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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    THE PARLIAMENT CLOSE.

    TIME has wrought its changes most notably around the
    precincts of St. Giles's Church. The church itself, if
    it were not for the spire, would be unrecognisable; the
    KRAMES are all gone, not a shop is left to shelter in its
    buttresses; and zealous magistrates and a misguided
    architect have shorn the design of manhood, and left it
    poor, naked, and pitifully pretentious. As St. Giles's
    must have had in former days a rich and quaint appearance
    now forgotten, so the neighbourhood was bustling,
    sunless, and romantic. It was here that the town was
    most overbuilt; but the overbuilding has been all rooted
    out, and not only a free fair-way left along the High
    Street with an open space on either side of the church,
    but a great porthole, knocked in the main line of the
    LANDS, gives an outlook to the north and the New Town.

    There is a silly story of a subterranean passage
    between the Castle and Holyrood, and a bold Highland
    piper who volunteered to explore its windings. He made
    his entrance by the upper end, playing a strathspey; the
    curious footed it after him down the street, following
    his descent by the sound of the chanter from below; until
    all of a sudden, about the level of St. Giles's, the
    music came abruptly to an end, and the people in the
    street stood at fault with hands uplifted. Whether he
    was choked with gases, or perished in a quag, or was
    removed bodily by the Evil One, remains a point of doubt;
    but the piper has never again been seen or heard of from
    that day to this. Perhaps he wandered down into the land
    of Thomas the Rhymer, and some day, when it is least
    expected, may take a thought to revisit the sunlit upper
    world. That will be a strange moment for the cabmen on
    the stance besides St. Giles's, when they hear the drone
    of his pipes reascending from the bowels of the earth
    below their horses' feet.

    But it is not only pipers who have vanished, many a
    solid bulk of masonry has been likewise spirited into the
    air. Here, for example, is the shape of a heart let into
    the causeway. This was the site of the Tolbooth, the
    Heart of Midlothian, a place old in story and namefather
    to a noble book. The walls are now down in the dust;
    there is no more SQUALOR CARCERIS for merry debtors, no
    more cage for the old, acknowledged prison-breaker; but
    the sun and the wind play freely over the foundations of
    the jail. Nor is this the only memorial that the
    pavement keeps of former days. The ancient burying-
    ground of Edinburgh lay behind St. Giles's Church,
    running downhill to the Cowgate and covering the site of
    the present Parliament House. It has disappeared as
    utterly as the prison or the Luckenbooths; and for those
    ignorant of its history, I know only one token that
    remains. In the Parliament Close, trodden daily
    underfoot by advocates, two letters and a date mark the
    resting-place of the man who made Scotland over again in
    his own image, the indefatigable, undissuadable John
    Knox. He sleeps within call of the church that so often
    echoed to his preaching.

    Hard by the reformer, a bandy-legged and garlanded
    Charles Second, made of lead, bestrides a tun-bellied
    charger. The King has his backed turned, and, as you
    look, seems to be trotting clumsily away from such a
    dangerous neighbour. Often, for hours together, these
    two will be alone in the Close, for it lies out of the
    way of all but legal traffic. On one side the south wall
    of the church, on the other the arcades of the Parliament
    House, enclose this irregular bight of causeway and
    describe their shadows on it in the sun. At either end,
    from round St. Giles's buttresses, you command a look
    into the High Street with its motley passengers; but the
    stream goes by, east and west, and leaves the Parliament
    Close to Charles the Second and the birds. Once in a
    while, a patient crowd may be seen loitering there all
    day, some eating fruit, some reading a newspaper; and to
    judge by their quiet demeanour, you would think they were
    waiting for a distribution of soup-tickets. The fact is
    far otherwise; within in the Justiciary Court a man is
    upon trial for his life, and these are some of the
    curious for whom the gallery was found too narrow.
    Towards afternoon, if the prisoner is unpopular, there
    will be a round of hisses when he is brought forth. Once
    in a while, too, an advocate in wig and gown, hand upon
    mouth, full of pregnant nods, sweeps to and fro in the
    arcade listening to an agent; and at certain regular
    hours a whole tide of lawyers hurries across the space.

    The Parliament Close has been the scene of marking
    incidents in Scottish history. Thus, when the Bishops
    were ejected from the Convention in 1688, 'all fourteen
    of them gathered together with pale faces and stood in a
    cloud in the Parliament Close:' poor episcopal personages
    who were done with fair weather for life! Some of the
    west-country Societarians standing by, who would have
    'rejoiced more than in great sums' to be at their
    hanging, hustled them so rudely that they knocked their
    heads together. It was not magnanimous behaviour to
    dethroned enemies; but one, at least, of the Societarians
    had groaned in the BOOTS, and they had all seen their
    dear friends upon the scaffold. Again, at the 'woeful
    Union,' it was here that people crowded to escort their
    favourite from the last of Scottish parliaments: people
    flushed with nationality, as Boswell would have said,
    ready for riotous acts, and fresh from throwing stones at
    the author of 'Robinson Crusoe' as he looked out of
    window.

    One of the pious in the seventeenth century, going
    to pass his TRIALS (examinations as we now say) for the
    Scottish Bar, beheld the Parliament Close open and had a
    vision of the mouth of Hell. This, and small wonder, was
    the means of his conversion. Nor was the vision
    unsuitable to the locality; for after an hospital, what
    uglier piece is there in civilisation than a court of
    law? Hither come envy, malice, and all uncharitableness
    to wrestle it out in public tourney; crimes, broken
    fortunes, severed households, the knave and his victim,
    gravitate to this low building with the arcade. To how
    many has not St. Giles's bell told the first hour after
    ruin? I think I see them pause to count the strokes, and
    wander on again into the moving High Street, stunned and
    sick at heart.

    A pair of swing doors gives admittance to a hall
    with a carved roof, hung with legal portraits, adorned
    with legal statuary, lighted by windows of painted glass,
    and warmed by three vast fires. This is the SALLE DES
    PAS PERDUS of the Scottish Bar. Here, by a ferocious
    custom, idle youths must promenade from ten till two.
    From end to end, singly or in pairs or trios, the gowns
    and wigs go back and forward. Through a hum of talk and
    footfalls, the piping tones of a Macer announce a fresh
    cause and call upon the names of those concerned.
    Intelligent men have been walking here daily for ten or
    twenty years without a rag of business or a shilling of
    reward. In process of time, they may perhaps be made the
    Sheriff-Substitute and Fountain of Justice at Lerwick or
    Tobermory. There is nothing required, you would say, but
    a little patience and a taste for exercise and bad air.
    To breathe dust and bombazine, to feed the mind on
    cackling gossip, to hear three parts of a case and drink
    a glass of sherry, to long with indescribable longings
    for the hour when a man may slip out of his travesty and
    devote himself to golf for the rest of the afternoon, and
    to do this day by day and year after year, may seem so
    small a thing to the inexperienced! But those who have
    made the experiment are of a different way of thinking,
    and count it the most arduous form of idleness.

    More swing doors open into pigeon-holes where judges
    of the First Appeal sit singly, and halls of audience
    where the supreme Lords sit by three or four. Here, you
    may see Scott's place within the bar, where he wrote many
    a page of Waverley novels to the drone of judicial
    proceeding. You will hear a good deal of shrewdness,
    and, as their Lordships do not altogether disdain
    pleasantry, a fair proportion of dry fun. The broadest
    of broad Scotch is now banished from the bench; but the
    courts still retain a certain national flavour. We have
    a solemn enjoyable way of lingering on a case. We treat
    law as a fine art, and relish and digest a good
    distinction. There is no hurry: point after point must
    be rightly examined and reduced to principle; judge after
    judge must utter forth his OBITER DICTA to delighted
    brethren.

    Besides the courts, there are installed under the
    same roof no less than three libraries: two of no mean
    order; confused and semi-subterranean, full of stairs and
    galleries; where you may see the most studious-looking
    wigs fishing out novels by lanthorn light, in the very
    place where the old Privy Council tortured Covenanters.
    As the Parliament House is built upon a slope, although
    it presents only one story to the north, it measures
    half-a-dozen at least upon the south; and range after
    range of vaults extend below the libraries. Few places
    are more characteristic of this hilly capital. You
    descend one stone stair after another, and wander, by the
    flicker of a match, in a labyrinth of stone cellars.
    Now, you pass below the Outer Hall and hear overhead,
    brisk but ghostly, the interminable pattering of legal
    feet. Now, you come upon a strong door with a wicket: on
    the other side are the cells of the police office and the
    trap-stair that gives admittance to the dock in the
    Justiciary Court. Many a foot that has gone up there
    lightly enough, has been dead-heavy in the descent. Many
    a man's life has been argued away from him during long
    hours in the court above. But just now that tragic stage
    is empty and silent like a church on a week-day, with the
    bench all sheeted up and nothing moving but the sunbeams
    on the wall. A little farther and you strike upon a
    room, not empty like the rest, but crowded with
    PRODUCTIONS from bygone criminal cases: a grim lumber:
    lethal weapons, poisoned organs in a jar, a door with a
    shot-hole through the panel, behind which a man fell
    dead. I cannot fancy why they should preserve them
    unless it were against the Judgment Day. At length, as
    you continue to descend, you see a peep of yellow
    gaslight and hear a jostling, whispering noise ahead;
    next moment you turn a corner, and there, in a
    whitewashed passage, is a machinery belt industriously
    turning on its wheels. You would think the engine had
    grown there of its own accord, like a cellar fungus, and
    would soon spin itself out and fill the vaults from end
    to end with its mysterious labours. In truth, it is only
    some gear of the steam ventilator; and you will find the
    engineers at hand, and may step out of their door into
    the sunlight. For all this while, you have not been
    descending towards the earth's centre, but only to the
    bottom of the hill and the foundations of the Parliament
    House; low down, to be sure, but still under the open
    heaven and in a field of grass. The daylight shines
    garishly on the back windows of the Irish quarter; on
    broken shutters, wry gables, old palsied houses on the
    brink of ruin, a crumbling human pig-sty fit for human
    pigs. There are few signs of life, besides a scanty
    washing or a face at a window: the dwellers are abroad,
    but they will return at night and stagger to their
    pallets.
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