Scenes and Legends (8)

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Unquiet souls
Risen from the grave, to ease the heavy guilt
Of deeds in life concealed."—A

OF all the wilder beliefs of our forefathers, there is none which so truly continues to exist as the belief in the churchyard spectre.  Treat it as we may, it has assuredly a fast hold of our nature.  We may conceal, but we cannot smother it;—we may deny it as pointedly as the lackey does his master when the visitor is an unwelcome one, but it is not from that circumstance a whit the less at home.  True or false, too, it seems to act no unimportant part in the moral economy of the world.  For without a deeper sense of religion to set in its place than most people entertain, men would be greatly the worse for wanting it.  There are superstitions which perform, in some measure, the work of the devotional sentiment, when the latter is either undeveloped or misdirected; and the superstition of the churchyard ghost is unquestionably one of the number.

    I am fortunate, so far as the sympathy of place can have any influence on the mind, in the little antique room in which I have set myself to illustrate the belief.  Just look round you for one brief minute, and see how the little narrow windows rise into the thatch, and how very profoundly one requires to stoop ere one can enter by the door.  The ceiling rises far into the roof.  There is a deep recess in the wall occupied by a few pieces of old china, and a set of shelves laden with old books; and only see how abruptly the hearth-stone rises over the sanded floors, and how well the fashion of yonder old and her deceased companion, that she went out to a little hillock beside the house, which commanded a view of the moor over which her husband and the servants had to pass on their way from the fair, to ascertain whether any of them were yet returning.  At length she could discern through the deepening twilight, a female figure in white coming along the moor, and supposing it to be the maid, and unwilling to appear so anxious for her return, she went into the house.  The outer apartment, as was customary at the period, was occupied as a cow-house; some of the animals were in their stalls, and on their beginning to snort and stamp as if disturbed by some one passing, the woman half turned her to the door.  What, however, was her astonishment to see, instead of the maid, a tall figure wrapped up from head to foot in a winding-sheet!  It passed round to the opposite side of the fire, where there was a chair drawn in for the farmer, and seating itself, raised its thin chalky arms and uncovered its face.  The features, as shown by the flame, were those of the deceased woman; and it was with an expression of anger, which added to the horror of the appearance, that the dead and glassy eyes were turned to her old companion, who, shrinking with a terror that seemed to annihilate every feeling and faculty except the anxious solicitude of the mother, strained her child to her bosom, and gazed as if fascinated on the terrible apparition before her.  She could see every fold of the sheet the black hair seemed to droop carelessly over the forehead the livid, bequeathing lips were drawn apart, as if no friendly hand had closed them after the last agony; and the reflection of the flame seemed to rise and fall within the eyes—varying by its ceaseless flicker the statue-like fixedness of the features.  As the fire began to decay, the woman recovered enough of her self-possession to stretch her hand behind her, and draw from time to time out of the child's cradle a handfuls of straw, which she flung on the embers; but she had lost all reckoning of time, and could only guess at the duration of the visit by finding the straw nearly expended.  She was looking forward with a still deepening horror to being left in darkness with the spectre, when voices were heard in the yard without.  The apparition glided towards the door; the cattle began to snort and stamp, as on its entrance; and one of them struck at it with its feet in the passing; when it uttered a faint shriek and disappeared.  The farmer entered the cottage a moment after, barely in time to see his wife fall over in a swoon on the floor, and to receive the child.  Next morning, says the story, the woman attended the lykewake, to fulfil all of her engagement that she yet could; and on examining the body, discovered that, by a strange sympathy, the mark of a cow's hoof was distinctly impressed on its left side."

    We passed onwards, and paused for a few seconds where the parish of Nigg borders on that of Fearn, beside an old hawthorn hedge and a few green mounds.  "And here," said my companion, "is the scene of another ghost story, that made some noise in its day; but it is now more than a century old, and the details are but imperfectly preserved.  You have read, in Johnson's Life of Denham, that Charles II., during his exile in France, succeeded in procuring a contribution of ten thousand pounds from the Scotch that at that time wandered as itinerant traders over Poland.  The old hedge beside you, and the few green mounds beyond it, once formed the dwelling-house and garden fence of one of these Polish traders, who had returned in old age to his native country, possessed, as all supposed, of very considerable wealth.  He was known to the country folk as the 'Rich Polander.'  On his death, however, which took place suddenly, his strong-box was found to contain only a will, bequeathing to his various relations large sums that were vested, no one knew where.  Some were of opinion that he had lent money to a considerable amount to one or two neighbouring proprietors; and some had heard him speak of a brother in Poland, with whom he had left the greater part of his capital, and who had been robbed and murdered by banditti, somewhere on the frontier territories, when on his return to Scotland.  In the middle of these surmisings, however, the Polander himself returned, as if to settle the point.  The field there to the right, in front of the ruins, was at that time laid out as a lawn; there was a gate in the eastern corner, and another in the west; and there ran between them a road that passed the front of the house.  And almost every evening the apparition of the Polander, for years after his decease, walked along that road.  It came invariably from the east, lingered long in front of the building, and then, gliding towards the west, disappeared in passing through the gateway.  But no one had courage enough to meet with it, or address it; and till this day the legacies of the Polander remain unpaid.  I was acquainted in my younger days with a very old man, who has assured me that he repeatedly saw the apparition when on its twilight peregrinations along the road, and once as he lay a-bed in the morning in his mother's cottage, long after the sun had risen.  There was a broad stream of light falling through an opening in the roof, athwart the grey and mottled darkness of the interior, and the apparition stood partly in the light, partly in the shadow.  The richly-embroidered waistcoat, white cravat, and small clothes of crimson velvet, were distinctly visible; but he could see only the faint glitter of the laced hat and of the broad shoe-buckles; and though the thin withered hands were clearly defined, the features were wholly invisible."

    We had now entered the parish of Fearn.  "And here," continued my companion, as we approached the abbey, "is the scene of two other ghost stories, both, like the last, somewhat meagre in their details, but they may serve to show how, in a rude and lawless age, the cause of manners and of morals must have found no inefficient ally in a deeply-seated belief in the supernatural.  A farmer of the parish, who had just buried his wife, had gone on the evening of the funeral to pay his addresses to a young woman who lived in a cottage beside the burying-ground yonder.  There was, it would seem, little of delicacy on either side; and his suit proved so acceptable, that shortly after nightfall he had his new mistress seated on his knee.  They were laughing and joking together beside a window that opened to the churchyard, when the mother of the young girl entered the apartment, and, shocked by their levity, reminded him that the corpse of the woman so lately deceased lay in all the entireness and almost all the warmth of life not forty yards from where they sat.  'No, no, mother,' said the man; 'entire she may be, but she was cold enough in all conscience before we laid her there.'  He turned round as he spoke, and saw his deceased wife looking in upon him through the window.  And returning home, he took to his bead, and died of a brain fever only a fortnight after.  Depend on't, that widowers in this part of the country would be less hasty ever after in courting their second wives.

    "The cottage higher up the hill—that one with the roof nearly gone, and the old elm beside it—was occupied about sixty years ago by a farmer of the parish and a harsh-tempered one-eyed woman, his wife.  He had a son and daughter, the children of a former marriage, who found the dame a very stepmother.  The boy was in but his fifth, the daughter in but her seventh year; and yet the latter was shrewd enough to remark on one occasion, when beaten by the woman for transferring a little bit of leaven from the baking-trough to her mouth, that her second mother could see better with her one eye than her first mother with her two.  The deceased, an industrious housewife, had left behind her large store of blankets and bed-linen; but the bed of the two children for the summer and autumn after the marriage of their father, was covered by only a few worn-out rags, and when the winter set in, the poor things had to lie in one anther's arms for the early part of every night shuddering with cold.  For a week together, however, they were found every morning closely wrapt up in some of their mother's best blankets.  The stepdame stormed, and threatened, and replaced the blankets in a large store-chest, furnished with lock and hasp; but it was all in vain—they were found, notwithstanding, each morning on the children's bed regularly as the morning came; and the poor things, though threatened and beaten, could give no other account of the matter than that they had been very cold when they fell asleep, and warm and comfortable when they awoke.  At length, however, the girl was enabled to explain the circumstance in a manner that had the effect of tempering the severity of the stepmother all her life after.  Her brother had fallen asleep, she said, but she was afraid, and could not sleep; she was, besides, very cold, and so she lay awoke till near the middle of the night, when the door opened, and there entered a lady all dressed in white.  The fire was blazing brightly, and she could see as clearly as by day the large chest lying locked in the corner; but when the lady went to it the hasp flew open, and she took out the blankets and wrapt them carefully round her brother and herself in the bed.  The lady then kissed her brother, and was going to kiss her too, when she looked up in her face, and saw it was her first mother.  And then she went away without opening the door.

    "I remember another ghost story," continued my companion, "the scene of which I shall point out to you when we have entered the parish of Tarbat.  There is a little muddy lake in the upper part of the parish which almost dries up in the warmer seasons, and on the further edge of which we shall be able to trace the remains of what was once a farmhouse.  Considerably more than a century ago, a young man who travelled the country as a packman suddenly disappeared, no one knew how; and several years after, in a dry summer, which reduced the lake to less than half its usual size, there was found a human skeleton among the mud and rushes at the bottom.  Long ere the discovery, however, the farmhouse was haunted by a restless, mischievous spectre, wrapped up in a grey plaid.  Like most murdered folk of those days, the pedlar walked, restricting his appearance, however, to the interior of the cottage, which at length came to be deserted; and falling into decay, it lay for the greater part of a half century as a roofless grass-covered ruin.  Its old inmates had died off in extreme penury and wretchedness, and both they and the pedlar were nearly forgotten, when a young man, no way related to either, availing himself of the site of the cottage and the portions of its broken walls which still remained, rebuilt it when on the eve of his marriage, and removed to it with his young wife.  On the third evening, when all the wedding guests had returned to their respective homes, the young couple were disturbed by strange noises in an adjoining room, and shortly after the door of the apartment fell open, and there entered a figure wrapped up in a grey plaid.  'Who are you?' said the man, leaping out of bed and stretching forth his arms to grapple with the figure.  'The unhappy pedlar,' replied the spectre, stepping backwards, 'who was murdered sixty years ago in this very room, and his body thrown into the loch below.  But I shall trouble you no more.  The murderer has gone to his place, and in two short hours the permitted time of my wanderings on earth shall be over; for had I escaped the cruel knife, I would have died in my bed this evening a greyheaded old man.'  It disappeared as it spoke; and from that night was never more seen nor heard by the inmates of the farmhouse."  According to Hog—

"Certain it is, from that day to this,
 The ghaist of the pedlar was never mair seen."

It seems curious enough that such a story should have been received for many years as true in a district of country in which the people hold, as strict Calvinists, that no man, however sudden or violent his death, can die before his appointed time.  It may, however, belong to a somewhat remoter period than that assigned to it—some time in the early half of the last century—and may have originated in the age of the curates, whose theology is understood to have been Arminian.  Another of my companion's stories, communicated on this occasion, had its scene laid in a district of country full sixty miles away.

    The wife of a Banffshire proprietor, of the minor class, had been about six months dead, when one of her husband's ploughmen, returning on horseback from the smithy in the twilight of an autumn evening, was accosted, on the banks of a small stream, by a stranger lady, tall and slim, and wholly attired in green, with her face wrapped up in the hood of her mantle—who requested to be taken up behind him on the horse, and carried across.  There was something in the tones of her voice that seemed to thrill through his very bones, and to insinuate itself in the form of a chill fluid between his skull and the scalp.  The request, too, seemed a strange one; for the rivulet was small and low, and could present no serious bar to the progress of the most timid traveller.  But the man, unwilling ungallantly to disoblige a lady, turned his horse to the bank, and she sprang up lightly behind him.  She was, however, a personage that could be better seen than felt; and came in contact with the ploughman's back, he said, as if she had been an ill-filled sack of wool.  And when, on reaching the opposite side of the streamlet, she leaped down as lightly as she had mounted, and he turned fearfully round to catch a second glimpse of her, it was in the conviction that she was a creature considerably less earthly in her texture than himself.  She opened with two pale, thin arms, the enveloping hood, exhibiting a face equally pale and thin, which seemed marked, however, by the roguish, half-humorous expression of one who had just succeeded in playing off a good joke.  "My dead mistress!" exclaimed the ploughman.  "Yes, John, your mistress," replied the ghost.  "But ride home, my bonny man, for it's growing late; you and I will be better acquainted erelong."  John accordingly rode home, and told his story.

    Next evening, about the same hour, as two of the laird's servant-maids were engaged in washing in an out-house, there came a slight tap to the door.  "Come in," said one of the maids; and the lady entered, dressed, as on the previous night, in green.  She swept past them to the inner part of the washing-room; and seating herself on a low bench, from which, ere her death, she used occasionally to superintend their employment, she began to question them, as if still in the body, about the progress of their work.  The girls, however, were greatly too frightened to reply.  She then visited an old woman who had nursed the laird, and to whom she used to show, ere her departure, considerably more kindness than her husband.  And she now seemed as much interested in her welfare as ever.  She inquired whether the laird was kind to her; and, looking round her little smoky cottage, regretted she should be so indifferently lodged, and that her cupboard, which was rather of the emptiest at the time, should not be more amply furnished.  For nearly a twelvemonth after, scarce a day passed in which she was not seen by some of the domestics—never, however, except on one occasion, after the sun had risen, or before it had set.  The maids could see her in the grey of the morning flitting like a shadow round their beds, or peering in upon them at night through the dark window-panes, or at half-open doors.  In the evening she would glide into the kitchen or some of the out-houses—one of the most familiar and least dignified of her class that ever held intercourse with mankind—and inquire of the girls how they had been employed during the day; often, however, without obtaining an answer, though from a different cause from that which had at first tied their tongues.  For they had become so regardless of her presence, viewing her simply as a troublesome mistress who had no longer any claim to be heeded, that when she entered, and they had dropped their conversation, under the impression that their visitor was a creature of flesh and blood like themselves, they would again resume it, remarking that the entrant was "only the green lady."  Though always cadaverously pale and miserable-looking, she affected a joyous disposition, and was frequently heard to laugh, even when invisible.  At one time, when provoked by the studied silence of a servant girl, she flung a pillow at her head, which the girl caught up and returned; at another, she presented her first acquaintance, the ploughman, with what seemed to be a handful of silver coin, which he transferred to his pocket, but which, on hearing her laugh immediately after she had disappeared, he drew out again, and found to be merely a handful of slate-shivers.  On yet another occasion, the man, when passing on horseback through a clump of wood, was repeatedly struck from behind the trees by little pellets of turf; and, on riding into the thicket, he found that his assailant was the green lady.  To her husband she never appeared; but he frequently heard the tones of her voice echoing from the lower apartments, and the faint peal of her cold unnatural laugh.

    One day at noon, a year after her first appearance, the old nurse was surprised to see her enter the cottage, as all her previous visits had been made early in the morning or late in the evening; whereas now, though the day was dark and lowering, and a storm of wind and rain had just broken out, still it was day.  "Mammie!" she said, "I cannot open the heart of the laird, and I have nothing of my own to give you; but I think I can do something for you now.  Go straight to the White House [that of a neighbouring proprietor], and tell the folk there to set out, with all the speed of man and horse, for the black rock at the foot of the crags, or they'll rue it dearly to their dying day.  Their bairns, foolish things, have gone out to the rock, and the sea has flowed round them; and if no help reach them soon, they'll be all scattered like seaware on the shore ere the fall of the tide.  But if you go and tell your story at the White House, mammie, the bairns will be safe for an hour to come; and there will be something done by their mother to better you, for the news."  The woman went as directed, and told her story; and the father of the children set out on horseback in hot haste for the rock—a low, insulated skerry, which, lying on a solitary part of the beach, far below the line of flood, was shut out from the view of the inhabited country by a wall of precipices, and covered every tide by several feet of water.  On reaching the edge of the cliffs, he saw the black rock, as the woman had described, surrounded by the sea, and the children clinging to its higher crags.  But, though, the waves were fast rising, his attempts to ride out through the surf to the poor little things were frustrated by their cries, which so frightened his horse as to render it unmanageable; and so he had to gallop on to the nearest fishing village for a boat.  So much time was unavoidably lost, in consequence, that nearly the whole beach was covered by the sea, and the surf had begun to lash the feet of the precipices behind; but, until the boat arrived, not a single wave dashed over the black rock; though immediately after the last of the children had been rescued, an immense wreath of foam rose twice a man's height over its topmost pinnacle.

    The old nurse, on her return to the cottage, found the green lady sitting beside the fire.  "Mammie," she said, "you have made friends to yourself to-day, who will be kinder to you than your foster-son.  I must now leave you: my time is out, and you'll be all left to yourselves; but I'll have no rest, mammie, for many a twelvemonth to come.  Ten years ago a travelling pedlar broke into our garden in the fruit season, and I sent out our old ploughman, who is now in Ireland, to drive him away.  It was on a Sunday, and everybody else was in church.  The men struggled and fought, and the pedlar was killed.  But though I at first thought of bringing the case before the laird when I saw the dead man's pack with its silks and its velvets, and this unhappy piece of green satin (shaking her dress), my foolish heart beguiled me, and I bade the ploughman bury the pedlar's body under our ash-tree, in the corner of our garden, and we divided his goods and money between us.  You must bid the laird raise his bones, and carry them to the churchyard; and the gold, which you will find in the little bole under the tapestry in my room, must be sent to a poor old widow, the pedlar's mother, who lives on the shore of Leith.  I must now away to Ireland to the ploughman; and I'll be e'en less welcome to him, mammie, than at the lair's; but the hungry blood cries loud against us both—him and me—and we must suffer together.  Take care you look not after me till I have passed the knowe."  She glided away as she spoke in a gleam of light; and when the old woman had withdrawn her hand from her eyes, dazzled by the sudden brightness, she saw only a large black greyhound crossing the moor.  And the green lady was never afterwards seen in Scotland.  But the little hoard of gold pieces, stored in a concealed recess of her former apartment, and the mouldering remains of the pedlar under the ash-tree, gave evidence to the truth of her narrative.

    I shall present the reader with one other story under this head—a ghost story of the more frightful class; which, though not at all inexplicable on natural principles, has as many marks of authenticity about it as any of the kind I am acquainted with.  For many years the Cromarty Post-office, which, from the peninsular situation of the place, lies considerably out of the line of the mail, was connected with Inverness by a brace of pedestrian postmen, who divided the road between them into two stages; the last, or Cromarty stage, commencing at Fortrose.  The post who, about half a century ago, travelled over this terminal stage six times every week was an elderly Highlander of the clan Munro—a staid, grave-featured man, somewhat tinged, it was said, by the constitutional melancholy of his country-folk, and not a little influenced by their peculiar beliefs.  He had set out for Fortrose on his way home one evenings, when he was overtaken by two acquaintances—the one a miller of Resolis, the other a tacksman of the parish of Cromarty—both considerably in liquor, and loud and angry in dispute.  One of the Fortrose fairs had been held that day; and they had quarrelled in driving a bargain.  Saunders Munro strove to them, but to little purpose—they bickered idly on with drunken pertinacity; and it was with no little anxiety that, as they reached the Burn of Rosemarkie, where the White-bog and Scarfscraig roads part company, he saw them pause for a moment, as if to determine their route homewards.  The miller was a tall athletic Highlander; the tacksman a compact, nervous man, not above the middle size, but resolute and strongly built.  He could scarce, however, be deemed a full match for the Highlander; and under some such impression, old Saunders, unluckily as it proved, laid hold of him as he stood hesitating.   "You must not go by that White-bog road," he said; "it is the near road for the miller, but not for you; you must come with me by the Scarfs-Craig."  "No, Saunders," said the tacksman; "I know what you mean; you do not like that I should cross the Maolbuie moor with the miller; but, big as he is, he'll be bigger yet or be daunt me; and I'll just go by the White-bog road to show him that."  "Hoot, man," replied Saunders, "I'm no thinking o' that at all; I'm just no very weel to-night, and would be the better for your company; and so ye'll come hame this way with me."  "Not a foot," doggedly rejoined the tacksman; and, shaking off the old man, he took the White-bog road with the miller.  Saunders stood gazing anxiously after them as they descended the precipitous sides of the burn, until a jutting crag hid them from his sight.  And for the rest of the evening, when pursuing his journey homewards, he felt burdened by an overpowering anxiety, which, disproportioned as it seemed to the occasion, he could not shake off.

    The tacksman reached his home in less than two hours after he had parted from old Saunders; but two full days elapsed ere any one heard of the miller.  In the evening of the second day, two young girls, the miller's sisters, who, after many fruitless inquiries regarding him, had at length come to learn in whose company he had quitted the fair, called at the farmhouse, and found the tacksman sitting moodily beside the fire.  He started up, however, as one of them addressed him, and seemed strangely confused on being asked where he had parted from their brother.  "I do not remember," he said, "being with your brother at all; and yet, now that I think of it, we must surely have left Rosemarkie together.  The truth is, we had both rather too much drink in our heads.  But I have some remembrance of passing the Grey Cairn in his company; and—and;—but I must surely have left him at the Grey Cairn."  It must be ill with my brother," exclaimed one of the girls, if he be still at the Grey Cairn!"  "In truth," replied the tacksman, "I cannot well say where we parted, or whether I did not leave him at Rosemarkie with old Saunders Munro the post."

    The evening was by this time merging into night, but the two terrified girls set out for the cairn; and the tacksman, taking down his bonnet, seemed as if he purposed accompanying them.  On reaching, however, the outer wall of his yard, he stood for a few seconds as if undecided, and then, turning fairly round, left them to proceed alone.  They entered one of the blind pathways that go winding in every direction through the long heath of the Maolbuie—a bleak, desolate, tumulus-mottled moor—the scene in some remote age of a battle unrecorded by the historian; and its grey cairn, a vast accumulation of lichened stone, is said to cover, as I have already stated in an early chapter, the grave of a Pictish monarch, who, with half his army, perished in the fray.  They reached the cairn; but all was silent, save that a chill breeze was moaning through the interstices of the shapeless pile, and sullenly waving the few fir seedlings that skirt its base; and they had turned to leave the spot, when they were startled by the howling of a dog a few hundred yards away.  There was a dolorous wildness bleat with an ominous familiarity in the sounds, that smote upon their hearts; and they struck out into the moor in the direction whence they proceeded, convinced that they were at length to learn the worst.  On coming up to the animal, they found it standing beside the dead body of its master, their brother.  The corpse was examined next morning by some of the neighbouring farmers; but nothing could be conclusively determined respecting the manner in which the unfortunate man had met his death.  The neckcloth seemed straitened, and the folds somewhat compressed, as if it had been grasped by the hand; but then the throat and neck were scarce at all discoloured, nor were the features more distorted than if the death had been a natural one.  The heath and mosses, too, in which the body had half sunk, rose as unbroken on every side of it as if they had never been pressed by the foot.  There was no interference of the magistrate in the case, nor examination of parties.  The body was conveyed to the churchyard and buried; and a little pile of moor-stones, erected by the herd-boys who tend their cattle on the moor, continued to mark, when I last passed the way, the spot where it had been found.

    One evening, a few weeks after the interment, as old Saunders the postman was coming slowly down upon the town of Cromarty through the dark Navity woods, his eye caught a tall figure coming up behind him, and mistaking it in the uncertain light for an acquaintance, a farmer, he paused for a moment by the wayside, and placed his hand almost mechanically on the ready snuff-box.  What, however, was his horror and astonishment to find, that what he had mistaken for his acquaintance the farmer was the dead miller of Resolis, attired, as was the wont of the deceased when in holiday trim, in the Highland costume.  He could see, scarce less distinctly than when he had parted from him at the Burn of Rosemarkie, the chequers of the tartan and the scarlet of the gay hose garter, and—a circumstance I have never known omitted in any edition of the story—the glimmer of the large brass pin which fastened the kilt at the waist.  For an instant Saunders felt as if rooted to the spot; and then starting forward he hurried homewards, half beside himself with a terror that seemed to obliterate every idea of space and time, but collected enough to remark that the spectre kept close beside him, taking step for step with him as he went, until, at the gate of a burying-ground immediately over the town, it disappeared.  On the following evening, when again passing through the Navity woods, nervous with the recollection of the previous night's adventure, he was startled by a rustling in the bushes; a shadowy figure came gliding out from among them to the middle of the road, and he found himself a second time in the presence of the spectre, which accompanied him, as before, to the gate of the burying-ground.  He contrived on the day after to leave Fortrose at so early an hour, that he had reached the outer skirts of the town of Cromarty as the sun was setting; but on crossing the street to his own house, the spectre started up beside him in the clear twilight, and, regarding him with an expression of grieved anxiety, disappeared as he entered the door.  An aunt of the writer, who had occasion to call at his house on this evening found him in bed in a corner of the sitting-room of his domicile, and on inquiring whether he was ill, was informed by his wife, who sat beside him, the cause of his indisposition.

    On his next day's journey, Saunders, instead of following his usual road, struck, on his return, across the fields in the direction of a wooded ravine, which, forming part of the pleasure-grounds of Cromarty House, bears the name of the Ladies' Walk.  The evening was cloudless and bright; and the sun had but just disappeared behind the hill, when he entered the wooded hollow and crossed the little stream which runs along its bottom.  But on rising along the opposite acclivity, he found that the apparition of the dead miller, true to him as his shadow, was climbing the hill by his side; and where the path becomes so narrow—bounded on the one side by a steep descending bank, and on the other by a line of flowering shrubs—that two can hardly walk abreast, it glided onwards through the bushes as lightly as a column of smoke, not a leaf stirring as it passed.  On reaching the broken wall which separates the pleasure-grounds from the old parish-churchyard, it stood, and, as Saunders was stepping over the fence, spoke for the first time.  "Stop, Saunders," it said, "I must speak to you."  "I have neither faith nor strength," replied Saunders, hurrying away, to speak to the like of you."

    The minister of the parish at the time was a gentleman of strong good sense and a liberal tone of mind; and when the old man waited on him in the course of the evening, and imparted to him his story, he questioned him regarding the state of his nerves and stomach, and gave him an advice which very considerably resembled the prescription of a physician.  But though it might be the best possible in the circumstances, it wholly failed to satisfy Saunders; and so he unburdened his mind on the matter to one of the elders of the parish, a worthy sensible Udoll farmer, a high specimen of the class well known in the north country as "the Men," who, considerably advanced in life, had formed his beliefs at an earlier period than his minister, and was not in the least disposed to treat the case medicinally.  He arranged with Saunders a meeting for the following evening at the hill of Eathie, a few miles from his journey's end; and at Eathie they accordingly met, and passed on through the Navity woods together.  But though it was late and long ere they reached town, the details of what befell them by the way they never communicated to any one.  Saunders Munro, however, did not again see the apparition, though he travelled for years after at all hours of the day and night.  The elder, when rallied regarding the story by a town's-man whom I well knew, and who related the circumstance to me, looked him full in the face, and, with an expression of severe gravity, "bade him never select that subject for a joke again."  "Young man," he said, "it was no joking business!"

    No one, however, evinced so deep an anxiety on the subject of the miller's ghost, and its supposed interview with the elder, as the suspected tacksman.  It is known that on one occasion he placed himself in the elder's way when the latter was returning from a funeral, and solicited a few minutes' private conversation with him; but was sternly repelled.  "You can have but one business with me," the elder said; "and, if your conscience be clear from blood, not one itself."  Whatever hand the tacksman may have had in the miller's death, no one who knew him, or the circumstances in which he had parted on the fatal night from old Saunders, could regard him as a murderer; though few real murderers ever wore out life in greater apparent unhappiness than he.  He never after held up his head, but went about his ordinary labours dejected and spiritless, and invincibly taciturn; and, some few years subsequent to the event, he fell into a lingering illness, of which he died.  Were one making a ghost story, it would be no difficult matter to make a more satisfactory one.  Never was there a ghost that appeared to less purpose than that of the miller, or was less fortunate in securing a publisher for its secret; but sure I am, never was there a ghost story more firmly believed in the immediate scene of it, or narrated with greater truth-like minuteness of detail, or with less suspicion of at least the honesty of the parties on whose testimony it rested.  Nor was it without its effect in adding strength, within the sphere of its influence, to the fence set around the sacred tabernacle of the human soul.  Where such stories are credited, the violent spilling of man's life is never regarded as merely "the diverting of a little red puddle from its source."


"Oh, many are the poets that are sown
 By nature; men endowed with higher gifts,
 The vision and the faculty divine,
 Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse."—W

DURING even the early part of last century, there were a few of the mechanics of Cromarty conversant in some little degree with books and the pen.  They had their libraries of from ten to twenty volumes of sermons and controversial divinity, purchased at auctions or from the booksellers of the south; and I have seen letters and diaries written by them, which would have done no discredit to the mechanics of a more literary age.  Donald Sandison's library consisted of nearly a hundred volumes; and his son, whom I remember a very old man, and who had at one time been the friend and companion of the unfortunate Ferguson the poet, had made so good a use of his opportunities of improvement, that in his latter days, when his sight began to fail him, he used to bring with him to church a copy of Beza's Latin New Testament, which happened to be printed in a clearer type than his English one.  The people in general, however, were little acquainted with the better literary models.  So late as the year 1750, a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost, which had been brought to town by a sailor, was the occasion of much curious criticism among them; some of them alleging that it was heterodox, and ought to be burnt, others deeming it prophetic.  One man affirmed it to be a romance, another said it was merely a poem; but a Mr. Thomas Hood, a shopkeeper of the place, set the matter at rest by remarking, that it seemed to him to be a great book, full of mystery like the Revelations of St. John, but certainly no book for the reading of simple unlearnèd people like him or them.  And yet, at even this period, Cromarty had its makers of books and writers of verses; men of a studious imitative turn—prototypes in some respects of those provincial poets of our own times, who become famous for nearly half an age in almost an entire county.  A few brief notices of the more remarkable of my town's-men of this first class may prove not unacceptable to the reader; for, of all imitators, the poetical imitator is the most eccentric though his verses be imitations, in character he is always an original.

    On the southern shore of the Bay of Cromarty, two miles to the west of the town, there stood, about ninety years ago, a meal-mill and the cottage of the miller.  The road leading to the country passed in front, between the mill and the beach; and a ridge of low hills, intersected by deep narrow ravines, and covered with bushes of birch and hazel, rose directly behind.  There was a straggling line of alders which marked the course of the stream that turned the mill-wheel; while two gigantic elms, which rose out of the fence of a little garden, spread their arms over both the mill and the cottage.  The view of the neighbouring farm-steadings was shut out by the windings of the coast and the ridge behind; and to the traveller who passed along the road in front, and saw no other human dwelling nearer him than the little speck-like houses which mottled the opposite shore of the bay, this one seemed to occupy one of the most secluded spots in the parish.  Its inmates at this period were John Williamson, the miller, or, as he was more commonly termed, Johnie o' the Shore, and his sister Margaret—two of the best and most eccentric people of their day in the countryside.  John was a poet and a Christian, and much valued by all the serious and all the intelligent people of the place; while his sister, who was remarkable in the little circle of her acquaintance for the acuteness of her judgment in nice points of divinity, was scarcely less esteemed.

    The duties of John's profession left him much leisure to write and to pray.  During the droughts of summer, his mill-pond would be dried up for months together; and in these seasons he used to retire almost every day to a green hillock in them vicinity of his cottage, which commands an extensive view of the bay and the opposite coast.  And there, in a grassy opening among the bushes, would he remain until sunset, with only the Bible and his pen for his companions.  He was so much attached to this spot, that he was once heard to say there was no place in which he thought he could so patiently await the resurrection, and he intimated to his friends his wish of being buried in it; but, on his deathbed, he changed his mind, and requested to be laid beside his mother.  It is now covered by a fir-wood, and roughened by thickets of furze and juniper, but enough may still be seen to justify his choice.  On one side it descends somewhat abruptly into a narrow ravine, through the bottom of which there runs a little tinkling streamlet; on the other, it slopes gently towards the shore.  We look on the one hand, and see, through the chance vistas which have been opened in the wood, the country rising above us in long undulations of surface, like waves of the sea after a storm, and variegated with fields, hedge-rows, and clumps of copse-wood.  On the other, the wide expanse of the bay lies stretched at our feet, with all its winding shores and blue jutting headlands: we look down on the rower as he passes, and hear the notes of his song and the measured dash of his oars; and when the winds are abroad, we may see them travelling black over the water before they wave the branches that spread over our heads.  Many of the poet's happiest moments were passed in the solitude of this retreat; and from the experience derived in it, though one of the most benevolent of men, and at times one of the most sociable, whenever he wished to be happy he sought to be alone.  In going to churches every Sabbath, instead of following the public road, he used invariably to strike across the beach and walk by the edge of the sea; and, on reaching the churchyard, he always retired into some solitary corner, to ponder in silence among the graves.  To a person of so serious a cast, a life of solitude and self-examination cannot be a happy, unless it be a blameless one; and Johnie o' the Shore was one of the rigidly just.  Like the Pharisees of old, he tithed mint, and anise, and cumin; but, unlike the Pharisees, he did not neglect the weightier matters of the law.  It is recorded of him, that on descending one evening from his hillock, he saw his only cow browsing on the grass-plot of a neighbour, and that, after having her milked as usual, he despatched his sister with the milk to the owner of the grass.

    Ninety years ago, the press had not found its way into the north of Scotland, and the people were unacquainted with the scheme of publishing by subscription.  And so the writings of Johnie o' the Shore, like those of the ancients before the invention of printing, existed only in manuscript; and, like them too, they have suffered from the Goths.  A closely written fragment of about eighty pages, which once composed part of a bulky quarto volume, is now all that survives of his works, though at his death they formed of themselves a little library.  One of the volumes, written wholly in prose, and which minutely detailed, it is said, all the incidents of his life, with his thoughts on God and heaven, the world and himself, fell into the hands of a distant relative who resided somewhere in Easter-Ross.  It must have been no small curiosity in its way, and for some time I was flattered by the hope that it still existed and might be recovered; but I have come to find that it has shared the fate of all his other volumes.  The existing fragment is now in my possession.  It bears date 1743; and is occupied mostly with hymns, catechisms, and prayers.  His models for the hymns seem to have been furnished by our Scotch version of the Psalms; his catechisms were formed, some on the catechisms of Craig and the Palatine, and some on that of the Assembly Divines; his prayers remind me of those which are still to be heard in the churches of our northern parishes on "the day of the men."  Some of his larger poems are alphabetical acrostics; —the first line of the first stanza of each beginning with the letter A, and the first line in the last with the letter Z.  Most of them, however—and the fact is a singular one, for John and his sister were stanch Presbyterians—are commemorative of the festival-days of the English Church.  There are hymns for Passion Friday, for Christ's Incarnation-day, for Circumcision-day, and for Christmas:—a proof that he must have had little in him of that abhorrence of Prelacy which characterized most of the Presbyterians of his time.  And he seems, too, to have been of a more tolerating spirit; and, in the simple benevolence of his heart, to have come perhaps as near the truth on some dark points as men considerably more skilled in dialectics, and more deeply learned.  "There are some people," remarks the querist in one of his catechisms, "who say that those who have never heard of Christ cannot be saved?"  It is surely not our business," is the reply, "to search into the deep things of God, except so far as He is pleased to reveal them; and, as He has not revealed to us that He condemns all those who have not heard of Christ, it is rash to say so, and uncharitable besides." [Note]

    One of the most curious poems in the manuscript, is a little piece entitled "An Imagination on the Thunder-claps."  It was written before the discoveries of Franklin; and so the imagination is rather a wild one—not wilder, however, than some of the soberest speculations of the ancients on the same phenomena.  The green tillock on this occasion appears to have been both his Observatory and his Parnassus;—he seems to have watched upon it every change of the heavens and earth, from the first rising of the thunder-clouds until they had broken into a deluge, and a blue sky looked down on the red tumbling of streams as they leaped over the ridges, or came rushing from out the ravines.  Though quite serious himself, his uncouth phraseology will hardly fail in eliciting the smile of the reader.


Lo! pillars great of watery clouds
    On firmament appear,
And mounting up with curlèd heads,
    Towards the north do steer.
East wind the same doth contradict,
    And round and round they run;
And earth and sea are dark below,
    And blackness hides the sun.

Like wrestling tides that in the bay
    Do bubble, boil, and foam,
When seas grow angry at the wind,
    And boatmen long for home;
Ev'n so the black and heavy clouds
    Do fierce together jar—
They meet, and rage, and toss, and whirl,
    And break, and broken are.

Up to the place where fire abides
    These wat'ry clouds have gone
And all the waters which they hold
    Are flung the fire upon.
And the vex'd fire boils in the cloud,
    And lifts a fearful voice,
Like rivers toss'd o'er mighty rocks,
    Or stormy ocean's noise.

It roars, and rolls, and hills do shake,
    And heavens do seem to rend;
And should the fierce unquenchèd flame
    Through the dark clouds descend,
Like clay 'twould grind the hardest cocks,
    Like dust the strongest brass,
And prostrate pride and strength of man
    Like pride and strength of grass.

And now the broken clouds fall down
    In groff rain from on high;
And many streams do rise and roar,
    That heretofore were dry.

And when the red speat will be o'er,
    And wild storm pass's away,
Rough stones will lie upon the fields,
    And heaps of sand and clay.

But I, though great my sins, am spared,
    These fields to turn and tread:
Which surely had not been the case
    If Jesus had not died.


    Johnie's sister Margaret (after his death she seems to have fallen heir to his title, for she then became Meggie o' the Shore) survived her brother for many years, and died at an extreme old age, about the year 1785.  The mill, on its falling into other hands, was thrown down, and rebuilt a full half mile further to the west, but the cottage was spared for Meggie.  She had always been characterized by the extreme neatness of her dress and her personal cleanliness, by her taste in arranging the homely furniture of her cottage, and her hospitality: and now, though the death of her brother had rendered her as poor as it is possible for a contented person to become, she was as much marked by her neatness, and as hospitable as ever.  On one occasion, a Christian friend who had come to visit her (the late Mr. Forsyth of Cromarty), was so charmed with her conversation, as to prolong his stay from noon until evening, when he rose to go away.  She asked him, somewhat hesitatingly, whether he would not first "break bread with her."  He accordingly sat down again; and a half cake of bread and a jug of water (it was all her larder afforded) were set before him.  It was the feast of the promise, she said, "Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure."  Her circumstances, she added, were not quite so easy as they had been during the lifetime of her brother, but the change was perhaps for the better; for it had led her to think much oftener than before, when rising from one meal, that God had kindly pledged Himself for the next.

    Meggie lived in a credulous age, and she was one of the credulous herself.  Like most of her acquaintance, she heard at times the voices of spirits in the dash of waves and the roar of winds, and saw wraiths and dead-lights; but she was naturally courageous, and had a strong reliance on Providence; and so, with all her credulity, she was not afraid to live alone, with, as she used to say, only God for her neighbour.  On a boisterous winter evening, two young girls who were travelling from the country to the town, were forced by the breaking out of a fierce snow-storm to take shelter in her cottage.  She received them with her wonted kindness, and entertained them as she had done her friend.  They heard the waves thundering on the beach, and the wind howling in the woods, but peace and safety were with them at Meggie's fireside.  About midnight there was a pause in the storm, and they could hear strange sounds, like the cries of people in distress, mingling with the roar of the sea.  "Raise the window-curtain," said Meggie, "and look out."  The terrified girls raised the curtain.  "Do you see aught?" she inquired.  "There is a bright light," said the girls, "in the middle of the bay of Udell.  It hangs over the water at about the height of a ship's mast; and we can see something below it like a boat riding at anchor, with the white sea raging round her."  "Now drop the curtain," she replied; "I am no stranger, my lassies, to sights and noises like these —sights and noises of another world; but I have been taught that God is nearer to me than any other spirit can be; and so have learned not to be afraid."  A few nights after, as the story goes, a Cromarty yawl foundered in the bay of Udell, and all on board perished.

    Meggie was always a rigid Presbyterian, and jealous of innovations in the Church; and, as she advanced in years, she became more rigid and more jealous.  She is said to have regarded with no great reverence the young divines that filled up in the parishes around her the places of her departed contemporaries; and who too often substituted, as she alleged, the learning which they had acquired at college for a knowledge of the human heart and of the Bible.  She could ill brook, too, any interference of the State in the concerns of the Kirk:—an Act of Parliament, when read from the pulpit, she deemed little better than blasphemy, and a King's fast a day desecrated above every other.  Her zeal in one unlucky instance brought her in contact with the civil law.  Her favourite preacher was Mr. Porteous of Kilmuir, a divine of the old and deeply learnèd cast—eloquent and pious—not unacquainted with the book of nature, and thoroughly conversant with that of God.  After hearing him deliver, in the church of Nigh, a powerful and impressive discourse, what was her horror and indignation when she saw him descending from the pulpit to read from the precentor's desk some Proclamation or Act of Council!  Had he been less a favourite, or anybody else than Mr. Porteous, she could have shut her ears and sat still; as it was, she sprang from her seat, and twitching the paper out of his hand, flung it to the floor and stamped upon it with her feet.  She was apprehended and sent to the jail of Tain; but she found the jail a very comfortable sort of place, and, for the three days during which she was confined to it, she had for her visitors some of the very best people in the country; among the rest, Mr. Porteous himself, who had enough of the old Covenanter in him to feel that she had, perhaps, done only her duty, and that he had very possibly failed in his.

    The story of her death is curious and affecting.  A friend, in passing her cottage on a journey to the country called in, as usual, to see her.  She was as neatly dressed as ever, and the little apartment in which she sat was fastidiously clean; but her countenance was of a deadly paleness, and there was an air of languor about her that seemed the effect of indisposition.  "You are unwell, Meggie?" said her friend.  "Not quite well, perhaps," she replied, "but I shall be so very soon.  You must stay and take breakfast with me."  The visitor knew too well the value of one of Meggie's breakfasts to refuse, and the simple fare which her cottage afforded was set before him; but he was disappointed of the better part of the repast, for she spoke but little, and seemed unable to eat.  "God has been exceedingly good to me," she remarked, as she rose when he had eaten to replace in her cupboard the viands which still remained before him; "with no one to provide for me but Himself, I have not known what it was to want a meal since the death of my brother.  You return this way in the evening?" said she, addressing her friend.  He replied in the affirmative.  "Then promise that you will not pass without coming in to see me; I am indisposed at present, but I feel—nay, am certain—that you will find me quite well.  Do promise."  Her friend promised, and set out on his journey.  Twilight had set in before his return.  He raised the latch and entered her apartment, where all was silent, and the fire dying on the hearth.  In a window which opened to the west, sat Meggie, with her brother's Bible lying open before her, and her face turned upwards.  The faint light of evening shone full on her features, and their expression seemed to be that of a calm yet joyous devotion.  "I have returned, Meggie," said the man after a pause of a few minutes.  There was no answer.  "I have returned, Meggie," he reiterated, "and have come to see you, to redeem my promise."  Still there was no answer.  He went up to her and found she was dead.

    About twenty years after her death, the grave in which she had been buried was opened to admit the corpse of a distant relative.  A woman of my acquaintance, who was then a little girl, was at play at the time among the stones of the churchyard; but on seeing an elderly female, a person much of Meggie cast of character, go up to the grave, she went up to it too.  She saw the woman looking anxiously at the bones, and there was one skull in particular which seemed greatly to engage her attention.  It still retained a few locks of silvery hair, and over the hair there were the remains of a linen cap fastened on by two pins.  She stooped down, and drawing out the pins, put them up carefully in a needle case, which she then thrust into her bosom.  "Not death itself shall part us!" she muttered, as if addressing herself to the pins; "you shall do for me what you have done for Meggie o' the Shore."

    But, in holding this tete-a-tete with Meggie, I have suffered myself to lose sight of the poets, and must now return to them.  Next in the list to Johnie o' the Shore was David Henderson, a native of Cromarty, born some time in the early part of the last century, and who died in the beginning of the present.  He was one of that interesting class, concerning whom Nature and Fortune seem at variance; the one marking them out for a high, the other for a low destiny.  They are fitted, by the gifts of mind bestowed upon them by the one, to think and act for themselves and others; and then flung by the other into some obscure lumber-corner of the world, where these gifts prove useless to them at best, and not infrequently serve only to encumber them.  From Nature David received talents of a cast considerably superior to those which she commonly bestows; by Fortune he was placed in one of the obscurest walks of life, and prevented from ever quitting it.  He acquired his little education when employed in tending a flock of sheep; the herd-boys with whom he associated taught him to read, and he learned to write by imitating the letters of one of the copy-books used in schools upon the smooth flat stones which he found on the sea-shore.

    From his earliest years his life was one of constant toil.  He was a herd-boy in his seventh, and a ploughman in his sixteenth year.  He was then indentured to a mason; and he soon became one of the most skilful workmen in this part of the country, especially in hewing tombstones and engraving epitaphs.  There is not a churchyard within ten miles of Cromarty in which there may not be seen some of his inscriptions.  His heart was an affectionate one, and open to love and friendship; and when he had served his apprenticeship, and began to be known as a young man of superior worth and a good clear head, his company came to be much courted by the better sort of people.  In his twenty-fifth year he became attached to a young girl of Cromarty, named Annie Watson, much celebrated in her day for her charms personal and mental.  She was beautiful to admiration, rationally yet fervently pious, and possessed of a mind at once powerful and delicate.  It was no wonder that David should love such a one; and, as no disparity of condition formed an obstacle to the unionas she was a woman of sense and he a man of merit—in all probability she would have made him happy.  But, alas! in the bloom of youth she was taken from him by that insidious disease, which, while it preys on the vitals of its victims, renders their appearance more interesting, as if to make their loss the more regretted.  She died of consumption, and David was left behind to mourn over her grave, and, when his grief had settled into a calm melancholy, to write a simple ballad-like elegy to her memory.  I have heard my mother say, that it was left by David at the grave of his mistress, where it was afterwards picked up by a person who gave copies of it to several of his acquaintance; but I do not know that any of these are now to be found.  I have failed in recovering more than a few stanzas of it; and these I took down as they were repeated to me by my mother, who had committed them to memory when a child.  They may prove interesting, rude and fragmentary as they are, to such of my readers as love to contemplate the poetic faculty wrapt up in the dishabille of an imperfect education.  Besides, the writer may be regarded less as an insulated individual than as representative of a class.  The unknown authors of some of our simpler old ballads, such as Edom o' Gordon, Gilmorice, and the Bonny Earl of Moray, were, it is probable, men of similar acquirements, and a resembling cast of intellect.


She's slain by death, that spareth none,
    An object worthy love;
And for her sake was many a sigh,—
    No doubt she's now above.
*            *            *            *            *            *
In dress she lovèd to be neat,
    In handsome trim would go;
She lovèd not to be above
    Her station, nor below.
*            *            *            *            *            *
But, in brief sentence, to have done
    Of all I have to say
In midst of all her prospects here,
    She on a deathbed lay.

And when she on a deathbed lay,
    To her were visits made
By good and reverend elders, who
    In her great pleasure had.

For she though in her pleasant youth,
    When time speeds sweetly by,
Esteemd it, trusting in her God,
    A blessèd thing to die.

And she their questions unto them
    Who sought her state to know,
Did answer wisely every one,
    In pleasant words and low.

Her lykewake it was piously spent
    In social prayer and praise,
Performèd by judicious men,
    Who stricken were in days.

And many a sad and heavy heart
    Was in that mournful place;
And many a weary thought was there
    On her who slept in peace.

And then the town's-folk gather'd all
    To bear her corpse away,
And bitter tears by young and old
    Were sheds that mournful day.

And sure, if town's-folk grievèd sore,
    Sore grieve may I and pine;
They much deplored their heavy loss—
    But what was theirs to mine?

For her loved voice, I only hear
    Winds o'er her dust that sigh
For her sweet smile, I only see
    The rank grass waving high.

And I no option have but think
    How I am left alone;
With none on earth to care for me,
    Since she who cared is gone.
*            *            *            *            *            *
She was the first that ever
    In beauty's bloom did see
Departing from the stage of time,
    Into eternity.

O may her sex her imitate,
    Example from her take,
And strive t' employ the day of grace
    And wicked ways forsake!

    David survived his mistress for more than forty years.  For thirty of these he was an elder of the Church—a man conversant with deathbeds, and a visitor of the fatherless and the widow.  Few persons die so regretted as David died, or leave behind them so fair a name; nor will the reader fail to recognise something uncommon in his character when I tell him, that he was steady and prudent though a poet, and of a grave deportment, good-natured, and a Christian, though of a ready wit.  He left behind him, treasured up in the memories of his many friends, shrewd, pithy remarks on men and things—specimens of mind, if I may so express myself, which exhibit the quality of the mass from off which they were struck.  His wit, too, was equally popular.  I have heard some of his bon-mots repeated and laughed at more than twenty years after his death; but his writings were so much less fortunate, that there were few of the people with whom I have conversed concerning him, who even knew that he made verses, though none of them were ignorant of his having been a good man.

    The last of the Cromarty poets who lived and wrote before the beginning of the present century, was Macculloch of Dun-Loth.  He was, for nearly sixty years, a Society schoolmaster in that parish of Sutherlandshire whose name, for some cause or other, is always attached to his own.  But I shall attempt introducing him to the reader in the manner in which he has been introduced to myself.

    "About twenty-eight years ago," said my informant, "I resided for a few weeks with the late Dr. R— at the manse of Kiltearn.  I was lounging one evening beside the front door, when a singular-looking old man came up to me, and asked for the Doctor.  He was such an equivocal-looking sort of person, that it was quite a puzzle to me whether I should show him into the parlour;—he might be little better than a beggar; he might be worth half a million; but whether a rich man or a poor one, no one could look at him and doubt of his being a particular man.  He was very little, and very much bent, with just such a grotesque cast of countenance as I have seen carved on the head of a walking-stick.  His outer man was cased in an old-fashioned suit of raven grey, and he had immense plated buckles in his shoes and in his breeches.  I thought of the legend of the Seven Sleepers, and wondered where this fragment of the old world could have lain for the last hundred years.  The Doctor relieved me from my perplexity.  He had seen him from a window, and, coming out, he welcomed the little old man with his wonted cordiality, and ushered him into the parlour as the poet of Dun-Loth.

    "He stayed with us this evening, and never was there a gayer evening spent in the manse.  The Doctor had the art of eliciting all that was eccentric in the little man's character, and that was not a little.  He plied him with compliments and jokes, and rallied him on his love-adventures and his poetry.  The old man seemed swelling like a little toad, only it was with conceit, not venom.  He chuckled, every now and then, at the more piquant of the Doctor's good things, with a strange unearthly gaiety that seemed to savour of another world—of another age at least; and then he would jest and compliment in turn.  What he said was, to be sure, great nonsense; but then it was the most original nonsense that might be, full of small conceits and quibbles, and so old-fashioned that we all felt it could not be other than the identical nonsense that had flourished in the early days of our great-grandmothers.  The young people were all delighted—the little old man seemed delighted too, and laughed as heartily as any of us.  Mrs. R—, when a young lady, had been eminently beautiful, and the poet had celebrated her in a song.  It was a miserable composition, and some of his neighbours, who wrote nearly as ill as himself, made it the occasion of a furious attack upon him.  There were remarks, replies, and rejoinders beyond number; until at length, by mere dint of perseverance, the poet silenced all his opponents, and took to himself the credit of having gained a signal victory.  The Doctor brought up the story of the song, and got him to repeat all the replies and rejoinders, which he did with much glee.  Next morning he took leave of us, and I never again saw the poet of Dun-Loth."

    Macculloch was, as I have stated, a native of the parish of Cromarty, and passed the greater part of a long life as a Society schoolmaster, on a salary of twelve pounds per annum.  Out of this pittance he contrived to furnish himself with a library, which, among other works of value, contained the whole of the Encyclopædia Britannic in its second edition.  Though full of compliment and gallantry in his younger days, he was for the last forty years of his life, so thoroughly a woman-hater, that he would not suffer one of the sex to enter his cottage, cook his victuals, or wash his linen.  His wardrobe consisted of four suits—one of black, one of brown, one of raven grey, and one of tartan; and he wore them week about, without suffering the separate pieces of any one suit to encroach on the week of another.  It has been told me that, in his eightieth year, he attended the dispensation of the sacrament in the Highland parish of Lairg, dressed in his tartans--kilt, hose, and bonnet.  I do not well know whether to consider his singularities as those of the rhymer, the most eccentric of all men, or his predilection for rhyming as merely one of his singularities.  His compositions were mostly satirical; but his only art of satire was the art of calling names in rhyme; and he seems to have had no positive pleasure in bestowing these, but to have flung them, just as he used to do his taws when in school, at the heads of all who offended him.  His death took place about twenty years ago.  I subjoin two of the "pasquils" pointed against him in his war with his brother rhymers, and the pieces in which he replied to them.  They may show, should they serve no other purpose, what marvellous bad verse could be written in the classical age of Johnson and Goldsmith, and with what justice Dun-Loth piqued himself on having vanquished his opponents.


Dunloth, be wise, take my advice,
    Silence thy muse in time;
For thy thick skull it is too dull
    To furnish prose or rhyme.
But if thy pride will still thee guide
    To sing thy horrid lays;
For any sake, my counsel take,
    And ne'er attempt to praise.
Thy wit's too low, thyself says so,
    In this we both agree;
The Kilmote flower is, I am sure,
    A theme too high for thee.


To notice much, base trash as such.
    I think it were a crime;
Or yet to stoop, thou nincompoop,
    For thy poor paltry rhyme.
Thy saucy gee shows thee to be
    Like a blind muzzled mole:
Or like a rat chased by the cat
    To a dark muddy hole.
The first time I thy place pass by,
    For thy poetic lesson,
Thou'lt crouch, be sure, behind the door,
    Like a poor yelping messen.


How hard is thy lot, fair flower of Kilmott,
    To be sung by a poet so dull;
Thy symmetry fine, is a theme too divine
    For a blockhead with such a thick skull.


So hard is thy lot, poor scurrilous sot,
    Thy poetry brings thee to shame
So high to aspire, thou'rt thrust in the mire
And laugh'd at by all for the same.


Note: Cowper has said quite as much, and rather more, in his "TRUTH."

"Let heathen worthies, whose exalted mind
 Left sensuality and dross behind,
 Possess for me their undisputed lot,
 And take unenvied the reward they sought."


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
 Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I HAD passed the three first milestones after leaving Forres, when the clouds began to lour on every side of me, as if earth and sky were coming together, and the rain to descend in torrents.  The great forest of Darnaway looked shaggy and brown through the haze, as if greeting the heavens with a scowl as angry as their own; and a low, long wreath of vapour went creeping over the higher lands to the left, like a huge snake.  On the right, the locale of Shakspere's witch scene, half moor half bog, with the old ruinous castle of Inshoch standing sentry over it, seemed ever and anon to lessen its area as the heavily-laden clouds broke over its farther edge like waves of the sea; and the intervening morass—black and dismal at all times—grew still blacker and more dismal with every fitful thickening of the haze and the rain.  And then, how the furze waved to the wind, and the few scattered trees groaned and creaked!  The thunder and the witches were alone wanting.

    I passed on, and the storm gradually sank.  The evening, however, was dark and damp, and more melancholy than even the day, and I was thoroughly wet, and somewhat fatigued to boot.  I could not, however, help turning a little out of my way to pause for a few minutes amid the ruins of the old farmhouse of Minitarf, just as I had paused in the middle of the storm to fill my mind with the sublimities of the Harmoor, and do homage to the genius of Shakspere.  But why at Minitarf?  Who is not acquainted with the legend of the "Heath near Forres"—who knows anything of the history of the Farm-house?  Both stories, however, are characteristic of the very different ages to which they belong; and the moral of the humbler story is at once the more general in its application, and the more obvious of the two.

    Isabel Rose, the gudewife of Minitarf, was a native of Easter-Ross, and having lost both her parents in infancy, she had passed some of the earlier years of her life with a married sister in the town of Cromarty.  She had been famed for her beauty, and for being the toast of three parishes; and of all her lovers, and few could reckon up more, she had been lucky enough to lose her heart to one of the best.  The favoured suitor was a handsome young farmer of the province of Moray—a person somewhat less shrewd, perhaps, than many of his countrymen, but inflexibly honest, and perseveringly industrious; and, as he was a namesake of her own, she became his wife and the mistress of Minitarf, and yet remained Isabel Rose as before.  The wife became a mother—the mother of two boys.  Years passed by; the little drama of her life, like one of the dramas of antiquity, had scarce any change of circumstance, and no shifting of scenes; and her two sons grew up to maturity, as unlike one another in character as if they had not been born to the same parents, nor brought up under the same roof.

    John, the elder son, was cautious and sensible, and of great kindliness of disposition.  There was nothing bright or striking about him; but he united to his father's integrity and firmness of purpose much more than his father's shrewdness, and there was a homely massiveness in the character that procured him respect.  He was of a mechanical turn; and making choice of the profession of a house-carpenter—for he was as little ambitious as may be—he removed to Glasgow, where his steadiness and skill recommended him to the various contractors of the place, until in the course of years he became, a good deal to his own surprise, a contractor himself.  Sandy, the younger son, was volatile and unsettled, and impatient of labour and restraint, and yet no piece of good fortune could have surprised Sandy.  He had somehow come to the conclusion that he was born to be a gentleman, and took rank accordingly, by being as little useful, and dressing as showily as he could.  His principles were of a more conventional cast than those of his brother, and his heart less warm; still, however, there was no positive vice in the character; and as he was decidedly cleverer than John, and a great deal more genteel, his mother could not help sharing with him in the hope that he was born to be the gentleman of the family—a hope which, of course, was not lessened when she saw him bound apprentice in his seventeenth year to a draper in a neighbouring town.

    Sandy's master was what is termed a clever man of business; one of those smart fellows who want only honesty, and that soundness of judgment which seems its natural accompaniment to make headway in the world.  He had already threaded his way through the difficulties of three highly respectable failures; he had thrice paid his debts at the rate of fifteen shillings per pound, and had thus realized on each occasion a profit of twenty-five per cent. on the whole.  And yet, from some inexplicable cause, he was not making more money than traders much less fertile in expedient than himself.  His ordinary gains were perhaps the less considerable from the circumstance, that men came to deal with him as completely on their guard as if they had come to fight with him; and, though a match for any single individual, he was, somehow, no match for every body, even though, after the manner of Captain Bobadil's opponents, they came only one at a time.  His scheme, too, of occasionally suspending his payments, had this disadvantage, that the oftener it was resorted to, the risk became greater and the gain less.

    The shop of such a person could not be other than a rare school of ingenuity—a place of shifts and expedients—and where, according to the favourite phrase of its master, things were done in a business-like manner; and Sandy Rose was no very backward pupil.  There are ingenious young men who are a great deal too apt to confound the idea of talent itself with the knavish exercise of it; and who, seeing nothing very knowing in simple honesty, exert their ingenuity in the opposite tract, rather out of a desire of doing clever things than from any very decided bias to knavery.  And Sandy Rose was unfortunately one of the number.  It is undoubtedly an ingenious thing to get possession of a neighbour's money without running the risk of stealing it; and there can be no question that it requires more of talent to overreach another than to be overreached one's-self.  The three years of Sandy's apprenticeship came to their close, and with the assistance of his father, who in a long course of patient industry had succeeded in saving a few hundred pounds, he opened shop for himself in one of the principal streets of the town.

    Sandy's shop, or warehouse, as he termed it—for the latter name was deemed the more respectable of the two—was decidedly the most showy in the street.  He dealt largely in fancy goods, and no other kind in the "soft way" show equally well in a window.  True, the risk was greater, for among the ordinary chances of loss he had to reckon on the continual changes of fashion; but then, from the same cause, the profits were greater too, and Sandy had a decided turn for the more adventurous walks of his profession.  Nothing so respectable as a large stock in trade; the profits of a thousand pounds are necessarily greater than the profits of five hundred.  And so, what between the ready money advanced to him by his father, and the degree of credit which the money procured for him, Sandy succeeded in rendering his stock a large one.  He had omitted only two circumstances in his calculation—the proportion which one's stock should bear to one's capital, and the proportion which it should bear to the trade of the place in which one has settled.  When once fairly behind his counter, however, no shopkeeper could be more attentive to his customers, or to the appearance of his shop; and all allowed that Sandy Rose was a clever man of business.  He wrote and figured with such amazing facility, and made such dashes at the end of every word!  He was so indefatigable in his assertions, too, that he made it a rule in every case to sell under prime cost!  He was, besides, so amazingly active—a squirrel in its cage was but a type of Sandy!  He was withal so unexceptionably genteel!  His finest cloths did not look half so well on his shelves as they did on his dapper little person; and it was clear, from his everyday appearance, that he was one of his own best customers.

    Sandy's first half year of business convinced him that a large stock in trade may resemble a showy equipage in more points than one: it may look as respectable in its way, but then it may cost as much.  Bills were now falling due almost every week, and after paying away the money saved during the earlier months, the everyday custom of the shop proved too little to meet the everyday demand.  Fortunately, however, there were banks in the country—"more banks than one;" and his old master was content to lend him the use of his name, simply on the condition of being accommodated with Sandy's name in turn.  Bill, therefore, was met by bill, and the paper of one bank pitted against the paper of another; and as Sandy was known to have started in trade with a few hundreds, there was no demur for the first twelvemonth or so on the part of the bankers.  They then, however, began to demand indorsations, and to hint that the farmer, his father, was a highly respectable man.  Sandy expressed his astonishment that any such security should be deemed necessary; his old master expressed his astonishment too; nothing could be more business-like, he said; but the bankers, who were quite accustomed to the astonishment of all their more doubtful customers, were inflexible notwithstanding, and the old man's name was procured.  The indorsation was quite a matter of course, he was told—a thing "neither here nor there," but necessary just for form's sake; and from that day forward all the accommodation-bills of Sandy and his master bore the name of the simple-minded old man.

    I have said that Sandy was one of the most indefatigable of shopkeepers.  It was but for the first few months, however, when all was smooth water and easy sailing; in a few months more, when the tide had begun to set in against him, he became less attentive.  Some of his fancy goods were becoming old-fashioned, and in consequence unsaleable, and his stock, large at first, was continuing large still.  What between the price of stamps, too, the rate of discount, and the expense of travelling to the several banks in which be did business, he found that the profits of his trade were more than balanced by the expenditure.  Sandy's heart, therefore, began to fail him; and, setting himself to seek amusement elsewhere than behind his counter, he got a smart young lad to take charge of the shop in his absence; and, as it could not add very materially to the inevitable expense, he provided himself with a horse.  He was now every day on the road doing business as his own traveller.  He rode twenty miles at a time to secure a five-shilling order, or crave payment of a five-shilling debt.  He attended every horse-race and fox-hunt in the country, and paid the king's duty for a half-starved greyhound: Sandy was happy outside his shop, and his lad was thriving within.  Matters went on in this train for so long as two years, and the hapless shopkeeper began to perceive that the few hundreds advanced him by his father had totally disappeared in the time, and to wonder what had become of them.  Still, his stock in trade, though somewhat less showy than at first, was nearly equal in value to one third his liabilities; the other two-thirds were debts incurred by his old master; and at worst there lay no other obstacle between him and a highly respectable settlement with his creditors than the unlucky indorsations of his father.  He rose, however, one morning to learn that his master had absconded during the night, leaving the shop-key under the door-sill; in a few days after, Sandy had absconded too; and his poor father, who had paid all his debts till now, and had taken a pride in paying them, found that his unfortunate indorsations had involved him in irretrievable ruin.  Bankruptcy was a very different matter to the rigidly honest old man from what it was to either Sandy or his master.

    For the first few days after the shock, he went wandering about his fields, muttering ceaselessly to himself, and wringing his hands.  His whole faculties seemed locked up in a feeling of bewilderment and terror, and every packet of letters which the postman brought him—letters urging the claims of angry creditors, or intimating the dishonour of bills—added to his distress.  His son was in hiding no one knew where; and though it was perhaps well that he should have kept out of the way at such a time, poor Isabel could not help feeling that it was unkind.  He might surely be able to do something, she thought, to lighten the distress of which he had been so entirely the cause, were it but to tell them what course yet remained for them to pursue.  It was in vain that, almost broken-hearted herself, she strove by soothing the old man to restore him to himself: he remained melancholy and abstracted as at first, as if the suddenness of his ruin had deprived him of his faculties.  He hardly ever spoke, took scarce any food during the day, and scarce any sleep during the night; and, finally, taking to his bed, he died after a few days' illness—died of a broken heart.  On the evening after the interment, his son John Rose, the carpenter, arrived from Glasgow, and found his mother sitting alone in the farmhouse, wholly overwhelmed with grief for the loss of her husband, and the utter ruin which she saw closing around her.

    Their meeting was a sad one; but after the widow's first burst of sorrow was over, her son strove to comfort her, and in part succeeded.  She might yet look forward, he said, to better days.  He was in rather easy circumstances, employing about half-a-dozen workmen, and at times finding use for more.  And though he could not well be absent from them, he would remain with her until he saw how far it was possible to wind up his father's affairs, and she would then go with him, and find what he trusted she should deem a comfortable home in Glasgow.  Isabel was soothed by his kindness; but it did not escape the anxious eye of the mother, that her son, at one time so robust and strong, had grown thin, and pale, and hollow-eyed, like a person in the latter stages of consumption, and that, though he seemed anxious to appear otherwise, he was evidently much exhausted by his journey.  He rallied, however, on the following day.  The sale of his father's effects was coming on in about a week; and as the farmhouse at such a time could be no comfortable home for the widow, he brought her with him across the Firth to her sister's in Cromarty, and then returned to Minitarf.

    Her sister's son was a saddler, a sagacious, well-informed man, truthful and honest, and as little imaginative as may be.  He was employed at the time at the Mains of Invergordon some six or seven miles from Cromarty—and slept in an apartment of the old castle, since burnt down.  No one could be less influenced by superstitious beliefs of the period; and yet when, after scaling the steep circular stair that led to his solitary room, he used to shut the ponderous door and pass his eye along the half-lighted walls, here and there perforated by a narrow arched window, there was usually something in the tone of his feelings which served to remind him that there is a dread of the supernatural too deeply implanted in man's nature to be ever wholly eradicated.  On going to bed one evening, and awakening as he supposed after a short slumber, he was much surprised to see the room filled as with a greyish light, in which the walls and the floor could be seen nearly as distinctly as by day.  Suddenly the door fell open and there entered a tall young man in black, his hat wrapped up in crape, and with muslin weepers on his sleeves.  Another and another entered, attired after the same fashion, until their number might, as he supposed, amount to about fifty.  He lay gazing at them in astonishment, conscious of a kind of indistinct wish to ascertain whether he was in reality waking or asleep—a feeling of common enough experience in the dreams of imperfect slumber—when the man who had first come in, gliding up to his bedside, moved his lips as if addressing him, and passing off entered the staircase and disappeared.  A second then came up, and heartily shaking him by the hand, also quitted the apartment, followed by all the others in the order in which they had entered, but without shutting the door; and the last recollection of the sleeper was of an emotion of intense terror, which seemed wholly to overpower him when gazing on the dark opening of the stair beyond.  It was broad daylight ere he awoke, and his first glance, as the dream of the previous evening flashed on his mind, was at the door, which sure enough lay open.  "I must have missed slipping on the latch," he said, "or some of the servants must have entered during the night;—but how strange a coincidence!"  The particulars of his dream—and it cost him no slight effort to deem it such—employed his thoughts until evening; when, setting out for his mother's, he found his aunt Isabel, in much grief and dejection, seated beside the fire.  He had taken his place beside her, and was striving as he best could to lighten the melancholy which he saw preying on her spirits, when a young man, bespattered with travel, and apparently much fatigued, entered the apartment.  Isabel started from her seat, and clasping her hands with a fearful presentiment of some overwhelming calamity, inquired of him what had happened at Minitarf?  He stood speechless for a few seconds as if overcome by some fearful emotion, and then bursting into tears, "Your son John," he said, died this morning.  The poor woman fainted away.

    "For the two last days of the sale," said the messenger, there was a marked alteration in John's manner and appearance.  There was a something so fixed-like in his expression, and so mournful in his way of looking at things; and then his face was deadly pale, and he took scarce any food.  It was evident that the misfortunes of his family preyed deeply on his mind.  Yester evening," continued the lad, "he complained for the first time of being unwell, and retired to bed before the usual hour.  The two servant-maids rose early in the morning to prepare for leaving the place, and were surprised, on entering the 'ha',' to find him sitting in the great arm-chair fronting the fire.  His countenance had changed during the night; he looked much older, and very like his father; and he was so weak that he could hardly sit up in the chair.  The girls were alarmed, and would have called for assistance, but he forbade them.  'My watch,' he said, 'hangs over my pillow; go tell me what o'clock it is.'  It was just twenty minutes past four.  'Well,' said he, when they had told him, 'it is the last hour to me! there is a crook in my lot; but it's God's doing, not man's.'  And, leaning back in the chair, he never spake more."  The messenger had seen the corpse laid on the bed, and wrapped up in a winding-sheet, before setting out on his melancholy journey.  Need I say aught of the feelings of Isabel?  The saddler and his mother strove to persuade her to remain with them till at least after the funeral, but she would not; she would go and take one last look of her son, she said —of her only son, for the other was a murderer.  Early, therefore, on the following morning, the saddler hired a small yawl to bring her across the Firth, and, taking his place in the stern beside her, the boatmen bent them to their oars, and the hill of Nigg soon lessened behind them.

    After clearing the bay, however, their progress was much impeded by adverse currents; there came on a chill drizzling rain, and the wind, which was evidently rising, began, after veering about oftener than once, to blow right ahead, and to raise a short tumbling sea.  Grief of itself is cold and comfortless, and the widow, wrapped up in her cloak, sat shivering in the bottom of the yawl, drenched by the rain and the spray.  But she thought only of her son and her husband.  The boatmen toiled incessantly till evening; and when night came on, dark and boisterous, they were still two long miles from their landing place—the effluence of the Nairn.  Directly across the mouth of the river there runs a low dangerous bar, and as they approached they could hear the roaring of the breakers above all the hoarse sighing of the wind, and the dash of the lesser waves that were bursting around them.  "There," said the saddler, as his eye caught a few faint lights that seemed twinkling along the beach; "there is the town of Nairn right abreast of us; but has not the tide fallen too low for our attempting the bar?"  The boatmen replied in the negative, and in a minute after they were among the breakers.  For a single instant the skiff seemed riding on the crest of an immense wave, which came rolling from the open sea, and which, as it folded over and burst into foam, dashed her forward like an arrow from the string.  She sank, however, as it receded, till her keel grated against the bar beneath.  Another huge wave came rolling behind, and, curling its white head like the former, rushed over her stern, filling her at once to the gunwale, and at the same instant propelling her into the deep water within.  The saddler sprang from his seat, and raising his aunt to the hinder thwart, and charging her to hold fast, he shouted to the boatmen to turn the boat's head to the shore.  In a few minutes after, they had landed.

    Poor Isabel, well-nigh insensible—for grief and terror, added to cold and fatigue, had prostrated all her energies, bodily and mental—was carried to the town and lodged in the house of an acquaintance.  When morning came she was unable to leave her bed, and so the saddler had to set out for Minitarf alone, which he reached about noon; and on being recognised as a cousin of the deceased, he was ushered into the room where the body lay.  He seated himself on the edge of the bed, and raising the coffin-lid, gazed for a few seconds on the face of the dead; on hearing a footstep approaching the door, he replaced the cover.  There entered a genteel-looking young man dressed for the funeral; but not the apparition of an inhabitant of the other world would have started the saddler more.  He recognised in the stranger the young man of his dream.  Another person entered, and him he also recognised as the man who had shaken hands with him; and who now, on being introduced to him as a relative of the deceased tacksman of Minitarf, sure enough, grasped him warmly by the hand.  As the room filled around him with the neighbouring farmers attired in their soberest and best, he felt as if he still dreamed, for these were the very men whom he had seen in the old castle; and it was almost mechanically, when the coffin was carried out and laid on the bier, that, as the nearest relative of the dead he took his place as chief mourner.  As the funeral proceeded, however, he collected his scattered thoughts.  "Have I indeed had experience," said he to himself, "of one of those mysterious intimations of coming evil, the bare possibility of which few thinking men, in these latter times, seem disposed to credit on testimony alone?  And little wonder, truly, that they should be so sceptical; for, for what purpose could such a warning have been given?  It has enabled me to ward off no impending disaster;—nay, it has told its story so darkly and doubtfully, that the event alone has enabled me to interpret it.  Could a purpose so idle have employed an agent of the invisible world?  And yet," thought he again, as the train of his cogitations found way into the deeper recesses of his mind, "an end has been accomplished by it, and a not unimportant end either.  The evil has befallen as certainly and heavily as if there had been no previous warning; but, is my mind in every respect the same?  Something has been accomplished.  And surely He who in His providence cares for all my bodily wants, without sinking, in the littleness of the object cared for, aught of the greatness of His character, might, without lessening in aught His character for wisdom, have taken this way of making me see, more distinctly than in all my life before, that there is indeed an invisible world, and that all the future is known to Him."  There was seriousness in the thought, and never did he feel more strongly that the present scene of things is not the last, than when bending over the open grave he saw the corpse lowered down and heard the earth falling hollow on the coffin-lid.

    But why dwell longer on the details of a story so mournful!  The saddler, on his return to Nairn, found the widow in the delirium of a fever, from which she never recovered.  Her younger son was seen in the West Indies ten years after, a miserable slave-driver, with a broken constitution and an unquiet mind.  And there he died—no one caring where or how.  I am not fond of melancholy stories; but "to purge the heart by pity and terror " is the true end of tragedy—an end which the gorgeous creations of the poets are not better suited to accomplish than the domestic tragedies which we see every day enacting around us.  It is well, too, to note how immensely the folly and knavery of mankind add to the amount of human suffering; and how, according to the wise saying of the Preacher, "One sinner destroyeth much good."

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