpike stair, and turn till the
ward on the left hand."
The old man followed close behind him, with his keys in his hand, not
forgetting even that huge one which had once opened and shut the outward
gate of his dominions, though at present it was but an idle and useless
burden. No sooner had Butler entered the room to which he was directed,
than the experienced hand of the warder selected the proper key, and
locked it on Rthe outside. At first Butler conceived this manoeuvre was
only an effect of the man's habitual and official caution and jealousy.
But when he heard the hoarse command, "Turn out the guard!" and
immediately afterwards heard the clash of a sentinel's arms, as he was
posted at the door of his apartment, he again called out to the turnkey,
"My good friend, I have business of some consequence with Effie Deans,
and I beg to see her as soon as possible." No answer was returned. "If it
be against your rules to admit me," repeated Butler, in a still louder
tone, "to see the prisoner, I beg you will tell me so, and let me go
about my business.--/Fugit irrevocabile tempus!/" muttered he to himself.
"If ye had business to do, ye suld hae dune it before ye cam here,"
replied the man of keys from the outside; "yell find it's easier wunnin
in than wunnin out here--there's sma' likelihood o' another Porteous mob
coming to rabble us again--the law will haud her ain now, neighbour, and
that yell find to your cost."
"What do you mean by that, sir?" retorted Butler. "You must mistake me
for some other person. My name is Reuben Butler, preacher of the gospel."
"I ken that weel eneugh," said the turnkey.
"Well, then, if you know me, I have a right to know from you in return,
what warrant you have for detaining me; that, I know, is the right of
every British subject."
"Warrant!" said the jailor,--"the warrant's awa to Libberton wi' twa
sheriff officers seeking ye. If ye had staid at hame, as honest men
should do, ye wad hae seen the warrant; but if ye come to be incarcerated
of your ain accord, wha can help it, my jo?"
"'So I cannot see Effie Deans, then," said Butler; "and you are
determined not to let me out?"
"Troth will I no, neighbour," answered the old man, doggedly; "as for
Effie Deans, ye'll hae eneuch ado to mind your ain business, and let her
mind hers; and for letting you out, that maun be as the magistrate will
determine. And fare ye weel for a bit, for I maun see Deacon Sawyers put
on ane or twa o' the doors that your quiet folk broke down yesternight,
There was something in this exquisitely provoking, but there was also
something darkly alarming. To be imprisoned, even on a false accusation,
has something in it disagreeable and menacing even to men of more
constitutional courage than Butler had to boast; for although he had much
of that resolution which arises from a sense of duty and an honourable
desire to discharge it, yet, as his imagination was lively, and his frame
of body delicate, he was far from possessing that cool insensibility to
danger which is the happy portion of men of stronger health, more firm
nerves, and less acute sensibility. An indistinct idea of peril, which he
could neither understand nor ward off, seemed to float before his eyes.
He tried to think over the events of the preceding night, in hopes of
discovering some means of explaining or vindicating his conduct for
appearing among the mob, since it immediately occurred to him that his
detention must be founded on that circumstance. And it was with anxiety
that he found he could not recollect to have been under the observation
of any disinterested witness in the attempts that he made from time to
time to expostulate with the rioters, and to prevail on them to release
him. The distress of Deans's family, the dangerous rendezvous which
Jeanie had formed, and which he could not now hope to interrupt, had also
their share in his unpleasant reflections. Yet, impatient as he was to
receive an /e'claircissement/ upon the cause of his confinement, and if
possible to obtain his liberty, he was affected with a trepidation which
seemed no good omen; when, after remaining an hour in this solitary
apartment, he received a summons to attend the sitting magistrate. He was
conducted from prison strongly guarded by a party of soldiers, with a
parade of precaution, that, however ill-timed and unnecessary, is
generally displayed /after/ an event, which such precaution, if used in
time, might have prevented.
He was introduced into the Council Chamber, as the place is called where
the magistrates hold their sittings, and which was then at a little
distance from the prison. One or two of the senators of the city were
present, and seemed about to engage in the examination of an individual
who was brought forward to the foot of the long green-covered table round
which the council usually assembled. "Is that the preacher?" said one of
the magistrates, as the city officer in attendance introduced Butler. The
man answered in the affirmative. "Let him sit down there for an instant;
we will finish this man's business very briefly."
"Shall we remove Mr. Butler?" queried the assistant.
"It is not necessary--Let him remain where he is."
Butler accordingly sate down on a bench at the bottom of the apartment,
attended by one of his keepers.
It was a large room, partially and imperfectly lighted; but by chance, or
the skill of the architect, who might happen to remember the advantage
which might occasionally be derived from such an arrangement, one window
was so placed as to throw a strong light at the foot of the table at
which prisoners were usually posted for examination, while the upper end,
where the examinants sate, was thrown into shadow. Butler's eyes were
instantly fixed on the person whose examination was at present
proceeding, in the idea that he might recognise some one of the
conspirators of the former night. But though the features of this man
were sufficiently marked and striking, he could not recollect that he had
ever seen them before.
The complexion of this person was dark, and his age somewhat advanced. He
wore his own hair, combed smooth down, and cut very short. It was jet
black, slightly curled by nature, and already mottled with grey. The
man's face expressed rather knavery than vice, and a disposition to
sharpness, cunning, and roguery, more than the traces of stormy and
indulged passions. His sharp quick black eyes, acute features, ready
sardonic smile, promptitude and effrontery, gave him altogether what is
called among the vulgar a /knowing/ look, which generally implies a
tendency to knavery. At a fair or market, you could not for a moment have
doubted that he was a horse-jockey, intimate with all the tricks of his
trade; yet, had you met him on a moor, you would not have apprehended any
violence from him. His dress was also that of a horse-dealer--a
close-buttoned jockey-coat, or wrap-rascal, as it was then termed, with
huge metal buttons, coarse blue upper stockings, called boot-hose because
supplying the place of boots, and a slouched hat. He only wanted a loaded
whip under his arm and a spur upon one heel, to complete the dress of the
character he seemed to represent.
"Your name is James Ratcliffe?" said the magistrate.
"Ay--always wi' your honour's leave."
"That is to say, you could find me another name if I did not like that
"Twenty to pick and choose upon, always with your honour's leave,"
resumed the respondent.
"But James Ratcliffe is your present name?--what is your trade?"
"I canna just say, distinctly, that I have what ye wad ca' preceesely a
"But," repeated the magistrate, "what are your means of living--your
"Hout tout--your honour, wi' your leave, kens that as weel as I do,"
replied the examined.
"No matter, I want to hear you describe it," said the examinant.
"Me describe!--and to your honour!--far be it from Jemmie Ratcliffe,"
responded the prisoner.
"Come, sir, no trifling--I insist on an answer."
"Weel, sir," replied the declarant, "I maun make a clean breast, for ye
see, wi' your leave, I am looking for favour--Describe my occupation,
quo' ye?--troth it will be ill to do that, in a feasible way, in a place
like this--but what is't again that the aught command says?"
"Thou shalt not steal," answered the magistrate.
"Are you sure o' that?" replied the accused.--"Troth, then, my
occupation, and that command, are sair at odds, for I read it, thou
/shalt/ steal; and that makes an unco difference, though there's but a
wee bit word left out."
"To cut the matter short, Ratcliffe, you have been a most notorious
thief," said the examinant.
"I believe Highlands and Lowlands ken that, sir, forby England and
Holland," replied Ratcliffe, with the greatest composure and effrontery.
"And what d'ye think the end of your calling will be?" said the
"I could have gien a braw guess yesterday--but I dinna ken sae weel the
day," answered the prisoner.
"And what would you have said would have been your end, had you been
asked the question yesterday?"
"Just the gallows," replied Ratcliffe, with the same composure.
"You are a daring rascal, sir," said the magistrate; "and how dare you
hope times are mended with you to-day?"
"Dear, your honour," answered Ratcliffe, "there's muckle difference
between lying in prison under sentence of death, and staying there of
ane's ain proper accord, when it would have cost a man naething to get up
and rin awa--what was to hinder me from stepping out quietly, when the
rabble walked awa wi' Jock Porteous yestreen?--and does your honour
really think I staid on purpose to be hanged?"
"I do not know what you may have proposed to yourself; but I know," said
the magistrate, "what the law proposes for you, and that is, to hang you
next Wednesday eight days."
"Na, na, your honour," said Ratcliffe firmly, "craving your honour's
pardon, I'll ne'er believe that till I see it. I have kend the law this
mony a year, and mony a thrawart job I hae had wi' her first and last;
but the auld jaud is no sae ill as that comes to--I aye fand her bark
waur than her bite."
"And if you do not expect the gallows, to which you are condemned (for
the fourth time to my knowledge), may I beg the favour to know," said the
magistrate, "what it is you /do/ expect, in consideration of your not
having taken your flight with the rest of the jail-birds, which I will
admit was a line of conduct little to have been expected?"
"I would never have thought for a moment of staying in that auld gousty
toom house," answered Ratcliffe, "but that use and wont had just gien me
a fancy to the place, and I'm just expecting a bit post in't."
"A post!" exclaimed the magistrate; "a whipping-post, I suppose, you
"Na, na, sir, I had nae thoughts o' a whuppin-post. After having been
four times doomed to hang by the neck till I was dead, I think I am far
beyond being whuppit."
"Then, in Heaven's name, what /did/ you expect?"
"Just the post of under-turnkey, for I understand there's a vacancy,"
said the prisoner; "I wadna think of asking the lockman's* place ower his
head; it wadna suit me sae weel as ither folk, for I never could put a
beast out o' the way, much less deal wi' a man."
* Note H. Hangman, or Lockman.
"That's something in your favour," said the magistrate, making exactly
the inference to which Ratcliffe was desirous to lead him, though he
mantled his art with an affectation of oddity.
"But," continued the magistrate, "how do you think you can be trusted
with a charge in the prison, when you have broken at your own hand half
the jails in Scotland?"
"Wi' your honour's leave," said Ratcliffe, "if I kend sae weel how to wun
out mysell, it's like I wad be a' the better a hand to keep other folk
in. I think they wad ken their business weel that held me in when I
wanted to be out, or wan out when I wanted to hand them in."
The remark seemed to strike the magistrate, but he made no further
immediate observation, only desired Ratcliffe to be removed.
When this daring and yet sly freebooter was out of hearing, the
magistrate asked the city clerk, "what he thought of the fellow's
"It's no for me to say, sir," replied the clerk; "but if James Ratcliffe
be inclined to turn to good, there is not a man e'er came within the
ports of the burgh could be of sae muckle use to the Good Town in the
thief and lock-up line of business. I'll speak to Mr. Sharpitlaw about
Upon Ratcliffe's retreat, Butler was placed at the table for examination.
The magistrate conducted his inquiry civilly, but yet in a manner which
gave him to understand that he laboured under strong suspicion. With a
frankness which at once became his calling and character, Butler avowed
his involuntary presence at the murder of Porteous, and, at the request
of the magistrate, entered into a minute detail of the circumstances
which attended that unhappy affair. All the particulars, such as we have
narrated, were taken minutely down by the clerk from Butler's dictation.
When the narrative was concluded, the cross-examination commenced, which
it is a painful task even for the most candid witness to undergo, since a
story, especially if connected with agitating and alarming incidents, can
scarce be so clearly and distinctly told, but that some ambiguity and
doubt may be thrown upon it by a string of successive and minute
The magistrate commenced by observing, that Butler had said his object
was to return to the village of Libberton, but that he was interrupted by
the mob at the West Port. "Is the West Port your usual way of leaving
town when you go to Libberton?" said the magistrate, with a sneer.
"No, certainly," answered Butler, with the haste of a man anxious to
vindicate the accuracy of his evidence; "but I chanced to be nearer that
port than any other, and the hour of shutting the gates was on the point
"That was unlucky," said the magistrate, drily. "Pray, being, as you say,
under coercion and fear of the lawless multitude, and compelled to
accompany them through scenes disagreeable to all men of humanity, and
more especially irreconcilable to the profession of a minister, did you
not attempt to struggle, resist, or escape from their violence?"
Butler replied, "that their numbers prevented him from attempting
resistance, and their vigilance from effecting his escape."
"That was unlucky," again repeated the magistrate, in the same dry
inacquiescent tone of voice and manner. He proceeded with decency and
politeness, but with a stiffness which argued his continued suspicion, to
ask many questions concerning the behaviour of the mob, the manners and
dress of the ringleaders; and when he conceived that the caution of
Butler, if he was deceiving him, must be lulled asleep, the magistrate
suddenly and artfully returned to former parts of his declaration, and
required a new recapitulation of the circumstances, to the minutest and
most trivial point, which attended each part of the melancholy scene. No
confusion or contradiction, however, occurred, that could countenance the
suspicion which he seemed to have adopted against Butler. At length the
train of his interrogatories reached Madge Wildfire, at whose name the
magistrate and town-clerk exchanged significant glances. If the fate of
the Good Town had depended on her careful magistrate's knowing the
features and dress of this personage, his inquiries could not have been
more particular. But Butler could say almost nothing of this person's
features, which were disguised apparently with red paint and soot, like
an Indian going to battle, besides the projecting shade of a curch, or
coif, which muffled the hair of the supposed female. He declared that he
thought he could not know this Madge Wildfire, if placed before him in a
different dress, but that he believed he might recognise her voice.
The magistrate requested him again to state by what gate he left the
"By the Cowgate Port," replied Butler.
"Was that the nearest road to Libberton?"
"No," answered Butler, with embarrassment; "but it was the nearest way to
extricate myself from the mob."
The clerk and magistrate again exchanged glances.
"Is the Cowgate Port a nearer way to Libberton from the Grassmarket than
"No," replied Butler; "but I had to visit a friend."
"Indeed!" said the interrogator--"You were in a hurry to tell the sight
you had witnessed, I suppose?"
"Indeed I was not," replied Butler; "nor did I speak on the subject the
whole time I was at St. Leonard's Crags."
"Which road did you take to St. Leonard's Crags?"
"By the foot of Salisbury Crags," was the reply.
"Indeed? you seem partial to circuitous routes," again said the
magistrate. "Whom did you see after you left the city?"
One by one he obtained a description of every one of the groups who had
passed Butler, as already noticed, their number, demeanour, and
appearance; and, at length, came to the circumstance of the mysterious
stranger in the King's Park. On this subject Butler would fain have
remained silent, But the magistrate had no sooner got a slight hint
concerning the incident, than he seemed bent to possess himself of the
most minute particulars.
"Look ye, Mr. Butler," said he, "you are a young man, and bear an
excellent character; so much I will myself testify in your favour. But we
are aware there has been, at times, a sort of bastard and fiery zeal in
some of your order, and those, men irreproachable in other points, which
has led them into doing and countenancing great irregularities, by which
the peace of the country is liable to be shaken.--I will deal plainly
with you. I am not at all satisfied with this story, of your setting out
again and again to seek your dwelling by two several roads, which were
both circuitous. And, to be frank, no one whom we have examined on this
unhappy affair could trace in your appearance any thing like your acting
under compulsion. Moreover, the waiters at the Cowgate Port observed
something like the trepidation of guilt in your conduct, and declare that
you were the first to command them to open the gate, in a tone of
authority, as if still presiding over the guards and out-posts of the
rabble, who had besieged them the whole night."
"God forgive them!" said Butler; "I only asked free passage for myself;
they must have much misunderstood, if they did not wilfully misrepresent
"Well, Mr. Butler," resumed the magistrate, "I am inclined to judge the
best and hope the best, as I am sure I wish the best; but you must be
frank with me, if you wish to secure my good opinion, and lessen the risk
of inconvenience to yourself. You have allowed you saw another individual
in your passage through the King's Park to Saint Leonard's Crags--I must
know every word which passed betwixt you."
Thus closely pressed, Butler, who had no reason for concealing what
passed at that meeting, unless because Jeanie Deans was concerned in it,
thought it best to tell the whole truth from beginning to end.
"Do you suppose," said the magistrate, pausing, "that the young woman
will accept an invitation so mysterious?"
"I fear she will," replied Butler.
"Why do you use the word /fear/ it?" said the magistrate.
"Because I am apprehensive for her safety, in meeting at such a time and
place, one who had something of the manner of a desperado, and whose
message was of a character so inexplicable."
"Her safety shall be cared for," said the magistrate. "Mr. Butler, I am
concerned I cannot immediately discharge you from confinement, but I hope
you will not be long detained.--Remove Mr. Butler, and let him be
provided with decent accommodation in all respects."
He was conducted back to the prison accordingly; but, in the food offered
to him, as well as in the apartment in which he was lodged, the
recommendation of the magistrate was strictly attended to.
Dark and eerie was the night,
And lonely was the way,
As Janet, wi' her green mantell,
To Miles' Cross she did gae.
Leaving Butler to all the uncomfortable thoughts attached to his new
situation, among which the most predominant was his feeling that he was,
by his confinement, deprived of all possibility of assisting the family
at St. Leonard's in their greatest need, we return to Jeanie Deans, who
had seen him depart, without an opportunity of farther explanation, in
all that agony of mind with which the female heart bids adieu to the
complicated sensations so well described by Coleridge,--
Hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng;
And gentle wishes long subdued--
Subdued and cherished long.
It is not the firmest heart (and Jeanie, under her russet rokelay, had
one that would not have disgraced Cato's daughter) that can most easily
bid adieu to these soft and mingled emotions. She wept for a few minutes
bitterly, and without attempting to refrain from this indulgence of
passion. But a moment's recollection induced her to check herself for a
grief selfish and proper to her own affections, while her father and
sister were plunged into such deep and irretrievable affliction. She drew
from her pocket the letter which had been that morning flung into her
apartment through an open window, and the contents of which were as
singular as the expression was violent and energetic. "If she would save
a human being from the most damning guilt, and all its desperate
consequences,--if she desired the life an honour of her sister to be
saved from the bloody fangs of an unjust law,--if she desired not to
forfeit peace of mind here, and happiness hereafter," such was the
frantic style of the conjuration, "she was entreated to give a sure,
secret, and solitary meeting to the writer. She alone could rescue him,"
so ran the letter, "and he only could rescue her." He was in such
circumstances, the billet farther informed her, that an attempt to bring
any witness of their conference, or even to mention to her father, or any
other person whatsoever, the letter which requested it, would inevitably
prevent its taking place, and ensure the destruction of her sister. The
letter concluded with incoherent but violent protestations, that in
obeying this summons she had nothing to fear personally.
The message delivered to her by Butler from the stranger in the Park
tallied exactly with the contents of the letter, but assigned a later
hour and a different place of meeting. Apparently the writer of the
letter had been compelled to let Butler so far into his confidence, for
the sake of announcing this change to Jeanie. She was more than once on
the point of producing the billet, in vindication of herself from her
lover's half-hinted suspicions. But there is something in stooping to
justification which the pride of innocence does not at all times
willingly submit to; besides that the threats contained in the letter, in
case of her betraying the secret, hung heavy on her heart. It is
probable, however, that had they remained longer together, she might have
taken the resolution to submit the whole matter to Butler, and be guided
by him as to the line of conduct which she should adopt. And when, by the
sudden interruption of their conference, she lost the opportunity of
doing so, she felt as if she had been unjust to a friend, whose advice
might have been highly useful, and whose attachment deserved her full and
To have recourse to her father upon this occasion, she considered as
highly imprudent. There was no possibility of conjecturing in what light
the matter might strike old David, whose manner of acting and thinking in
extraordinary circumstances depended upon feelings and principles
peculiar to himself, the operation of which could not be calculated upon
even by those best acquainted with him. To have requested some female
friend to have accompanied her to the place of rendezvous, would perhaps
have been the most eligible expedient; but the threats of the writer,
that betraying his secret would prevent their meeting (on which her
sister's safety was said to depend) from taking place at all, would have
deterred her from making such a confidence, even had she known a person
in whom she thought it could with safety have been reposed. But she knew
none such. Their acquaintance with the cottagers in the vicinity had been
very slight, and limited to trifling acts of good neighbourhood. Jeanie
knew little of them, and what she knew did not greatly incline her to
trust any of them. They were of the order of loquacious good-humoured
gossips usually found in their situation of life; and their conversation
had at all times few charms for a young woman, to whom nature and the
circumstance of a solitary life had given a depth of thought and force of
character superior to the frivolous part of her sex, whether in high or
Left alone and separated from all earthly counsel, she had recourse to a
friend and adviser, whose ear is open to the cry of the poorest and most
afflicted of his people. She knelt, and prayed with fervent sincerity,
that God would please to direct her what course to follow in her arduous
and distressing situation. It was the belief of the time and sect to
which she belonged, that special answers to prayer, differing little in
their character from divine inspiration, were, as they expressed it,
"borne in upon their minds" in answer to their earnest petitions in a
crisis of difficulty. Without entering into an abstruse point of
divinity, one thing is plain;--namely, that the person who lays open his
doubts and distresses in prayer, with feeling and sincerity, must
necessarily, in the act of doing so, purify his mind from the dross of
worldly passions and interests, and bring it into that state, when the
resolutions adopted are likely to be selected rather from a sense of
duty, than from any inferior motive. Jeanie arose from her devotions,
with her heart fortified to endure affliction, and encouraged to face
"I will meet this unhappy man," she said to herself--"unhappy he must be,
since I doubt he has been the cause of poor Effie's misfortune--but I
will meet him, be it for good or ill. My mind shall never cast up to me,
that, for fear of what might be said or done to myself, I left that
undone that might even yet be the rescue of her."
With a mind greatly composed since the adoption of this resolution, she
went to attend her father. The old man, firm in the principles of his
youth, did not, in outward appearance at least, permit a thought of hit
family distress to interfere with the stoical reserve of his countenance
and manners. He even chid his daughter for having neglected, in the
distress of the morning, some trifling domestic duties which fell under
"Why, what meaneth this, Jeanie?" said the old man--"The brown
four-year-auld's milk is not seiled yet, nor the bowies put up on the
bink. If ye neglect your warldly duties in the day of affliction, what
confidence have I that ye mind the greater matters that concern
salvation? God knows, our bowies, and our pipkins, and our draps o' milk,
and our bits o' bread, are nearer and dearer to us than the bread of
Jeanie, not unpleased to hear her father's thoughts thus expand
themselves beyond the sphere of his immediate distress, obeyed him, and
proceeded to put her household matters in order; while old David moved
from place to place about his ordinary employments, scarce showing,
unless by a nervous impatience at remaining long stationary, an
occasional convulsive sigh, or twinkle of the eyelid, that he was
labouring under the yoke of such bitter affliction.
The hour of noon came on, and the father and child sat down to their
homely repast. In his petition for a blessing on the meal, the poor old
man added to his supplication, a prayer that the bread eaten in sadness
of heart, and the bitter waters of Marah, might be made as nourishing as
those which had been poured forth from a full cup and a plentiful basket
and store; and having concluded his benediction, and resumed the bonnet
which he had laid "reverently aside," he proceeded to exhort his daughter
to eat, not by example indeed, but at least by precept.
"The man after God's own heart," he said, "washed and anointed himself,
and did eat bread, in order to express his submission under a
dispensation of suffering, and it did not become a Christian man or woman
so to cling to creature-comforts of wife or bairns"--(here the words
became too great, as it were, for his utterance),--"as to forget the fist
duty,--submission to the Divine will."
To add force to his precept, he took a morsel on his plate, but nature
proved too strong even for the powerful feelings with which he
endeavoured to bridle it. Ashamed of his weakness, he started up, and ran
out of the house, with haste very unlike the deliberation of his usual
movements. In less than five minutes he returned, having successfully
struggled to recover his ordinary composure of mind and countenance, and
affected to colour over his late retreat, by muttering that he thought he
heard the "young staig loose in the byre."
He did not again trust himself with the subject of his former
conversation, and his daughter was glad to see that he seemed to avoid
farther discourse on that agitating topic. The hours glided on, as on
they must and do pass, whether winged with joy or laden with affliction.
The sun set beyond the dusky eminence of the Castle and the screen of
western hills, and the close of evening summoned David Deans and his
daughter to the family duty of the night. It came bitterly upon Jeanie's
recollection, how often, when the hour of worship approached, she used to
watch the lengthening shadows, and look out from the door of the house,
to see if she could spy her sister's return homeward. Alas! this idle and
thoughtless waste of time, to what evils had it not finally led? and was
she altogether guiltless, who, noticing Effie's turn to idle and light
society, had not called in her father's authority to restrain her?--But I
acted for the best, she again reflected, and who could have expected such
a growth of evil, from one grain of human leaven, in a disposition so
kind, and candid, and generous?
As they sate down to the "exercise," as it is called, a chair happened
accidentally to stand in the place which Effie usually occupied. David
Deans saw his daughter's eyes swim in tears as they were directed towards
this object, and pushed it aside, with a gesture of some impatience, as
if desirous to destroy every memorial of earthly interest when about to
address the Deity. The portion of Scripture was read, the psalm was sung,
the prayer was made; and it was remarkable that, in discharging these
duties, the old man avoided all passages and expressions, of which
Scripture affords so many, that might be considered as applicable to his
own domestic misfortune. In doing so it was perhaps his intention to
spare the feelings of his daughter, as well as to maintain, in outward
show at least, that stoical appearance of patient endurance of all the
evil which earth could bring, which was in his opinion essential to the
character of one who rated all earthly things at their just estimate of
nothingness. When he had finished the duty of the evening, he came up to
his daughter, wished her good-night, and, having done so, continued to
hold her by the hands for half-a-minute; then drawing her towards him,
kissed her forehead, and ejaculated, "The God of Israel bless you, even
with the blessings of the promise, my dear bairn!"
It was not either in the nature or habits of David Deans to seem a fond
father; nor was he often observed to experience, or at least to evince,
that fulness of the heart which seeks to expand itself in tender
expressions or caresses even to those who were dearest to him. On the
contrary, he used to censure this as a degree of weakness in several of
his neighbours, and particularly in poor widow Butler. It followed,
however, from the rarity of such emotions in this self-denied and
reserved man, that his children attached to occasional marks of his
affection and approbation a degree of high interest and solemnity; well
considering them as evidences of feelings which were only expressed when
they became too intense for suppression or concealment.
With deep emotion, therefore, did he bestow, and his daughter receive,
this benediction and paternal caress. "And you, my dear father,"
exclaimed Jeanie, when the door had closed upon the venerable old man,
"may you have purchased and promised blessings multiplied upon you--upon
/you,/ who walk in this world as though you were not of the world, and
hold all that it can give or take away but as the /midges/ that the
sun-blink brings out, and the evening wind sweeps away!"
She now made preparation for her night-walk. Her father slept in another
part of the dwelling, and, regular in all his habits, seldom or never
left his apartment when he had betaken himself to it for the evening. It
was therefore easy for her to leave the house unobserved, so soon as the
time approached at which she was to keep her appointment. But the step
she was about to take had difficulties and terrors in her own eyes,
though she had no reason to apprehend her father's interference. Her life
had been spent in the quiet, uniform, and regular seclusion of their
peaceful and monotonous household. The very hour which some damsels of
the present day, as well of her own as of higher degree, would consider
as the natural period of commencing an evening of pleasure, brought, in
her opinion, awe and solemnity in it; and the resolution she had taken
had a strange, daring, and adventurous character, to which she could
hardly reconcile herself when the moment approached for putting it into
execution. Her hands trembled as she snooded her fair hair beneath the
riband, then the only ornament or cover which young unmarried women wore
on their head, and as she adjusted the scarlet tartan screen or muffler
made of plaid, which the Scottish women wore, much in the fashion of the
black silk veils still a part of female dress in the Netherlands. A sense
of impropriety as well as of danger pressed upon her, as she lifted the
latch of her paternal mansion to leave it on so wild an expedition, and
at so late an hour, unprotected, and without the knowledge of her natural
When she found herself abroad and in the open fields, additional subjects
of apprehension crowded upon her. The dim cliffs and scattered rocks,
interspersed with greensward, through which she had to pass to the place
of appointment, as they glimmered before her in a clear autumn night,
recalled to her memory many a deed of violence, which, according to
tradition, had been done and suffered among them. In earlier days they
had been the haunt of robbers and assassins, the memory of whose crimes
is preserved in the various edicts which the council of the city, and
even the parliament of Scotland, had passed for dispersing their bands,
and ensuring safety to the lieges, so near the precincts of the city. The
names of these criminals, and, of their atrocities, were still remembered
in traditions of the scattered cottages and the neighbouring suburb. In
latter times, as we have already noticed, the sequestered and broken
character of the ground rendered it a fit theatre for duels and
rencontres among the fiery youth of the period. Two or three of these
incidents, all sanguinary, and one of them fatal in its termination, had
happened since Deans came to live at St. Leonard's. His daughter's
recollections, therefore, were of blood and horror as she pursued the
small scarce-tracked solitary path, every step of which conveyed het to a
greater distance from help, and deeper into the ominous seclusion of
these unhallowed precincts.
As the moon began to peer forth on the scene with a doubtful, flitting,
and solemn light, Jeanie's apprehensions took another turn, too peculiar
to her rank and country to remain unnoticed. But to trace its origin will
require another chapter.
The spirit I have seen
May be the devil. And the devil has power
To assume a pleasing shape.
Withcraft and demonology, as we have already had occasion to remark, were
at this period believed in by almost all ranks, but more especially among
the stricter classes of Presbyterians, whose government, when their party
were at the head of the state, had been much sullied by their eagerness
to inquire into and persecute these imaginary crimes. Now, in this point
of view, also, Saint Leonard's Crags and the adjacent Chase were a
dreaded and ill-reputed district. Not only had witches held their
meetings there, but even of very late years the enthusiast or impostor,
mentioned in the /Pandaemonium/ of Richard Bovet, Gentleman,* had, among
the recesses of these romantic cliffs, found his way into the hidden
retreats where the fairies revel in the bowels of the earth.
* Note I. The Fairy Boy of Leith.
With all these legends Jeanie Deans was too well acquainted to escape
that strong impression which they usually make on the imagination.
Indeed, relations of this ghostly kind had been familiar to her from her
infancy, for they were the only relief which her father's conversation
afforded from controversial argument, or the gloomy history of the
strivings and testimonies, escapes, captures, tortures, and executions of
those martyrs of the Covenant, with whom it was his chiefest boast to say
he had been acquainted. In the recesses of mountains, in caverns, and in
morasses, to which these persecuted enthusiasts were so ruthlessly
pursued, they conceived they had often to contend with the visible
assaults of the Enemy of mankind, as in the cities, and in the cultivated
fields, they were exposed to those of the tyrannical government and their
soldiery. Such were the terrors which made one of their gifted seers
exclaim, when his companion returned to him, after having left him alone
in a haunted cavern in Sorn in Galloway, "It is hard living in this
world-incarnate devils above the earth, and devils under the earth! Satan
has been here since ye went away, but I have dismissed him by resistance;
we will be no more troubled with him this night." David Deans believed
this, and many other such ghostly encounters and victories, on the faith
of the Ansars, or auxiliaries of the banished prophets. This event was
beyond David's remembrance. But he used to tell with great awe, yet not
without a feeling of proud superiority to his auditors, how he himself
had been present at a field-meeting at Crochmade, when the duty of the
day was interrupted by the apparition of a tall black man, who, in the
act of crossing a ford to join the congregation, lost ground, and was
carried down apparently by the force of the stream. All were instantly at
work to assist him, but with so little success, that ten or twelve stout
men, who had hold of the rope which they had cast in to his aid, were
rather in danger to be dragged into the stream, and lose their own lives,
than likely to save that of the supposed perishing man. "But famous John
Semple of Carspharn," David Deans used to say with exultation, "saw the
whaup in the rape.--'Quit the rope,' he cried to us (for I that was but a
callant had a hand o' the rape mysell), 'it is the Great Enemy! he will
burn, but not drown; his design is to disturb the good wark, by raising
wonder and confusion in your minds; to put off from your spirits all that
ye hae heard and felt.'--Sae we let go the rape," said David, "and he
went adown the water screeching and bullering like a Bull of Bashan, as
he's ca'd in Scripture."*
* Note J. Intercourse of the Covenanters with the invisible world.
Trained in these and similar legends, it was no wonder that Jeanie began
to feel an ill-defined apprehension, not merely of the phantoms which
might beset her way, but of the quality, nature, and purpose of the being
who had thus appointed her a meeting, at a place and hour of horror, and
at a time when her mind must be necessarily full of those tempting and
ensnaring thoughts of grief and despair, which were supposed to lay
sufferers particularly open to the temptations of the Evil One. If such
an idea had crossed even Butler's well-informed mind, it was calculated
to make a much stronger impression upon hers. Yet firmly believing the
possibility of an encounter so terrible to flesh and blood, Jeanie, with
a degree of resolution of which we cannot sufficiently estimate the
merit, because the incredulity of the age has rendered us strangers to
the nature and extent of her feelings, persevered in her determination
not to omit an opportunity of doing something towards saving her sister,
although, in the attempt to avail herself of it, she might be exposed to
dangers so dreadful to her imagination. So, like Christiana in the
Pilgrim's Progress, when traversing with a timid yet resolved step the
terrors of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, she glided on by rock and
stone, "now in glimmer and now in gloom," as her path lay through
moonlight or shadow, and endeavoured to overpower the suggestions of
fear, sometimes by fixing her mind upon the distressed condition of her
sister, and the duty she lay under to afford her aid, should that be in
her power; and more frequently by recurring in mental prayer to the
protection of that Being to whom night is as noon-day.
Thus drowning at one time her fears by fixing her mind on a subject of
overpowering interest, and arguing them down at others by referring
herself to the protection of the Deity, she at length approached the
place assigned for this mysterious conference.
It was situated in the depth of the valley behind Salisbury Crags, which
has for a background the north-western shoulder of the mountain called
Arthur's Seat, on whose descent still remain the ruins of what was once a
chapel, or hermitage, dedicated to St. Anthony the Eremite. A better site
for such a building could hardly have been selected; for the chapel,
situated among the rude and pathless cliffs, lies in a desert, even in
the immediate vicinity of a rich, populous, and tumultuous capital: and
the hum of the city might mingle with the orisons of the recluses,
conveying as little of worldly interest as if it had been the roar of the
distant ocean. Beneath the steep ascent on which these ruins are still
visible, was, and perhaps is still pointed out, the place where the
wretch Nichol Muschat, who has been already mentioned in these pages, had
closed a long scene of cruelty towards his unfortunate wife, by murdering
her, with circumstances of uncommon barbarity.*
* See Note G. Muschat's Cairn.
The execration in which the man's crime was held extended itself to the
place where it was perpetrated, which was marked by a small /cairn,/ or
heap of stones, composed of those which each chance passenger had thrown
there in testimony of abhorrence, and on the principle, it would seem, of
the ancient British malediction, "May you have a cairn for your
As our heroine approached this ominous and unhallowed spot, she paused
and looked to the moon, now rising broad in the north-west, and shedding
a more distinct light than it had afforded during her walk thither.
Eyeing the planet for a moment, she then slowly and fearfully turned her
head towards the cairn, from which it was at first averted. She was at
first disappointed. Nothing was visible beside the little pile of stones,
which shone grey in the moonlight. A multitude of confused suggestions
rushed on her mind. Had her correspondent deceived her, and broken his
appointment?--was he too tardy at the appointment he had made?--or had
some strange turn of fate prevented him from appearing as he proposed?--
or, if he were an unearthly being, as her secret apprehensions suggested,
was it his object merely to delude her with false hopes, and put her to
unnecessary toil and terror, according to the nature, as she had heard,
of those wandering demons?--or did he purpose to blast her with the
sudden horrors of his presence when she had come close to the place of
rendezvous? These anxious reflections did not prevent her approaching to
the cairn with a pace that, though slow, was determined.
When she was within two yards of the heap of stones, a figure rose
suddenly up from behind it, and Jeanie scarce forbore to scream aloud at
what seemed the realisation of the most frightful of her anticipations.
She constrained herself to silence, however, and, making a dead pause,
suffered the figure to open the conversation, which he did, by asking, in
a voice which agitation rendered tremulous and hollow, "Are you the
sister of that ill-fated young woman?"
"I am--I am the sister of Effie Deans!" exclaimed Jeanie. "And as ever
you hope God will hear you at your need, tell me, if you can tell, what
can be done to save her!"
"I do /not/ hope God will hear me at my need," was the singular answer.
"I do not deserve--I do not expect he will." This desperate language he
uttered in a tone calmer than that with which he had at first spoken,
probably because the shook of first addressing her was what he felt most
difficult to overcome. Jeanie remained mute with horror to hear language
expressed so utterly foreign to all which she had ever been acquainted
with, that it sounded in her ears rather like that of a fiend than of a
human being. The stranger pursued his address to her, without seeming to
notice her surprise. "You see before you a wretch, predestined to evil
here and hereafter."
"For the sake of Heaven, that hears and sees us," said Jeanie, "dinna
speak in this desperate fashion! The gospel is sent to the chief of
sinners--to the most miserable among the miserable."
"Then should I have my own share therein," said the stranger, "if you
call it sinful to have been the destruction of the mother that bore me--
of the friend that loved me--of the woman that trusted me--of the
innocent child that was born to me. If to have done all this is to be a
sinner, and survive it is to be miserable, then am I most guilty and most
"Then you are the wicked cause of my sister's ruin?" said Jeanie, with a
natural touch of indignation expressed in her tone of voice.
"Curse me for it, if you will," said the stranger; "I have well deserved
it at your hand."
"It is fitter for me," said Jeanie, "to pray to God to forgive you."
"Do as you will, how you will, or what you will," he replied, with
vehemence; "only promise to obey my directions, and save your sister's
"I must first know," said Jeanie, "the means you would have me use in her
"No!--you must first swear--solemnly swear, that you will employ them
when I make them known to you."
"Surely, it is needless to swear that I will do all that is lawful to a
Christian to save the life of my sister?"
"I will have no reservation!" thundered the stranger; "lawful or
unlawful, Christian or heathen, you shall swear to do my hest, and act by
my counsel, or--you little know whose wrath you provoke!"
"I will think on what you have said," said Jeanie, who began to get much
alarmed at the frantic vehemence of his manner, and disputed in her own
mind, whether she spoke to a maniac, or an apostate spirit incarnate--"I
will think on what you say, and let you ken to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" exclaimed the man with a laugh of scorn--"And where will I
be to-morrow?--or, where will you be to-night, unless you swear to walk
by my counsel?--there was one accursed deed done at this spot before now;
and there shall be another to match it, unless you yield up to my
guidance body and soul."
As he spoke, he offered a pistol at the unfortunate young woman. She
neither fled nor fainted, but sunk on her knees, and asked him to spare
"Is that all you have to say?" said the unmoved ruffian.
"Do not dip your hands in the blood of a defenceless creature that has
trusted to you," said Jeanie, still on her knees.
"Is that all you can say for your life?--Have you no promise to give?--
Will you destroy your sister, and compel me to shed more blood?"
"I can promise nothing," said Jeanie, "which is unlawful for a
He cocked the weapon, and held it towards her.
"May God forgive you!" she said, pressing her hands forcibly against her
"D--n!" muttered the man; and, turning aside from her, he uncocked the
pistol, and replaced it in his pocket--"I am a villain," he said,
"steeped in guilt and wretchedness, but not wicked enough to do you any
harm! I only wished to terrify you into my measures--She hears me not--
she is gone!--Great God! what a wretch am I become!"
As he spoke, she recovered herself from an agony which partook of the
bitterness of death; and, in a minute or two, through the strong exertion
of her natural sense and courage, collected herself sufficiently to
understand he intended her no personal injury.
"No!" he repeated; "I would not add to the murder of your sister, and of
her child, that of any one belonging to her!--Mad, frantic, as I am, and
unrestrained by either fear or mercy, given up to the possession of an
evil being, and forsaken by all that is good, I would not hurt you, were
the world offered me for a bribe! But, for the sake of all that is dear
to you, swear you will follow my counsel. Take this weapon, shoot me
through the head, and with your own hand revenge your sister's wrong,
only follow the course--the only course, by which her life can be saved."
"Alas! is she innocent or guilty?"
"She is guiltless--guiltless of every thing, but of having trusted a
villain!--Yet, had it not been for those that were worse than I am--yes,
worse than I am, though I am bad indeed--this misery had not befallen."
"And my sister's child--does it live?" said Jeanie.
"No; it was murdered--the new-born infant was barbarously murdered," he
uttered in a low, yet stern and sustained voice.--"but," he added
hastily, "not by her knowledge or consent."
"Then, why cannot the guilty be brought to justice, and the innocent
"Torment me not with questions which can serve no purpose," he sternly
replied--"The deed was done by those who are far enough from pursuit, and
safe enough from discovery!--No one can save Effie but yourself."
"Woe's me! how is it in my power?" asked Jeanie, in despondency.
"Hearken to me!--You have sense--you can apprehend my meaning--I will
trust you. Your sister is innocent of the crime charged against her"
"Thank God for that!" said Jeanie.
"Be still and hearken!--The person who assisted her in her illness
murdered the child; but it was without the mother's knowledge or consent
--She is therefore guiltless, as guiltless as the unhappy innocent, that
but gasped a few minutes in this unhappy world--the better was its hap,
to be so soon at rest. She is innocent as that infant, and yet she must
die--it is impossible to clear her of the law!"
"Cannot the wretches be discovered, and given up to punishment?" said
"Do you think you will persuade those who are hardened in guilt to die to
save another?--Is that the reed you would lean to?"
"But you said there was a remedy," again gasped out the terrified young
"There is," answered the stranger, "and it is in your own hands. The blow
which the law aims cannot be broken by directly encountering it, but it
may be turned aside. You saw your sister during the period preceding the
birth of her child--what is so natural as that she should have mentioned
her condition to you? The doing so would, as their cant goes, take the
case from under the statute, for it removes the quality of concealment. I
know their jargon, and have had sad cause to know it; and the quality of
concealment is essential to this statutory offence.*
* Note K. Child Murder.
Nothing is so natural as that Effie should have mentioned her condition
to you--think--reflect--I am positive that she did."
"Woe's me!" said Jeanie, "she never spoke to me on the subject, but grat
sorely when I spoke to her about her altered looks, and the change on her
"You asked her questions on the subject?" he said eagerly. "You /must/
remember her answer was, a confession that she had been ruined by a
villain--yes, lay a strong emphasis on that--a cruel false villain call
it--any other name is unnecessary; and that she bore under her bosom the
consequences of his guilt and her folly; and that he had assured her he
would provide safely for her approaching illness.--Well he kept his
word!" These last words he spoke as if it were to himself, and with a
violent gesture of self-accusation, and then calmly proceeded, "You will
remember all this?--That is all that is necessary to be said."
"But I cannot remember," answered Jeanie, with simplicity, "that which
Effie never told me."
"Are you so dull--so very dull of apprehension?" he exclaimed, suddenly
grasping her arm, and holding it firm in his hand. "I tell you" (speaking
between his teeth, and under his breath, but with great energy), "you
/must/ remember that she told you all this, whether she ever said a
syllable of it or no. You must repeat this tale, in which there is no
falsehood, except in so far as it was not told to you, before these
Justices--Justiciary--whatever they call their bloodthirsty court, and
save your sister from being murdered, and them from becoming murderers.
Do not hesitate--I pledge life and salvation, that in saying what I have
said, you will only speak thesimple truth."
"But," replied Jeanie, whose judgment was too accurate not to see the
sophistry of this argument, "I shall be man-sworn in the very thing in
which my testimony is wanted, for it is the concealment for which poor
Effie is blamed, and you would make me tell a falsehood anent it."
"I see," he said, "my first suspicions of you were right, and that you
will let your sister, innocent, fair, and guiltless, except in trusting a
villain, die the death of a murderess, rather than bestow the breath of
your mouth and the sound of your voice to save her."
"I wad ware the best blood in my body to keep her skaithless," said
Jeanie, weeping in bitter agony, "but I canna change right into wrang, or
make that true which is false."
"Foolish, hardhearted girl," said the stranger, "are you afraid of what
they may do to you? I tell you, even the retainers of the law, who course
life as greyhounds do hares, will rejoice at the escape of a creature so
young--so beautiful, that they will not suspect your tale; that, if they
did suspect it, they would consider you as deserving, not only of
forgiveness, but of praise for your natural affection."
"It is not man I fear," said Jeanie, looking upward; "the God, whose name
I must call on to witness the truth of what I say, he will know the
"And he will know the motive," said the stranger, eagerly; "he will know
that you are doing this--not for lucre of gain, but to save the life of
the innocent, and prevent the commission of a worse crime than that which
the law seeks to avenge."
"He has given us a law," said Jeanie, "for the lamp of our path; if we
stray from it we err against knowledge--I may not do evil, even that good
may come out of it. But you--you that ken all this to be true, which I
must take on your word--you that, if I understood what you said e'en now,
promised her shelter and protection in her travail, why do not /you/ step
forward, and bear leal and soothfast evidence in her behalf, as ye may
with a clear conscience?"
"To whom do you talk of a clear conscience, woman?" said he, with a
sudden fierceness which renewed her terrors,--"to /me?/--I have not known
one for many a year. Bear witness in her behalf?--a proper witness, that
even to speak these few words to a woman of so little consequence as
yourself, must choose such an hour and such a place as this. When you see
owls and bats fly abroad, like larks, in the sunshine, you may expect to
see such as I am in the assemblies of men.--Hush--listen to that."
A voice was heard to sing one of those wild and monotonous strains so
common in Scotland, and to which the natives of that country chant their
old ballads. The sound ceased--then came nearer, and was renewed; the
stranger listened attentively, still holding Jeanie by the arm (as she
stood by him in motionless terror), as if to prevent her interrupting the
strain by speaking or stirring. When the sounds were renewed, the words
were distinctly audible:
"When the glede's in the blue cloud,
The lavrock lies still;
When the hound's in' the green-wood,
The hind keeps the hill."
The person who sung kept a strained and powerful voice at its highest
pitch, so that it could be heard at a very considerable distance. As the
song ceased, they might hear a stifled sound, as of steps and whispers of
persons approaching them. The song was again raised, but the tune was
"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."
"I dare stay no longer," said the stranger; "return home, or remain till
they come up--you have nothing to fear--but do not tell you saw me--your
sister's fate is in your hands." So saying, he turned from her, and with
a swift, yet cautiously noiseless step, plunged into the darkness on the
side most remote from the sounds which they heard approaching, and was
soon lost to her sight. Jeanie remained by the cairn terrified beyond
expression, and uncertain whether she ought to fly homeward with all the
speed she could exert, or wait the approach of those who were advancing
towards her. This uncertainty detained her so long, that she now
distinctly saw two or three figures already so near to her, that a
precipitate flight would have been equally fruitless and impolitic.
She speaks things in doubt,
That carry but half sense: her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up to fit their own thoughts.
Like the digressive poet Ariosto, I find myself under the necessity of
connecting the branches of my story, by taking up the adventures of
another of the characters, and bringing them down to the point at which
we have left those of Jeanie Deans. It is not, perhaps, the most
artificial way of telling a story, but it has the advantage of sparing
the necessity of resuming what a knitter (if stocking-looms have left
such a person in the land) might call our "dropped stitches;" a labour in
which the author generally toils much, without getting credit for his
"I could risk a sma' wad," said the clerk to the magistrate, "that this
rascal Ratcliffe, if he were insured of his neck's safety, could do more
than ony ten of our police-people and constables to help us to get out of
this scrape of Porteous's. He is weel acquent wi' a' the smugglers,
thieves, and banditti about Edinburgh; and, indeed, he may be called the
father of a' the misdoers in Scotland, for he has passed amang them for
these twenty years by the name of Daddie Rat."
"A bonny sort of a scoundrel," replied the magistrate, "to expect a place
under the city!"
"Begging your honour's pardon," said the city's procurator-fiscal, upon
whom the duties of superintendent of police devolved, "Mr. Fairscrieve is
perfectly in the right. It is just sic as Ratcliffe that the town needs
in my department; an' if sae be that he's disposed to turn his knowledge
to the city service, yell no find a better man.--Ye'll get nae saints to
be searchers for uncustomed goods, or for thieves and sic like;--and your
decent sort of men, religious professors, and broken tradesmen, that are
put into the like o' sic trust, can do nae gude ava. They are feared for
this, and they are scrupulous about that, and they arena free to tell a
lie, though it may be for the benefit of the city; and they dinna like to
be out at irregular hours, and in a dark cauld night, and they like a
clout ower the crown far waur; and sae between the fear o' God, and the
fear o' man, and the fear o' getting a sair throat, or sair banes,
there's a dozen o' our city-folk, baith waiters, and officers, and
constables, that can find out naething but a wee bit skulduddery for the
benefit of the Kirk treasurer. Jock Porteous, that's stiff and stark,
puir fallow, was worth a dozen o' them; for he never had ony fears, or
scruples, or doubts, or conscience, about onything your honours bade
"He was a gude servant o' the town," said the Bailie, "though he was an
ower free-living man. But if you really think this rascal Ratcliffe could
do us ony service in discovering these malefactors, I would insure him
life, reward, and promotion. It's an awsome thing this mischance for the
city, Mr. Fairscrieve. It will be very ill taen wi' abune stairs. Queen
Caroline, God bless her! is a woman--at least I judge sae, and it's nae
treason to speak my mind sae far--and ye maybe ken as weel as I do, for
ye hae a housekeeper, though ye arena a married man, that women are
wilfu', and downa bide a slight. And it will sound ill in her ears, that
sic a confused mistake suld come to pass, and naebody sae muckle as to be
put into the Tolbooth about it."
"If ye thought that, sir," said the procurator-fiscal, "we could easily
clap into the prison a few blackguards upon suspicion. It will have a
gude active look, and I hae aye plenty on my list, that wadna be a hair
the waur of a week or twa's imprisonment; and if ye thought it no
strictly just, ye could be just the easier wi' them the neist time they
did onything to deserve it; they arena the sort to be lang o' gieing ye
an opportunity to clear scores wi' them on that account."
"I doubt that will hardly do in this case, Mr. Sharpitlaw," returned the
town-clerk; "they'll run their letters,* and be adrift again, before ye
ken where ye are."
* A Scottish form of procedure, answering, in some respects, to the
English Habeas Corpus.
"I will speak to the Lord Provost," said the magistrate, "about
Ratcliffe's business. Mr. Sharpitlaw, you will go with me, and receive
instructions--something may be made too out of this story of Butler's and
his unknown gentleman--I know no business any man has to swagger about in
the King's Park, and call himself the devil, to the terror of honest
folks, who dinna care to hear mair about the devil than is said from the
pulpit on the Sabbath. I cannot think the preacher himsell wad be heading
the mob, though the time has been, they hae been as forward in a bruilzie
as their neighbours."
"But these times are lang by," said Mr. Sharpitlaw. "In my father's time,
there was mair search for silenced ministers about the Bow-head and the
Covenant Close, and all the tents of Kedar, as they ca'd the dwellings o'
the godly in those days, than there's now for thieves and vagabonds in
the Laigh Calton and the back o' the Canongate. But that time's weel by,
an it bide. And if the Bailie will get me directions and authority from
the Provost, I'll speak wi' Daddie Rat mysell; for I'm thinking I'll make
mair out o' him than ye'll do."
Mr. Sharpitlaw, being necessarily a man of high trust, was accordingly
empowered, in the course of the day, to make such arrangements as might
seem in the emergency most advantageous for the Good Town. He went to the
jail accordingly, and saw Ratcliffe in private.
The relative positions of a police-officer and a professed thief bear a
different complexion, according to circumstances. The most obvious simile
of a hawk pouncing upon his prey is often least applicable. Sometimes the
guardian of justice has the air of a cat watching a mouse, and, while he
suspends his purpose of springing upon the pilferer, takes care so to
calculate his motions that he shall not get beyond his power. Sometimes,
more passive still, he uses the art of fascination ascribed to the
rattlesnake, and contents himself with glaring on the victim, through all
his devious flutterings; certain that his terror, confusion, and disorder
of ideas, will bring him into his jaws at last. The interview between
Ratcliffe and Sharpitlaw had an aspect different from all these. They sat
for five minutes silent, on opposite sides of a small table, and looked
fixedly at each other, with a sharp, knowing, and alert cast of
countenance, not unmingled with an inclination to laugh, and resembled
more than anything else, two dogs, who, preparing for a game at romps,
are seen to couch down, and remain in that posture for a little time,
watching each other's movements, and waiting which shall begin the game.
"So, Mr. Ratcliffe," said the officer, conceiving it suited his dignity
to speak first, "you give up business, I find?"
"Yes, sir," replied Ratcliffe; "I shall be on that lay nae mair--and I
think that will save your folk some trouble, Mr. Sharpitlaw?"
"Which Jock DaIgleish" (then finisher of the law* in the Scottish
metropolis) "wad save them as easily," returned the procurator-fiscal.
* [Among the flying leaves of the period, there is one called
"Sutherland's Lament for the loss of his post,--with his advice, to John
Daglees his successor." He was whipped and banished 25th July 1722. There
is another, called the Speech and dying words of John Dalgleish, lockman
/alias/ hangman of Edinburgh, containing these lines:--
Death, I've a Favour for to beg,
That ye wad only gie a Fleg,
And spare my Life;
As I did to ill-hanged Megg,
The Webster's Wife."]
"Ay; if I waited in the Tolbooth here to have him fit my cravat--but
that's an idle way o' speaking, Mr. Sharpitlaw."
"Why, I suppose you know you are under sentence of death, Mr. Ratcliffe?"
replied Mr. Sharpitlaw.
"Aye, so are a', as that worthy minister said in the Tolbooth Kirk the
day Robertson wan off; but naebody kens when it will be executed. Gude
faith, he had better reason to say sae than he dreamed off, before the
play was played out that morning!"
"This Robertson," said Sharpitlaw, in a lower and something like a
confidential tone, "d'ye ken, Rat--that is, can ye gie us ony inkling
where he is to be heard tell o'?"
"Troth, Mr. Sharpitlaw, I'll be frank wi' ye; Robertson is rather a cut
abune me--a wild deevil he was, and mony a daft prank he played; but
except the Collector's job that Wilson led him into, and some tuilzies
about run goods wi' the gaugers and the waiters, he never did onything
that came near our line o' business."
"Umph! that's singular, considering the company he kept."
"Fact, upon my honour and credit," said Ratcliffe, gravely. "He keepit
out o' our little bits of affairs, and that's mair than Wilson did; I hae
dune business wi' Wilson afore now. But the lad will come on in time;
there's nae fear o' him; naebody will live the life he has led, but what
he'll come to sooner or later."
"Who or what is he, Ratcliffe? you know, I suppose?" said Sharpitlaw.
"He's better born, I judge, than he cares to let on; he's been a soldier,
and he has been a play-actor, and I watna what he has been or hasna been,
for as young as he is, sae that it had daffing and nonsense about it."
"Pretty pranks he has played in his time, I suppose?"
"Ye may say that," said Ratcliffe, with a sardonic smile; "and" (touching
his nose) "a deevil amang the lasses."
"Like enough," said Sharpitlaw. "Weel, Ratcliffe, I'll no stand niffering
wi' ye; ye ken the way that favour's gotten in my office; ye maun be
"Certainly, sir, to the best of my power--naething for naething--I ken
the rule of the office," said the ex-depredator.
"Now the principal thing in hand e'en now," said the official person, "is
the job of Porteous's; an ye can gie us a lift--why, the inner turnkey's
office to begin wi', and the captainship in time--ye understand my
"Ay, troth do I, sir; a wink's as gude as a nod to a blind horse; but
Jock Porteous's job--Lord help ye!--I was under sentence the haill time.
God! but I couldna help laughing when I heard Jock skirting for mercy in
the lads' hands. Mony a het skin ye hae gien me, neighbour, thought I,
tak ye what's gaun: time about's fair play; ye'll ken now what hanging's
"Come, come, this is all nonsense, Rat," said the procurator. "Ye canna
creep out at that hole, lad; you must speak to the point--you understand
me--if you want favour; gif-gaf makes gude friends, ye ken."
"But how can I speak to the point, as your honour ca's it," said
Ratcliffe, demurely, and with an air of great simplicity, "when ye ken I
was under sentence and in the strong room a' the while the job was going
"And how can we turn ye loose on the public again, Daddie Rat, unless ye
do or say something to deserve it?"
"Well, then, d--n it!" answered the criminal, "since it maun be sae, I
saw Geordie Robertson among the boys that brake the jail; I suppose that
will do me some gude?"
"That's speaking to the purpose, indeed," said the office-bearer; "and
now, Rat, where think ye we'll find him?"
"Deil haet o' me kens," said Ratcliffe; "he'll no likely gang back to ony
o' his auld howffs; he'll be off the country by this time. He has gude
friends some gate or other, for a' the life he's led; he's been weel
"He'll grace the gallows the better," said Mr. Sharpitlaw; "a desperate
dog, to murder an officer of the city for doing his duty! Wha kens wha's
turn it might be next?--But you saw him plainly?"
"As plainly as I see you."
"How was he dressed?" said Sharpitlaw.
"I couldna weel see; something of a woman's bit mutch on his head; but ye
never saw sic a ca'-throw. Ane couldna hae een to a' thing."
"But did he speak to no one?" said Sharpitlaw.
"They were a' speaking and gabbling through other," said Ratcliffe, who
was obviously unwilling to carry his evidence farther than he could
"This will not do, Ratcliffe," said the procurator; "you must speak /out
--out--out,/" tapping the table emphatically, as he repeated that
"It's very hard, sir," said the prisoner; "and but for the
"And the reversion of the captaincy--the captaincy of the Tolbooth, man--
that is, in case of gude behaviour."
"Ay, ay," said Ratcliffe, "gude behaviour!--there's the deevil. And then
it's waiting for dead folk's shoon into the bargain."
"But Robertson's head will weigh something," said Sharpitlaw; "something
gey and heavy, Rat; the town maun show cause--that's right and reason--
and then ye'll hae freedom to enjoy your gear honestly."
"I dinna ken," said Ratcliffe; "it's a queer way of beginning the trade
of honesty--but deil ma care. Weel, then, I heard and saw him speak to
the wench Effie Deans, that's up there for child-murder."
"The deil ye did? Rat, this is finding a mare's nest wi' a witness.--And
the man that spoke to Butler in the Park, and that was to meet wi' Jeanie
Deans at Muschat's Cairn--whew! lay that and that together? As sure as I
live he's been the father of the lassie's wean."
"There hae been waur guesses than that, I'm thinking," observed
Ratcliffe, turning his quid of tobacco in his cheek, and squirting out
the juice. "I heard something a while syne about his drawing up wi' a
bonny quean about the Pleasaunts, and that it was a' Wilson could do to
keep him frae marrying her."
Here a city officer entered, and told Sharpitlaw that they had the woman
in custody whom he had directed them to bring before him.
"It's little matter now," said he, "the thing is taking another turn;
however, George, ye may bring her in."
The officer retired, and introduced, upon his return, a tall, strapping
wench of eighteen or twenty, dressed, fantastically, in a sort of blue
riding-jacket, with tarnished lace, her hair clubbed like that of a man,
a Highland bonnet, and a bunch of broken feathers, a riding-skirt (or
petticoat) of scarlet camlet, embroidered with tarnished flowers. Her
features were coarse and masculine, yet at a little distance, by dint of
very bright wild-looking black eyes, an aquiline nose, and a commanding
profile, appeared rather handsome. She flourished the switch she held in
her hand, dropped a courtesy as low as a lady at a birth-night
introduction, recovered herself seemingly according to Touchstone's
directions to Audrey, and opened the conversation without waiting till
any questions were asked.
"God gie your honour gude-e'en, and mony o' them, bonny Mr. Sharpitlaw!--
Gude-e'en to ye, Daddie Ratton--they tauld me ye were hanged, man; or did
ye get out o' John Dalgleish's hands like half-hangit Maggie Dickson?"
"Whisht, ye daft jaud," said Ratcliffe, "and hear what's said to ye."
"Wi' a' my heart, Ratton. Great preferment for poor Madge to be brought
up the street wi' a grand man, wi' a coat a' passemented wi' worset-lace,
to speak wi' provosts, and bailies, and town-clerks, and prokitors, at
this time o' day--and the haill town looking at me too--This is honour on
earth for ance!"
"Ay, Madge," said Mr. Sharpitlaw, in a coaxing tone; "and ye're dressed
out in your braws, I see; these are not your every-days' claiths ye have
"Deil be in my fingers, then!" said Madge--"Eh, sirs!" (observing Butler
come into the apartment), "there's a minister in the Tolbooth--wha will
ca' it a graceless place now?--I'se warrant he's in for the gude auld
cause--but it's be nae cause o' mine," and off she went into a song--
"Hey for cavaliers, ho for cavaliers,
Dub a dub, dub a dub,
Have at old Beelzebub,--
Oliver's squeaking for fear."
"Did you ever see that mad woman before?" said Sharpitlaw to Butler.
"Not to my knowledge, sir," replied Butler.
"I thought as much," said the procurator-fiscal, looking towards
Ratcliffe, who answered his glance with a nod of acquiescence and
"But that is Madge Wildfire, as she calls herself," said the man of law
"Ay, that I am," said Madge, "and that I have been ever since I was
something better--Heigh ho"--(and something like melancholy dwelt on her
features for a minute)--"But I canna mind when that was--it was lang
syne, at ony rate, and I'll ne'er fash my thumb about it.--
I glance like the wildfire through country and town;
I'm seen on the causeway--I'm seen on the down;
The lightning that flashes so bright and so free,
Is scarcely so blithe or so bonny as me."
"Hand your tongue, ye skirling limmer!" said the officer who had acted as
master of the ceremonies to this extraordinary performer, and who was
rather scandalised at the freedom of her demeanour before a person of Mr.
Sharpitlaw's importance--"haud your tongue, or I'se gie ye something to
"Let her alone, George," said Sharpitlaw, "dinna put her out o' tune; I
hae some questions to ask her--But first, Mr. Butler, take another look
"Do sae, minister--do sae," cried Madge; "I am as weel worth looking at
as ony book in your aught.--And I can say the single carritch, and the
double carritch, and justification, and effectual calling, and the
assembly of divines at Westminster, that is" (she added in a low tone),
"I could say them ance--but it's lang syne--and ane forgets, ye ken." And
poor Madge heaved another deep sigh.
"Weel, sir," said Mr. Sharpitlaw to Butler, "what think ye now?"
"As I did before," said Butler; "that I never saw the poor demented
creature in my life before."
"Then she is not the person whom you said the rioters last night
described as Madge Wildfire?"
"Certainly not," said Butler. "They may be near the same height, for they
are both tall, but I see little other resemblance."
"Their dress, then, is not alike?" said Sharpitlaw.
"Not in the least," said Butler.
"Madge, my bonny woman," said Sharpitlaw, in the same coaxing manner,
"what did ye do wi' your ilka-day's claise yesterday?"
"I dinna mind," said Madge.
"Where was ye yesterday at e'en, Madge?"
"I dinna mind ony thing about yesterday," answered Madge; "ae day is
eneugh for ony body to wun ower wi' at a time, and ower muckle
"But maybe, Madge, ye wad mind something about it, if I was to gie ye
this half-crown?" said Sharpitlaw, taking out the piece of money.
"That might gar me laugh, but it couldna gar me mind."
"But, Madge," continued Sharpitlaw, "were I to send you to the workhouse
in Leith Wynd, and gar Jock Dalgleish lay the tawse on your back"
"That wad gar me greet," said Madge, sobbing, "but it couldna gar me
mind, ye ken."
"She is ower far past reasonable folks' motives, sir," said Ratcliffe,
"to mind siller, or John Dalgleish, or the cat-and-nine-tails either; but
I think I could gar her tell us something."
"Try her, then, Ratcliffe," said Sharpitlaw, "for I am tired of her crazy
pate, and be d--d to her."
"Madge," said Ratcliffe, "hae ye ony joes now?"
"An ony body ask ye, say ye dinna ken.--Set him to be speaking of my
joes, auld Daddie Ratton!"
"I dare say, ye hae deil ane?"
"See if I haena then," said Madge, with the toss of the head of affronted
beauty--"there's Rob the Ranter, and Will Fleming, and then there's
Geordie Robertson, lad--that's Gentleman Geordie--what think ye o' that?"
Ratcliffe laughed, and, winking to the procurator-fiscal, pursued the
inquiry in his own way. "But, Madge, the lads only like ye when ye hae on
your braws--they wadna touch you wi' a pair o' tangs when you are in your
auld ilka-day rags."
"Ye're a leeing auld sorrow then," replied the fair one; "for Gentle
Geordie Robertson put my ilka-day's claise on his ain bonny sell
yestreen, and gaed a' through the town wi' them; and gawsie and grand he
lookit, like ony queen in the land."
"I dinna believe a word o't," said Ratcliffe, with another wink to the
procurator. "Thae duds were a' o' the colour o' moonshine in the water,
I'm thinking, Madge--The gown wad be a sky-blue scarlet, I'se warrant
"It was nae sic thing," said Madge, whose unretentive memory let out, in
the eagerness of contradiction, all that she would have most wished to
keep concealed, had her judgment been equal to her inclination. "It was
neither scarlet nor sky-blue, but my ain auld brown threshie-coat of a
short-gown, and my mother's auld mutch, and my red rokelay--and he gied
me a croun and a kiss for the use o' them, blessing on his bonny face--
though it's been a dear ane to me."
"And where did he change his clothes again, hinnie?" said Sharpitlaw, in
his most conciliatory manner.
"The procurator's spoiled a'," observed Ratcliffe, drily. And it was even
so; for the question, put in so direct a shape, immediately awakened
Madge to the propriety of being reserved upon those very topics on which
Ratcliffe had indirectly seduced her to become communicative.
"What was't ye were speering at us, sir?" she resumed, with an appearance
of stolidity so speedily assumed, as showed there was a good deal of
knavery mixed with her folly.
"I asked you," said the procurator, "at what hour, and to what place,
Robertson brought back your clothes."
"Robertson?--Lord hand a care o' us! what Robertson?"
"Why, the fellow we were speaking of, Gentle Geordie, as you call him."
"Geordie Gentle!" answered Madge, with well-feigned amazement--"I dinna
ken naebody they ca' Geordie Gentle."
"Come, my jo," said Sharpitlaw, "this will not do; you must tell us what
you did with these clothes of yours."
Madge Wildfire made no answer, unless the question may seem connected
with the snatch of a song with which she indulged the embarrassed
"What did ye wi' the bridal ring--bridal ring--bridal ring?
What did ye wi' your wedding ring, ye little cutty quean, O?
I gied it till a sodger, a sodger, a sodger,
I gied it till a sodger, an auld true love o' mine, O."
Of all the madwomen who have sung and said, since the days of Hamlet the
Dane, if Ophelia be the most affecting, Madge Wildfire was the most
The procurator-fiscal was in despair. "I'll take some measures with this
d--d Bess of Bedlam," said he, "that shall make her find her tongue."
"Wi' your favour, sir," said Ratcliffe, "better let her mind settle a
little--Ye have aye made out something."
"True," said the official person; "a brown short-gown, mutch, red
rokelay--that agrees with your Madge Wildfire, Mr. Butler?" Butler agreed
that it did so. "Yes, there was a sufficient motive for taking this crazy
creature's dress and name, while he was about such a job."
"And I am free to say /now,/" said Ratcliffe
"When you see it has come out without you," interrupted Sharpitlaw.
"Just sae, sir," reiterated Ratcliffe. "I am free to say now, since it's
come out otherwise, that these were the clothes I saw Robertson wearing
last night in the jail, when he was at the head of the rioters."
"That's direct evidence," said Sharpitlaw; "stick to that, Rat--I will
report favourably of you to the provost, for I have business for you
to-night. It wears late; I must home and get a snack, and I'll be back in
the evening. Keep Madge with you, Ratcliffe, and try to get her into a
good tune again." So saying he left the prison.
And some they whistled--and some they sang,
And some did loudly say,
Whenever Lord Barnard's horn it blew,
"Away, Musgrave away!"
Ballad of Little Musgrave.
When the man of office returned to the Heart of Mid-Lothian, he resumed
his conference with Ratcliffe, of whose experience and assistance he now
held himself secure. "You must speak with this wench, Rat--this Effie
Deans--you must sift her a wee bit; for as sure as a tether she will ken
Robertson's haunts--till her, Rat--till her without delay."
"Craving your pardon, Mr. Sharpitlaw," said the turnkey elect, "that's
what I am not free to do."
"Free to do, man? what the deil ails ye now?--I thought we had settled a'
"I dinna ken, sir," said Ratcliffe; "I hae spoken to this Effie--she's
strange to this place and to its ways, and to a' our ways, Mr.
Sharpitlaw; and she greets, the silly tawpie, and she's breaking her
heart already about this wild chield; and were she the mean's o' taking
him, she wad break it outright."
"She wunna hae time, lad," said Sharpitlaw; "the woodie will hae it's ain
o' her before that--a woman's heart takes a lang time o' breaking."
"That's according to the stuff they are made o' sir," replied Ratcliffe--
"But to make a lang tale short, I canna undertake the job. It gangs
against my conscience."
"/Your/ conscience, Rat?" said Sharpitlaw, with a sneer, which the reader
will probably think very natural upon the occasion.
"Ou ay, sir," answered Ratcliffe, calmly, "just my conscience; a'body has
a conscience, though it may be ill wunnin at it. I think mine's as weel
out o' the gate as maist folk's are; and yet it's just like the noop of
my elbow, it whiles gets a bit dirl on a corner."
"Weel, Rat," replied Sharpitlaw, "since ye are nice, I'll speak to the
Sharpitlaw, accordingly, caused himself to be introduced into the little
dark apartment tenanted by the unfortunate Effie Deans. The poor girl was
seated on her little flock-bed, plunged in a deep reverie. Some food
stood on the table, of a quality better than is usually supplied to
prisoners, but it was untouched. The person under whose care she was more
particularly placed, said, "that sometimes she tasted naething from the
tae end of the four-and-twenty hours to the t'other, except a drink of
Sharpitlaw took a chair, and, commanding the turnkey to retire, he opened
the conversation, endeavouring to throw into his tone and countenance as
much commiseration as they were capable of expressing, for the one was
sharp and harsh, the other sly, acute, and selfish.
"How's a' wi' ye, Effie?--How d'ye find yoursell, hinny?"
A deep sigh was the only answer.
"Are the folk civil to ye, Effie?--it's my duty to inquire."
"Very civil, sir," said Effie, compelling herself to answer, yet hardly
knowing what she said.
"And your victuals," continued Sharpitlaw, in the same condoling tone,--
"do you get what you like?--or is there onything you would particularly
fancy, as your health seems but silly?"
"It's a' very weel, sir, I thank ye," said the poor prisoner, in a tone
how different from the sportive vivacity of those of the Lily of St.
Leonard's!--"it's a' very gude--ower gude for me."
"He must have been a great villain, Effie, who brought you to this pass,"
The remark was dictated partly by a natural feeling, of which even he
could not divest himself, though accustomed to practise on the passions
of others, and keep a most heedful guard over his own, and partly by his
wish to introduce the sort of conversation which might, best serve his
immediate purpose. Indeed, upon the present occasion, these mixed motives
of feeling and cunning harmonised together wonderfully; for, said
Sharpitlaw to himself, the greater rogue Robertson is, the more will be
the merit of bringing him to justice. "He must have been a great villain,
indeed," he again reiterated; "and I wish I had the skelping o' him."
"I may blame mysell mair than him," said Effie; "I was bred up to ken
better; but he, poor fellow,"--(she stopped).
"Was a thorough blackguard a' his life, I dare say," said Sharpitlaw. "A
stranger he was in this country, and a companion of that lawless
vagabond, Wilson, I think, Effie?"
"It wad hae been dearly telling him that he had ne'er seen Wilson's
"That's very true that you are saying, Effie," said Sharpitlaw. "Where
was't that Robertson and you were used to howff thegither? Somegate about
the Laigh Calton, I am thinking."
The simple and dispirited girl had thus far followed Mr. Sharpitlaw's
lead, because he had artfully adjusted his observations to the thoughts
he was pretty certain must be passing through her own mind, so that her
answers became a kind of thinking aloud, a mood into which those who are
either constitutionally absent in mind, or are rendered so by the
temporary pressure of misfortune, may be easily led by a skilful train of
suggestions. But the last observation of the procurator-fiscal was too
much of the nature of a direct interrogatory, and it broke the charm
"What was it that I was saying?" said Effie, starting up from her
reclining posture, seating herself upright, and hastily shading her
dishevelled hair back from her wasted but still beautiful countenance.
She fixed her eyes boldly and keenly upon Sharpitlaw--"You are too much
of a gentleman, sir,--too much of an honest man, to take any notice of
what a poor creature like me says, that can hardly ca' my senses my ain--
God help me!"
"Advantage!--I would be of some advantage to you if I could," said
Sharpitlaw, in a soothing tone; "and I ken naething sae likely to serve
ye, Effie, as gripping this rascal, Robertson."
"O dinna misca' him, sir, that never misca'd you!--Robertson?--I am sure
I had naething to say against ony man o' the name, and naething will I
"But if you do not heed your own misfortune, Effie, you should mind what
distress he has brought on your family," said the man of law.
"O, Heaven help me!" exclaimed poor Effie--"My poor father--my dear
Jeanie--O, that's sairest to bide of a'! O, sir, if you hae ony kindness
--if ye hae ony touch of compassion--for a' the folk I see here are as
hard as the wa'-stanes--If ye wad but bid them let my sister Jeanie in
the next time she ca's! for when I hear them put her awa frae the door,
and canna climb up to that high window to see sae muckle as her
gown-tail, it's like to pit me out o' my judgment." And she looked on him
with a face of entreaty, so earnest, yet so humble, that she fairly shook
the steadfast purpose of his mind.
"You shall see your sister," he began, "if you'll tell me,"--then
interrupting himself, he added, in a more hurried tone,--"no, d--n it,
you shall see your sister whether you tell me anything or no." So saying,
he rose up and left the apartment.
When he had rejoined Ratcliffe, he observed, "You are right, Ratton;
there's no making much of that lassie. But ae thing I have cleared--that
is, that Robertson has been the father of the bairn, and so I will wager
a boddle it will be he that's to meet wi' Jeanie Deans this night at
Muschat's Cairn, and there we'll nail him, Rat, or my name is not Gideon
"But," said Ratcliffe, perhaps because he was in no hurry to see anything
which was like to be connected with the discovery and apprehension of
Robertson, "an that were the case, Mr. Butler wad hae kend the man in the
King's Park to be the same person wi' him in Madge Wildfire's claise,
that headed the mob."
"That makes nae difference, man," replied Sharpitlaw--"the dress, the
light, the confusion, and maybe a touch o' a blackit cork, or a slake o'
paint-hout, Ratton, I have seen ye dress your ainsell, that the deevil ye
belang to durstna hae made oath t'ye."
"And that's true, too," said Ratcliffe.
"And besides, ye donnard carle," continued Sharpitlaw, triumphantly, "the
minister /did/ say that he thought he knew something of the features of
the birkie that spoke to him in the Park, though he could not charge his
memory where or when he had seen them."
"It's evident, then, your honour will be right," said Ratcliffe.
"Then, Rat, you and I will go with the party oursells this night, and see
him in grips or we are done wi' him."
"I seena muckle use I can be o' to your honour," said Ratcliffe,
"Use?" answered Sharpitlaw--"You can guide the party--you ken the ground.
Besides, I do not intend to quit sight o' you, my good friend, till I
have him in hand."
"Weel, sir," said Ratcliffe, but in no joyful tone of acquiescence; "Ye
maun hae it your ain way--but mind he's a desperate man."
"We shall have that with us," answered Sharpitlaw, "that will settle him,
if it is necessary."
"But, sir," answered Ratcliffe, "I am sure I couldna undertake to guide
you to Muschat's Cairn in the night-time; I ken the place as mony does,
in fair day-light, but how to find it by moonshine, amang sae mony crags
and stanes, as like to each other as the collier to the deil, is mair
than I can tell. I might as soon seek moonshine in water."
"What's the meaning o' this, Ratcliffe?" said Sharpitlaw, while he fixed
his eye on the recusant, with a fatal and ominous expression,--"Have you
forgotten that you are still under sentence of death?"
"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,
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