A Hallowe’en Grisly Tale Part 1

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DEATH AND THE MAIDEN

It was the summer of 1600 when I was permitted to abandon my loom

and I climbed onto the roof of my mistress’ tenement in the Canongate,

from which an excellent view of the Girth Cross of Holyrood could

easily be discerned.  All around, the citizens of Auld Reekie had

adopted the same strategy and were well-established, in spite of the

early hour.  A  unison intake of breath unbalanced me on my precarious

eyrie, so that I had to grab Nelly’s sleeve for support.

The sinister outline of the Maiden, transported from Halifax, dominated

the scene, looming over the slender figure approaching it.  Well might the

Memorial later describe her as a woman and a bairn.  Apparently, like

myself, she was twenty one, but, she had a child of her own, whereas I

only minded my employers’ weans.

The buzz of conversations receded and I first heard snatches of that

melody which would quickly enter the consciousness of all

Lowland ballad lovers:

O Warriston, ye acted ill

To lift your hand to your ain lady…

Then a ripple of wheeshts surged through the crowds below and Jean

Livingstone, Lady Warriston, removed her gold brocade, stepped

forward on her twa weel-made feet and knelt in her sark.

The parlourmaid, Nelly, poked me in the ribs, observing, She is

as cheerful as if she were going to her own wedding.

The cook shifted her bulk and craned forward dangerously, before adding

sententiously: She appears ravished by a spirit higher than that of man

or woman.

We giggled; she always speaks like her aptly named minister, The Rev.

Andrew Cant.

However, we soon sobered up as the blade began to fall.

Later our chimney sweep, Peter, told us that the blade had fallen just as

she began to pray: Into Thy hand, O..  She had got no further.

He also reported that he had tried to make his way up to Castlehill, to

witness the strangulation and burning of her nurse, Janet Murdo, but the

authorities had arranged the ghastly ceremony simultaneously, in order,

unsuccessfully, to create a counter-attraction, drawing attention away

from the young noblewoman’s plight.

Both punishments had been well- publicised, although the crime had

only been perpetrated a matter of days beforehand.  However, the

timing had been set to maximise and to demonstrate the very satisfying

show of repentance by the Lady, who had been well-rehearsed by the

Revs. Balfour and Bruce, God rest her soul!

Peter said that many in the mob were surprised that her father, the Laird

of Dunnipace, had not exerted himself on her behalf.  He was a well-

known sook, or favourite of King James, who had apparently expressed

His regal regret that such a beautiful young woman should be sacrificed

to Justice:

I never saw a woman’s face

I was sae sorry to see dee.

James I of England by Daniel Mytens.jpg

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