Her air, her manners, all who saw admired, Courteous, though coy, and gentle, though retired; The joy of youth and health her eyes displayed; And ease of heart her every look conveyed. Crabbe.
The visits of the Laird thus again sunk into matters of ordinary course, from which nothing was to be expected or apprehended. If a lover could have gained a fair one as a snake is said to fascinate a bird, by pertinaciously gazing on her with great stupid greenish eyes, which began now to be occasionally aided by spectacles, unquestionably Dumbiedikes would have been the person to perform the feat. But the art of fascination seems among the _artes perditae,_ and I cannot learn that this most pertinacious of starers produced any effect by his attentions beyond an occasional yawn.
In the meanwhile, the object of his gaze was gradually attaining the verge of youth, and approaching to what is called in females the middle age, which is impolitely held to begin a few years earlier with their more fragile sex than with men. Many people would have been of opinion, that the Laird would have done better to have transferred his glances to an object possessed of far superior charms to Jeanie's, even when Jeanie's were in their bloom, who began now to be distinguished by all who visited the cottage at St. Leonard's Crags.
Effie Deans, under the tender and affectionate care of her sister, had now shot up into a beautiful and blooming girl. Her Grecian shaped head was profusely rich in waving ringlets of brown hair, which, confined by a blue snood of silk, and shading a laughing Hebe countenance, seemed the picture of health, pleasure, and contentment. Her brown russet short-gown set off a shape, which time, perhaps, might be expected to render too robust, the frequent objection to Scottish beauty, but which, in her present early age, was slender and taper, with that graceful and easy sweep of outline which at once indicates health and beautiful proportion of parts.
These growing charms, in all their juvenile profusion, had no power to shake the steadfast mind, or divert the fixed gaze of the constant Laird of Dumbiedikes. But there was scarce another eye that could behold this living picture of health and beauty, without pausing on it with pleasure. The traveller stopped his weary horse on the eve of entering the city which was the end of his journey, to gaze at the sylph-like form that tripped by him, with her milk-pail poised on her head, bearing herself so erect, and stepping so light and free under her burden, that it seemed rather an ornament than an encumbrance. The lads of the neighbouring suburb, who held their evening rendezvous for putting the stone, casting the hammer, playing at long bowls, and other athletic exercises, watched the motions of Effie Deans, and contended with each other which should have the good fortune to attract her attention. Even the rigid Presbyterians of her father's persuasion, who held each indulgence of the eye and sense to be a snare at least if not a crime, were surprised into a moment's delight while gazing on a creature so exquisite,--instantly checked by a sigh, reproaching at once their own weakness, and mourning that a creature so fair should share in the common and hereditary guilt and imperfection of our nature, which she deserved as much by her guileless purity of thought, speech, and action, as by her uncommon loveliness of face and person.
Yet there were points in Effie's character which gave rise not only to strange doubt and anxiety on the part of Douce David Deans, whose ideas were rigid, as may easily be supposed, upon the subject of youthful amusements, but even of serious apprehension to her more indulgent sister. The children of the Scotch of the inferior classes are usually spoiled by the early indulgence of their parents; how, wherefore, and to what degree, the lively and instructive narrative of the amiable and accomplished authoress of "Glenburnie"* has saved me and all future scribblers the trouble of recording.
* [The late Mrs. Elizabeth Hamilton.]
Effie had had a double share of this inconsiderate and misjudged kindness. Even the strictness of her father's principles could not condemn the sports of infancy and childhood; and to the good old man, his younger daughter, the child of his old age, seemed a child for some years after she attained the years of womanhood, was still called the "bit lassie," and "little Effie," and was permitted to run up and down uncontrolled, unless upon the Sabbath, or at the times of family worship. Her sister, with all the love and care of a mother, could not be supposed to possess the same authoritative influence; and that which she had hitherto exercised became gradually limited and diminished as Effie's advancing years entitled her, in her own conceit at least, to the right of independence and free agency. With all the innocence and goodness of disposition, therefore, which we have described, the Lily of St. Leonard's possessed a little fund of self-conceit and obstinacy, and some warmth and irritability of temper, partly natural perhaps, but certainly much increased by the unrestrained freedom of her childhood. Her character will be best illustrated by a cottage evening scene.
The careful father was absent in his well-stocked byre, foddering those useful and patient animals on whose produce his living depended, and the summer evening was beginning to close in, when Jeanie Deans began to be very anxious for the appearance of her sister, and to fear that she would not reach home before her father returned from the labour of the evening, when it was his custom to have "family exercise," and when she knew that Effie's absence would give him the most serious displeasure. These apprehensions hung heavier upon her mind, because, for several preceding evenings, Effie had disappeared about the same time, and her stay, at first so brief as scarce to be noticed, had been gradually protracted to half-an-hour, and an hour, and on the present occasion had considerably exceeded even this last limit. And now, Jeanie stood at the door, with her hand before her eyes to avoid the rays of the level sun, and looked alternately along the various tracks which led towards their dwelling, to see if she could descry the nymph-like form of her sister. There was a wall and a stile which separated the royal domain, or King's Park, as it is called, from the public road; to this pass she frequently directed her attention, when she saw two persons appear there somewhat suddenly, as if they had walked close by the side of the wall to screen themselves from observation. One of them, a man, drew back hastily; the other, a female, crossed the stile, and advanced towards her--It was Effie. She met her sister with that affected liveliness of manner, which, in her rank, and sometimes in those above it, females occasionally assume to hide surprise or confusion; and she carolled as she came--
"The elfin knight sate on the brae, The broom grows bonny, the broom grows fair; And by there came lilting a lady so gay, And we daurna gang down to the broom nae mair."
"Whisht, Effie," said her sister; "our father's coming out o' the byre." --The damsel stinted in her song.--"Whare hae ye been sae late at e'en?"
"It's no late, lass," answered Effie.
"It's chappit eight on every clock o' the town, and the sun's gaun down ahint the Corstorphine hills--Whare can ye hae been sae late?"
"Nae gate," answered Effie.
"And wha was that parted wi' you at the stile?"
"Naebody," replied Effie once more.
"Nae gate?--Naebody?--I wish it may be a right gate, and a right body, that keeps folk out sae late at e'en, Effie."
"What needs ye be aye speering then at folk?" retorted Effie. "I'm sure, if ye'll ask nae questions, I'll tell ye nae lees. I never ask what brings the Laird of Dumbiedikes glowering here like a wull-cat (only his een's greener, and no sae gleg), day after day, till we are a' like to gaunt our charts aft."
"Because ye ken very weel he comes to see our father," said Jeanie, in answer to this pert remark.
"And Dominie Butler--Does he come to see our father, that's sae taen wi' his Latin words?" said Effie, delighted to find that by carrying the war into the enemy's country, she could divert the threatened attack upon herself, and with the petulance of youth she pursued her triumph over her prudent elder sister. She looked at her with a sly air, in which there was something like irony, as she chanted, in a low but marked tone, a scrap of an old Scotch song--
"Through the kirkyard I met wi' the Laird, The silly puir body he said me nae harm; But just ere 'twas dark, I met wi' the clerk"
Here the songstress stopped, looked full at her sister, and, observing the tears gather in her eyes, she suddenly flung her arms round her neck, and kissed them away. Jeanie, though hurt and displeased, was unable to resist the caresses of this untaught child of nature, whose good and evil seemed to flow rather from impulse than from reflection. But as she returned the sisterly kiss, in token of perfect reconciliation, she could not suppress the gentle reproof--"Effie, if ye will learn fule sangs, ye might make a kinder use of them."
"And so I might, Jeanie," continued the girl, clinging to her sister's neck; "and I wish I had never learned ane o' them--and I wish we had never come here--and I wish my tongue had been blistered or I had vexed ye."
"Never mind that, Effie," replied the affectionate sister; "I canna be muckle vexed wi' ony thing ye say to me--but O, dinna vex our father!"
"I will not--I will not," replied Effie; "and if there were as mony dances the morn's night as there are merry dancers in the north firmament on a frosty e'en, I winna budge an inch to gang near ane o' them."
"Dance!" echoed Jeanie Deans in astonishment. "O Effie, what could take ye to a dance?"
It is very possible, that, in the communicative mood into which the Lily of St. Leonard's was now surprised, she might have given her sister her unreserved confidence, and saved me the pain of telling a melancholy tale; but at the moment the word dance was uttered, it reached the ear of old David Deans, who had turned the corner of the house, and came upon his daughters ere they were aware of his presence. The word _prelate,_ or even the word _pope,_ could hardly have produced so appalling an effect upon David's ear; for, of all exercises, that of dancing, which he termed a voluntary and regular fit of distraction, he deemed most destructive of serious thoughts, and the readiest inlet to all sorts of licentiousness; and he accounted the encouraging, and even permitting, assemblies or meetings, whether among those of high or low degree, for this fantastic and absurd purpose, or for that of dramatic representations, as one of the most flagrant proofs of defection and causes of wrath. The pronouncing of the word _dance_ by his own daughters, and at his own door, now drove him beyond the verge of patience. "Dance!" he exclaimed. "Dance!--dance, said ye? I daur ye, limmers that ye are, to name sic a word at my door-cheek! It's a dissolute profane pastime, practised by the Israelites only at their base and brutal worship of the Golden Calf at Bethel, and by the unhappy lass wha danced aff the head of John the Baptist, upon whilk chapter I will exercise this night for your farther instruction, since ye need it sae muckle, nothing doubting that she has cause to rue the day, lang or this time, that e'er she suld hae shook a limb on sic an errand. Better for her to hae been born a cripple, and carried frae door to door, like auld Bessie Bowie, begging bawbees, than to be a king's daughter, fiddling and flinging the gate she did. I hae often wondered that ony ane that ever bent a knee for the right purpose, should ever daur to crook a hough to fyke and fling at piper's wind and fiddler's squealing. And I bless God (with that singular worthy, Peter Walker the packman at Bristo-Port),* that ordered my lot in my dancing days, so that fear of my head and throat, dread of bloody rope and swift bullet, and trenchant swords and pain of boots and thumkins, cauld and hunger, wetness and weariness, stopped the lightness of my head, and the wantonness of my feet.
* Note F. Peter Walker.
And now, if I hear ye, quean lassies, sae muckle as name dancing, or think there's sic a thing in this warld as flinging to fiddler's sounds, and piper's springs, as sure as my father's spirit is with the just, ye shall be no more either charge or concern of mine! Gang in, then--gang in, then, hinnies," he added, in a softer tone, for the tears of both daughters, but especially those of Effie, began to flow very fast,--"Gang in, dears, and we'll seek grace to preserve us frae all, manner of profane folly, whilk causeth to sin, and promoteth the kingdom of darkness, warring with the kingdom of light."
The objurgation of David Deans, however well meant, was unhappily timed. It created a division of feelings in Effie's bosom, and deterred her from her intended confidence in her sister. "She wad hand me nae better than the dirt below her feet," said Effie to herself, "were I to confess I hae danced wi' him four times on the green down by, and ance at Maggie Macqueens's; and she'll maybe hing it ower my head that she'll tell my father, and then she wad be mistress and mair. But I'll no gang back there again. I'm resolved I'll no gang back. I'll lay in a leaf of my Bible,* and that's very near as if I had made an aith, that I winna gang back."
* This custom of making a mark by folding a leaf in the party's Bible, when a solemn resolution is formed, is still held to be, in some sense, an appeal to Heaven for his or her sincerity.
And she kept her vow for a week, during which she was unusually cross and fretful, blemishes which had never before been observed in her temper, except during a moment of contradiction.
There was something in all this so mysterious as considerably to alarm the prudent and affectionate Jeanie, the more so as she judged it unkind to her sister to mention to their father grounds of anxiety which might arise from her own imagination. Besides, her respect for the good old man did not prevent her from being aware that he was both hot-tempered and positive, and she sometimes suspected that he carried his dislike to youthful amusements beyond the verge that religion and reason demanded. Jeanie had sense enough to see that a sudden and severe curb upon her sister's hitherto unrestrained freedom might be rather productive of harm than good, and that Effie, in the headstrong wilfulness of youth, was likely to make what might be overstrained in her father's precepts an excuse to herself for neglecting them altogether. In the higher classes, a damsel, however giddy, is still under the dominion of etiquette, and subject to the surveillance of mammas and chaperons; but the country girl, who snatches her moment of gaiety during the intervals of labour, is under no such guardianship or restraint, and her amusement becomes so much the more hazardous. Jeanie saw all this with much distress of mind, when a circumstance occurred which appeared calculated to relieve her anxiety.
Mrs. Saddletree, with whom our readers have already been made acquainted, chanced to be a distant relation of Douce David Deans, and as she was a woman orderly in her life and conversation, and, moreover, of good substance, a sort of acquaintance was formally kept up between the families. Now, this careful dame, about a year and a half before our story commences, chanced to need, in the line of her profession, a better sort of servant, or rather shop-woman. "Mr. Saddletree," she said, "was never in the shop when he could get his nose within the Parliament House, and it was an awkward thing for a woman-body to be standing among bundles o' barkened leather her lane, selling saddles and bridles; and she had cast her eyes upon her far-awa cousin Effie Deans, as just the very sort of lassie she would want to keep her in countenance on such occasions."
In this proposal there was much that pleased old David,--there was bed, board, and bountith--it was a decent situation--the lassie would be under Mrs. Saddletree's eye, who had an upright walk, and lived close by the Tolbooth Kirk, in which might still be heard the comforting doctrines of one of those few ministers of the Kirk of Scotland who had not bent the knee unto Baal, according to David's expression, or become accessory to the course of national defections,--union, toleration, patronages, and a bundle of prelatical Erastian oaths which had been imposed on the church since the Revolution, and particularly in the reign of "the late woman" (as he called Queen Anne), the last of that unhappy race of Stuarts. In the good man's security concerning the soundness of the theological doctrine which his daughter was to hear, he was nothing disturbed on account of the snares of a different kind, to which a creature so beautiful, young, and wilful, might be exposed in the centre of a populous and corrupted city. The fact is, that he thought with so much horror on all approaches to irregularities of the nature most to be dreaded in such cases, that he would as soon have suspected and guarded against Effie's being induced to become guilty of the crime of murder. He only regretted that she should live under the same roof with such a worldly-wise man as Bartoline Saddletree, whom David never suspected of being an ass as he was, but considered as one really endowed with all the legal knowledge to which he made pretension, and only liked him the worse for possessing it. The lawyers, especially those amongst them who sate as ruling elders in the General Assembly of the Kirk, had been forward in promoting the measures of patronage, of the abjuration oath, and others, which, in the opinion of David Deans, were a breaking down of the carved work of the sanctuary, and an intrusion upon the liberties of the kirk. Upon the dangers of listening to the doctrines of a legalised formalist, such as Saddletree, David gave his daughter many lectures; so much so, that he had time to touch but slightly on the dangers of chambering, company-keeping, and promiscuous dancing, to which, at her time of life, most people would have thought Effie more exposed, than to the risk of theoretical error in her religious faith.
Jeanie parted from her sister with a mixed feeling of regret, and apprehension, and hope. She could not be so confident concerning Effie's prudence as her father, for she had observed her more narrowly, had more sympathy with her feelings, and could better estimate the temptations to which she was exposed. On the other hand, Mrs. Saddletree was an observing, shrewd, notable woman, entitled to exercise over Effie the full authority of a mistress, and likely to do so strictly, yet with kindness. Her removal to Saddletree's, it was most probable, would also serve to break off some idle acquaintances, which Jeanie suspected her sister to have formed in the neighbouring suburb. Upon the whole, then, she viewed her departure from Saint Leonard's with pleasure, and it was not until the very moment of their parting for the first time in their lives, that she felt the full force of sisterly sorrow. While they repeatedly kissed each other's cheeks, and wrung each other's hands, Jeanie took that moment of affectionate sympathy, to press upon her sister the necessity of the utmost caution in her conduct while residing in Edinburgh. Effie listened, without once raising her large dark eyelashes, from which the drops fell so fast as almost to resemble a fountain. At the conclusion she sobbed again, kissed her sister, promised to recollect all the good counsel she had given her, and they parted.
During the first weeks, Effie was all that her kinswoman expected, and even more. But with time there came a relaxation of that early zeal which she manifested in Mrs. Saddletree's service. To borrow once again from the poet, who so correctly and beautifully describes living manners:--
Something there was,--what, none presumed to say,-- Clouds lightly passing on a summer's day; Whispers and hints, which went from ear to ear, And mixed reports no judge on earth could clear.
During this interval, Mrs. Saddletree was sometimes displeased by Effie's lingering when she was sent upon errands about the shop business, and sometimes by a little degree of impatience which she manifested at being rebuked on such occasions. But she good-naturedly allowed, that the first was very natural to a girl to whom everything in Edinburgh was new and the other was only the petulance of a spoiled child, when subjected to the yoke of domestic discipline for the first time. Attention and submission could not be learned at once--Holyrood was not built in a day--use would make perfect.
It seemed as if the considerate old lady had presaged truly. Ere many months had passed, Effie became almost wedded to her duties, though she no longer discharged them with the laughing cheek and light step, which had at first attracted every customer. Her mistress sometimes observed her in tears, but they were signs of secret sorrow, which she concealed as often as she saw them attract notice. Time wore on, her cheek grew pale, and her step heavy. The cause of these changes could not have escaped the matronly eye of Mrs. Saddletree, but she was chiefly confined by indisposition to her bedroom for a considerable time during the latter part of Effie's service. This interval was marked by symptoms of anguish almost amounting to despair. The utmost efforts of the poor girl to command her fits of hysterical agony were, often totally unavailing, and the mistakes which she made in the shop the while, were so numerous and so provoking that Bartoline Saddletree, who, during his wife's illness, was obliged to take closer charge of the business than consisted with his study of the weightier matters of the law, lost all patience with the girl, who, in his law Latin, and without much respect to gender, he declared ought to be cognosced by inquest of a jury, as _fatuus, furiosus,_ and _naturaliter idiota._ Neighbours, also, and fellow-servants, remarked with malicious curiosity or degrading pity, the disfigured shape, loose dress, and pale cheeks, of the once beautiful and still interesting girl. But to no one would she grant her confidence, answering all taunts with bitter sarcasm, and all serious expostulation with sullen denial, or with floods of tears.
At length, when Mrs. Saddletree's recovery was likely to permit her wonted attention to the regulation of her household, Effie Deans, as if unwilling to face an investigation made by the authority of her mistress, asked permission of Bartoline to go home for a week or two, assigning indisposition, and the wish of trying the benefit of repose and the change of air, as the motives of her request. Sharp-eyed as a lynx (or conceiving himself to be so) in the nice sharp quillits of legal discussion, Bartoline was as dull at drawing inferences from the occurrences of common life as any Dutch professor of mathematics. He suffered Effie to depart without much suspicion, and without any inquiry.
It was afterwards found that a period of a week intervened betwixt her leaving her master's house and arriving at St. Leonard's. She made her appearance before her sister in a state rather resembling the spectre than the living substance of the gay and beautiful girl, who had left her father's cottage for the first time scarce seventeen months before. The lingering illness of her mistress had, for the last few months, given her a plea for confining herself entirely to the dusky precincts of the shop in the Lawnmarket, and Jeanie was so much occupied, during the same period, with the concerns of her father's household, that she had rarely found leisure for a walk in the city, and a brief and hurried visit to her sister. The young women, therefore, had scarcely seen each other for several months, nor had a single scandalous surmise reached the ears of the secluded inhabitants of the cottage at St. Leonard's. Jeanie, therefore, terrified to death at her sister's appearance, at first overwhelmed her with inquiries, to which the unfortunate young woman returned for a time incoherent and rambling answers, and finally fell into a hysterical fit. Rendered too certain of her sister's misfortune, Jeanie had now the dreadful alternative of communicating her ruin to her father, or of endeavouring to conceal it from him. To all questions concerning the name or rank of her seducer, and the fate of the being to whom her fall had given birth, Effie remained as mute as the grave, to which she seemed hastening; and indeed the least allusion to either seemed to drive her to distraction. Her sister, in distress and in despair, was about to repair to Mrs. Saddletree to consult her experience, and at the same time to obtain what lights she could upon this most unhappy affair, when she was saved that trouble by a new stroke of fate, which seemed to carry misfortune to the uttermost.
David Deans had been alarmed at the state of health in which his daughter had returned to her paternal residence; but Jeanie had contrived to divert him from particular and specific inquiry. It was therefore like a clap of thunder to the poor old man, when, just as the hour of noon had brought the visit of the Laird of Dumbiedikes as usual, other and sterner, as well as most unexpected guests, arrived at the cottage of St. Leonard's. These were the officers of justice, with a warrant of justiciary to search for and apprehend Euphemia, or Effie Deans, accused of the crime of child-murder. The stunning weight of a blow so totally unexpected bore down the old man, who had in his early youth resisted the brow of military and civil tyranny, though backed with swords and guns, tortures and gibbets. He fell extended and senseless upon his own hearth; and the men, happy to escape from the scene of his awakening, raised, with rude humanity, the object of their warrant from her bed, and placed her in a coach, which they had brought with them. The hasty remedies which Jeanie had applied to bring back her father's senses were scarce begun to operate, when the noise of the wheels in motion recalled her attention to her miserable sister. To ran shrieking after the carriage was the first vain effort of her distraction, but she was stopped by one or two female neighbours, assembled by the extraordinary appearance of a coach in that sequestered place, who almost forced her back to her father's house. The deep and sympathetic affliction of these poor people, by whom the little family at St. Leonard's were held in high regard, filled the house with lamentation. Even Dumbiedikes was moved from his wonted apathy, and, groping for his purse as he spoke, ejaculated, "Jeanie, woman!--Jeanie, woman! dinna greet--it's sad wark, but siller will help it;" and he drew out his purse as he spoke.
The old man had now raised himself from the ground, and, looking about him as if he missed something, seemed gradually to recover the sense of his wretchedness. "Where," he said, with a voice that made the roof ring, "where is the vile harlot, that has disgraced the blood of an honest man?--Where is she, that has no place among us, but has come foul with her sins, like the Evil One, among the children of God?--Where is she, Jeanie?--Bring her before me, that I may kill her with a word and a look!"
All hastened around him with their appropriate sources of consolation--the Laird with his purse, Jeanie with burnt feathers and strong waters, and the women with their exhortations. "O neighbour--O Mr. Deans, it's a sair trial, doubtless--but think of the Rock of Ages, neighbour--think of the promise!"
"And I do think of it, neighbours--and I bless God that I can think of it, even in the wrack and ruin of a' that's nearest and dearest to me--But to be the father of a castaway--a profligate--a bloody Zipporah--a mere murderess!--O, how will the wicked exult in the high places of their wickedness!--the prelatists, and the latitudinarians, and the hand-waled murderers, whose hands are hard as horn wi' handing the slaughter-weapons--they will push out the lip, and say that we are even such as themselves. Sair, sair I am grieved, neighbours, for the poor castaway--for the child of mine old age--but sairer for the stumbling-block and scandal it will be to all tender and honest souls!"
"Davie--winna siller do't?" insinuated the laird, still proffering his green purse, which was full of guineas.
"I tell ye, Dumbiedikes," said Deans, "that if telling down my haill substance could hae saved her frae this black snare, I wad hae walked out wi' naething but my bonnet and my staff to beg an awmous for God's sake, and ca'd mysell an happy man--But if a dollar, or a plack, or the nineteenth part of a boddle, wad save her open guilt and open shame frae open punishment, that purchase wad David Deans never make!--Na, na; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, life for life, blood for blood--it's the law of man, and it's the law of God.--Leave me, sirs--leave me--I maun warstle wi' this trial in privacy and on my knees."
Jeanie, now in some degree restored to the power of thought, joined in the same request. The next day found the father and daughter still in the depth of affliction, but the father sternly supporting his load of ill through a proud sense of religious duty, and the daughter anxiously suppressing her own feelings to avoid again awakening his. Thus was it with the afflicted family until the morning after Porteous's death, a period at which we are now arrived.
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