The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Walter Scott

Chapter 24

Law, take thy victim — May she find the mercy

In yon mild heaven, which this hard world denies her!

It was an hour ere the jurors returned, and as they traversed the crowd with slow steps, as men about to discharge themselves of a heavy and painful responsibility, the audience was hushed into profound, earnest, and awful silence.

“Have you agreed on your chancellor, gentlemen?” was the first question of the Judge.

The foreman, called in Scotland the chancellor of the jury, usually the man of best rank and estimation among the assizers, stepped forward, and with a low reverence, delivered to the Court a sealed paper, containing the verdict, which, until of late years, that verbal returns are in some instances permitted, was always couched in writing. The jury remained standing while the Judge broke the seals, and having perused the paper, handed it with an air of mournful gravity down to the clerk of Court, who proceeded to engross in the record the yet unknown verdict, of which, however, all omened the tragical contents. A form still remained, trifling and unimportant in itself, but to which imagination adds a sort of solemnity, from the awful occasion upon which it is used. A lighted candle was placed on the table, the original paper containing the verdict was enclosed in a sheet of paper, and, sealed with the Judge’s own signet, was transmitted to the Crown Office, to be preserved among other records of the same kind. As all this is transacted in profound silence, the producing and extinguishing the candle seems a type of the human spark which is shortly afterwards doomed to be quenched, and excites in the spectators something of the same effect which in England is obtained by the Judge assuming the fatal cap of judgment. When these preliminary forms had been gone through, the Judge required Euphemia Deans to attend to the verdict to be read.

After the usual words of style, the verdict set forth, that the Jury having made choice of John Kirk, Esq., to be their chancellor, and Thomas Moore, merchant, to be their clerk, did, by a plurality of voices, find the said Euphemia Deans Guilty of the crime libelled; but, in consideration of her extreme youth, and the cruel circumstances of her case, did earnestly entreat that the Judge would recommend her to the mercy of the Crown.

“Gentlemen,” said the Judge, “you have done your duty — and a painful one it must have been to men of humanity like you. I will undoubtedly transmit your recommendation to the throne. But it is my duty to tell all who now hear me, but especially to inform that unhappy young woman, in order that her mind may be settled accordingly, that I have not the least hope of a pardon being granted in the present case. You know the crime has been increasing in this land, and I know farther, that this has been ascribed to the lenity in which the laws have been exercised, and that there is therefore no hope whatever of obtaining a remission for this offence.” The jury bowed again, and, released from their painful office, dispersed themselves among the mass of bystanders.

The Court then asked Mr. Fairbrother whether he had anything to say, why judgment should not follow on the verdict? The counsel had spent some time in persuing and reperusing the verdict, counting the letters in each juror’s name, and weighing every phrase, nay, every syllable, in the nicest scales of legal criticism. But the clerk of the jury had understood his business too well. No flaw was to be found, and Fairbrother mournfully intimated, that he had nothing to say in arrest of judgment.

The presiding Judge then addressed the unhappy prisoner:—“Euphemia Deans, attend to the sentence of the Court now to be pronounced against you.”

She rose from her seat, and with a composure far greater than could have been augured from her demeanour during some parts of the trial, abode the conclusion of the awful scene. So nearly does the mental portion of our feelings resemble those which are corporeal, that the first severe blows which we receive bring with them a stunning apathy, which renders us indifferent to those that follow them. Thus said Mandrin, when he was undergoing the punishment of the wheel; and so have all felt, upon whom successive inflictions have descended with continuous and reiterated violence.1

“Young woman,” said the Judge, “it is my painful duty to tell you, that your life is forfeited under a law, which, if it may seem in some degree severe, is yet wisely so, to render those of your unhappy situation aware what risk they run, by concealing, out of pride or false shame, their lapse from virtue, and making no preparation to save the lives of the unfortunate infants whom they are to bring into the world. When you concealed your situation from your mistress, your sister, and other worthy and compassionate persons of your own sex, in whose favour your former conduct had given you a fair place, you seem to me to have had in your contemplation, at least, the death of the helpless creature, for whose life you neglected to provide. How the child was disposed of — whether it was dealt upon by another, or by yourself — whether the extraordinary story you have told is partly false, or altogether so, is between God and your own conscience. I will not aggravate your distress by pressing on that topic, but I do most solemnly adjure you to employ the remaining space of your time in making your peace with God, for which purpose such reverend clergymen, as you yourself may name, shall have access to you. Notwithstanding the humane recommendation of the jury, I cannot afford to you, in the present circumstances of the country, the slightest hope that your life will be prolonged beyond the period assigned for the execution of your sentence. Forsaking, therefore, the thoughts of this world, let your mind be prepared by repentance for those of more awful moments — for death, judgment, and eternity. — Doomster, read the sentence.”2

When the Doomster showed himself, a tall haggard figure, arrayed in a fantastic garment of black and grey, passmented with silver lace, all fell back with a sort of instinctive horror, and made wide way for him to approach the foot of the table. As this office was held by the common executioner, men shouldered each other backward to avoid even the touch of his garment, and some were seen to brush their own clothes, which had accidentally become subject to such contamination. A sound went through the Court, produced by each person drawing in their breath hard, as men do when they expect or witness what is frightful, and at the same time affecting. The caitiff villain yet seemed, amid his hardened brutality, to have some sense of his being the object of public detestation, which made him impatient of being in public, as birds of evil omen are anxious to escape from daylight, and from pure air.

Repeating after the Clerk of Court, he gabbled over the words of the sentence, which condemned Euphemia Deans to be conducted back to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and detained there until Wednesday the day of —— and upon that day, betwixt the hours of two and four o’clock afternoon, to be conveyed to the common place of execution, and there hanged by the neck upon a gibbet. “And this,” said the Doomster, aggravating his harsh voice, “I pronounce for doom.

He vanished when he had spoken the last emphatic word, like a foul fiend after the purpose of his visitation had been accomplished; but the impression of horror excited by his presence and his errand, remained upon the crowd of spectators.

The unfortunate criminal — for so she must now be termed — with more susceptibility, and more irritable feelings than her father and sister, was found, in this emergence, to possess a considerable share of their courage. She had remained standing motionless at the bar while the sentence was pronounced, and was observed to shut her eyes when the Doomster appeared. But she was the first to break silence when that evil form had left his place.

“God forgive ye, my Lords,” she said, “and dinna be angry wi’ me for wishing it — we a’ need forgiveness. — As for myself, I canna blame ye, for ye act up to your lights; and if I havena killed my poor infant, ye may witness a’ that hae seen it this day, that I hae been the means of killing my greyheaded father — I deserve the warst frae man, and frae God too — But God is mair mercifu’ to us than we are to each other.”

With these words the trial concluded. The crowd rushed, bearing forward and shouldering each other, out of the Court, in the same tumultuary mode in which they had entered; and, in excitation of animal motion and animal spirits, soon forgot whatever they had felt as impressive in the scene which they had witnessed. The professional spectators, whom habit and theory had rendered as callous to the distress of the scene as medical men are to those of a surgical operation, walked homeward in groups, discussing the general principle of the statute under which the young woman was condemned, the nature of the evidence, and the arguments of the counsel, without considering even that of the Judge as exempt from their criticism.

The female spectators, more compassionate, were loud in exclamation against that part of the Judge’s speech which seemed to cut off the hope of pardon.

“Set him up, indeed,” said Mrs. Howden, “to tell us that the poor lassie behoved to die, when Mr. John Kirk, as civil a gentleman as is within the ports of the town, took the pains to prigg for her himsell.”

“Ay, but, neighbour,” said Miss Damahoy, drawing up her thin maidenly form to its full height of prim dignity —“I really think this unnatural business of having bastard-bairns should be putten a stop to. — There isna a hussy now on this side of thirty that you can bring within your doors, but there will be chields — writer-lads, prentice-lads, and what not — coming traiking after them for their destruction, and discrediting ane’s honest house into the bargain — I hae nae patience wi’ them.”

“Hout, neighbour,” said Mrs. Howden, “we suld live and let live — we hae been young oursells, and we are no aye to judge the warst when lads and lasses forgather.”

“Young oursells! and judge the warst!” said Miss Damahoy. “I am no sae auld as that comes to, Mrs. Howden; and as for what ye ca’ the warst, I ken neither good nor bad about the matter, I thank my stars!”

“Ye are thankfu’ for sma’ mercies, then,” said Mrs. Howden with a toss of her head; “and as for you and young — I trow ye were doing for yoursell at the last riding of the Scots Parliament, and that was in the gracious year seven, sae ye can be nae sic chicken at ony rate.”

Plumdamas, who acted as squire of the body to the two contending dames, instantly saw the hazard of entering into such delicate points of chronology, and being a lover of peace and good neighbourhood, lost no time in bringing back the conversation to its original subject.

“The Judge didna tell us a’ he could hae tell’d us, if he had liked, about the application for pardon, neighbours,” said he “there is aye a wimple in a lawyer’s clew; but it’s a wee bit of a secret.”

“And what is’t — what is’t, neighbour Plumdamas?” said Mrs. Howden and Miss Damahoy at once, the acid fermentation of their dispute being at once neutralised by the powerful alkali implied in the word secret.

“Here’s Mr. Saddletree can tell ye that better than me, for it was him that tauld me,” said Plumdamas as Saddletree came up, with his wife hanging on his arm, and looking very disconsolate.

When the question was put to Saddletree, he looked very scornful. “They speak about stopping the frequency of child-murder,” said he, in a contemptuous tone; “do ye think our auld enemies of England, as Glendook aye ca’s them in his printed Statute-book, care a boddle whether we didna kill ane anither, skin and birn, horse and foot, man, woman, and bairns, all and sindry, omnes et singulos, as Mr. Crossmyloof says? Na, na, it’s no that hinders them frae pardoning the bit lassie. But here is the pinch of the plea. The king and queen are sae ill pleased wi’ that mistak about Porteous, that deil a kindly Scot will they pardon again, either by reprieve or remission, if the haill town o’ Edinburgh should be a’ hanged on ae tow.”

“Deil that they were back at their German kale-yard then, as my neighbour MacCroskie ca’s it,” said Mrs. Howden, “an that’s the way they’re gaun to guide us!”

“They say for certain,” said Miss Damahoy, “that King George flang his periwig in the fire when he heard o’ the Porteous mob.”

“He has done that, they say,” replied Saddletree, “for less thing.”

“Aweel,” said Miss Damahoy, “he might keep mair wit in his anger — but it’s a’ the better for his wigmaker, I’se warrant.”

“The queen tore her biggonets for perfect anger — ye’ll hae heard o’ that too?” said Plumdamas. “And the king, they say, kickit Sir Robert Walpole for no keeping down the mob of Edinburgh; but I dinna believe he wad behave sae ungenteel.”

“It’s dooms truth, though,” said Saddletree; “and he was for kickin’ the Duke of Argyle3 too.”

“Kickin’ the Duke of Argyle!” exclaimed the hearers at once, in all the various combined keys of utter astonishment.

“Ay, but MacCallummore’s blood wadna sit down wi’ that; there was risk of Andro Ferrara coming in thirdsman.”

“The duke is a real Scotsman — a true friend to the country,” answered Saddletree’s hearers.

“Ay, troth is he, to king and country baith, as ye sall hear,” continued the orator, “if ye will come in bye to our house, for it’s safest speaking of sic things inter parietes.

When they entered his shop, he thrust his prentice boy out of it, and, unlocking his desk, took out, with an air of grave and complacent importance, a dirty and crumpled piece of printed paper; he observed, “This is new corn — it’s no every body could show you the like o’ this. It’s the duke’s speech about the Porteous mob, just promulgated by the hawkers. Ye shall hear what Ian Roy Cean4 says for himsell.

My correspondent bought it in the Palace-yard, that’s like just under the king’s nose — I think he claws up their mittans! — It came in a letter about a foolish bill of exchange that the man wanted me to renew for him. I wish ye wad see about it, Mrs. Saddletree.”

Honest Mrs. Saddletree had hitherto been so sincerely distressed about the situation of her unfortunate prote’ge’e, that she had suffered her husband to proceed in his own way, without attending to what he was saying. The words bills and renew had, however, an awakening sound in them; and she snatched the letter which her husband held towards her, and wiping her eyes, and putting on her spectacles, endeavoured, as fast as the dew which collected on her glasses would permit, to get at the meaning of the needful part of the epistle; while her husband, with pompous elevation, read an extract from the speech.

“I am no minister, I never was a minister, and I never will be one”

“I didna ken his Grace was ever designed for the ministry,” interrupted Mrs. Howden.

“He disna mean a minister of the gospel, Mrs. Howden, but a minister of state,” said Saddletree, with condescending goodness, and then proceeded: “The time was when I might have been a piece of a minister, but I was too sensible of my own incapacity to engage in any state affair. And I thank God that I had always too great a value for those few abilities which Nature has given me, to employ them in doing any drudgery, or any job of what kind soever. I have, ever since I set out in the world (and I believe few have set out more early), served my prince with my tongue; I have served him with any little interest I had, and I have served him with my sword, and in my profession of arms. I have held employments which I have lost, and were I to be tomorrow deprived of those which still remain to me, and which I have endeavoured honestly to deserve, I would still serve him to the last acre of my inheritance, and to the last drop of my blood —”

Mrs. Saddletree here broke in upon the orator:—“Mr. Saddletree, what is the meaning of a’ this? Here are ye clavering about the Duke of Argyle, and this man Martingale gaun to break on our hands, and lose us gude sixty pounds — I wonder what duke will pay that, quotha — I wish the Duke of Argyle would pay his ain accounts — He is in a thousand punds Scots on thae very books when he was last at Roystoun — I’m no saying but he’s a just nobleman, and that it’s gude siller — but it wad drive ane daft to be confused wi’ deukes and drakes, and thae distressed folk up-stairs, that’s Jeanie Deans and her father. And then, putting the very callant that was sewing the curpel out o’ the shop, to play wi’ blackguards in the close — Sit still, neighbours, it’s no that I mean to disturb you; but what between courts o’ law and courts o’ state, and upper and under parliaments, and parliament houses, here and in London, the gudeman’s gane clean gyte, I think.”

The gossips understood civility, and the rule of doing as they would be done by, too well, to tarry upon the slight invitation implied in the conclusion of this speech, and therefore made their farewells and departure as fast as possible, Saddletree whispering to Plundamas that he would “meet him at MacCroskie’s” (the low-browed shop in the Luckenbooths, already mentioned), “in the hour of cause, and put MacCallummore’s speech in his pocket, for a’ the gudewife’s din.”

When Mrs. Saddletree saw the house freed of her importunate visitors, and the little boy reclaimed from the pastimes of the wynd to the exercise of the awl, she went to visit her unhappy relative, David Deans, and his elder daughter, who had found in her house the nearest place of friendly refuge.

1 [The notorious Mandrin was known as the Captain-General of French & smugglers. See a Tract on his exploits, printed 1753.]

2 Doomster, or Dempster, of Court.

The name of this officer is equivalent to the pronouncer of doom or sentence. In this comprehensive sense, the Judges of the Isle of Man were called Dempsters. But in Scotland the word was long restricted to the designation of an official person, whose duty it was to recite the sentence after it had been pronounced by the Court, and recorded by the clerk; on which occasion the Dempster legalised it by the words of form, “And this I pronounce for doom.” For a length of years, the office, as mentioned in the text, was held in commendam with that of the executioner; for when this odious but necessary officer of justice received his appointment, he petitioned the Court of Justiciary to be received as their Dempster, which was granted as a matter of course.

The production of the executioner in open court, and in presence of the wretched criminal, had something in it hideous and disgusting to the more refined feelings of later times. But if an old tradition of the Parliament House of Edinburgh may be trusted, it was the following anecdote which occasioned the disuse of the Dempster’s office.

It chanced at one time that the office of public executioner was vacant. There was occasion for some one to act as Dempster, and, considering the party who generally held the office, it is not wonderful that a locum tenens was hard to be found. At length, one Hume, who had been sentenced to transportation, for an attempt to burn his own house, was induced to consent that he would pronounce the doom on this occasion. But when brought forth to officiate, instead of repeating the doom to the criminal, Mr. Hume addressed himself to their lordships in a bitter complaint of the injustice of his own sentence. It was in vain that he was interrupted, and reminded of the purpose for which he had come hither; “I ken what ye want of me weel eneugh,” said the fellow, “ye want me to be your Dempster; but I am come to be none of your Dempster, I am come to summon you, Lord T, and you, Lord E, to answer at the bar of another world for the injustice you have done me in this.” In short, Hume had only made a pretext of complying with the proposal, in order to have an opportunity of reviling the Judges to their faces, or giving them, in the phrase of his country, “a sloan.” He was hurried off amid the laughter of the audience, but the indecorous scene which had taken place contributed to the abolition of the office of Dempster. The sentence is now read over by the clerk of court, and the formality of pronouncing doom is altogether omitted.

[The usage of calling the Dempster into court by the ringing of a hand-bell, to repeat the sentence on a criminal, is said to have been abrogated in March 1773.]

3 John Duke of Argyle and Greenwich.

This nobleman was very dear to his countrymen, who were justly proud of his military and political talents, and grateful for the ready zeal with which he asserted the rights of his native country. This was never more conspicuous than in the matter of the Porteous Mob, when the ministers brought in a violent and vindictive bill, for declaring the Lord Provost of Edinburgh incapable of bearing any public office in future, for not foreseeing a disorder which no one foresaw, or interrupting the course of a riot too formidable to endure opposition. The same bill made provision for pulling down the city gates, and abolishing the city guard — rather a Hibernian mode of enabling their better to keep the peace within burgh in future.

The Duke of Argyle opposed this bill as a cruel, unjust, and fanatical proceeding, and an encroachment upon the privileges of the royal burghs of Scotland, secured to them by the treaty of Union. “In all the proceedings of that time,” said his Grace, “the nation of Scotland treated with the English as a free and independent people; and as that treaty, my Lords, had no other guarantee for the due performance of its articles, but the faith and honour of a British Parliament, it would be both unjust and ungenerous, should this House agree to any proceedings that have a tendency to injure it.”

Lord Hardwicke, in reply to the Duke of Argyle, seemed to insinuate, that his Grace had taken up the affair in a party point of view, to which the nobleman replied in the spirited language quoted in the text. Lord Hardwicke apologised. The bill was much modified, and the clauses concerning the dismantling the city, and disbanding the guard, were departed from. A fine of L2000 was imposed on the city for the benefit of Porteous’s widow. She was contented to accept three-fourths of the sum, the payment of which closed the transaction. It is remarkable, that, in our day, the Magistrates of Edinburgh have had recourse to both those measures, hold in such horror by their predecessors, as necessary steps for the improvement of the city.

It may be here noticed, in explanation of another circumstance mentioned in the text, that there is a tradition in Scotland, that George II., whose irascible temper is said sometimes to have hurried him into expressing his displeasure par voie du fait, offered to the Duke of Argyle in angry audience, some menace of this nature, on which he left the presence in high disdain, and with little ceremony. Sir Robert Walpole, having met the Duke as he retired, and learning the cause of his resentment and discomposure, endeavoured to reconcile him to what had happened by saying, “Such was his Majesty’s way, and that he often took such liberties with himself without meaning any harm.” This did not mend matters in MacCallummore’s eyes, who replied, in great disdain, “You will please to remember, Sir Robert, the infinite distance there is betwixt you and me.” Another frequent expression of passion on the part of the same monarch, is alluded to in the old Jacobite song —

The fire shall get both hat and wig,

As oft-times they’ve got a’ that.

4 Red John the warrior, a name personal and proper in the Highlands to John Duke of Argyle and Greenwich, as MacCummin was that of his race or dignity.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00