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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from page 188)

Courageous woman as Mrs Jonet was, her heart quaked and her voice quavered as she arrested Mr Durie, hurrying in from an early dinner, with some of his country brethren, in a tavern—perhaps it was "William Kerr's, in the head of the Grassmarket, on the side next to the Castle"—to ask, with the tendency of the desperate to clutch at straws, if he had chanced to spy—he who never thought fit to study his neighbours, except in the Assembly House itself, or in the College library—two of the maidens, in strange gear, traversing the streets. Mr Durie had not even dreamt of such an encounter; but he testified none of his usual gentle languor, except when he was expounding.

"The bairns out in this night! Bristo Port is steeket already. Why did you not hinder them, Mrs Jonet? How could you suffer sic madness? I'll take my staff again—I'll go in search of them; but I hope —I hope they've a surer safeguard—a better protection."

Euphame was struck with the fact that Mr Durie, who, though a tender-hearted and modest man as ever existed, conceived himself bound to abet Mrs Jonet's views, and sometimes punished his pupils—never for personal liberties, but for infringement of the rules of the institution, and transgressions against Mrs Jonet's authority—by heavy ordinances of fasting, solitary confinement, and hard work, which cost him more groans in secret than they ever wrung from the lightheaded and incorrigible youth under his charge,—now said not a word of the girls' giddiness, disobedience, and defiance of discipline. He rather reflected on Mrs Jonet! He was folding his hands together, and murmuring—"The poor lasses, the witless bairns— lambs amidst wolves!" while Mrs Jonet was doggedly pouring down his throat a cup of burnt claret, and expertly fishing out his mantle and broad-flapping beaver from the dire confusion of his sleeping-room and study; and all the time, her own fasting stomach, and the hood and jacket which she had put aside in the spring noon, were judged protection enough for her bodily health against the aroused elements—ere they set out on their vague and perilous expedition. Nay, Mrs Jonet herself uttered no further condemnation of the absent. The truth was, the foolish girls were in trouble, and the hardest of the good hearts there would go through fire and water to deliver them, and would be silent on their demerits until that sad, sacred inequality of the scales was amended.

Euphame dared to propose that she should be of the rescue—not as Katie and Alison had urged, and whimpered, and pouted, and fled in the morning, but with an earnest, impassioned, irresistible motive-power.

"I can lend you my arm, Mrs Jonet. You ken you're very blind in the darkening; and Mr Durie maun be free. I'll detect them among a thousand. Katie will not be feared to see me."

Mrs Jonet's faculties were quickened. She pondered a moment, and consented.

"And I'll take Highland Bawbie. She has seen brawls; and she can force her way through a throng, and speak her countrymen fair, if there be ony about. Say, what's the cause of the steer, Mr Durie?"

Mr Durie could hardly tell. The Edinburgh mob, in the days of the Union, was composed of very inflammable materials, and was not easily sounded. The Lord Chancellor in the last Parliament might have been seen in the north again. They had once already surrounded his chair; and, had they not been charged by soldiers from the Castle, would have torn him piecemeal. Why, the Union Deed itself was signed over night in a cellar; and the Scotch members, booted and spurred, rode for their lives and the Borders long ere break of day. A great man, who might not have used his influence in behalf of the unhappy Darien expedition, might have rashly invaded the "gude toun's" precincts, and be supping in tremor with Lord Islay or Lord Alva. The meal might be inconveniently high in price, and the riot might concern the unlucky baxters— marked men in these affrays. But, whatever the cause, the Edinburgh mob was up ! And though the Highland Guard sputtered Gaelic, and stamped, and struck about them in the vicinity of the Krames and the Luckenbooths, and the bugle-note was sounded at the Castle, and the troops poured down into the confusion, woe be to man or woman who crossed its will!

Highland Bawbie swelled with pride at the office required of her, so far removed from her spit and her ladle; and, to the surprise of her mistress, she appeared before her, ready to march as her vanguard, wielding none of her natural instruments—neither broom, nor poker, nor rolling-pin; but with one of the long-shafted, heavy, iron-headed Lochaber axes of her cousins of the Town Guard resting on her shoulder. It had been a token from her Highland cousin, Hamish, when he wearied of the low country, and pined for the hills and the lochs, and regretted to lose the bonny harvest moon, pacing before mansions and warehouses whose thresholds he durst never cross; so he slipped away one early morning, and followed the Forth to Stirling, saw the magical blue shadows in the distance, found the broomy braes of Teith, and plunged anew, with exultation, into his fastnesses; taking with him but his skene-dhu, lest the insignia of his corps should cumber and betray him; and, with a slight infraction of the laws of property, pardonable in a mountaineer, bequeathing his trusty axe to his kinswoman Bawbie, thus left alone among the hostile Southern.

Mrs Jonet objected strongly to the incongruity of the equipment. But Bawbie slid behind the minister, and, helping her speech with impressive gestures, maintained her point:

"She can preach a braw sermon; but she cannot be trusted to fecht."

Bawbie might be reckoning without her host. After those days of rancorous contention and bloodshed, most churchmen must have been promising military recruits. Nay, did not their enemies allege that, so far back as the day when wild Jenny Geddes and the rest of the green-wives raised the rebellion in St Giles's, some of the stools were thrown with such vigour, that no old woman's arms, but young ministers shrouded in women's trappings, cast these stones of scorn and loathing? And if the grave host condescended to masquerade, or had passionate recourse to the secular arm, you may be sure that the real women present secretly trusted that their tall sisters would humble in the dust the intruders on their domain.

But Highland Bawbie shouldered her weapon so confidently and coolly, that Mrs Jonet did not persist in disarming her auxiliary, yielding a second time that night,—a sure sign that Mrs Jonet was in great inward perturbation and soreness of spirit. Thus the little party issued from the low doorway of the house in Bristo Street on their random quest, Mr Durie with his staff moving a step in advance—a promotion which could not be refused to his manhood—but if he had suffered an assault from the disorderly concourse in the street, his rear, his faithful womenfolk, would have rushed to his defence in the twinkling of an eye; next came Mrs Jonet, submitting to be guided by the eyes of Euphame peering from her screen, but rather bearing up the girl's arm than accepting its support; and, last, walked Bawbie in her coarse, homespun plaid, with the sharp steel point of her axe towering above her woman's head, and astonishing the passengers—glowering around her, not without "the stern joy which foemen feel," and a suspicion of martial glee; for Bawbie, though an affectionate soul as ever breathed, was not a generation removed from the cateran.

The evening was chill and raw—the city, so fair and fresh in the May morning, looked cold and gray in the gloaming—the steeples of the Bow, the Tron, and St Giles's were dim finger-posts, though the night was in the first quarter—respectable passengers had deserted the streets, women especially were housed from molestation and wrong. Bristo Street was comparatively free and quiet, but from the High Street and the Bow the murmurs of a multitude hummed ominously. The little band only made their way as far as the head of the Bow, when they were wedged into the hindmost ranks, and stopped in their progress by the tail of the throng. At the Bow Head was a wide space, where stood the Butter Tron, or Weigh-house, in constant occupation in the testing of agricultural produce admitted into the city markets; and here many of the idlers and bullies, and dangerous, determined men, who were threatening the peace of the citizens, spread out and rested themselves until room was made in front, or a reason afforded for their assemblage, and an aim suggested on which to expend their spare energy.

Fortunately, perhaps, for Mrs Jonet and her company, this termination of the many-headed monster consisted principally of what might be called the rustic tribes of the city,—the cowfeeders, labourers, quarrymen, from Coates, Dairy, Pocket Sleeve, and High Biggs, who, scenting uproar, had flocked into the town before Bristo Port was closed, and who might be rude and brutal, but who were not so demoralised as the population of the low, compressed wynds and alleys. Worsted bonnets, mauds or long coats, and stout sticks, styled rungs, characterised the mass; and when Mrs Jonet and her satellites moved forward, they were growling forth their resentment at some wretched representatives of levity and luxury, rather than challenging the sober-minded denizens of the community. That is, they were there to enforce godly, rigid laws of their own construction, or reproduction and interpretation—not to break the law as read by others. They would not have been so swiftly calmed and appeased by any bribe as by the sight which then sometimes greeted the Edinburgh congregations on retiring from church—a woman given to drunkenness, cursing, and evil company, standing in the jougs "from the ringing of the second bell until the close of the last." Indeed the mob of the Bow was already clamouring, "To the jougs," with some object of their wrath. As the beams of the Weigh-house afforded a fair board for the punishment of the pillory, the jougs, those ugly iron rings, were usually kept in their company, ready for use also.

In vain Mr Durie waved his staff, and summoned his brethren to fall back that he might proceed on urgent duty. They were not positively injurious, but, in spite of their habitual veneration for the native clergy, they were unmannerly to the worthy man.

"Stick to your sermons, reverent sir—to the hale-some fare of your examinations, and these can be gone about in broad day. We dinna approve of your drugs by deathbeds. We have banished confession, absolution, and the wafer. Back to your fireside, and pray for the sick, goodman, there. Who dare say that your intercession will not prove as effectual where you have no corner of the will fluttering before your een? We leave the ministers to hold their diets without interruption from our noise and want of lair, and they maunna think to interfere with ours by the power of their black coats and their divinity."

"I summon you by the voice of mercy, my brethren—I command you in the name of order." But they would not heed his entreaties.

Mrs Jonet fared worse with her high " Give way, my men, give way instantly; room among you commons for your betters."

"And who are our betters, madam, past sunset on the causeway? And a fell-like sight it is to spy a hood and a wizened cheek and chin in our company at this chap of the knock. Bead your Bible in your closet, madam, or we may jalouse you're another Jezebel in disguise, and treat you like any quean of the Cowgate."

"I'm Lady Somerville's housekeeper. I 'm seeking some of the maidens of her hospital," proclaimed Mrs Jonet, dolorously and magnanimously—all without effect.

"Lost sheep maun ye all be. Shame, shame, woman! to utter such a pretence. Little hinders us from seizing you, and dooking you in the loch, to teach you that puir discretion for your folk whilk an Abbess of Sciennes might have taken up at her own hand."

"I'm at your back, mistress," whispered Bawbie. "I'll take the first gillie that touches you a clacht in the teeth." And Bawbie's stature, and her axe looming in the murky air, were found not despicable.

"Oh, Mrs Jonet!" cries Euphame, almost in a shriek, and with a great start parting from Mrs Jonet, and clasping her hands; "they've Katie and Alison in their grip, in the centre of the street."

Too true. In the thickest of the angry assembly, the avengers of folly and frivolity,—swaying in the clutches of these hard, unrelenting hands—the poor finery of the May morning—the negligees, trains, and bell-hoops—all soiled and crushed, and stigmatised as vain, and light, and wanton, and held up as snares and pitfalls, as blots on the good town, and all good people whom it contained—Katie and Alison were writhing fruitlessly, and screaming for help that could not avail them, unless it came in hundreds strong.

"I claim the bairns! Men, let them go, on your peril. Would you do the silly things scaith, or fright them into a frenzy, you ruffians?" cried Mr Durie, his bewildered dauntlessness waxing furious at the spectacle.

"I demand the lasses for my Lady Somerville. It is for her and me to lay on their chastisement. Are you setting up yourselves to be gouvernantes to decent gentlewomen?" asked Mrs Jonet, in bitter irony. "I'll appeal to my Lord Provost—I'll have you in the Tolbooth—I'll deliver up myself to answer your objections—place me in the jougs, villains, but liberate the lasses."

But the strong tide was against them. "Fy on you, to be priest to sic a fule congregation—it's the auld dispensation returned. A brazen face you would hold up, madam, to the runners and the riders. Na; lock up the young gipsies—put them in the jougs. They were giggling in a hiding-hole here, till we found them out. You ken the keys, Bartie. Let them be held up in their graceless freedom, where puir men's bairns, erring, maun stand till they 're stiff. If they taste shame when young, they may be saved the condemnation of the strange woman when auld. Bear them to the jougs, and place them there till we are tired of the show."

Would the poor, trembling, moaning things endure the ordeal? or would they sob their lives out in terror and remorse, branded and hooted at by these cruel accusers?

Suddenly Euphame Napier stood out in the light of a torch, waving from an open window. Her plaid had fallen down, and her bare head, and young, unabashed, and most pitiful girl's face were fully exposed and made conspicuous.

"Oh! hold down your hands, men. Let Katie and Alison go. I'm sure they 're very sorry. I'll promise they'll never play truant, or prank their lanes through Edinburgh streets again. But you are not commissioned to call them to account; they never injured you. They're but foolish lasses. Dinna you see they're sick and swerfin with terror; and you are muckle, stalwart men?"

The executioners of justice paused and wavered. They looked at each other shyly; they gazed at Euphame; they blustered out—"You're another of the pack. You're ower bold to be honest. Look to yoursel'."

"Yes; I am a Lady Somerville's maiden; and if I am bold out of wickedness, then they maun be sackless, for they're swooning with dread and dismay. But I'm not feared for myself. I've passed some of you travelling to the kirk, and I dinna believe you will work me harm. I've come out to find my strayed companions, and if I were you I would never, never hurt Katie, or Alison, not only because you do not know their fault, and are not entitled to judge them, but because they are weak lassies, like me, and you are men."

Euphame's speech was the turn of the tide, the water on the fire.

"The lass is no sa far wrang. It is a geyan shame to afflict sic a pair, and them no witches. I trow they're ower powerless to have to do with magic. Their master would help his ain. Let them gang with their mistress, and their douce, discreet neighbour; they've suffered enough already; they'll be more modest for the rest of their days."

And clenching the recoil—though these righteous mobs often resisted the flats of the swords, and pelted the detachment of troops till their officer called to draw—a company of soldiers sent down from the Castle, late enough to scour the thoroughfares, entered the Bow, and Euphame's heart leapt up with glad assurance to recognise the bluff, friendly face of Adie Napier in their front ranks. Adie was permitted by his officer to detach one or two of his companions, (much to the scorn of Highland Bawbie, who wondered why the whingers of these laddies should be preferred to the weight of her maturity, and the momentum, moral and physical, of her axe,) and they formed an escort for the maltreated maidens and their principals, and relodged them safely within their hospital in Bristo Street.

IX.

The reader may possibly reckon on two certain consequences of this escapade—that Euphame would obtain great credit for her bravery and presence of mind; and that Katie and Alison would be extremely cowed and appalled by their narrow escape, and thankful to the slighted friends who had exposed themselves, and spent themselves to rescue them.

Quite the contrary. Mr Durie said nothing, but even he had a misgiving that if a young maiden ought to be silent before her elders, it was not easily explicable or defensible why young Euphame Napier should have taken it upon her to utter the freest, most uncompromising, and plainest remonstrance to a crowd of prejudiced and furious men, and should have succeeded where he and Mrs Jonet had failed. Mrs Jonet fairly scolded her—"What tempted you to put yourself forward, Euphame Napier? What call had a bairn like you to speak out? Sirs, there's no blateness in lasses, good or bad, now. Did you want me to have you to deliver likewise? Did you think twa culprits were not enow? I do not wonder that the men styled you bauld, Euphame Napier, and you not out seventeen."

Euphame hung her head. "I beg your pardon, Mrs Jonet, but it seemed laid upon me."

How many times Euphame used that argument in the course of her life! She was not forward; she was reserved, to the very pith and marrow of her nature. In ordinary circumstances we have seen that she stood aside, and built up her cloud-castles, and looked down serenely on the swarm toiling and moiling at her feet; but never a season of peculiar difficulty, never an hour of especial peril, but it was laid upon Euphame to come forward swiftly and undertake the obligation. Euphame was always to bell the cat—greymalkin disposed of, to retire with corresponding alacrity, and subside into her ordinary impassiveness and unobtrusiveness.

Katie Crichton cried and sobbed all the way home —cried and sobbed all the night. It was to be supposed that Katie, exercised by so much lamentation, would be in a mood to make amends on the morrow, to crave forgiveness, to offer to bear any humiliation, to promise better conduct for the future; but, to the consternation of the whole hospital, Katie arose from her bed perfectly defiant. She cared for none of their judgments—she would not stay another day in her prison—she would not wait to hear Lady Somerville's wishes—she had got word to Mark, who had come home from George Heriot's, and been apprenticed to Paul Romien, the foreign clockmaker, no more than a week before, to appear and claim her, and remove her to her mother's, and see if she would ever put a foot within the hospital again!

Alison Hughes was brought down, and sat softened, shaken, and sombre, not supporting her associate. Mrs Jonet sentenced Katie over and over again, and tried to talk her down. Mr Durie came in his black coat and Geneva bands, and exorcised the spirit that possessed the girl, as if it had been one of the devils of old (and, indeed, Lord Grange would have willingly proved that an imp or fiend occupied his lady's bosom). Euphame reproved her, with her wise, wide-reaching obedience and humanity, totally without effect. It was the worm turning after it had been trampled upon, the weak creature goaded and stung into such reckless violence as the strong rarely display "Ye needna flyte on me, Mrs Jonet—ye needna preach to me, Mr Durie—ye needna wonder at me, Euphame Napier—ye've done little for me. Your hospital has been no blessing to me, but a curse. I came here an innocent, teachable bairn, and you've dung me stupid, and made me evil, with your maggots and your laws. I dinna care what I do—I cannot satisfy you; and I would have no pleasure in life if I had your will. There is Euphame would not even mind the mantuas on the street, and give me her opinion what shape I ought to fix upon for my mode cloak; and she tired of teaching me to cut out the pastry, and would aye be doing it all herself; and her wee glass flower, that she sets such store by, (it was all of a piece, Lady Somerville's giving it to Euphame, who would no more wear ornaments than a Quaker's wife,) Euphame has never lent it to me once. And yesterday, if Mrs Jonet had taken me out into the spring air and the crowd, to look about me and laugh with Alison, would I have sought abroad forbidden, and gone to see King Charles's statue in the Parliament Square, if it did spring on its horse when it heard the knock chap, and been feared to venture back, and been benighted, and seized and shaken by yon cruel men?—it's well my death or destruction is not at your door. But I 'm reprimanded, and disgraced, and held up to scorn, and the world will hear I ran out, and got into mischief; and, oh! I wish I had never come here. No, I will not bide to be expelled, nor to see my Lady Somerville. She has not done me any good, whatever she may have intended. It's very well to be godly, and to say your prayers, and mind your books and work from morn to night; but I want hame, where I'm not a bogle to the lave —where the speech and the laughter that God gave us, or I kenna how we got it, is not belied—where ilk one goes her own gate, and is not thrawn to another. Oh! Mark, Mark, that's your step. You're a hard chield; but I'll sooner trust you than these good men and women. Take your sister Katie home."

There was no detaining Katie an hour longer after all these six years. Lady Somerville did not possess the power of holding her maidens in the hospital against their will—not when their natural guardians consented to their withdrawal, and Mark Crichton, in the name of his mother, approved of Katie's determination. It sounded so senseless and ungrateful, but Mark persisted that the hospital was not the place for Katie, and had never been calculated to promote her welfare. It might answer with some natures, he could not tell; but it was not fitted for Katie. He did not defend her disobedience or her railing; but he was there to remove his sister, where she would not trouble Lady Somerville any more.

Mr Durie reproved the headstrong, irreverent lad. Mrs Jonet animadverted on the pride that would have a fall, and the lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh, after which would come the judgment. Mark stood sullen and unconvinced. Euphame tried him with her clear, earnest protest—the protest of an equal in years, a cousin of Adie Napier's, an old companion of Katie's. Mark Crichton, I cannot fathom the spirit you are of. You ken Katie is giddy, and will not thole sedateness, let-a-be hardship; but you that owe so much to George Heriot, that have subsisted on his liberality, and profited by his foundation—how can you abet rank rebellion?"

Mark looked at her, and shrugged his shoulders. "Has George Heriot given me what I could not have procured for myself at a slower but a surer pace? And has he taken nothing from me as well—created divisions that will not fill up—confirmed differences that will never grow into union again?"

They were a thankless race, these Crichtons—let them go their graceless way. But Mrs Jonet sat long after Katie had departed for ever, her fingers interlaced, and looking darkly before her in the emptiness of the hall. Euphame entered on some household task, looked and lingered, and walked up to Mrs Jonet's side:

"Mrs Jonet, you were not to blame; you looked after us with all your might; you could not ken how manifold were our wants, even if permitted to minister to them."

"Did I complain, bairn? Were you sent for to comfort or counsel me?" But, even in the same breath, Mrs Jonet spoke passionately, while she grasped Euphame by the arm, "Ay, lass, I have been eident, I have not spared myself, I have denied myself many an indulgence I was free to have taken; I have refused to listen to the voice of relenting when it sounded in my heart, lest I should injure you by my carnal weakness; and see the end,—ony pleasure-loving woman, that wallows in ease, and sport, and mirth, that smirks upon folly, and error, and wickedness, and cannot restrict herself in her ploys, and her lightness, and her praise from men—not to rear the bairns she has borne in uprightness and sobriety, and the fear of the Lord, and to save them from their natural sins, and the pit they have dug for them—is better spoken of, better liked, better rewarded, than sic as me. I warn you, Euphame Napier."

"But your reward is not here, Mrs Jonet; and, would you only mind that some saw your faithfulness, and counted what they were indebted to it, and longed to pour their testimony in your ears?"

Mrs Jonet did not respond—she was collapsing from her momentary ebullition; she was gathering up her skirts to resume her harsh, laborious course; but it might have been seen that, from that night, she delegated Euphame Napier more frequently to fill her place, and relieve her from small duties. And she would put her hand on the girl's shoulder while she delivered to her the orders, as a general in a brief moment of relaxation and confidence, will rest on a trusty subaltern. And she would look at the girl's crystal rose sometimes, and cause her to repeat its destination, receiving it gravely and doubtfully, but no longer with biting sarcasm.

After the derelictions and desertion of the Crichtons, it was quite a grateful interview to Euphame, that farewell encounter with Adie Napier, before he sailed to join, what she heard called familiarly, the Scotch-Dutch force, and to hear him bespeak her indulgence, and assert eagerly, "You must not think me altogether a ne'er-do-weel, though I've 'listed, Euphame—the queen and the country maun be served, and I may do weel yet. Many a single man returns from the Low Countries with a commission and a sack of guilders; but I'll keep my hands from plunder when the general gives the word, and where it is even-down robbery, if it dinna lead to murder. Euphame, I've not forgotten my training. I mean to do it credit yet, though I've taken a wild step. Euphame, lass, I never felt so deeply what I owed to Geordie Heriot, as when I entered the ranks and mixed with my comrades. Euphame, is there not grace left for a thoughtless fellow like me to learn to take heed to his ways, and redeem the boon that was granted him? Is there, Euphame? God bless you, lass, for answering yes—you were like your mother this moment, Euphame."

If we could all allow the possibility of the roughest path leading upwards—the greatest reverse proving the chemical element which might combine the long-sought-for reflection and steadiness with the volatile and unstable temperament, would we not afford more chances of escape to our neighbours, and avoid much misery to ourselves?

(To be continued.)


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