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St. Julian’s Well

A strange incident changed the scene and Marianne’s aged pensioner still lived in her garden-cottage, but almost unconscious of existence. On the return of two women to their home after sabbath-hours, they found their inmate “Old Susan” dead. She had been left as usual to the care of a little girl who represented that she had only quitted her bed-side to bring water down “St. Julian’s Well.” The fountain thus entitled was at no great distance but shrouded by trees which intercepted a view of the cottage. On the child’s return to a gate or stile belonging to its small garden on the shelving banks, she saw, as she described, a man in an ordinary pedlar’s garb hastily departing towards the public road. The corpse of Marianne’s aged pensioner shewed no signs of violence or agitation; and as she had been sometimes speechless, deaf and bed-ridden, her death might have been caused by a sudden paralysis. But the drawers near her bed had been disturbed — a hammer and one heavy shoe were found near the door and some hanks of yarn as if hastily dropped. No neighbour or turnpike-keeper had seen this pedlar or knew any answering the child’s description. Such an incident, then rare in the West of Scotland, was not likely to escape close enquiry, especially in the midst of those who knew the harmless and helpless sufferer. An inquest is a process unknown in that portion of Britain, but the Procurator Fiscal made a personal enquiry into the facts. The office of Sheriff-depute was held by an active lawyer and Glenalmond, as lieutenant of the county, took very considerable interest in the affair. Glenalmond, always a popular landlord and something better, an active and discerning one, shewed on this occasion that sympathy which wins poor men’s hearts and comforts them more than gold. The scene of the tragedy was connected with Marianne’s childhood and his own, the victim had been under their special protection — these, perhaps, were reasons to prevent rather than to urge his appearance among the enquiring magistrates. His cousin Wallace had less scruple, and being as usual with many of his age and class in Scotland, on the list of advocates, he chose to attend the examinations. The surviving inmates of Old Susan’s cottage were two women of ordinary class, and their answers were given with the cautious shrewdness peculiar to the Scotch peasantry, or to speak with more justice, peculiar to all who are willing yet afraid to lie, and confess even truth only through cunning cowardice.

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“You lost nothing, then?” said Glenalmond looking sharply at the deponent. “Not even the old woman’s spectacles and Bible?”

“Oa — ye see the buke had but ane siller clasp.”

“What was in the press near the bed-head? Only a whisky bottle and a count of her savings? Was there no hole in the wall?”

Tibby Smalltrash, the youngest of the deponents, confessed their might be such things but Susie had died on a kirk-day and she did na think hersell free to look after the gear on “sic days.” — Deacon Kittle-lugs had ta’en tent of the bottle.

“Not till after sabbath e’en, luckie, eh? And what became of the black leather huswife into which on Saturday at noon the deceased put three notes of the Ayr Bank value each five-pounds, as entered by the clerk, here present?”

Mistress Ailsie Smatrash pulled forth a greasy housewife or notecase, sobbed while muttering that her Aunt Susie had given her the sma’ thing and there was nought else in the “bit press ayont the wall” except sneeshin.”

“Very well, good woman, all in good time — and you gathered up all the shreds of paper in the press and the kist and the old wife’s pouches?”

“My certie, yer honours! There was na ane that would light a pipe, forbye what the sheriff-clerk picked up and sealed with his muckle seal!”

Nothing more could be extorted from these women, and the child added nothing to her first declaration. Wallace suggested that the garden-gate was so situated that she could not have seen the pedlar leaving Susan’s cottage. But Glenalmond shrewdly noticed the child’s deformity which enabled her to discern by an oblique position an object invisible to an upright spectator. She was asked if “Auntie Susan” possessed or had ever mentioned any valuable coins or keepsakes. Her replies discovered that the deceased, before her speech and memory failed, spoke often about a “bit of paper” in the house. Being very closely urged, the elder witnesses admitted that Susan clavered “much of a certificate or voucher of some wedding in a bye-way “lang syne.” More they could or would not tell, except that Campbell was one of the names subscribed. No trace of it appeared, the parties were dismissed to their home, and Susan to hers in the kirkyard, without hope of farther discovery. But mystery delights the vulgar, and simple conjectures are never sufficient. Whispers arose that the lost evidence of marriage concerned Marianne, that the pedlar familiar with Old Susan’s cottage might have been the lame Swiss Julien, as the young witness had described a man of foreign features and limping gait, and the shoe was one evidently made for a deformed foot. The name of Campbell was too common among Scotchmen to afford a clue, and every Justice of the Peace accustomed to attest irregular marriages in that province was questioned in vain. Glenalmond said he remembered a Campbell, one of those hackney writers who are so easily admitted among northern conservators of the peace, and promised to trace him, if possible, to his supposed abode in a Highland Laird’s employ. His zeal rather increased than silenced the slanderous surmises of the neighbourhood and the journey to the Highlands gave them new scope.

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The deposition of Marion Mcquerie began by stating that on the 31st day of October 1812 during her residence in Scotland with Lady Barbara Dumblaine, her pupil Marianne Douglas spent a late hour at a harvest-feast on “Hallow-e’en” near the Manxman’s bay; that on the same night or very early on the following morning, Henry Stewart arrived unexpectedly at the house occupied by the Lady Barbara and her reputed niece Marianne and was seen by the deponent at an unusual hour in the garden through which the young lady, then about fourteen or near her fifteenth year, returned alone. That the deponent found her pupil singularly confused and dejected, and was dismissed from her office [as] gouvernante, as she verily believes, at the instigation of the younger Stewart. Therefore she can certify nothing farther concerning these parties till 1814, when she heard rumours of a marriage or contract declared between them, and the supposed departure of the lady Marianne to join her reputed husband in Belgium. That on the deponent’s arrival near Balmayne in Scotland to visit her late Aunt Susan Blair’s cottage, [she was] shewn a newborn infant, left as her cousins told her, by a young person who came in secret and sore distress, promising largely if they would commit the infant to safe hands till she could claim it. That the deponent Mcquerie carried it to Lady Barbara and received counsel to convey it without delay to Coblentz where its mother lodged, and arrived there safely on the day which brought rumours of Stewart’s death. Farther the deponent cannot attest having left the babe with its mother, as she reasonably and fully believed Marianne Douglas (now called Stewart) on the night of July 18th 1814.

“The undersigned voluntarily maketh oath and saith, that being at Coblentz on the night of July 18th 1814, he received from the innkeeper Jacob Mengs a charge to seek a traveller lately arrived in the Rhine-boat with a dying infant and to deliver into her hands a citation or summons to remove it. That a well-dressed Scotch woman whom he has since seen bearing the name of Demoiselle Mcquerie, caused the baby to be left there, as he supposed for internment, but privately that neither he nor any of the civil officers deputed to enquire, could discover where or when she departed. That while a mariner on board a English frigate conveying passengers of rank, he was entrusted by the waiting-maid of the lady Marianne Stewart otherwise Douglas, with a box to conceal from custom-house inspectors because it contained, she said, some contraband lace and trinkets of her own. It was seized and as he afterwards heard, its chief contents were the skeleton-relics of an Indian bird artfully mingled with those of an infant. But he declares upon his oath that he neither knows nor ever heard any intimation that the contents of the box were known to the Lady Marianne. Neither does he believe that they were suspe[cted] by the waiting-maid Perette Pincon whose good repute could be vouched by the family of Saloncy.” — Claude Larron, Mariner.

These details were far from giving the clear and absolute acquittal Stewart had hoped to obtain for Marianne and himself. Both were true, but the truth was so discoloured by by accidental circumstances, that it might serve the purposes of falsehood. He could not endure to rest her defence on the improbability of concealing the birth of an infant which their avowed marriage would have legitimated according to Scotch custom; for even this defence admitted another charge against himself and her. And though he could not regret that he had subjected these women to a strict examination, he was compelled to hope they might remain in obscurity proportioned to their baseness.

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“Heard ye ever the like of this?” said or almost screamed Aunt Barbara as the “Friend of the Family” entered her ancient house in Kirkcuddie to announce the result of his mediation. “Saw ye ever poor lone woman so beset? They have sent the bairn to me!”

“Bairn! Whose?” he answered with a face which told only as much surprise as the occasion needed.

“Nay, but who kens that, I wonder? They have sent it from Coblentz to Rotterdam, and thence the skipper Jamie Onderdonk, a smuggling knave! brought it here under cloud of night. What will I do wi’t and what will the folk say?”

Glenalmond read with great seeming gravity the formal letter of the Herr Jacob Mengs, dated from the town-hall of Coblentz, stating that the infant left in what appeared a mortal convulsion, had been carefully attended by the military surgeon Bonavis, and by his advice sent to the care of the dame Barbara Dumblaine to whom its kindred were known.”

“And how are we assured that this plump red-haired rogue is the identical urchin brought to Coblentz and carried from Myheer Jacob’s wine-house?”

“Eh sirs! dinna ye see this scroll of French or Latin, I ken’na weel what it is, fra’ these Dutch clerks?”

Glenalmond studied the affidavits and huge bill of costs with a shrug and half a smile. “After all, Mrs Barbara, the mother may be easily smoothed over. The Provost — you mind the hint you gave me of old-world tales — can he not be brought to declare a marriage with this Mcquerie?”

“Lord save us, Glenalmond! He is a west-ridinger — ye never heard of outwitting one.”

“Why, that must be thought of. Our King James used to say Adam was a Scotchman and the Enemy from Yorkshire or he would not have tricked him. Well, I guess, my good lady, you will not heed a few country-clashes — your station, ancestry — reputation —”

And age he might have added, but suppressed the uncertain argument. Our young friends are strangely persecuted by mischance. If we dispute this child’s identity, we shall wake a nine-days wonder why the lady concealed or deserted it. If we admit this mischief-maker’s tale without dispute, he will inherit irresistibly the name and property of her husband. A noble birthright will be seized by and interloper — we know not from whom or whence. But stay — an new thought comes — Why not call him Julian? The Swiss lad often haunted Susan’s hovel, and her kinsfolk are all light lasses —”

“But the woman Mcquerie and her folk say and swear the mother was a young fair thing like Marianne who came late at e’en and stayed but two hours, ill fit as she was to travel. Ohone! all this shame and heart-break comes from one dark hour — Why did he wrong her, and now why suld they wrong their babe?”

Waving this unanswerable question, the ex-lawyer only urges the policy of avoiding any contest with the shrewd Netherlanders, and the necessity of preserving the most powerful defence against hints of infanticide. Then in broad Scotch and a jesting tone which he always assumed when in deep earnest, he added, “Call the young castaway Julianson — his patron-saint befriends travellers and their mischances. Send him to canny Yorkshire. We owe them a colony of knave-children, for they sent us monks and millers!”

“But, Laird, the English say they took nothing from this town.”

“Except a sonsy burgher whose wife sent him over the walls in a basket. I wish some folk we know had been in it. But speed away this changeling and let him learn an honest trade if he can in the the West-riding.”

“The poor bairn! Maun he be a horse-couper or a cattle-lifter because other folk have sinned?”

“’Tis the fate of all Adamsons, madam. He may be an itinerary merchant, or a writer, as my doom was, alias the packman of asses. Here is a loch where they say King Fergus hid his gold coins. I doubt whether a Scotch king ever had so many — but the lad may keep what he finds.”

And with this bountiful promise he departed, leaving Aunt Barbara convinced that fear, shame, and guilt had deranged her miserable niece’s understanding, and that her babe was cruelly defrauded of the rights which the courtesy of Scotland gives in circumstances even more irregular.

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Full of business and authority Mrs Barbara, or as she loved to hear herself entitled according to Scotch custom, the Lady Barbara Dumblaine, thought fittest to send the friendless and nameless babe to the hut where its unhappy life had begun. And there, excusing her interference by the usual familiarity of an ancient lady fo the manor with her poor neighbours, she paid a visit on the following day to see whether the shrewd gossip who tenanted the cottage was disposed to be its fostermother. There she found Perette whose countenance expressed some embarrassment, though she cloaked her visit under pretence of being her lady’s almoner. Aunt Barbara wisely, as she believed, demanded her attendance and help through a “mirk lane,” and employed the opportunity to catechise the French fille-de-chambre. Perette, we may supposed, had not kept sad or idle vigils in Marianne’s dressing-room, and was very willing to tell how strangely solitary “madame” chose to be — how often she seemed in sorrow, and especially after what might have seemed a most unhoped re-union. Then Lady Barbara learned that her niece had travelled from Coblentz with only hired extempore attendants, had been mysteriously ill during the voyage, and as the French abigail believed, had heard some frightful tale concerning a box in which one of the passengers had hidden a few exotic trinkets and lace lappets among some specimens of “cranny-owlogy”. As this trick had been notoriously successful among the keenest agents of the revenue, Lady Barbara listened with as much belief as her informer expected her to profess. Their progress through the long miry lane was almost finished when they saw a group of clowns likely to impeded it. They were dragging a man in a sailor’s garb with great difficulty over a “slap” or breach in the rough masonry of the unmortared wall, and his resistance, added to the clamorous throng of half-naked boys and fish-wives very well disposed to rescue him, made his escape almost certain. But two gentlemen on horseback were seen approaching the scene of action, and the mob, either doubting their success or their right in his cause, chose to become spectators quietly. The constable, a sturdy ruffian, protested his prisoner resembled in height, features, and complexion, the young vagrant who had been seen entering Susan’s hut while all the occupants were at the kirk, except the helpless and speechless woman found dead on their return. A shoemaker in the crowd said the prisoner had entered his shop a few days after her death and asked for a pair of shoes, being then barefooted. To the shoemaker’s remark that his feet had been sore bruised with travel, his answer was that he had lost his shoes in the surf when landed from a Liverpool trader. Now the shoes or brogues discovered among the bushes near Susan’s hut, on that remarkable sabbath, exactly fitted the measure

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taken by the shoemaker of his customer’s foot which as he farther observed, was lame and deformed as if by accident. The prisoner now in custody was slightly maimed in his left foot; but Perrette, notwithstanding the prim demureness she thought fit to assume in Lady Barbara’s presence, perceived he had a comely figure, eyes like lamps, and very handsome features, though bronzed and weather-beaten. One of the horsemen warned the females to depart as the mob shewed their usual zeal in favor of a bold adventurer, probably well known in the Free Trade, and Barbara lost no time in escaping from the fray to her own home. She soon learned that when judicially examined, the prisoner had called himself a sailor from Rotterdam, and being asked his business on this coast, replied very coolly and distinctly that he had come to see his wife and child. He had been married, he said, three years to a girl now in a good place, who seemed to want the “job clayed over,” therefore he scorned to claim her, and meant to pay for his boy’s nursery himself. He was able, he swore, and willing enough. The little girl whose evidence had been given on the facts concerning Susan’s death, declared he was the same man she had seen unlatching the cottage-door while she filled her pitcher at the brook below on that day, now almost three years past. She added that on the morning he had visited Susan’s hut and talked long and loud with her nieces, as she thought, about one of their kinfolk he had wedded. And as he went away, he gave her a broad “siller piece” to be good to the bairn which she held on her lap. He as detained some days in the county-gaol, but as Susan’s body had shewn no sign of violence, though the palsy of fear might have caused her sudden death, he was considered free from charge of murder, and finally banished from the boundaries of Scotland as a reputed poacher, vagrant and impostor. When removed to the English border, his guards said he demanded his child with great vehemence, and when told the Laird’s family would take care of it, he bid “God bless them” in a strange tone and “turned his face to the wall.” The gossips around Susan’s hut remembered that one of the horsemen who joined the crowd when he was taken into custody, might have been the Laird himself - that Glenalmond and the Sheriff-depute were friends, and Mcquerie, Susan’s niece, had been Marianne’s gouvernante. Even Lady Barbara in her secret conscience, judged as two or three others did, believing the vagabond had been thus opportunely seized and dismissed to prove the little changeling’s parentage and sit at rest more questionable rumours. If such was the purpose of this scene, it failed most fatally. The “dark hour” in Marianne’s history was not forgotten and many were tempted, either by contrived whispers or vulgar delight in evil, to suspect that Susan, the poor half-blind and half-witted pensioner of the Stewarts, might have connived at the contract boasted by Wallace and avowedly witnessed by her niece. It was no less probable that the heir of this high family, now Marianne’s acknowledged husband, might hazard much to prevent or stifle its consequences. A paralytic pauper and a strolling knave might seem small sacrifices to save her name from blemish, and his succession from being wrenched by an unlineal hand.

“The dial spoke not, but it made shrewd signs,
And pointed to the hideous stroke of MURDER.”