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Book of Scottish Story
The Resurrection Men


By D.M. Moir, M.D.

“How was the Devil drest?
He was in his Sunday best;
His coat was red, and his breeches were blue,
With a hole behind, where his tail came through.

Over the hill, and over the dale,
And he went over the plain;
And backwards and forwards he switched his tail,
As a gentleman switches his cane.”
- Coleridge.

About this time* there arose a great sough and surmise that some loons were playing false with the kirkyard, howking up the bodies from their damp graves, and hurling them away to the college. Words canna describe the fear, and the dool, and the misery it caused. All flocked to the kirk yett; and the friends of the newly buried stood by the mools, which were yet dark, and the brown, newly—cast divots, that had not yet ta’en root, looking with mournful faces, to descry any tokens of sinking in.

I’ll never forget it. I was standing by when three young lads took shools, and, lifting up the truff, proceeded to howk down to the coffin, wherein they had laid the gray hairs of their mother. They looked wild and bewildered like, and the glance of their een was like that of folk out of a mad—house ; and none dared in the world to have spoken to them. They didna even speak to ane anither; but wrought on wi’ a great hurry till the spades struck on the coffin-lid—which was broken. The dead-claithes were there huddled a’ thegither in a nook, but the dead was gane. I took haud o’ Willie Walker’s arm, and looked down. There was a cauld sweat all ower me ;—losh me! but I was terribly frighted and eerie. Three mair graves were opened, and a’ just alike, save and except that of a wee unkirstened wean. which was aff bodily, coffin and a’.

There was a burst of righteous indignation throughout the parish; nor without reason. Tell me that doctors and graduates maun hae the dead ; but tell it not to Mansie Wauch, that our hearts maun be trampled in the mire of scorn, and our best feelings laughed at, in order that a bruise may be properly plaistered up, or a sair head cured. Verily, the remedy is waur than the disease.

But what remead? It was to watch in the session-house, with loaded guns, night about, three at a time. I never likit to gang into the kirkyard after darkening, let-a-be to sit there through a lang winter night, windy and rainy, it may be, wi’ nane but the dead around us. Save us! it was an unco thought, and garred a’ my flesh creep; but the cause was gude,—my spirit was roused, and I was determined no to be dauntoned.

I counted and counted, but the dread day at length came, and I was summonsed. All the leivelang afternoon, when ca'ing the needle upon the brod, I tried to whistle Jenny Nettles, Niel Gow, and ither funny tunes, and whiles crooned to mysel between hands; but my consternation was visible, and a' wadna do.

It was in November, and the cauld glimmering sun sank behind the Pentlands. The trees had been shorn of their frail leaves; and the misty night was closing fast in upon the dull and short day; but the candles glittered at the shop windows, and leery-light-the-lamps was brushing about wi’ his ladder in his oxter, and bleezing flamboy sparking out behind him. I felt a kind of qualm of faintness and down-sinking about my heart and stomach, to the dispelling of which I took a thimbleful of spirits, and, tying my red comforter about my neck, I marched briskly to the session-house. A neighbour (Andrew Goldie, the pensioner) lent me his piece, and loaded it to me. He took tent that it was only half-cock, and I wrapped a napkin round the dog-head, for it was raining. No being acquaint wi’ guns, I keepit the muzzle aye awa frae me; as it is every man’s duty no to throw his precious life into jeopardy.

A furm was set before the session-house fire, which bleezed brightly, nor had I ony thought that such an unearthly place could have been made to look half so comfortable, either by coal or candle; so my speerits rose up as if a weight had been ta’en aff them, and I wondered in my bravery, that a man like me could be afeard of onything. Nobody was here but a touzy, ragged, halflins callant of thirteen (for I speared his age), wi’ a desperate dirty face, and lang carroty hair, tearing a speldrin wi’ his teeth, which lookit lang and sharp eneugh, and throwing the skin and lugs intil the fire.

We sat for amaist an hour thegither, cracking the best way we could in sic a place; nor was onybody mair likely to cast up. The night was now pit-mirk; the wind soughed amid the headstanes and railings of the gentry (for we maun a’ dee); and the black corbies in the Steeple-holes cackled and crawed in a fearsome manner. A’ at ance we heard a lonesome sound; and my heart began to play pit-pat … my skin grew a' rough, like a poukit chicken—and I felt as if I didna ken what was the matter with me. It was only a false alarm, however, being the warning of the clock ; and in a minute or twa thereafter the bell struck ten. Oh, but it was a lonesome and dreary sound! Every chap gaed through my breast like the dunt of a forehammer.

Then up and spak the red headed laddie: "It’s no fair; anither should hae come by this time. I wad rin awa hame, only I’m frightened to gang out my lane. Do ye think the doup o’ that candle wad carry in my cap?”

“Na, na, lad; we maun bide here, as we are here now. Leave me alane! Lord save us! and the yett lockit, and the bethrel sleepin’ wi’ the key in his breek-pouches! We canna win out now, though we would," answered I, trying to look brave, though half frightened out of my seven senses. "Sit down, sit down; I’ve baith whisky and porter wi’ me. Hae, man, there’s a cauker to keep your heart warm; and set down that bottle," quoth I, wiping the sawdust aff it with my hand, " to get a toast; I’se warrant it for Deacon Jaffrey’s best brown stout."

The wind blew higher, and like a hurricane; the rain began to fall in perfect spouts; the auld kirk rumbled, and rowed, and made a sad soughing; and the bourtree tree behind the house, where auld Cockburn, that cuttit his throat, was buried, creakit and crazed in a frightful manner; but as to the roaring of the troubled waters, and the bumming in the lum-head, they were past a’ power of description. To make bad worse, just in the heart of the brattle, the grating sound of the yett turning on its rusty hinges was but too plainly heard. What was to be done? I thought of our baith running away; and then of our locking oursels in, and tiring through the door; but wha was to pull the trigger?

Gudeness watch ower us! I tremble yet when I think on’t. We were perfectly between the deil and the deep sea —either to stand and fire our gun, or rin and be shot at. It was really a hang choice. As I stood swithering and shaking, the laddie ran to the door, and thrawing round the key, clapped his back till’t. Oh! how I lookit at him, as he stude, for a gliff, like a magpie hearkening wi’ his lug cockit up, or rather like a. terrier watching a rotten.

"They’re coming! they’re coming!” he cried out; "cock the piece, ye sumph,” while the red hair rose up from his pow like feathers; "they’re coming, I hear them tramping on the gravel !” Out he stretched his arms against the wall, and brizzed his back against the door like mad; as if he had been Samson pushing over the pillars in the house of Dagon. "For the Lord’s sake, prime the gun,” he cried out, "or our throats will be cut frae lug to lug, before we can say Jack Robinson! See that there’s priming in the pan! "

I did the best I could; but my hale strength could hardly lift up the piece, which waggled to and fro like a cock’s tail on a rainy day; my knees knockit against ane anither, and though I was resigned to dee—I trust I was resigned to dee—’od, but it was a frightfu’ thing to be out of ane’s bed, and to be murdered in an auld session-house, at the dead hour of night, by unyearthly resurrection-men—or rather let me call them devils incarnate—wrapt up in dreadnoughts, wi’ blackit faces, pistols, big sticks, and other deadly weapons.

A snuff-snuffing was heard; and through below the door I saw a pair of glancing black een. ’Od, but my heart nearly loupit aff the bit-—a snouff and a gur-gurring, and ower a' the plain tramp of a man’s heavy tackets and cuddy-heels amang the gravel. Then cam a great slap like thunder on the wall; and the laddie quitting his grip, fell down, crying, " Fire, Fire!—murder! holy murder! ”

"Wha’s there?” growled a deep rough voice; "open—I’m a friend."

I tried to speak, but could not; something like a halfpenny roll was sticking in my throat, so I tried to cough it up, out it wadna come. "Gie the pass-word, then," said the laddie, staring as if his een wad loupen out; "gie the pass-word!"

First cam a loud whussle, and then "Copmahagen," answered the voice. Oh! what a relief! The laddie started up like ane crazy wi’ joy. "Ou! ou! ” cried he, thrawing round the key, and rubbing his hands, "by jingo! it’s the bethrel—it’s the bethrel—it’s auld Isaac himsel! ”

First rushed in the dog, and then Isaac, wi’ his glazed hat, slouched ower his brow, and his horn bowet glimmering by his knee. "Has the French landit, do ye think? Losh keep us a’ !" said he, wi’ a smile on his half-idiot {ace (for he was a kind of a sort of a natural, wi’ an infirmity in his leg).

"’Od sauf us, man, put by your gun. Ye dinna mean to shoot me, do ye? What are ye aboot here wi’ the door lockit? I just keppit four resurrectioners louping ower the wa’.”

"Gude guide us!" I said, taking a long breath to drive the blude frae my heart, and something relieved by Isaac’s company. "Come now, Isaac, ye’re just giein’ us a fright. Isn’t that true, Isaac?”

"Yes, I’m joking,— and what for no? But they might have been, for onything ye wad hae hindered them to the contrair, I’m thinking. Na, na, ye maunna lock the door ; that’s no fair play."

When the door was put ajee, and the furm set fornent the fire, I gied Isaac a dram to keep his heart up on sica cauld, stormy night. 'Od, but he was a droll fallow, Isaac. He sung and leuch as if he had been boozing in Lucky Tamson’s, wi’ some of his drucken cronies. Fient a hair cared he about auld kirks, or kirkyards, or vouts, or through-stanes, or dead folk in their winding-sheets, wi’ the wet grass growing ower them; and at last I began to brighten up a wee mysel ; so when he had gone ower a good few funny stories, I said to him, quoth I, " Mony folk, I daresay, mak mair noise about their sitting up in a kirkyard than it’s a’ worth. 'There’s naething here to harm us."

"I beg to differ wi’ ye there” answered Isaac, taking out his horn mull from his coat pouch, and tapping on the lid in a queer style—"I could gie anither version of that story. Did ye no ken of three young doctors—Eirish students—alang wi' some resurrectioners, as waff and wild as themselves, fixing shottie for shottie wi’ the guard at Kirkmabreck, and lodging three slugs in ane o’ their backs, forbye tiring a ramrod through anither ane’s hat?"

This was a wee alarming. “No," quoth I —" no, Isaac, man, I ne’er heard o’t.”

"But let alane resurrectioners, do ye no think there is sic a thing as ghaists? Guide ye, my man, my granny could hae telled ye as muckle about them as wad hae filled a minister’s sermons from June to January."

"Kay—kay—that’s a’ buff” I said. "Are there nae cutty-stool businesses--are there nae marriages gaun, Isaac?” for I was keen to change the subject.

"Ye may kay—kay—as ye like, though; I can just tell ye this—ye’ll mind auld Armstrong, wi’ the leather breeks, and the brown three-storey wig — him that was the grave-digger? Weel, he saw a ghaist wi’ his leeving een—aye, and what’s better, in this very kirkyard too. It was a cauld spring morning, and daylight just coming in, when he cam to the yett yonder, thinking to meet his man, paidling Jock — but Jock had sleepit in, and wasna there. Weel, to the wast comer ower yonder he gaed, and throwing his coat ower a headstane, and his hat on the tap o’t, he dug awa wi’ his spade, casting out the mools, and the coffin-handles, and the green banes, and sic-like, till he stoppit a wee to tak breath. —What are ye whistling to yoursel?" quo’ Isaac to me, "and no hearing what’s God’s truth ?”

"Ou ay," said I, "but ye didna tell me if ony body was cried last Sunday?" I wad hae given every farthing I had made by the needle to hae been at that blessed time in my bed wi’ my wife and wean. Ay, how I was gruing! I mostly chacked aff my tongue in chitterin’. But a’ wadna do.

"Weel, speaking of ghaists ;—when he was resting on his spade, he looked up to the steeple, to see what o’clock it was, wondering what way Jock hadna come,—when lo, and behold in the lang diced window of the kirk yonder, he saw a lady a’ in white, wi’ her hands clasped thegither, looking out to the kirkyard at him.

"He couldna believe his een, so he rubbit them wi’ his sark sleeve, but she was still there bodily, and, keeping ae ee on her, and anither on his road to the yett, he drew his coat and hat to him below his arm, and aff like mad, throwing his shool half a mile ahint him. Jock fand that; for he was coming singing in at the yett, when his maister ran clean ower the tap o’ him, and capseized him like a toom barrel; and never stoppin’ till he was in at his ain house, and the door baith bolted and barred at his tail.

"Did ye ever hear the like of that, Mansie? Weel man, I’ll explain the hale history o’t to ye. Ye see,—’od! how sound that callant’s sleeping,” continued Isaac; "he’s snoring like a nine-year-auld.”

I was glad he had stoppit, for I was like to sink through the grund wi’ fear; but na, it wadna do.

"Dinna ye ken—sauf us ! what a fearsome night this is! The trees’ll be a’ broken, What a noise in the lum! I dare say there is some auld hag of a witch-wife gaun to come rumble doun’t. lt’s no the first time, I’ll swear. Hae ye a silver sixpence? Wad ye like that?" he bawled up the chimley. "Ye’ll hae heard,” said he, "lang ago, that a wee murdered wean was buried—didna ye hear a voice?—was buried below that corner—the hearthstane there, where the laddie’s lying on?”

I had now lost my breath, so that I couldna stop him.

"Ye never heard tell o’t, didna ye? Weel, I’se tell’t ye.—Sauf us! what swurls o’ smoke coming down the chimley—I could swear something no canny’s stopping up the lum-head—gang out and see!”

At that moment, a clap like thunder was heard-—the candle was driven ower — the sleeping laddie roared "Help!" and "Murder!" and "Thieves!” and as the furm on which we were sitting played flee backwards, cripple Isaac bellowed out, "I’m dead!—I’m killed! shot through the head!—oh, oh, oh!"

Surely I had fainted away; for when I came to rnysel, I found my red comforter loosed; my face a’ wet—Isaac rubbing down my waistcoat with his sleeve—the laddie swigging ale out of a bicker—and the brisk brown stout, which, by casting its cork, had caused a` the alarm, whizz—whizz—whizzing in the chimley-lug. … {Mansie Wauch}


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