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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 157)

To return to the women, there was the future Lady Stair, (wife of John, Earl of Stair,) in the days of her first widowhood, who fled for her life from the maddest fool in Scotland, and stinted the wine of one of its first commanders and wisest statesmen—a lively, sensible, resolute woman, and a lover of the Covenant as a daughter of Loudon's—handsome from bodily and mental health and strength—in her grave-coloured jacket and skirt, with silver buttons. There was the Honourable Mrs Ogilvie, in a scarlet riding-dress, and an under petticoat of callimanco, reputed "the best-bred woman in Scotland," who "finished" the education of young ladies of quality, and introduced them into the society of the capital. And there was many a nameless grim Mrs Jonet in her mantle, and fair Euphame Napier under her plaid. There was Lord Abruchil, the richest of the Lords of Session, with a satin capachin, lined with fur, on his bent shoulders, and a muff strapped round his waist to protect his age from the chillness of the east wind; and young Duncan Forbes, brother of the Highland laird whose ominous sobriquet was "Bumper John," already mourning Mary Rose of Kilravock, with whom he held tryst at the broad stone, beneath the lonely oak which

"Shakes its branches bold,"

on his own Drummossie Moor, when he little dreamt that he would live to hear of the familiar heather wild as a great sangue lac. He has ere now accompanied Captain Green to his execution, and laid the murdered head with his own hands in its dishonoured grave— that just and generous young advocate. And there was a towering figure moving readily among the divines—a broad contrast to the intellectual icicle, Mackenzie,—a gaunt, whimsical, rough, true, godly giant, Sir James Stewart, the Queen's advocate—a learned man, too, for he read eighteen hours a-day when in hiding for his principles, and could repeat "long passages of the Roman authors and the poets not many months before his death,"—not a classical English writer, possibly, because in his conversation he was wont to be uncourtly and uncouth enough, flinging "many a beast, fool, and ignoramus" at the heads of those with whom he reasoned in his homely freedom, though, at the same time, of a temper "most sweet, and easy, and very pleasant," as may well be believed of so brave and good a man, who, when a clergyman mentioned his usefulness by his deathbed, shrugged his shoulders, and objected characteristically, "Hout! hout!" and who expired in the very act of blessing his children. It is not difficult to realise great, loose-limbed, manly Sir James, lounging among the black coats, and pleasing and teasing them as their most trusty and privileged friend.

These black coats—they scarcely need to be daguerreotyped at this hour of the day; but their outlines are very clear, very impressive, very touching still. They were not now fighting for existence, and hunted on the moors and morasses; they had established their plea with the Revolution, and, beyond the Cameronians, and those who, like the earlier Christians, when the persecutions of the Roman emperors ceased, began to torture themselves—were afflicted with the fine disease of scrupulousness, which Dr Samuel Johnson could not away with—they were at peace; and the qualities which had been grand in adversity were already undergoing the harder test of prosperity. They need nervous touches and double lines to indicate them. Some were poor men, like Mair, who was a carter until he was above twenty years of age, who was taught by his wife (a resolute, faithful Euphame) to read English, and who pursued his studies until he mastered Greek and Hebrew; who refused gold from King James, (very sparing in the coin which bore his effigy,) because the king threatened the liberties of the Church, and might design to inveigle him into concessions; and gladly availed himself of bags of meal left at the door when his family were starving. Some were of ancient family and independent means, like the Melvilles. Many were learned in the abstruse mysteries and subtle logic of the schools. A few were simple men, only furnished with gospel riches. They were isolated in country parishes, where news from Edinburgh was rare. And yet almost all the noted figures in the groups had visited London, a fine venture in those days; and not a few of them had been educated or ordained in Holland, where they were brought into contact with foreign requirements and foreign verdicts; where they found the national reformer, the liberal, if languid Erasmus; and where they learnt how Grotius escaped from prison, very significantly in his book-chest. They were men who plunged deep in the fathomless abysses of Arminianism and Antinomianism, and who, from the very concentration of their ideas, underwent fierce individual mental struggles. They were unbending in their discipline, until it arrived at an iron coercion, and severe to cruelty in their sentences. They sedulously collected God's judgments on their ancient enemies as well as His acts of providence towards their friends : how this laird sailed with the wrecks of the miserable captives of Dunottar to plant East Jersey—and a pestilence breaking out in the ship, bis wife and himself were among the first victims; and how that laird dropped down dead on the floor, where he had held a wicked "cabal" and dancing match. They credited wraiths, and showers of blood; yet were they men most honourable in their reputations, most tender in their household charities, most self-sacrificing in their duties, most manly in their faith; and over their proverbial Scotch gravity there rippled brightly the equally proverbial Scotch humour. They were spiritual-minded, godly; and one is in a rapture while he speaks of the righteousness of Christ—and cries out at another time, while expatiating on the eternity of glory in heaven, like a man in the seventh heaven already, "It's glory to come—glory to come, and always, through all eternity, glory to come;" and another, in facing his last enemy, murmurs of a tryst— a tryst next day—a tryst at seven o'clock—a tryst with his Saviour: and girds up his loins, and keeps his heavenly tryst at the hour and the place appointed.

Up in Edinburgh, at this Assembly, these officers of the most potent army in the kingdom were anxiously scrutinised by the other authorities, while they frequently disputed hotly, and legislated arrogantly, and experienced sufficiently that, though their lives were no longer in danger, their posts were no sinecures. They were already divided among themselves, and threatened with dissent; the old volcanic throes of their history were still heaving, the Cameronians and other dissenters bore them bitter grudges, and they themselves, on the other hand, were tempted to revenge their old humiliations on their neighbours, the Episcopalians. In one parish the heritors were inducting a pastor in defiance of the congregation, in another, trades-bands were placing a probationer in open scorn of the heritors; in a third, an Episcopalian proprietor, in orders himself, was endeavouring to blot out the very existence of one of the parishes of the country. In Ross, the Laird of Coul sent armed men to arrest a Presbyterian minister venturing within his bounds, threw him into a shed or hut containing cattle, and kept him in guard two days "without meat, drink, or a bed." In the south, there were similar outrages. Last, not least, among their own people, a good divine found it necessary to complain sadly of his parishioners, that, as a consequence of the long years of strife and contest, he found them more zealous after Presbyterianism than Christianity—that although the persecuted clergy had preserved true points in their character, the natives, generally speaking, "were naturally smart, and of an uncommon assurance; self-conceited and censorious to a pitch; using an indecent freedom both with Church and State." [Boston.]

At this season many a black coat was inditing a daily letter to a primitive, rural manse. Models of the correspondence remain, and, in one case, the likeness of a receiver of these constant epistles. "A woman of great worth, whom I therefore passionately loved and inwardly honoured; a stately, beautiful, and comely personage, truly pious, and fearing the Lord; of an evenly temper, patient in our common tribulations, and under her personal distresses; a woman of bright, natural parts, an uncommon stock of prudence; of a quick and lively apprehension in things she applied herself to; great presence of mind in surprising incidents; sagacious and acute in discerning the qualities of persons, and therefore not easily imposed upon; modest and grave in her deportment, but naturally cheerful; wise and affable in conversation, having a good faculty at speaking, and expressing herself with assurance. Endowed with a singular dexterity in dictating letters; being a pattern of frugality and wise management of household affairs, therefore entirely committed to her; well fitted for, and careful of, the virtuous education of her children, remarkably useful to the country side, both in the Merse and in the Forest, through her skill in physic and surgery, on which, in many instances, a peculiar blessing appeared to be commanded from heaven; and, finally, a crown to me in my public station and appearance."

These letters are wonderfully characteristic. They begin: "My dear," or "My heart," and they proceed to detail, with great accuracy, the day's proceedings— a communication to be forwarded to some minister in the vicinity, not this year a member of Assembly, or to the lord or laird in whose family the writer has at one time taught as governor, and with whom, root and branch, he usually maintains a peculiarly endearing and perfectly unservile relation. He never fails to give the text of the sermon preached before the Commissioner, with, perhaps, the heads of the discourse; and it is evident that he feels a little gentle disappointment if it does not deal with the signs of the times. He intermingles words of spiritual counsel with the news of the great world crowding upon him as he emerges from his corner. A considerable proportion of these tidings refers to rumours from the Continent. There is a great subject of interest and anxiety in that dull, morose, banished old man over in France, whose bleedings at the nose are becoming more frequent and violent. There are serious apprehensions of an invasion, and in one letter the man has to encourage the apprehensive woman,—"I hear nothing now anent the invasion; neither do I expect it so suddenly as you do in yours, which I just now receive. I shall haste home as soon as I can. I hope you will write every post. Turn not melancholy, for I don't think there is any cause for it. God overrules all." And again the Assembly are so little under the impression of an invasion, that it is not named in the fast. There are occasional glimpses of the army abroad—"Young Torrens is killed at Douay;" and a very little gossip, which has its peculiar flavour— "The Laird of Megginch's sister is married to afriend." That may happen still—but there "young Houston has had a duel with Chartres, and he has been wounded." "Little Tom Stewart is dead of the pox." However, the letters are singularly impersonal; only here and there comes a short sentence or two—"I long for Thursday, and am weary to be home, though I am perfectly well. The horses are not come at ten at night." "My dearest Peggy, I am longing to hear from you. I fancy the Assembly may rise upon Tuesday or Wednesday next, so let my horse come in to me some time on Tuesday. He may either come off on Monday, and stay a night by the way, or on Tuesday morning, and come through, as Johnny pleases; but I think the first best." "I am grieved to hear of Mary's ill rest. I wish it do not much break yours; but it becomes us to be submissive. She has been an easy child till of late. I shall speak to B. Warrandar, if possible, but he is now out of town. As to the picture, I shall satisfy you when I come home. You must not judge of my respect to you by this; if it is not done, I can sincerely say it is not for want of inclination to satisfy you. I were most ingrate if I did it not to the best of my power." "Send me word with Johnny what placks to buy for Mary." "I shall mind the calligoe." "Let Johnny, if he bring the black horse, bring a wallet with him, and light at William Ker's, in the head of the Grassmarket, on the side next to the Castle, and call for mo at Mr Stewart's, the 'Regent's,' just at Bristo Port, or in the Parliament Close, the first door as he goes down the meal-market steps, at Mrs Watson's, or at the Assembly House." And the precise, old-fashioned scholar breaks out in the postscript, after he has signed himself "her own,"—"Please pardon escapes; I want time to read this over."  [Wodrow's Letters.]

These spare incidental allusions blot out the Assembly House and its troubles about the abjuration oath, and bring vividly before the reader the manse by the burn or under the hill—the pear-tree a sheet of snow—the gowans cropped in the infield by the minister's cow—the swallow fluttering under the eaves in this May-time of the year—the arrival of the minister from the Assembly—the innocent importance and pleasure with which he opens his "wallet," and displays a share of the wonders of the capital, the news-prints to be studied and treasured till harvest, the "calligoe," "the picture" for the lady, "the placks" for the bairns; and the lady is glad, and the bairns are gleeful, and they talk of that event and that scene after real snow is clinging to the gable, and the minister is watching his bairns sweeping down the slide in the centre of the shady kirk-road.

The black coats are in very simple and occasionally rather threadbare attire, with bag-wigs or powdered hair, or more frequently their own hair, without powder, combed straight back, and falling down behind, leaving the temples exposed. There is slight, delicate Thomas Boston of Ettrick, who spent much of his youth with his father in the prison at Dunse, and Erskine of Stirling, and Hog of Dalserf, who was employed by the Assembly to confute Arminianism, and in the act subjected himself to a clamour of Antino-mianism, who was licensed in Holland, and spent so many years there, that, like the young Frenchman, Joseph Renee Bellot, one of Franklin's knights, he lost grace and ease in his native tongue,—all three, whether meek or bold, protesting enthusiastically against the abjuration oath, and preparing for the first Secession. There, in his fiery youth, is the Celt, Niel Macvicar, who, when gray-headed, sat watching at a friend's window for the return of the messenger whom he sent to procure him liberty to preach while Prince Charlie was in Holyrood, and when the answer in the affirmative reached him, sprang up, clapping his hands, and calling out, "A fine day for Niel Macvicar!" And mounting his pulpit, prayed that the Prince who came among them seeking a temporal crown, might rather be transplanted to a heavenly one—a free petition, at which poor Prince Charlie, in the glow of his success and his good humour, laughed. There is stiff-limbed Barclay, who was in hiding with the Camero-nian lad Renwick, and hunted by Claverhouse, for the space of six weeks, and who attributed his marvellous escapes, with simple greatness of faith, to his God's right arm bared in his defence, and yet who, in the course of his doublings and windings, had acquired all the wary tactics, ready resources, and daring coups-de-main of an experienced military commander. There is Wodrow, the careful historian, who also finds time to correspond with Sir Robert Sibbald on antiquities, Lluyd on geology and zoology, and Cotton Mather, for twenty years, on "all the churches." There is the learned Professor Jameson, blind from his birth, yet a miracle of knowledge, a great opponent of Prelacy; and there is manly Principal Carstairs, ("Cardinal Carstairs," if ever man was by desert a cardinal,) master of all his faculties, bodily and spiritual, and wise and temperate in their use, who had been subjected to torture and imprisonment with the illustrious sufferers in the Ryehouse Plot, who was classed by Butch William as "a truly honest man," who is ready to acknowledge the amount of liberty allowed to his party, who is mild and prudent in his allusions to causes of division and distraction, and who, with brave Christian spirit, in the words of an ear-witness, "recommended charity and ingenuousness in dealing with those of the Episcopal communion who did not think it fit to join with us, and avoiding harshness and bitterness of spirit towards them; and told us that morosity and disingenuity will no way recommend us in dealing with them; which expressions some looked upon as what contained a tacit reflection upon ourselves."

Euphame's ignorance of those actors on an ancient stage was enlightened by such notes as her companions could supply. "Yonder is worthy Mr Hepburn —a powerful man in prayer." "I tell you, lass, I've seen that spruce, comfortable, middle-aged goodman in a tramper's rags, with old pans on his back, glowering steadfastly up at a taller tree than ever grew in green wood—just the black gal!ows-tree, in the centre of stone and lime." "Well, they say he's a sweet singer in Israel now, and minds only the mercies of the past. But see to you—here is the billy that beats the lave; oh, he's a grand, mysterious preacher, Mr David Gillespie."

"I hope it has been an edifying sight," observes Mrs Jonet, fastening her hood; "and they have seen us, too, I trust, and will not draw back from the plough"—in the spirit of those women who looked from the house-tops on Luther travelling on his dauntless mission, and cried, in shrill warning, "He who denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father and His holy angels." "But I have seen a grander sight," adds Mrs Jonet, sombrely, but loftily, "and one where there was no laughing and daffing to disturb one's meditations."

But even Euphame shuddered a little at Mrs Jonet's supernatural preference for the Grassmarket.

VIII.

When Mrs Jonet and Euphame Napier reached home, they found that the day's extraordinary occurrences were not over. A licence had been snatched, and a delinquency committed in their absence, which had not taken place in Bristo Street during Mrs Jonet's supremacy there—enough to prove that Mrs Jonet did not often turn her back upon her court.

In the morning, Katie Crichton and Alison Hughes had petitioned for leave to go with Mrs Jonet and Euphame Napier to see the ministers.

"To see the ministers!" Mrs Jonet blazed up in scorn; "a fell-like pair of gilpies, who could not mint the plainest doctrine, to profess to want out to see the ministers! If ye had asked to win to witness a wappinschaw on the Borough Moor, I would have held you in earnest, at least."

"But we want to get a glance at the braw Lord Commissioner, in his gilt coach. Ye might consent, Mrs Jonet," pleaded Katie, quite misled by Mrs Jonet's pretence of extreme sincerity and liberality. No; Mrs Jonet had righteously decided that only Euphame Napier was entitled to accompany her, and dogmatically fulfilled her resolution.

Katie and this girl Alison, of the same cast of character, smarting with mortification and envy, and very slenderly endowed with wisdom, had slipped out without leave, and were still absent when the principal returned. Truants among Lady Somerville's maidens! Mrs Jonet was shocked; and, while she sped a trusty deputy to Mrs Crichton's, in the High Street, to order her, on pain of intimation to Lady Somerville, forfeit of all privileges, and expulsion from the hospital, to deliver up the offenders and despatch them back without delay to Mrs Jonet, to be punished and disgraced in keeping with their scandalous behaviour, and according to Mrs Jonet's sovereign will and pleasure, Mrs Jonet moralised on the sins of the world, that she could not take a step out to see the ministers enter the Assembly House, but this folly must befall in Bristo Street.

Mrs Crichton received the information, but returned no answer, save what was contained in the philosophic observation, that "bairns would be bairns, and the show was most ended." Mrs Jonet did not fume, but she was settling into a white heat of wrath. Still, Mrs Crichton was so unsettled and inconsiderate in her words and actions, that there was no reason to suppose that she would not comply with Mrs Jonet's demand, the moment her hand reached the culprits. Mrs Jonet hesitated to apprise Lady Somerville; she was not a merciful woman, but she loved that fragile, fine body and spirit, whom she was very nearly ostentatious in styling her mistress; she grieved to discompose and distress her; she was fain to be excused from giving a bad account of her stewardship—stern as she was, an immediate accusation, without room for intervening rebuke and repentance, seemed disproportioned to the offence.'

Mrs Jonet waited for several hours, while the excitement and ferment of the usually profoundly-regular and peaceful hospital spread and deepened. At last, when Mrs Jonet must take some step to relieve her resentment and gathering apprehension, and was resuming her hood to proceed in person to Lady Somerville's closet in the Queea's Close, an express communication arrived from Mrs Crichton to notify that she had not seen the bairns since they changed their clothes in her house, in the early part of the day, and she would hold Mrs Jonet accountable for the safety of her Katie, since she should have looked after her in time,—and the Edinburgh mob was up!

"The silly, vain woman to abet the lass in slipping her tether, and then throw the blame on another ! Because the lass was her ain, for that very reason she should have dealt sharply with her youth—and grudged not the defeating of her own weak inclinations, so that the rod was not spared, and the child was not spoilt."

But Mrs Jonet's homily died away on her thin lips. The matter was no joke—the Edinburgh mob was up; and two girls, of seventeen and sixteen, were abroad in the streets, exposed to its excesses; and the May twilight was descending suddenly, dank with a curtain of gray mist, caught up from the German Ocean, and borne on the wings of a shrill east wind.

(To be continued.)


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