Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Dumb Girl of Pollok By E. Lynn Linton

The Dumb Girl of Pollok
By E. Lynn Linton

On the 14th of October, Sir George Maxwell, of Pollok, and his household were much agitated and disturbed. He had been taken suddenly and dangerously ill, with pains which
read like the pains of pleurisy; and though he get partially well, had still some awkward symptoms remaining. A young deaf and dumb girl, of unknown origin, signified that
“there is a woman whose son has broke his fruit yeard that did prick him in the side.” This was found to mean that Jennet Mathie, relict of John Stewart, under-miller in Schaw
Mill, had formed a wax picture with pins in its side, which “Dumby” said was to be found in her house in a hole behind the fire, and which she further offered to bring to
them at Pollok, provided certain two of the men servants might accompany her to protect her. The young daughters of Sir George did not believe the story, but the two servants,
Laurence Pollok and Andrew Martin, professed themselves converts, and insisted on seeing the thing to an end. So they went to Jennet’s house, and into the kitchen, all
standing on the floor near the fire; “when little Dumby comes quickly by, slips her hand into a hole behind the fire, and puts into Andrew Martin’s hand, beneath his cloak, a wax
picture with two pins in it,” that in the right side very long, and that in the left shorter: which corresponded with the severity of the laird’s pains. The picture was brought to Sir
George; so was Jennet Mathie, who was apprehended on the spot and whom Sir George then sent to prison. When questioned, she denied all knowledge of the picture or the pins,
and said it was the work of the dumb girl; but on its being shown that her son, Hugh had once robbed Sir George’s orchard—which was what Dumby meant by “broke his fruit
yeard “—and that Sir George, when told that he was no longer in Pollokland, but had gone to Darnlie, had said, “I hope my fingers may be long enough to reach him in Darnlie”—
these circumstances were held quite sufficient evidence that the Stewart family would do the laird all the mischief they could. The prosecution wanted no stronger proof,
and the affair went on. Jennet was obstinate, and would confess nothing; upon which they searched her and found the devil’s mark. After this, Sir George got better for a short space, but soon the pains returned, and then the dumb girl said that John Stewart, Jennet’s eldest son had made another clay image, four days since, and that it was now in his house beneath the bolster among the bed straw. So she and the servants went there again, and sure enough they found it; but as it was only lately made, it was soft and broke in their hands. John said simply he did not knew who had put it there; but he and his young sister Annabel were apprehended: and the next day Annabel confessed. She said, that on the 4th of January last past, while the clay picture was being formed, a black gentleman had come into her mother’s house, accompanied by Bessie Weir, Marjorie Craig, Margaret Jackson, and her own brother John. When confronted with John she wavered, but John was no nearer release for that. He was searched, and many marks were found on him; and when found the spell of silence was broken, and he confessed his paction with the devil as openly as his sister, giving up as their accomplices the same women as these she had named. Of these, Margaret Jackson, aged fourscore or so, was the only one to confess; but as she had many witch marks she could not hope for mercy, so might as well make a clean breast of it at once. On the 17th of January a portion of
clay was found under Jennet Mathie’s bolster, in her prison at Paisley. This time it was a woman’s portrait, for Sir George had recovered by now, and the witches were against the
whole family equally. On the 27th Annabel made a fuller deposition. She said that last harvest the devil, as a black man, had come to her mother’s house, and required her, the
deponent, to give herself to him; promising that she should want for nothing good if she did. She, being enticed by her mother and Bessie Weir, did as was desired—putting on hand on the crown of her head, and another on the soles of her feet, and giving over to him all that lay between; whereupon her mother promised her a new coat., and the devil
made her officer at their several meetings. He gave her, too, such a nip on the arm that she was sore for half an hour after, and gave her a new name—Annippy, or an Ape
according to Law. Her mother’s devil-name was Lands-lady; Bessie Weir was called Sopha; Marjorie Craig was Rigeru; Margaret Jackson Locas; John Stewart, Jonas; and
they were all present at the making of the clay image which was to doom Sir George to death. They made it of clay, then bound it on a spit and turned it before the fire, “Sopha”
crying “Sir George Maxwell! Sir George Maxwell!” which was repeated by them all. Another time, she said, there was a meeting, when the devil was dressed in “black
cloathes and a blew band, and white hand cuffs, with hoggers en his feet, and that his feet were cloven.” The black man stuck the pins into the picture, and his name was Ejoall, or
J. Jewell. For the devil delighted in giving himself various names, as when he caused himself to be called Peter Drysdale, by Catherine Sands and Laurie Moir, and Peter
Saleway by others. John now followed suit. He confessed to his own baptism; to the hoggers on the black man’s legs, who had no shoes, and spoke in a voice hollow and ghousty; to the making the clay image; and to his new name of Jonas. On the 15th of February, 1677, John Stewart, Annabel Stewart, and Margaret Jackson all adhered to these depositions, but
Jennet and Bessie and Margerie denied them. Jennet’s feet were fixed in stocks, so that she might not do violence to her own life: and one day her gaoler declared that he had
found her bolster, which the night before was laid at least six yards from the stocks, now placed beneath her; the stocks being so heavy that two of the strongest men in the country
could hardly have carried them six yards. He asked her “how she had win to the bolster,” and she answered that she had crept along the floor of the room, dragging the stocks with
her. Before the court she said that she had got one foot out of the hole, and had drawn the stocks with her, “a thing altogether impossible.” Then John and Annabel exhorted their
mother to confess, reminding her of all the meetings which she had had with the devil in her own house, and that “a summer’s day would not be sufficient to relate what passages
had been between the devil and her.” But Jennet Mathie was a stern, brave, high-hearted Scotch woman, and would not seal her sorrow with a lie. “Nothing could prevail with her obdured and hardened heart,” so she and all, save young Annabel, were burnt; and when she was bound to the stake, the spectators saw after a while a black, pitchy ball foam out of her mouth, which, after the fire was kindled, grew to the size of a walnut, and flew out into sparks like squibs. This was the devil leaving her. As for Bessie Weir, or Sopha, the evil left her when she was executed, in the form of a raven; for so he owned and dishonoured his chosen ones. “The dumbe girl, Jennet Douglas, now speaks well, and knows Latine, which she never learned, and discovers things past!” says Sinclair. But she still followed her old trade. She had mesmeric visions, and was evidently a “sensitive;” and some of the people believed in her, as inspired and divine, and some came, perhaps mockingly, to test her. But they generally got the worst off, and were glad to leave her alone again. One woman came and asked her “ ‘how she came to the knowledge of so many things,’ but the young wench shifted her, by asking the woman’s name. She told her name. Says the other, ‘Are there any other in Glasgow of that name?’ ‘No!’ sayes the woman. ‘Then,’ said the girle, ‘you are a witch!’ Says the other, ‘Then are you a devil!’ The girl answers ‘The devil doth not reveal witches; but I know you to be one, and I know your practices too.’ On which the poor woman ran away in great confusion;” as, indeed, she might—such an accusation as this being quite sufficient to sign her death-warrant. To another woman who came to see and question her, she said the same thing; taking her arm, and showing the landlord a secret mark which she told him the woman had got from the devil. “The poor woman much ashamed ran home, and a little while after she came out and told her neighbours that what Jennet Douglas had said of her was true, and earnestly entreated that they might show so much to the magistrates, that she might be apprehended, otherwise the devil says she will make me kill myself.” The neighbours were wise enough to think her mad, as she was, and took her home; but the next day she was found drowned in the Clyde; fear and despair had killed her before the stake-wood had had time to root and ripen. The dumb girl herself was afterwards carried before the great council at Edinburgh, imprisoned, scourged through the town, and then banished to “some forraigne Plantation,” whence she reappears no more to vex her generation. God forgive her! She has passed long years ago to her account, and may her guilty soul be saved, and all its burning blood-stains cleansed and assoilzed!

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