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The Heart of Fid-Lothian.
Hear. Land o' Cakes and brither Scots,
I rede ve tent it;
A chiel's amang you takin notes,
An' faith he ' prent it!-Burns.
The author has stated, in the preface to the Chronicles of the Canongate, 1827, that he received from an anonymous correspondent an account of the incident upon which the following story is founded. He is now at liberty to say, that the information was conveyed to him by a late amiable and ingenious lady, whose wit and power of remarking and judging of charac'er still survive in the memory of her friends. Her maiden name was Miss Helen Lawson, of Girthhead, and she was wife of Thomas Goldie, Esq. of Craigmuie, Commissary of Dumfries.
Her communication was in these words: "I had taken for summer lodgings a cottage near the old Abbey of Lincluden. It had formerly been inhabited by a lady who had pleasure in embellishing cottages, which she found perhaps homely and even poor enough; mine, therefore, possessed many marks of taste and elegance unusual in this species of habitation in Scotland, where a cottage is literally
what its name declares.
"From my cottage door I had a partial view of the old Abbey before mentioned; some of the
As my kitchen and parlour were not very far distant, I one day went in to purchase some chickens from a person I heard offering them for sale. It was a little, rather stout-looking woman, who seemed to be between seventy and eighty years of age; she was almost covered with a tartan plaid, and her cap had over it a black silk hood, tied under the chin, a piece of dress still much in use among elderly women of that rank of life in Scotland; her eyes were dark, and remarkably lively and intelligent; I entered into conversation with her, and began by asking how she maintained herself, &c.
"She said that in winter she footed stockings, that is, knit feet to country-people's stockings, which bears about the same relation to stocking-knitting that cobbling does to shoe-making, and is of course both less profitable and less dignified; she likewise taught a few children to read, and in suminer she whiles reared a few chickens.
"I said I could venture to guess from her face she had never been married. She laughed heartily at this, and said, 'I maun hae the queerest face
that ever was seen, that ye could guess that. Now,
do tell me, madam, how ye cam to think sae ?' I
told her it was from her cheerful disengaged
the trees scattered along a lane which led down to the ruin, and the strange fantastic shapes of almost all those old ashes accorded wonderfully band and a fine family o' bairns, and plenty o'
countenance. She said, 'Mem, have ye na far mair reason to be happy than me, wi' a gude hus
well with the building they at once shaded and
"The Abbey itself from my door was almost on a level with the cottage; but on coming to the end of the lane, it was discovered to be situated on a high perpendicular bank, at the foot of which run the clear waters of the Cluden, where they hasten to join the sweeping Nith,
"Whose distant roaring swells and fa's.'
every thing for me, I'm the puirest o' a' puir
Helen Walker; but your husband kens weel about me.'
"In the evening I related how much I had been pleased, and inquired what was extraordinary in the history of the poor woman. Mr. said, there were perhaps few more remarkable people than Helen Walker. She had been left an orphan, with the charge of a sister considerably younger than herself, and who was educated and maintained by her exertions. Attached to her by so many ties, therefore, it will not be easy to conceive her feelings, when she found that this only sister must be tried by the laws of her country for child-murder, and upon being called as principal witness against her. The counsel for the prisoner told Helen, that if she could declare that her sister had made any preparations, however slight, or had given her any intimation on the subject, that such a statement would save her sister's life, as she was the principal witness against her. Helen said, 'It is impossible for me to swear to a falsehood; and, whatever may be the consequence, 1 will give my oath according to my conscience.'
"SIR,The occurrence just related happened to me twenty-six years ago. Helen Walker lies buried in the churchyard of Irongray, about six miles from Dumfries. I once proposed that a small monument should have been erected to commemorate so remarkable a character, but I now prefer leaving it to you to perpetuate her memory in a more durable manner."
The reader is now able to judge how far the author has improved upon, or fallen short of, the pleasing and interesting sketch of high principle and steady affection displayed by Helen Walker, the prototype of the fictitious Jeanie Deans. Mrs Goldie was unfortunately dead before the author had given his name to these volumes, so he lost all opportunity of thanking that lady for her highly valuable communication. But her daughter, Miss Goldie, obliged him with the following additional information.
"Mrs Goldie endeavoured to collect further particulars of Helen Walker, particularly concerning her journey to London, but found this nearly impossible; as the natural dignity of her
"The trial came on, and the sister was found guilty and condemned; but, in Scotland, six weeks must elapse between the sentence and the execu-character, and a high sense of family respectability, tion, and Helen Walker availed herself of it. The very day. of her sister's condemnation, she got a petition drawn, stating the peculiar circumstances of the case, and that very night set out on foot to London.
made her so indissolubly connect her sister's disgrace with her own exertions, that none of her neighbours durst ever question her upon the subject. One old woman, a distant relation of Helen's, and who is still living, says she worked an harvest "Without introduction or recommendation, with with her, but that she never ventured to ask her her simple (perhaps ill-expressed) petition, drawn about her sister's trial, or her journey to London; up by some inferior clerk of the court, she pre-Helen,' she added, was a lofty body, and used sented herself, in her tartan plaid and country a high style o' language.' The same old woman attire, to the late Duke of Argyle, who imme- says, that every year Helen received a cheese diately procured the pardon she petitioned for, and from her sister, who lived at Whitehaven, and Helen returned with it on foot, just in time to save that she always sent a liberal portion of it to herself, or to her father's family. This fact, though trivial in itself, strongly marks the affection subsisting between the two sisters, and the complete conviction on the mind of the criminal, that her sister had acted solely from high principle, not from any want of feeling, which another small but characteristic trait will further illustrate. A gentleman, a relation of Mrs Goldie's, who happened to be travelling in the North of England, on coming to a small inn, was shewn into the parlour by a female servant, who, after cautiously shutting the door, said, 'Sir, I'm Nelly Walker's sister.' Thus practically shewing that she considered her sister as better known by her high conduct, than even herself by a different kind of celebrity.
"I was so strongly interested by this narrative, that I determined immediately to prosecute my acquaintance with Helen Walker; but as I was to leave the country next day, I was obliged to defer it till my return in spring, when the first walk I took was to Helen Walker's cottage.
"She had died a short time before. My regret was extreme, and I endeavoured to obtain some account of Helen from an old woman who inhabited the other end of her cottage. I inquired if Helen ever spoke of her past history, her journey to London, &c. Na,' the old woman said, 'Helen was a wily body, and whene'er ony o' the neebors asked any thing about it, she aye turned the con
"In short, every answer I received only tended to increase my regret, and raise my opinion of Helen Walker, who could unite so much prudence with so much heroic virtue."
"Mrs Goldie was extremely anxious to have a tombstone and an inscription upon it, erected in Irongray churchyard; and if Sir Walter Scott will condescend to write the last, a little subscription could be easily raised in the immediate neighbourhood, and Mrs Goldie's wish be thus fulfilled,"