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The Billow and the Rock   By: (1802-1876)

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The Billow and the Rock, by Harriet Martineau.

It is the time of the 1745 Rebellion, when the adherents of Prince Charles, the Pretender to the Throne, landed in Scotland, and started to march towards London.

Lord Carse, and his friend Lord Lovat, are fearful that Lady Carse, who has some knowledge and evidence of their political beliefs, may betray them. So they abduct her from her home in Edinburgh and have her taken away to a remote island in the Outer Hebrides. She was at first a most unwilling prisoner, but gradually an instinct for survival let her eat and drink, and ride pillion, and so survive the journey.

The Edinburgh newspapers are fed a story of her illness, then of her death, and finally of her burial. So there is no hue and cry.

The story is well written as one would hope from such an accomplished writer. It makes a good audiobook, but probably you will need to listen to it twice before the story and its background become clear to you.




Scotland was a strange and uncomfortable country to live in a hundred years ago. Strange beyond measure its state of society appears to us when we consider, not only that it was called a Christian country, but that the people had shown that they really did care very much for their religion, and were bent upon worshipping God according to their conscience and true belief. Whilst earnest in their religion, their state of society was yet very wicked: a thing which usually happens when a whole people are passing from one way of living and being governed to another. Scotland had not long been united with England. While the wisest of the nation saw that the only hope for the country was in being governed by the same king and parliament as the English, many of the most powerful men wished not to be governed at all, but to be altogether despotic over their dependents and neighbours, and to have their own way in everything. These lords and gentlemen did such violent things as are never heard of now in civilised countries; and when their inferiors had any strong desire or passion, they followed the example of the great men, so that travelling was dangerous; citizens did not feel themselves safe in their own houses if they had reason to believe they had enemies; few had any trust in the protection of the law; and stories of fighting and murder were familiar to children living in the heart of cities.

Children, however, had less liberty then than in our time. The more self will there was in grown people, the more strictly were the children kept in order, not only because the uppermost idea of everyone in authority was that he would be obeyed, but because it would not do to let little people see the mischief that was going on abroad. So, while boys had their hair powdered, and wore long coats and waistcoats, and little knee breeches, and girls were laced tight in stays all stiff with whalebone, they were trained to manners more formal than are ever seen now.

One autumn afternoon a party was expected at the house of Lord Carse, in Edinburgh; a handsome house in a very odd situation, according to our modern notions. It was at the bottom of a narrow lane of houses that sort of lane called a Wynd in Scotch cities. It had a court yard in front. It was necessary to have a court yard to a good house in a street too narrow for carriages. Visitors must come in sedan chairs and there must be some place, aside from the street, where the chairs and chairmen could wait for the guests. This old fashioned house had sitting rooms on the ground floor, and on the sills of the windows were flower pots, in which, on this occasion, some asters and other autumn flowers were growing.

Within the largest sitting room was collected a formal group, awaiting the arrival of visitors... Continue reading book >>

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