The object of the conspirators in this last case was the destruction of the young lady of Balna-gown, which would have enabled George Ross, of Balnagovvn, to marry the young Lady Fowlis. But in order to entitle them to the succession of Fowlis, supposing the alliance to be effected, a more extensive slaughter was required. Lady Fowlis's stepsons, Robert and Hector, with their families, stood in the way, and these were next to be removed. Nay, the indictment goes the length of charging her with projecting the murder of more than thirty individuals, including an accomplice of her own, Katharine Ross, the daughter of Sir David Ross, whom she had seduced into her schemes, a woman apparently of the most resolute temper, and obviously of an acute and penetrating intellect; there seems reason to doubt whether she had any faith in the power of the charms and sorceries to which she resorted, but she probably thought that, in availing herself of the services of those hags whom she employed, the more prudent course would be to allow them to play off their mummeries in their own way, while she combined them with more effective human means. Accordingly the work of destruction commenced with the common spell of making two pictures of clay, representing the intended victims j but instead of exposing them to the fire, or burying them with their heads downward, the pictures were in this case hung up on the north side of the room, and the lady, with her familiars, shot several arrows, shod with elf-arrow heads, at them, but without, effect. Though the Lady Fowlis gave orders that other two pictures should be prepared, in order to renew the attempt, she seems forthwith to have resorted to more vigorous measures, and to have associated Katharine Ross and her brother George in her plans. The first composition prepared for her victims was a stoupful of poisoned ale, but this ran out in making. She then gave orders to prepare " a pig of ranker poison, that would kill shortly," and this she dispatched by her nurse to the young Laird of Fowlis. Providence however again protected him : the "pig" fell and was broken by the way, and the nurse, who could not resist the temptation of tasting the contents, paid the penalty of her curiosity with her life. So corrosive was the nature of the potion, that the very grass on which it fell was destroyed. Nothing however could move Lady Fowlis from her purpose. Like Mrs. Turner, who treated Overbury with spiders, cantharides, and arsenic, alternately, that she might be able to " hit his complexion," she now proceeded to try the effect of " ratton poyson," (ratsbane,) of which she seems to have administered several doses to the young laird, " in eggs, browis, or kale," but still without effect, his constitution apparently proving too strong for them. She had more nearly succeeded, however, with her sister-in-law, her female victim. The " ratton poyson" which she had prepared for Lady Balnagown, she contrived, by means of one of her subsidiary hags, to mix in a dish of kidneys, on which Lady Balnagown and her company supped; and its effects were so violent, that even the wretch by whom it was administered revolted at the sight. At the date of the trial, however, it would seem the unfortunate lady was still alive. Lady Fowlis was at last apprehended, on the confession of several of the witches she had employed, and more than one of whom had been executed before her own trial took place. The proceedings after all terminated in an acquittal, a residt which is only explicable by observing that the jury was evidently a packed one, and consisted principally of the dependants of the houses of Munro and Fowlis.
This scene of diablerie and poisoning, however, did not terminate here. It now appeared that Mr. Hector, one of his stepmother's intended victims, had himself been the principal performer in a witch underplot directed against the life of his brother George. Unlike his more energetic stepmother, credulous to the last degree, he seems to have been entirely under the control of the hags bv whom he was surrounded, and who harassed and terrified him with fearful predictions and ghastly exhibitions of all kinds. He does not appear to have been naturally a wicked man, for the very same witches who were afterwards leagued with him against the life of George, he had consulted with a view of curing his elder brother Robert, by whose death he would have succeeded to the estates. But being seized with a lingering illness, and told by his familiars that the only chance he had of recovering his health was that his brother should die for him, he seems quietly to have devoted him to death, under the strong instinct of self-preservation. In order to prevent suspicion, it was agreed that his death shoidd be lingering and gradual, and the officiating witch, who seemed to have the same confidence in her own nicety of calculation as the celebrated inventress of the poudre de successions, warranted the victim until the 17th of April following. It must be admitted that the incantations which followed were well calculated to produce a strong effect, both moral and physical, on the weak and credulous being on whom they were played off.
Shortly after midnight, in the month of January, the witches left the house in which Mr. Hector was lying sick at the time, and passed to a piece of ground lying betwixt the lands of two feudal superiors, where they dug a large grave. Hector Munro, wrapped in blankets, was then carried forth, the bearers all the time remaining dumb, and silently deposited in the grave, the turf being laid over him and pressed down with staves. His foster-mother, Christian Neill, was then ordered to run the breadth of nine riggs, and returning to the grave, to ask the chief witch "which was her choice." She answered that Mr. Hector was her choice to live, and his brother George to die for him. This cooling ceremony being three times repeated, the patient, frozen with cold and terror, was carried back to bed. Mr. Hector's witches were more successful than the hags employed by his stepmother. George died in the month of April, as had been predicted, doubtless by other spells than the force of sympathy, and Hector appears to have recovered. He had the advantage, however, of a selected jury on his trial, as well as Lady Fowlis, and had the good fortune to be acquitted.
Scarcely had the agitation produced by these trials subsided, when the public mind was again confounded by a new, a more extensive, and almost inexplicable scene of enchantment, directed against the life of James and his Queen, in 1591.
The first hint of those strange proceedings which were afterwards disclosed, was derived from the confessions of a girl named Gellie, or Gellis Duncan, servant to the Deputy Bailiff of Tranent. Some sudden cures performed by this girl, and other suspicious points in her conduct, having attracted the observation of her master, he, with a laudable anxiety for the discovery of the truth, " did, with the help of others, torment her with the torture of the pilliewinkis [a species of thumbscrew] upon her fingers, which is a grievous paine, and binding or wrenching her head with a cord or rope, which is a most cruel torment also"*." But, notwithstanding these persuasive applications, no confession coidd be extorted. At last it was suggested by some of the operators, that her silence was owing to her having been marked by the devil, and on a diligent examination the mark was found on the fore part of the throat. No sooner was it detected than the charm was burst : she confessed that all her cures were performed by the assistance of the devil, and proceeded to make disclosures relative to the extent of lier guilt, and the number of associates, which utterly eclipse all the preceding " discoveries of witchcraft," with which the criminal records furnish us down to this time. Thirty or forty different individuals, some of whom, as the pamphlet observes, were "as civili honest women as anie that dwelled within the city of Edinburgh," were denounced by her, and forthwith apprehended upon her confession. Nor was this list confined to the lower classes, from whom the victims offered to this superstition had generally been selected ; for among those apprehended on Duncan's information was Euphemia Macalzcan, the daughter of Lord Cliftonhall, one of the senators of the College of Justice.
* News from Scotland, declaring the damnable life of Dr. Fian. -Pitcairn, vol. i. p. 213.