6. Ye Devill Among Ym (The Devil Among Them)

'Do you ken aboute ewen past? Jonat, ye shameless huir, was dansing and drynkyn with piperis and fidlayeris quhen Robert, ye idolareris quhoremaister and playar at kartis and dyce, chaised hir in ye fylthe of fornicatioun'.
(Do you know about the past evening? Jonat, the shameless whore, was dancing and drinking with pipers and fiddlers, when Robert, the idolatrous whoremaster, and player at cards and dice, chased her in the filth of fornication)

Jonat stood motionless in the cold iron branks, looking out from the church wall onto the slope below. The bell clanged in her ears and she knew that they would be here soon. Miserable in the itchy, rainwater-laden sackcloth, she looked up into a lead sky and wondered if he was coming to face his punishment. She shuddered: and was He coming? Her hands sweated, burned despite the numbing cold, a lump swelled in her throat. She tried convulsively to swallow but the bit held firm in her mouth. Gagging, she let her head fall back down. Almost upon her, the first snatches of chatter from gossiping neighbours trickled up and she flinched: '...shameless fylthe of fornicatioun...'

They would see her soon. Her sin crawled over skin she would tear off if only she could. She didn't mean to be a fornicator, Robert had forced her. Tears scorched her eyes at the thought of damnation; the stench of sin burned in her nostrils. 'Brankit Bitch', someone growled, and she shrunk into the sackcloth. It felt like branding.

One by one her neighbours passed, where was he? She didn't dare look up. When the last one entered an elder came to her, removing the branks before leading her right through the kirk in front of everyone, to the penitent's stool beneath the pulpit. He helped her take it, placed the heavy branks in her lap. She felt their eyes upon her. The hour of psalms, prayers and hymns became an eternity of new insights into the terrors of hell awaiting the unrepentant. By the time the minister asked for her public apology the need to repent was so overwhelming she threw herself to the floor...could barely get the words out. How could Robert care so little for his sins as to miss the service?

'Ken aboute ewen past?...'

Margaret toiled up the slope to the church, her arthritis playing up as ever on grotty days. She wouldn't even make the trip at all if it weren't that the session would put her in the sackcloth. Arriving in twos and threes, everyone was discussing the latest scandal. Week after week was the same these days, fornicators, adulterers, flyters, Sabbath breachers. All so quick to talk even though the day would fast come there wasn't a soul between them hadn't been the subject of such gossip. Somewhere, the Devil walked among them, and sin followed like a plague. The last bell rang out. Poor, young Jonat. Surely she was with child since the last time she had appeared on the stool. Looking up, Margaret could see the girl now, gazing into the clouds. She shook her head, knowing it was better for the sickening feeling to just keep the head down.

Passing by Jonat, she shivered. The memory of the branks crept like ice over her body. The girl's head down, she didn't catch the pitied glance Margaret threw her, but Helen and Kate did all too clearly. 'Brankit bitch' Helen spat at the elder woman, just as they entered the church. 'Devill knok owt yowr evill myndit barnes' ('Devil knock out your evil minded brains') Margaret cursed under her breath. But too loudly - Kate caught it, 'Quhat wicketnes of toung witch burd!' ('What wickedness of tongue witch bird') she sniped back. 'You awl aucht to sit on the stuil' ('You all ought to sit on the stool') came the raspy voice of Old Johane from the pews.

Margaret sang her hymns in a rage, listened to yet another sermon on Matthew 18, watched the poor girl rebuked. Jonat would not be received today - eleven more weeks at least before the minister would offer the opportunity. Looking at her, barely even a woman, kneeling and sobbing into the sackcloth, it was hard to imagine how she could be any more repentant. With great trepidation, Margaret contemplated the End.

If you have not already done so, open Collage Pack B.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Thu May 26 2011