The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 21

Yet though thou mayst be dragg’d in scorn

    To yonder ignominious tree,

Thou shalt not want one faithful friend

    To share the cruel fates’ decree.

Jemmy Dawson.

After spending the greater part of the morning in his devotions (for his benevolent neighbours had kindly insisted upon discharging his task of ordinary labour), David Deans entered the apartment when the breakfast meal was prepared. His eyes were involuntarily cast down, for he was afraid to look at Jeanie, uncertain as he was whether she might feel herself at liberty, with a good conscience, to attend the Court of Justiciary that day, to give the evidence which he understood that she possessed, in order to her sister’s exculpation. At length, after a minute of apprehensive hesitation, he looked at her dress to discover whether it seemed to be in her contemplation to go abroad that morning. Her apparel was neat and plain, but such as conveyed no exact intimation of her intentions to go abroad. She had exchanged her usual garb for morning labour, for one something inferior to that with which, as her best, she was wont to dress herself for church, or any more rare occasion of going into society. Her sense taught her, that it was respectful to be decent in her apparel on such an occasion, while her feelings induced her to lay aside the use of the very few and simple personal ornaments, which, on other occasions, she permitted herself to wear. So that there occurred nothing in her external appearance which could mark out to her father, with anything like certainty, her intentions on this occasion.

The preparations for their humble meal were that morning made in vain. The father and daughter sat, each assuming the appearance of eating, when the other’s eyes were turned to them, and desisting from the effort with disgust, when the affectionate imposture seemed no longer necessary.

At length these moments of constraint were removed. The sound of St. Giles’s heavy toll announced the hour previous to the commencement of the trial; Jeanie arose, and with a degree of composure for which she herself could not account, assumed her plaid, and made her other preparations for a distant walking. It was a strange contrast between the firmness of her demeanour, and the vacillation and cruel uncertainty of purpose indicated in all her father’s motions; and one unacquainted with both could scarcely have supposed that the former was, in her ordinary habits of life, a docile, quiet, gentle, and even timid country maiden, while her father, with a mind naturally proud and strong, and supported by religious opinions of a stern, stoical, and unyielding character, had in his time undergone and withstood the most severe hardships, and the most imminent peril, without depression of spirit, or subjugation of his constancy. The secret of this difference was, that Jeanie’s mind had already anticipated the line of conduct which she must adopt, with all its natural and necessary consequences; while her father, ignorant of every other circumstance, tormented himself with imagining what the one sister might say or swear, or what effect her testimony might have upon the awful event of the trial.

He watched his daughter, with a faltering and indecisive look, until she looked back upon him, with a look of unutterable anguish, as she was about to leave the apartment.

“My dear lassie,” said he, “I will.” His action, hastily and confusedly searching for his worsted mittans1 and staff, showed his purpose of accompanying her, though his tongue failed distinctly to announce it.

“Father,” said Jeanie, replying rather to his action than his words, “ye had better not.”

“In the strength of my God,” answered Deans, assuming firmness, “I will go forth.”

And, taking his daughter’s arm under his, he began to walk from the door with a step so hasty, that she was almost unable to keep up with him. A trifling circumstance, but which marked the perturbed state of his mind, checked his course.

“Your bonnet, father?” said Jeanie, who observed he had come out with his grey hairs uncovered. He turned back with a slight blush on his cheek, being ashamed to have been detected in an omission which indicated so much mental confusion, assumed his large blue Scottish bonnet, and with a step slower, but more composed, as if the circumstance, had obliged him to summon up his resolution, and collect his scattered ideas, again placed his daughter’s arm under his, and resumed the way to Edinburgh.

The courts of justice were then, and are still, held in what is called the Parliament Close, or, according to modern phrase, Parliament Square, and occupied the buildings intended for the accommodation of the Scottish Estates. This edifice, though in an imperfect and corrupted style of architecture, had then a grave, decent, and, as it were, a judicial aspect, which was at least entitled to respect from its antiquity. For which venerable front, I observed, on my last occasional visit to the metropolis, that modern taste had substituted, at great apparent expense, a pile so utterly inconsistent with every monument of antiquity around, and in itself so clumsy at the same time and fantastic, that it may be likened to the decorations of Tom Errand the porter, in the Trip to the Jubilee, when he appears bedizened with the tawdry finery of Beau Clincher. Sed transeat cum caeteris erroribus.

The small quadrangle, or Close, if we may presume still to give it that appropriate, though antiquated title, which at Lichfield, Salisbury, and elsewhere, is properly applied to designate the enclosure adjacent to a cathedral, already evinced tokens of the fatal scene which was that day to be acted. The soldiers of the City Guard were on their posts, now enduring, and now rudely repelling with the butts of their muskets, the motley crew who thrust each other forward, to catch a glance at the unfortunate object of trial, as she should pass from the adjacent prison to the Court in which her fate was to be determined. All must have occasionally observed, with disgust, the apathy with which the vulgar gaze on scenes of this nature, and how seldom, unless when their sympathies are called forth by some striking and extraordinary circumstance, the crowd evince any interest deeper than that of callous, unthinking bustle, and brutal curiosity. They laugh, jest, quarrel, and push each other to and fro, with the same unfeeling indifference as if they were assembled for some holiday sport, or to see an idle procession. Occasionally, however, this demeanour, so natural to the degraded populace of a large town, is exchanged for a temporary touch of human affections; and so it chanced on the present occasion.

When Deans and his daughter presented themselves in the Close, and endeavoured to make their way forward to the door of the Court-house, they became involved in the mob, and subject, of course, to their insolence. As Deans repelled with some force the rude pushes which he received on all sides, his figure and antiquated dress caught the attention of the rabble, who often show an intuitive sharpness in ascribing the proper character from external appearance —

“Ye’re welcome, whigs,

Frae Bothwell briggs,”

sung one fellow (for the mob of Edinburgh were at that time jacobitically disposed, probably because that was the line of sentiment most diametrically opposite to existing authority).

“Mess David Williamson,

    Chosen of twenty,

Ran up the pu’pit stair,

    And sang Killiecrankie,”

chanted a siren, whose profession might be guessed by her appearance. A tattered caidie, or errand-porter, whom David Deans had jostled in his attempt to extricate himself from the vicinity of these scorners, exclaimed in a strong north-country tone, “Ta deil ding out her Cameronian een — what gies her titles to dunch gentlemans about?”

“Make room for the ruling elder,” said yet another; “he comes to see a precious sister glorify God in the Grassmarket!”

“Whisht; shame’s in ye, sirs,” said the voice of a man very loudly, which, as quickly sinking, said in a low but distinct tone, “It’s her father and sister.”

All fell back to make way for the sufferers; and all, even the very rudest and most profligate, were struck with shame and silence. In the space thus abandoned to them by the mob, Deans stood, holding his daughter by the hand, and said to her, with a countenance strongly and sternly expressive of his internal emotion, “Ye hear with your ears, and ye see with your eyes, where and to whom the backslidings and defections of professors are ascribed by the scoffers. Not to themselves alone, but to the kirk of which they are members, and to its blessed and invisible Head. Then, weel may we take wi’ patience our share and portion of this outspreading reproach.”

The man who had spoken, no other than our old friend, Dumbiedikes, whose mouth, like that of the prophet’s ass, had been opened by the emergency of the case, now joined them, and, with his usual taciturnity, escorted them into the Court-house. No opposition was offered to their entrance either by the guards or doorkeepers; and it is even said that one of the latter refused a shilling of civility-money tendered him by the Laird of Dumbiedikes, who was of opinion that “siller wad make a’ easy.” But this last incident wants confirmation.

Admitted within the precincts of the Court-house, they found the usual number of busy office-bearers, and idle loiterers, who attend on these scenes by choice, or from duty. Burghers gaped and stared; young lawyers sauntered, sneered, and laughed, as in the pit of the theatre; while others apart sat on a bench retired, and reasoned highly, inter apices juris, on the doctrines of constructive crime, and the true import of the statute. The bench was prepared for the arrival of the judges. The jurors were in attendance. The crown-counsel, employed in looking over their briefs and notes of evidence, looked grave, and whispered with each other. They occupied one side of a large table placed beneath the bench; on the other sat the advocates, whom the humanity of the Scottish law (in this particular more liberal than that of the sister-country) not only permits, but enjoins, to appear and assist with their advice and skill all persons under trial. Mr. Nichil Novit was seen actively instructing the counsel for the panel (so the prisoner is called in Scottish law-phraseology), busy, bustling, and important. When they entered the Court-room, Deans asked the Laird, in a tremulous whisper, “Where will she sit?”

Dumbiedikes whispered Novit, who pointed to a vacant space at the bar, fronting the judges, and was about to conduct Deans towards it.

“No!” he said; “I cannot sit by her — I cannot own her — not as yet, at least — I will keep out of her sight, and turn mine own eyes elsewhere — better for us baith.”

Saddletree, whose repeated interference with the counsel had procured him one or two rebuffs, and a special request that he would concern himself with his own matters, now saw with pleasure an opportunity of playing the person of importance. He bustled up to the poor old man, and proceeded to exhibit his consequence, by securing, through his interest with the bar-keepers and macers, a seat for Deans, in a situation where he was hidden from the general eye by the projecting corner of the bench.

“It’s gude to have a friend at court,” he said, continuing his heartless harangues to the passive auditor, who neither heard nor replied to them; “few folk but mysell could hae sorted ye out a seat like this — the Lords will be here incontinent, and proceed instanter to trial. They wunna fence the Court as they do at the Circuit — the High Court of Justiciary is aye fenced. — But, Lord’s sake, what’s this o’t — Jeanie, ye are a cited witness — Macer, this lass is a witness — she maun be enclosed — she maun on nae account be at large. — Mr. Novit, suldna Jeanie Deans be enclosed?”

Novit answered in the affirmative, and offered to conduct Jeanie to the apartment, where, according to the scrupulous practice of the Scottish Court, the witnesses remain in readiness to be called into Court to give evidence; and separated, at the same time, from all who might influence their testimony, or give them information concerning that which was passing upon the trial.

“Is this necessary?” said Jeanie, still reluctant to quit her father’s hand.

“A matter of absolute needcessity,” said Saddletree, “wha ever heard of witnesses no being enclosed?”

“It is really a matter of necessity,” said the younger counsellor, retained for her sister; and Jeanie reluctantly followed the macer of the Court to the place appointed.

“This, Mr. Deans,” said Saddletree, “is ca’d sequestering a witness; but it’s clean different (whilk maybe ye wadna fund out o’ yoursell) frae sequestering ane’s estate or effects, as in cases of bankruptcy. I hae aften been sequestered as a witness, for the Sheriff is in the use whiles to cry me in to witness the declarations at precognitions, and so is Mr. Sharpitlaw; but I was ne’er like to be sequestered o’ land and gudes but ance, and that was lang syne, afore I was married. But whisht, whisht! here’s the Court coming.”

As he spoke, the five Lords of Justiciary, in their long robes of scarlet, faced with white, and preceded by their mace-bearer, entered with the usual formalities, and took their places upon the bench of judgment.

The audience rose to receive them; and the bustle occasioned by their entrance was hardly composed, when a great noise and confusion of persons struggling, and forcibly endeavouring to enter at the doors of the Court-room, and of the galleries, announced that the prisoner was about to be placed at the bar. This tumult takes place when the doors, at first only opened to those either having right to be present, or to the better and more qualified ranks, are at length laid open to all whose curiosity induces them to be present on the occasion. With inflamed countenances and dishevelled dresses, struggling with, and sometimes tumbling over each other, in rushed the rude multitude, while a few soldiers, forming, as it were, the centre of the tide, could scarce, with all their efforts, clear a passage for the prisoner to the place which she was to occupy. By the authority of the Court, and the exertions of its officers, the tumult among the spectators was at length appeased, and the unhappy girl brought forward, and placed betwixt two sentinels with drawn bayonets, as a prisoner at the bar, where she was to abide her deliverance for good or evil, according to the issue of her trial.

1 A kind of worsted gloves, used by the lower orders.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29