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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter XII


Weird man's care—Brownies—Fairies—Warnings—Wraiths—Witchcraft—Strange sounds in the lonely dells—Blood on the stone in the haunted lin—Sights in the churchyard.

We have already spoken of the apparitions and spectres that infested the glen, and one in particular which the worthy schoolmaster exorcised and banished from the lin, although a lingering suspicion was still entertained by some that the dreary Lady of the Drum was not wholly expatriated. Be this as it may, we come now to notice other superstitious beliefs common in the glen. And here we may notice the weird man's cave. There is on the west side of the glen several deep ravines or dark gorges, formed by the rushing of the winter torrents adown the steep slopes of the mountain, and filled with trees and impervious underwood. There are many rugged gorges and hollow places formed by the erosion of the water, in the precipitous sides of the gullies, in the form of caves. These dusky chambers were supposed to be hiding-places in times of persecution, when men were glad to flee to such retreats, however uncomfortable, to escape the avenging foe. Strange stories were in circulation respecting these dreary ravines. Unsonsy persons were supposed to reside there, and weird men had their howf in the dark thickets that concealed the entrance to the caves. Few durst approach the ill-reputed places. These might be the dens of robbers or ill-conditioned persons, whose evil wishes could blight a whole parish, and who, unseen, could work mischief which none could avert. The weird man's cave was supposed to be there; and though none could say they had seen him, yet all believed him to exist. And yet, after all, what was the weird man's cave but a concealed place of illicit distillation? A sma' stell, as it was called, was hid here, and the artful men who conducted it kept up the deception.

Connected with the weird men were the brownies, whose existence was firmly believed in over all the rural districts in those days. The brownies were held to be a mysterious race; they were neither spirits nor ghosts, although somewhat allied. Still they were veritable flesh and blood; for they could eat and work, and in every way act like ordinary human beings. They were, however, but rarely seen; and the intimation of their existence about a farm-house was by means of the noise they made in the barn in the night-time, by belabouring the lusty sheaves of corn on the floor. Many a farmer received substantial assistance from these strange visitors about whose premises they had taken up their abode, and which was chiefly in the winter season, a circumstance which, as we shall see, is easy to be accounted for. All their work was done in the dark, and no one could say that he had ever encountered one. That the brownies were real human personages is now pretty well ascertained. They were rife in times of persecution, and were a class of the covenanters who fled from place to place for concealment; and when they met with a friendly householder, to whom they made known their circumstances, they were taken under hiding and occupied some secret place about the steading, where they sometimes, it may be, resided for a whole winter in perfect security. And in return for the shelter so kindly afforded, they acted as servants in the night season, and were more especially known as barnmen. None of the domestics to whom the secret had not been communicated by the master durst approach the scene of their operations. There was an eeriness about the thing, and an uncomfortable idea that the' premises were haunted; and this helped to keep the secret. The farmer or whoever he might be who afforded them concealment would have been found guilty of reset, had the thing been known, and punished accordingly; and that punishment was not light. Lairds were bound for their tenants, farmers for their servants, parents for their children, and even children for their parents, so that the avoidance of discovery was next to impossible. It happily never occurred to the persecutors, those troublers of their times, to suspect that the brownies were anything else than what the popular belief had assigned them, and hence no investigation was ever instituted. The people of the glen fully credited the doctrine of brownyism, and even supposed their partial existence in their own times. It was in the winter chiefly, as we have said, that they crept about the farm houses, while in summer they betook themselves to the open country.

Next on the field come the fairies, a mongrel race, partly earthly and partly unearthly. The existence of fairies, among the people of the glen, was a matter of orthodox belief. The shepherds on the lonely hills and in the secluded dells had seen them. But it was especially on the early May mornings that they were observed dancing on the green spots, when the mist had lifted its curtain, and revealed what of fairy amusements had been going on behind its snow-white screen. They were a pigmy people, arrayed in green, and riding lightly along on ponies like hares. They were a harmless folk, whose abodes were cavities under the earth, and whose appearances above ground were only occasional. It was not to every one that they showed themselves in the broad day light; but that they were frequently visible, in lonely places, was firmly credited. Their evanishment, however, was sudden when they discerned the approach of any of the human kind, who were seen peering through the misty vail, and taking notes of their sportive movements. Some people affirmed not only that they had seen them, but that while reclining on the hill in the warm days of summer, they heard distinctly, about high noon, the fairies kneading their dough with their tiny hands, for baking, and that at the same time they plainly heard a clock strike twelve beneath the sod on which they were resting. Many other things are recorded of the harmless fairies. Their race is now extinct, if race it ever was; what became of them no mortal can tell, and their memorial is going fast into oblivion. Their origin and their extinction are equally a mystery. The fabulous fairies!—did they ever exist? Inquire at the people of four generations past. What say they? But other visitants, more unearthly still, were known in the glen, and these were what were termed wraiths. Wraiths were not ghosts—they were not the spirits of the deceased, bat something connected with living men and women, whom they personified in every respect. Wraiths, as was supposed, always foreboded evil, and nothing was considered more unsonsy than these same appearances. A man's own wraith sometimes became visible to himself; he saw his own precise likeness in the broad light of day close beside him—sometimes in the open fields, and sometimes on the road, walking along with him as a companion. ,

On other occasions, the wraiths of friends and neighbours became apparent. A worthy man, and an elder of the church, who died many years ago, considerably above ninety years of age, and in his youth cotemporary with the people of the glen, and fully imbued with their creed, told the writer of this that early one morning in summer, as he stood at the end of his house, he saw the appearance of his wife, who, at the moment, was lying asleep in her bed, coming along the footpath that led up to the dwelling-house from the public road. He recognised her distinctly till she came close up to him—her countenance, her dress, her gait, and all about her, and, passing him, entered the house with a noiseless step. He followed in amazement, looked all about, entered the bedroom, searched everywhere, but no wraith was to be seen, and his wife in calm repose under the warm bed-clothes. All this the worthy man positively affirmed; and he was no simpleton, but a person of a strong and intelligent head, and withal a rare Christian. Nothing disastrous followed this, however ill-omened the manifestation of the wraith may have been supposed to be. But the tales of wraiths are endless; the people of the last generation, even, were full of them. We believe that many of these phantasms may be explained on scientific principles; but then, such solutions were unknown to the ancients, and they clung to their superstitious beliefs with a tenacity which, now-a-days, we can scarcely credit.

Warnings before death formed another article in the popular creed of the glen. These intimations were more frequently imparted to aged women, who were not slow to announce to the neighbourhood what had been communicated. The warnings were given forth in various ways, according to circumstances. The worthy Lizzy Kerr could tell when a death was to occur, from the particular noises heard in her husband's workshop at the dead hour of night. She heard the axe and the saw, and the plane and hammer, and the same sounds emitted as when the nails were driven into the new-made coffin. From this it was augured that the decease of some person in the locality would soon be announced. Similar things have startled even cooler and more scientific heads than Lizzy's: as witness the occurrence that befel at Abbotsford the very night on which there died in London the person who was superintending the fitting up and furnishing the apartments of the great Magician's castle. The worthy Knight was roused from his slumbers at mirk midnight by means of an unusual noise in the room right above, as of sawing, hammering, and the throwing down of heavy planks on the floor. Sir Walter was astounded, and hastily donning his nightgown and slippers, with a lamp in his hand ascended to the room where the hubbub was going on. On entering, nothing was to be seen—the deals and workmen's implements and everything else were lying without the least disarrangement. Soon after a letter reached Abbots-ford, informing the Knight that the gentleman, the undertaker, had died the very night and at the very time the noises were heard in that particular room. The writer of his life remarks that this was a circumstance Sir Walter never could account for—not even he who had written an elaborate work on demonology. And so Lizzy's inklings may not have been so far out of the way, after all.

There was also what may be called the "dead tick," the click, click, which in the stillness of the night is sometimes heard like the gentle ticking of a watch in the furniture, and especially in the boards of what are called "box beds." This, as they supposed, plainly intimated that the sand-glass of time was nearly run down with some individual -among them. The moth digging its smooth round tunnel into the heart of the deals, and perforating the strong oaken tables with its assiduous knawings, was the cause of this; but then the circumstance was unknown to them.

A sound like a sharp, startling stroke on a table, as of a switch smartly laid on by a powerful arm, was regarded as a sure indication of some disastrous occurrence about to befall. This sound .was often heard, and is so still, although in our time it is not regarded in so ominous a light. Furniture, when it is made of raw wood, is ready, in the process of drying, to shrink and to split with a sharp switching sound. A friend of the writer of this informed him that on one occasion his wife was ironing linen on a large table covered with a blanket, and as she was quietly smoothing the article with a hot iron, her husband standing by, the sound as of a switch striking forcibly the table in its whole length startled both of them with its suddenness. His wife, in the greatest trepidation, exclaimed, "It is a warning" and sank down in a chair. Her husband, though not a believer in such freets, was somewhat put about, till it occurred to him to remove the blanket, when the table was found split from end to end, the heat of the iron on the wood having made the fissure, the smart crack of which caused the alarm.

Witchcraft was another thing firmly credited in the glen; but this was not peculiar to them, for almost every locality had its witch or witches, and there were such by name and surname, if not in the glen, at least in its immediate vicinity. The witches of Crawick Mill were famous in those days, and were heard of far and near; and as the glen bordered on the place of their residence, it was in a great measure infested by them, and the simple people were kept in much awe by them. Most of the untoward incidents that befel were attributed to these weird sisters, who knew how to turn the whole to their own best account. This class, like the fairies and the brownies, have now fairly taken their flight, and left the district unmolested.

Another thing, however, annoyed the people in the glen, and that was certain strange sounds that were heard in the lonely dells. These sounds, though not frequent, were yet occasionally emitted. The shepherds on the solitary hills, and travellers in the dusky glens, have sometimes been startled by mysterious sounds issuing from the body of the mountain towering above them. That such noises were actually heard we ourselves can bear witness. On a fine summer's evening, when coming down the romantic defile of Glendyne, and when at one of the wildest points of its scenery, the dead stillness was all at once interrupted by a loud sound which proceeded from the bosom of the hill. We were startled at the occurrence, and looked round, if perchance a thundercloud might be in view, but there were only the clear sky and the bright sun. What could it be? It was as if a cannon had been shot through the mass of the mountain, for its report was close to our side. Could it be the fairies at work in their subterranean caverns beneath the blooming heather? or of what mysterious operations in the bowels of the hill might it be the symptom? The spot was far from human dwellings, and, moreover, it was on a sweet Sabbath evening, when returning home on foot after preaching two pretty long discourses from the mouth of a tent in the mining village of Wanlock-head. The miners were all at rest on that day, so that there were no blasting of the rocks far down in the depth of the mountains, and even though there had, the distance was so great that the report must have been stifled in the bowels of the hill a mile or two off. The circumstance we could not explain, still the fact was certain. A good while after this, however, the mystery was partially cleared up. There came to our hand a number of one of the Quarterlies, in which the identical subject was taken up and discussed on geological principles; and the writer of the article remarked that the grumbling sort of noise frequently heard among the lonely hills, and which had hitherto been inexplicable, was propelled from the interior along a line of a certain kind of rocks to the surface, and that this was probably owing to some commotion far down in the igneous mass.

We have conversed with an aged shepherd on the subject, an intelligent man, who has traversed the mountain walks for more than forty years, and he affirms that he has heard these sounds many a time, and that he was always puzzled respecting their origin. Of the fact, then, there can be no dispute. The people of the glen might regard them as proceeding from an unearthly or evil agency, and that such sounds boded no good, and thus they annoyed themselves.

But the blood drops on the stone in the haunted lin caused much speculation. The stone is a large granite boulder, computed to be about thirty tons' weight, lying in the bottom of the gorge, and partly across the mountainous stream that gurgles through it. Certain red spots were of old seen on- this stone, which were supposed to be the blood-stains of a person murdered in the dark defile, and whose vengeful ghost was understood to visit the spot; hence the name of "The Haunted Lin." The supposed blood-stains are still to be seen on a smooth stone, under the stream, close by the boulder. The surface of the stone is suffused with a beautiful crimson, which arises from a certain fungus attached to the upper part of the stone, and from which the red dye seems to proceed. This circumstance would easily lead the people of a superstitious age to imagine that it was the blood of the murdered man, which no water could wash out. It was near the lower end of this lin that the "dreary Lady" was frequently seen.

Spectral sights in the churchyard were also matters fully credited; nobody thought of calling the things in question. Dead lights were believed to be flitting from grave to grave, and ghostly apparitions were seen stalking among the tall tombstones, and sometimes observed leaning over the wall of the burying-ground in the pale moonlight, to the terrifying of the passers by. All these matters, and much more that may be gleaned, formed the popular creed of the glen, and of which the minds of not a few are not to this day disabused. The local traditions of the glen have all passed away, and a fourth generation has now appeared on the ground, but appeared in a merely fragmentary shape, compared with the hundreds that once peopled that sweet vale.


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