When Prince Charles Edward, at the
head of his hardy Highlanders, took up his head-quarters in Edinburgh,
issuing proclamations and holding levees, amongst those who attended the
latter was a young Englishman, named Henry Blackett, then a student at the
university, and the son of Sir John Blackett, of Winburn Priory, in
Cheshire. His mother had been a Miss Cameron, a Native of Invernesshire,
and the daughter of a poor but proud military officer. From her he had
imbibed principles or prejudices in favour of the house of Stuart; and
when he had been introduced to the young adventurer at Holyrood, and
witnessed the zeal of his army, his enthusiasm was kindled—there was a
romance in the undertaking which pleased his love of enterprise, and he
resolved to offer his sword to the Prince, and hazard his fortunes with
him. The offer was at once graciously and gratefully accepted, and Henry
Blackett was enrolled as an officer in the rebel army.
He followed the Prince through
prosperity and adversity, and when Charles became a fugitive in the land
of his fathers, Henry Blackett was one of the last to forsake him. He,
too, was hunted from one hiding-place to another; like him whom he had
served, he was a fugitive, and a price was set upon his head.
As has been stated, he imbibed his
principles in favour of the house of Stuart from his mother, but she had
been dead several years. His father was a weak man—one of whom it may be
said that he had no principles at all; but being knighted by King George,
on the occasion of his performing some civic duty, he became a violent
defender of the house of Brunswick, and he vowed that, if the law did not,
he would disinherit his son for having taken up arms in defence of
Charles. But what chiefly strengthened him in this resolution, was not so
much his devotion for the reigning family, as his attachment to one Miss
Norton, the daughter of a squire Norton of Norton Hall. She was a young
lady of much beauty, and mistress of what she called accomplishments, but,
in saying this much, I have recorded all her virtues. Her father’s
character might be summed up in one brief sentence—he was a deep,
designing, needy villain. He was a gambler—a gentleman by birth—a knave in
practice. He had long been on terms of familiarity with Sir John Blackett—he
knew his weakness, and he knew his wealth, and he rejoiced in the
attachment which he saw him manifesting for his daughter, in the hope that
it would be the means of bringing his estates within his control. But the
property of Sir John being entailed, it consequently would devolve on
Henry as his only surviving son. He, therefore, was an obstacle to the
accomplishment of the schemes on which Norton brooded; and when the latter
found that he had joined the army of the young Chevalier, he was chiefly
instrumental in having his name included in the list of those for whose
apprehension rewards were offered; and he privately, and at his own
expense, employed spies to go in quest of him. He also endeavoured to
excite his father more bitterly against him. Nor did his designs rest
here—but, as he beheld the fondness of the knight for his daughter
increase, he, with the cunning of a demon, proposed to him to break the
entail; and when the other inquired how it could be done, he
replied—"Nothing is more simple; deny him to be your heir—pronounce him
illegitimate. There is no living witness of your marriage with his mother.
The only document to prove it is some thumbed leaf in the register of an
obscure parish church in the Highlands of Scotland; and we can secure it."
To this most unnatural proposal the
weak and wicked old man consented; and I shall now describe the means
employed by Norton to become possessed of the parish register referred to.
Squire Norton had a son who was in
all respects worthy of such a father—he was the image of his mind and
person. In short, he was one of the things who, in those days,
resembled those who, in our own, call themselves men of the world,
forsooth! and who, under that name, infest and corrupt society—making a
boast of their worthlessness—poisoning innocence—triumphing in their work
of ruin—and laughing, like spirits of desolation, over the daughter’s
misery and disgrace, the father’s anguish, the wretched mother’s tears,
and the shame of a family which they have accomplished. There are such
creatures, who disgrace both the soul and the shape of man, who are mere
shreds and patches of debauchery—sweepings from the shops of the tailor,
the milliner, and the hair-dresser—who live upon the plunder obtained
under false pretences from the industrious—who giggle, ogle, pat a
snuff-box, or affect to nod in a church, to be thought sceptics or fine
gentlemen. One of such was young Norton; and he was sent down to Scotland,
to destroy the only proof which Henry Blackett, in the event of his being
pardoned, could bring forward in support of his legitimacy.
He arrived at a lonely village in
Invernesshire, near which the cottage formerly occupied by Major Cameron,
the grandfahter of Henry, was situated; and of whom he found that few of
the inhabitants remembered more than that "there lived a man." Finding the
only inn that was in the village much more cleanly and comfortable than he
had anticipated, he resolved to make it his hotel during his residence,
and inquired of the landlady if there were any one in the village with
whom a gentleman could spend an evening, and obtain information respecting
"Fu’ shurely! Fu’ shurely, sir!"
replied his Highland hostess—"there pe te auld tominie."
"Who?" inquired he, not exactly
comprehending her Celtic accent.
"Wha put to auld tominie?" returned
she; "an’ a tiscreet, goot shentleman he pe as in a’ te toun."
"The dominie?—the dominie?" he
repeated, in a tone of perplexity.
"Oigh!oigh! te tominie," added she,
"tat teaches te pits o’ pairns, an’ raises te psalm in te kirk."
He now comprehended her meaning; and
from her coupling the dominie’s name with the kirk, believed that he might
be of use to him in the accomplishment of his object, and desired that he
might be sent for.
"Oigh!" returned she smiling, "an he
no pe lang, for he like te trappie unco weel."
Within five minutes Dugald Mackay,
precentor, teacher, and parish-clerk of Glencleugh, entered the parlour of
Mrs. Macnab. Never was a more striking contrast exhibited in castle or in
cottage. Here stood young Norton, bedecked with all the foppery of an
exquisite of his day! and there stood Dugald Mackay, his thick bushy grey
hair falling on his shoulders, holding in his hand a hat not half the size
of his head, which had neither been made nor bought for him, and which had
become brown with service, and was now stitched in many places, to keep it
together. Round it was wrapped a narrow stripe of crape browner than
itself, and over all winded several yards of gut and hair-line, with hooks
attached, betokening his angling propensities. Dugald was a thickset old
man, with a face blooming like his native heather. His feet were thrust
into immense broguers, as brown as his hat, and their formidable patches
showed that their wearer could use the lingle and elshun,
although his profession was to "teach the young idea how to shoot." He
wore tartan hose—black breeches, fastened at the knees by silver gilt
buckles, and much the worse for the wear, while, from the accumulation of
ink and dust, they might have stood upright. His vest was huge and
double-breasted, its colour not recognised by painters; and his shoulders
were covered by a very small tartan coat, the tails of which hardly
reached his waist. Such was Dugald Mackay; and the youth, plying him with
the bottle, endeavoured to ascertain how far he could render him sub-servient
to his purpose.
"You appear fond of angling," said
"Fond o’ fishing?" returned the man
of letters; "ou ay! ou ay!—hur hae mony time filt te creel o’ te
shentlemen frae Inverness, for te sixpence, and te shilling, and te pig
crown, not to let tem gaun pack wi’ te empty pasket. And hur will teach
your honour, ore tress your honour’s hooks, should you be stopped to fish.
Here pe good sport to your honour," continued he, raising a bumper to his
The other, glad to assign a
plausible pretext for his visit, said that he had come a few days for the
sake of fishing, and inquired how long his guest had been in the
"Hur been schulemaister and
parish-clerk in Glencleugh for forty years," replied Dugald.
"Parish-clerk!" said Norton,
eagerly, and checking himself, continued—"that is,--in the church you
mean, you raise the tunes?"
"Ou ay, hur nainsel’ pe precentor
too," answered Dugald; "put hur pe schulemaister and parish-clerk into te
"And what are your duties as
parish-clerk?" inquired the other, in a tone of indifference.
"Ou, it pe to keep te books wi’ te
marriages, te christenings, and te deaths. Here pe to your honour’s very
goot luck again," said he, swallowing another bumper.
Thus the holder of the birch and
parish chronicler began to help himself to one glass after another, until
the candles began to dance reels and strathspeys before him. At length the
angler, expressing a wish to see such a curiosity as the matrimonial and
baptismal register of a hamlet so remote, out sallied Dugald, describing
curved lines as he went, and shortly returned, bearing the eventful
quartos under his arm. Norton looked through them, laughing, jesting, and
professing to be amused, and his eye quickly fell upon the page which he
sought. Dugald laughed, drank, and talked until his rough head sank upon
his breast, and certain nasal sounds gave notice that the schoolmaster was
abroad. In a moment, Norton transferred the leaf which contained the
certificate of Lady Blackett’s marriage, from the volume to his pocket.
His father had ordered him to destroy it, but the son, vicious as the
father, determined to keep it, and to hold it over him as an instrument of
terror to extort money. The dominie being roused to take one glass more by
way of a night-cap, was led home, as usual, by Mrs. Macnab’s
servant-of-all-work, who carried the volumes.
Shortly after this, the marriage
between Sir John Blackett and Miss Norton took place; her father rejoiced
in the success of his schemes, and Henry was disinherited and disowned.