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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


THE WEST BOW AND SUBURBS. 349 grey towers of Merchiston beleagured by the furious Queen’8 men, and battered with their cannon till they “maid geit slappis in the wall;” but a truce was at length effected betwixt the contending factions, and the donjon keep became once more the ahode of the student, and its battlements the observatory and watch-tower of the astrologer. Napier was regarded by his contemporaries as possessed of mysterious supernatural powers; and the marvels attributed to him, with the aid of a familiar spirit that attended him in the shape of a Jet Black Cock, have been preserved among the traditions of the neighbourhood almost to our own day.’ The philosopher indeed would seem to have indulged his shrewd humour occasionally in gieng countenance to such popular conceits. A field in front of Merchiston still bears the name of tAe Doo Park as the scene of one of his necromantic exploits. The pigeons of a neighbouring laird having annoyed him by frequent inroads on his grain, he threatened at length to arrest them red-hand, and was laughingly dared to “catch them if he could.” The depredators made their appearance as usual on the morrow, and partook so heartily of the grain, which had been previously saturated with alcohol by the reclaiming owner, that he easily made the bewitched pigeons captives, to the no small astonishment and awe of his neighbours. It is curious to find a popular nursery tale originating in the grave pranks of the illustrious inventor of the Logarithms, yet many juvenile readers will recognise the following adventure of the Warlock of Merchiston and his Jet Black Cock as a familiar story. Napier apparently impressed his domestics with a full belief in his magical powers, as the readiest means of turning their credulity to account. Having on one occasion missed some property, which he suspected had been taken by one of his servants, they were ordered one by one into a dark room where the black cock was confined, and each of them wm required to stroke its back, after being warned that it would crow at the touch of the guilty hand. The cock maintained unbroken silence throughout the mysterious ordeal ; but the hand of the culprit was the only one found entirely free from the soot with which its feathers had been previously anointed1 The philosopher, however, was an adept in astrology, and appears himself to have entertained perfect faith in t.he possession of unusual powers, particularly in that of discovering hidden treasure. A very singular contract between him and Logan of Restalrig-one of the Gowrie conspirators-was found among the Merchiston papers, wherein it is agreed, that, forsamekle as ther is dywerss ald reportis, motiffis, and appirancis, that thair suld he within the said Robertis dwellinge place of Fascastell a Bourn of monie and poiss, heid and hurdit up secritlie, quilk as yit is onfund be ony man. The said Jhone sal1 do his utter and exact diligens to serche and sik out, and be a1 craft and ingyne that he dow, to tempt, trye, and find out the sam, and be the grace of God, other sal1 find the sam, or than mak it suir that na sik thing hes been thair; so far as his utter trawell, diligens, and ingyne, may reach.’” This singular contract acquires a peculiar interest, when we remember the reported discovery of hidden treasure with which the preliminary steps of the Gowrie Conspiracy were effected. Within a little distance of the ancient tower of Merchiston, and directly between it and the town, another old mansion of the Napiers attracted the eye of the curious. 1 Mark Napier’a Memoirs of Napier of Jlerchiston, 4t0, p. 214. * Napier’a Napier of Merchiaton, p. 221.
Volume 10 Page 382
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