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Grisell Home, A Seventeenth-Century Heroine
by [?]

The Merse has given many a gallant man to the mother-country, oftentimes a fighter, now and again a martyr, but no fairer flower has ever blossomed in that stretch of land that has the North Sea for one of its boundaries, and looks across fertile plains to the long, blue line of Cheviots in the south, than one whose name must ever find a sure place in the hearts of those whom courage and fortitude, sweetness and merry humour, exquisite unselfishness, and gay uncomplainingness in the face of dire emergency are things to be honoured and held dear.

Grisell Home was the eldest of eighteen children, two of whom died in infancy. She was born at Redbraes Castle–now Marchmont–on December 25, 1665. There is a belief that Christmas babies always have an extra large share of the nature of Him who was born on Christmas Day; and truly Grisell Home was one of those who never seemed to know the meaning of Self. Her father, Sir Patrick Home, a man of strong character and large fortune, was known to be a rigid Presbyterian, no friend to the house of Stuart, and he was regarded by the Government of his day as “a factious person.” His great friendship with his neighbour, Robert Baillie of Jerviswoode, in no way increased the favour with which either of those good men was regarded in high places. Jerviswoode and Home were “suspects,” and being known as close allies, where one was supposed to be plotting, the other was always expected to be at his back.

To be the eldest of so large a brood must have been a sobering thing for any little girl, but Grisell shouldered her responsibilities with a happy heart, and united with that happy, child-like heart the wisdom and discretion of a woman. She was only twelve when she was chosen as messenger from her father to his friend Mr. Baillie, who was then in prison in Edinburgh. Over lonely Soutra Hill (where highway robbery and murder were things not unknown), it was no easy or pleasant ride from Marchmont to the Port of Edinburgh; and here the bleaching skulls of martyred covenanters gave to those who entered the town grim warning of the risks of nonconformity. Doubtless little Grisell had been provided by her parents with a suitable escort, but, even so, her heart must have beat faster as she went up the High Street to where the “Heart of Midlothian” then stood, and asked to see Mr. Robert Baillie, her father’s friend. The bright-eyed, slim little maid, with her chestnut hair and exquisite complexion, must have been as unexpected a sight in that gloomy place as a wild rose in a desert. None could suspect her of meddling with affairs of State, or of tampering with the prisoners of his gracious Majesty. Thus Grisell Home was able successfully to carry a letter of advice and information, and to bring back to her father in the Merse tidings of a blameless martyr.

With his father in prison that day was Baillie’s son, George, a boy one year older than Grisell. He had been, as were many of the well-born lads of his time, at his studies in Holland, reading law, when his father was put in prison, but hastened home on hearing the news. Boys wore swords, and not Eton jackets, in George Baillie’s day. He had, as his daughter afterwards wrote of him, “a rough, manly countenance”; and from that day until the day of her death that face, which she knew first as a boy’s, was more beautiful to Grisell Home than any other face on earth. Several times afterwards was Grisell sent as bearer of important letters from her father to him whose son, in days still long to come, was to be her husband, and never once was the douce little messenger suspected.