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Sketch Book of the North
In the Shadow of St. Giles’


Night in Edinburgh! The traveller may have seen the sun set over the lagoons of Venice; he may have watched the moon rise behind the Acropolis of Athens; but he has seen nothing finer or more inspiring than is shown him by the sparkle of the frosty stars in this grey metropolis of Scotland. From the terrace pavement of Princes Street, that unmatched boulevard of the modern city, and looking across the dark chasm where once surged the waters of the North Loch, he sees the form of the Old Town rise, from Holyrood Palace low in the eastern meadows to the castled rock high at the western end, a dark mass all against the southern sky. Yellow lines of light mark the modern bridges spanning the abyss below, and windows still glowing—dim loopholes in the perilously high old houses beyond—bespeak the inhabitants there not yet all asleep. But these are forgotten in the witchery of the sight, when the clouds part, and the silvery starlight is shaken down upon the ancient city; when behind the broken sky-line of roofs and gables the clear moon comes up, and hangs, a lustrous jewel, among the pinnacles of St. Giles’.

Nor is it only the magic of the sight that stirs strange pulses in the blood. Standing at night in the Roman Coliseum it seems still possible to hear majestic echoes of an older world. But the Scotsman under the shadow of "high Dunedin" is moved, as nowhere else, by memories of old glory and old sorrow. Here to a Scottish heart the past comes back. Here sighed the fatal sweetness of Rizzio’s lute. Here rang the wild clan-music of Montrose. Among these old walls, however, something more is to be remembered than the deeds of high fame. Ever and again, it is true, amid the gloom of half-forgotten centuries, there is caught the glitter of some historic pageant. Out of the silence about the cathedral one seems to catch the chime of fuming censers and the roll of coronation litanies, with, perchance, the sonorous accents of a Gavin Douglas, poet-bishop of Dunkeld; and one thrills again to hear the boom of the Castle cannon as the Fourth James rides gallantly away to his death. But behind all this a more tender interest touches the heart. What of the real inner life of centuries bygone—the loves and sorrows, burning once, and poignant as ours are to-day, which have passed out of sight among the years, and been forgotten? Of some of these, indeed, Sir Walter Scott has written the story on the dark curtain of the past with a pen of fire. But for countless others there is not even the poor consolation of a recorded name. Occasionally, however, amid the seething of history, or in some half-remembered old song, a name comes up, and a glimpse all too brief is had into some tender and mournful story. And so one sees that, behind the glitter of a Stuart chivalry, of brave and splendid deeds before the world, sometimes there lay a shadow, the sigh of a breaking heart, the stain of unavailing tears.

Who knows the early history of that Lady of Loch Leven, mother of the Regent Murray? Grimly enough she is painted by Scott in her old age as the keeper of Queen Mary. Yet assuredly once she was lovely and young, and had strange beatings of heart as she listened to the whispers of her Royal lover, that all too gallant James V. What was their parting like, when the parting came? Was there the last touch of regretful hands, a remorseful caress from the Royal lips, a passionate farewell? Or was there only the cruel news by alien mouths that her place was filled by another, that she had been forsaken? No one can tell us now.

Then what of the Lady Anne Campbell of Argyle, at one time betrothed to Charles II? The youthful Prince, aged twenty, had been crowned gorgeously, after the ancient manner of the Scottish Kings, at Scone. But King only in name, with England still under the iron rule of Cromwell, and only a faction in Scotland devoted to his cause, his immediate fortunes were entirely in the hands of the Scottish leader, the crafty, covenanting Marquis of Argyle. Reaching ever higher in ambition, and dazzled by the weird vision of the race of MacCallum More mounting the Royal throne, Argyle proposed that Charles should marry his daughter. Needy and reckless, and eager to attach Argyle to the Royalist cause by the golden bands of hope, the King pretended consent. Alas for the Lady Anne! What maiden could keep still her heart when wooed by so royal a lover? For wooing there must have been, to keep up the pretence of betrothal, and how was the maiden to know that those words and looks, and, it may have been, those warmer caresses, were all no more than a diplomacy? And when the crash came, with Cromwell’s defeat of the covenanting army at Dunbar, and the revelation that she had given up her all and had been deceived how bitter, how cruel the discovery! The contemporary Kirkton relates circumstantially that "so grievous was the disappointment to the young lady, that of a gallant young gentlewoman, she lost her spirit, and turned absolutely distracted."

`Then there is a pitiful little song, unprinted and all but forgotten, sung to a quavering, pathetic old tune, and relating in quaint ballad fashion something of the story of one Jeanie Cameron, an adherent of Prince Charles Edward in the rebellion of 1745. It narrates how the maiden, having fallen sick, not without a suspicion of its being heart-sickness, and all cures of the leeches failing, was prescribed "ae bricht blink o’ the Young Pretender." So she sate her down and wrote the Prince "a very long letter, saying who were his friends and who were his foes." This letter she had closed, and was just "sealing with a ring"; when, as used to happen in ballad story, "ope flew the door, and in came her King." Poor young lady!--

She prayed to the saints and angels to defend her,
And sank i’ the arms o’ the young Pretender.
Rare, oh, rare! bonnie Jeanie Cameron.

Nor is this pretty romance merely an invention of the poet’s brain. One of the family by whom the song has been preserved happened, it seems, in the latter part of last century to be buying snuff in a shop in Edinburgh, when a beggar came in. Nothing was said before the stranger; but the shopkeeper, as if it were an accustomed dole, handed the beggar a groat. Afterwards, in reply to a remark of his customer as to the delicacy of the beggar’s hand which had received the coin, the shopkeeper revealed the fact that the recipient of his charity was no man, but a woman, and no other than Jeanie Cameron, a follower of the Chevalier. Her story, as far as he knew it, was sad enough. She had followed the Prince to France, hoping, no doubt, poor thing! to resume there something of the place she had believed herself to hold in his affections. Alas! it was only to find herself, like so many others, forgotten, cast off, an encumbrance to a broken man. And then, with who can tell how heavy a heart, she made her way home, only to find that her family had shut their door upon her, and cut her off. And so she had wandered about ever since, forlorn and lonely, supported by a few charitable bourgeois in the streets of Edinburgh—she who could look back upon the day when she had loved and been loved by a Stuart Prince.

Such are some of the stories which find no place in history, but whose consciousness sheds a tragic and tender interest about this grey old capital of the North. Who will say that they are not as well worth thought as the trumpetings of herald pursuivants and the clash of warlike arms?


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