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Book of Scottish Story
The Headless Cumins


In the parish of Edinkellie, a place towards the centre of Morayshire, in the northern part of Scotland, there is a romantic and fearful chasm, supposed to have been at one time the bed of the river Divie. It has two entrances at the upper end, and the ancient courses which led the river into these successively are easily traceable. The lower extremity of the ravine terminates abruptly about forty feet high above the Divie, that flows at its base. This spot is one of a very interesting nature. Its name in Gaelic signifes "the Hollow of the Heads;" a name originating, it is said, in the following transaction :—

Near the upper end of the ravine there is a curious cavern, formed of huge masses of fallen crags, that cover the bottom of the place. It enters downwards like a pit, and the mouth, which is no more than wide enough to admit a man, is not easily discovered. Here it was that the brave Allister Bane secreted himself after the Battle of the Lost Standard. At this time the Castle of Dunphail was besieged by Randolph, Earl of Moray; and Allister Bane, who could no longer make head against him in the open held, contented himself with harassing the enemy. Knowing that his father and his garrison were reduced to great want, he and a few of his followers disguised themselves as countrymen, and, driving a parcel of horses, yoked in rude sledges, laden with sacks, they came to the edge of the glen where Randolph’s beleaguering party lay, and, pretending to be peasants carrying meal from the low country to the Highlands, they entreated their protection from one Allister Bane, of whom they were afraid. Their prayer being granted, they unyoked their horses, and took care to leave their sledges at the brink of the precipice, so that, on a given signal agreed on with the garrison, they tumbled sledges, sacks, and all over into the glen below, and the garrison, making a sally at the same time, each man bore off a sack on his back, whilst the pretended peasants sprang on their horses, and were out of sight before the astonished sentinels of the enemy had well given the alarm.

Randolph was so provoked on learning who the author of this trick was, that he set a price upon his head. A certain private pique led a Cumin to betray his master’s lurking-place. His enemies hurried to the spot to make sure of their game; but when they saw the small uncouth-looking aperture, they paused in a circle round it. One only could descend at a time, and the death of him who should attempt it was certain; for the red glare of the Cumin’s eye in the obscurity within, and the flash of his dirk-blade, showed that he had wound up his dauntless soul to die with the "courage" of the lion on his crest. They called on him to surrender at discretion. He replied by howling a deep note of defiance from the dark womb of the rocks,—"Let me but come out, and with my back to that crag, I will live or die like a Cumin!" "No!" exclaimed the leader of his foes; “thou shalt die like a fox as thou art!” Brushwood was quickly piled over the hole, but no word of entreaty for mercy ascended from below. Heap after heap was set fire to, and crammed blazing down upon him. His struggles to force a way upwards were easily repelled by those above, and after a sufficient quantity of burning matter had been thrust in to ensure his suffocation, they rolled stones over the mouth of the hole.

When the cruel deed was done, and the hole opened, Allister Bane was found reclining in one corner, his head muffled in his plaid, and resting on the pummel of his sword, with two or three attendants around him, all dead. To make sure of them, their heads were cut off and thrown, one after another, into the fortress, with this horrible taunt to the old man,—

"Your son provided you with meal, and we now send you flesh to eat with it.”

The veteran warrior recognised the fair head of his son. "It is a bitter morsel indeed,” said he, as he took it up, kissed it, and wept over it; "but I will gnaw the last bone of it before I surrender."


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