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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter V


“She darklins grapit for the bauks,
And in the blue clue throws then.”—Burns.

Violence may anticipate by many centuries the natural progress of decay. There are some of our Scottish cathedrals less entire than some of our old Picts’ houses, though the latter have been deserted for more than a thousand years, and the former for not more than three hundred. And the remark is not less applicable to the beliefs and usages of other ages, than to their more material remains. It is a curious fact, that we meet among the Protestants of Scotland with more marked traces of the Paganism of their earlier, than of the Popery of their later ancestors. For while Christianity seems to have been introduced into the country by slow degrees, and to have travelled over it by almost imperceptible stages—leaving the less obnoxious practices of the mythology which it supplanted to the natural course of decay—it is matter of history that the doctrines of the Reformation overspread it in a single age, and that the observances of the old system were effaced, not by a gradual current of popular opinion, but by the hasty surges of popular resentment. The saint-days of the priest have in consequence been long since forgotten—the festivals of the Druid still survive.

There is little risk of our mistaking these latter ; the rites of Hallowe’en, and the festivities of Beltane, possess well-authenticated genealogies. There are other usages, however, which, though they bear no less strongly the impress of Paganism, show a more uncertain lineage. And regarding these, we find it difficult to determine whether they have come down to us from the days of the old mythology, or have been produced in a later period by those sentiments of the human mind to which every false religion owes its origin. The subject, though a curious, is no very tangible one. But should I attempt throwing together a few simple thoughts respecting it, in that wandering desultory style which seems best to consort with its irregularity of outline, I trust I may calculate on the forbearance of the reader. I shall strive to be not very tedious, and to choose a not very beaten path.

Man was made for the world, and the world for man. Hence we find that every faculty of the human mind has in the things which lie without some definite object, or particular class of circumstances, on which to operate. There is a thorough adaptation of that which acts to that which is acted upon—of the moving power to the machine ; and woe be to him who deranges this admirable order, in the hope of rendering it more complete. It is prettily fabled by the Brahmins, that souls are moulded by pairs, and then sent to the earth to be linked together in wedlock, and that matches are unhappy merely in consequence of the parties disuniting by the way, and choosing for themselves other consorts. One might find more in this fable than any Brahmin ever found in it yet. There is a prospective connexion of a similar kind formed between the powers of the mind and the objects on which these are to be employed, and should they be subsequently united to objects other than the legitimate, a wretchedness quite as real as that which arises out of an ill-mated marriage is the infallible result.

Were I asked to illustrate my meaning by an example or two, I do not know where I could find instances better suited to my purpose than in the imaginative extravagancies of some of our wilder sectaries. There is no principle which so deals in unhappy marriages, and as unhappy divorces, as the fanatical; or that so ceaselessly employs itself in separating what Heaven had joined, and in joining what Heaven has separated. Man, I have said, was made for the world he lives in;—I should have added, that he was intended also for another world. Fanaticism makes a somewhat similar omission, only it is the other way. It forgets that he is as certainly a denizen of the present as an heir of the future; that the same Being who has imparted to him the noble sentiment which leads him to anticipate an hereafter, has also bestowed upon him a thousand lesser faculties which must be employed now ; and that, if he prove untrue to even the minor end of his existence, and slight his proper though subordinate employments, the powers which he thus separates from their legitimate objects must, from the very activity of their nature, run riot in the cloisters in which they are shut up, and cast reproach by their excesses on the cause to which they are so unwisely dedicated. For it is one thing to condemn these to a life of celibacy, and quite another to keep them chaste. We may shut them up, like a sisterhood of nuns, from the objects to which they ought to have been united, but they will infallibly discover some less legitimate ones with which to connect themselves. Self-love, and the natural desire of distinction—proper enough sentiments in their own sphere—make but sad work in any other. The imagination, which was so bountifully given us to raise its ingenious theories as a kind of scaffolding to philosophical discovery, is active to worse purpose when revelling intoxicated amid the dim fields of prophecy, or behind the veil of the inner mysteries. Reason itself, though a monarch in its own proper territories, can exert only a doubtful authority in the provinces which lie beyond. Indeed, the whole history of fanaticism, from when St. Anthony retired into the deserts of Upper Egypt to burrow in a cell like a fox-earth, down to the times that witnessed some of the wilder heresiarchs of our own country, working what they had faith enough to deem miracles, is little else than a detail of the disorders occasioned by perversions of this nature.

There is an exhibition of phenomena equally curious when the religious sentiment, instead of thus swallowing up all the others, is deprived of even its own proper object. I once saw a solitary hen bullfinch, that retired one spring into a dark comer of her cage and laid an egg, over which she sat until it was addled. It is always thus when the devotional sentiment is left to form a religion for itself. Encaged like the poor bullfinch, it proves fruitful in just a similar way, and moping in its dark recesses, brings forth its pitiful abortions unassisted and alone. I have ever thought of the pantheons and mythological dictionaries of our libraries as a kind of museums, stored, like those of the anatomist, with embryos and abortions.

It must be remarked further, that the devotional sentiment operates in this way not only when its proper object is wanting, but even, should the mind be dark and uninformed, when that is present. Every false religion may be regarded as a wild irregular production, springing out of that basis of sentiment (one of the very foundations of our nature) which, when rendered the subject of a right course of culture, and sown with the good seed, proves the proper field of the true. But on this field, even when occupied the better way, there may be the weeds of a rank indigenous mythology shooting up below—a kind of subordinate superstition, which, in other circumstances, would have been not the underwood, but the forest. Hence our difficulty in fixing the genealogy of the Pagan-like usages to which I allude; there are two opposite sources, from either of which they may have sprung:—they may form a kind of undergrowth, thrown up at no very early period by a soil occupied by beliefs the most serious and rational, or they may constitute the ancient and broken vestiges of an obsolete and exploded mythology. I shall briefly describe a few of the more curious.

I. People acquainted with seafaring men, and who occasionally accompany them in their voyages, cannot miss seeing them, when the sails are drooping against the mast, and the vessel lagging in her course, earnestly invoking the wind in a shrill tremulous whistling—calling on it, in fact, in its own language; and scarcely less confident of being answered than if preferring a common request to one of their companions. I rarely sail in calm weather with my friends the Cromarty fishermen, without seeing them thus employed—their faces anxiously turned in the direction whence they expect the breeze; now pausing, for a light uncertain air has begun to ruffle the water, and now resuming the call still more solicitously than before, for it has died away. On thoughtlessly beginning to whistle one evening about twelve years ago, when our skiff was staggering under a closely-reefed foresail, I was instantly silenced by one of the fishermen with a “Whisht, whisht, boy, we have more than wind enough already; ” and I remember being much struck for the first time by the singularity of the fact, that the winds should be as sincerely invoked by our Scottish seamen of the present day, as by the mariners of Themistocles. There was another such practice common among the Cromarty, fishermen of the last age, but it is now obsolete. It was termed soothing the waves. When beating up in stormy weather along a lee-shore, it was customary for one of the men to take his place on the weather gunwale, and there continue waving his hand in a direction opposite to the sweep of the sea, in the belief that this species of appeal to it would induce it to lessen its force. We recognise in both these singular practices the workings of that religion natural to the heart, which, more vivid in its personifications than poetry itself, can address itself to every power of nature as to a sentient being endowed with a faculty of will, and able, as it inclines, either to aid or injure. The seaman’s prayer to the winds, and the thirty thousand gods of the Greek, probably derive their origin from a similar source.

II. Viewed in the light of reason, an oath owes its sacredness, not to any virtue in itself, but to the Great Being to whom it is so direct an appeal, and to the good and rational belief that He knows all things, and is the ultimate judge of all. But the same uninformed principle which can regard the winds and waves as possessed of a power independent of His, seems also to have conferred on the oath an influence and divinity exclusively its own. I have met with many among the more grossly superstitious, who deemed it a kind of ordeal, somewhat similar to the nine ploughshares of the dark ages, which distinguished between right and wrong, truth or falsehood, by some occult intrinsic virtue. The innocent person swears, and like the guiltless woman when she had drunk the waters of jealousy, thrives none the worse;—the guilty perjure themselves, and from that hour cease to prosper. I remember—by the way, a very early recollection—that when a Justice of Peace Court was sitting in my native town, many years ago, a dark cloud came suddenly over the sun; and that a man who had been lounging on the street below, ran into the Court-room to see who it was that, by swearing a false oath, had occasioned the obscuration. It is a rather singular coincidence, and one which might lead us to believe in the existence of something analogous to principle in even the extravagancies of human belief, that the only oath deemed binding on the gods of classical mythology—the oath by the river Styx—was one of merely intrinsic power and virtue. Bacon, indeed, in his “Wisdom of the Ancients” (a little book but a great work), has explained the fable as merely an ingenious allegory; but who does not know that the Father of modern philosophy found half the Novum Organum in superstitions which existed before the days of Orpheus?

III. There seems to have once obtained in this part of the country a belief that the natural sentiment of justice had its tutelary spirit, which, like the Astrsea of the Greeks, existed for it, and for it alone; and which not only seconded the dictates of conscience, but even punished those by whom they were disregarded. The creed of superstition is, however, rarely a well defined or consistent one; and this belief seems to have partaken, as much as any of the others, of the incoherent obscurity in which it originated. The mysterious agent (the object of it) existed no one knew where, and effected its purposes no one knew how. But the traditions which illustrate it, narrate better than they define. Many years ago, says one of these, a woman of Tarbat was passing along the shores of Loch-Slin, with a large web of linen on her back. There was a market held that morning at Tain, and she was bringing the web there to be sold. In those times it was quite as customary for farmers to rear the flax which supplied them with clothing, as the corn which furnished them with food; and it was of course necessary, in some of the earlier processes of preparing the former, to leave it for weeks spread out on the fields, with little else to trust to for its protection than the honesty of neighbours. But to the neighbours of this woman the protection was, it would seem, incomplete; and the web she carried on this occasion was composed of stolen lint. She had nearly reached the western extremity of the lake, when, feeling fatigued, she seated herself by the water edge, and laid down the web beside her. But no sooner had it touched the earth than up it bounded three Scots ells into the air, and slowly unrolling fold after fold, until it had stretched itself out as when on the bleaching-green, it flew into the middle of the lake, and disappeared for ever. There are several other stories of the same class, but the one related may serve as a specimen of the whole.

IV. The evils which men dread, and the appearances which they cannot understand, are invariably appropriated by superstition: if her power extend not over the terrible and the mysterious, she is without power at all. And not only does she claim whatever is inexplicable in the great world, but also in some cases what seems mysterious in the little; some, for instance, of the more paradoxical phenomena of human nature. It has been represented to me as a mysterious, unaccountable fact, that persons who have been rescued from drowning regard their deliverers ever after with a dislike which borders almost on enmity. I have heard it affirmed, too, that when the crew of some boat or vessel have perished, with the exception of one individual, the relatives of the deceased invariably regard that one with a deep, irrepressible hatred; and in both cases the feelings described are said to originate in some occult and supernatural cause. Alas! neither envy nor ingratitude lie out of our ordinary every-day walk. There occurs to me a little anecdote illustrative of this kind of apotheosis of the envious principle. Some fifty years ago there was a Cromarty boat wrecked on the rough shores of Rathie. All the crew perished with the exception of one fisherman; and the poor man was so persecuted by the relatives of the drowned, who even threatened his life, that he was compelled, much against his inclination, to remove to Nairn There, however, only a few years after, he was wrecked a second time, and, as in the first instance, proved the sole survivor of the crew. And so he was again subjected to a persecution similar to the one he had already endured; and compelled to quit Naim as he had before quitted Cromarty. And in both cases the relatives of the deceased were deemed as entirely under the influence of a mysterious, irresistible impulse, which acted upon their minds from without, as the Orestes of the dramatist when pursued by the Furies.

One may question, as I have already remarked, whether one sees, in these several instances, polytheism in the act of forming, and but barely forming, in the human mind, or the mutilated remnants of a long-exploded mythology. The usages to which I have alluded as more certain in their lineage, are perhaps less suited to employ speculation. But they are curious; and the fact that they are fast sinking into an oblivion, out of which the diligence of no future excavator will be able to restore them, gives them of itself a kind of claim on our notice. I pass over Beltane; its fires in this part of the country have long since been extinguished; but to its half-surviving partner,

Halloween, I shall devote a few pages; and this the more readily, as it chances to be connected with a story of humble life which belongs to that period of my history at which I have now arrived. True, the festival itself has already sat for its picture, and so admirable was the skill of the artist, that its very name recalls to us rather the masterly strokes of the transcript than the features of the original. But, with all its truth and beauty, the portrait is not yet complete.

The Scottish Halloween, as held in the solitary farmhouse and described by Burns, differed considerably from the Halloween of our villages and smaller towns. In the farmhouse it was a night of prediction only; in our towns and villages there were added a multitude of wild mischievous games, which were tolerated at no other season—a circumstance that serves to identify the festival with those pauses of license peculiar to the nonage of civil government, in which men are set free from the laws they are just learning to respect;—partly, it would seem, as a reward for the deference which they have paid them, partly to serve them as a kind of breathing-spaces in which to recover from the unwonted fatigue of being obedient. After nightfall, the young fellows of the town formed themselves into parties of ten or a dozen, and breaking into the gardens of the graver inhabitants, stole the best and heaviest of their cabbages. Converting these into bludgeons, by stripping off the lower leaves, they next scoured the streets and lanes, thumping at every door as they passed, until their uncouth weapons were beaten to pieces. When disarmed in this way, all the parties united into one, and providing themselves with a cart, drove it before them with the rapidity of a chaise and four through the principal streets. Woe to the inadvertent female whom they encountered! She was instantly laid hold of, and placed aloft in the cart—brothers, and cousins, and even sons, it is said, not unfrequently assisting in the capture; and then dragged backwards and forwards over the rough stones, amid shouts, and screams, and roars of laughter. The younkers within doors were meanwhile engaged in a manner somewhat less annoying, but not a whit less whimsical. The bent of their ingenuity for weeks before, had been turned to the accumulating of little hoards of apples—all for this night; and now a large tub, filled with water, was placed in the middle of the floor of some outhouse, carefully dressed up for the occasion; and into the tub every one of the party flung an apple. They then approached it by turns, and, placing their hands on the edges,- plunged forward to fish for the fruit with their teeth. I remember the main chance of success was to thrust the head fearlessly into the tub, amid the booming of the water, taking especial care to press down one of the apples in a line with the mouth, and to seize it when jammed against the bottom. When the whole party, with their dripping locks and shining faces, would seem metamorphosed into so many mermaids, this sport usually gave place to another:—A small beam of wood was suspended from the ceiling by a cord, and when fairly balanced, an apple was fastened to the one end, and a lighted candle to the other. It was then whirled round, and the boys in turn, as before, leaped up and bit at the fruit; not unfrequently, however, merely to singe their faces and hair at the candle. Neither of these games were peculiar to the north of Scotland: we find it stated by Mr. Polewhele, in his “Historical Views of Devonshire,” that the Irish peasants assembled on the eve of La Samon (the 2d November), to celebrate the festival of the sun, with many rites derived from Paganism, among which was the dipping for apples in a tub of water, and the catching at an apple stuck on the one end of a kind of hanging beam.

There belonged to the north of Scotland two Halloween rites of augury which have not been described by Bums: and one of these, an elegant and beautiful charm, is not yet entirely out of repute. An ale-glass is filled with pure water, and into the water is dropped the white of an egg. The female whose future fortunes are to be disclosed (for the charm seems appropriated exclusively by the better sex) lays her hand on the glass’s mouth, and holds it there for about the space of a minute. In that time the heavier parts of the white settle to the bottom, while the lighter shoot up into the water, from which they are distinguished by their opacity, into a variety of fantastic shapes, resembling towers and domes, towns, fleets, and forests; or, to speak more correctly, into forms not very unlike those icicles which one sees during a severe frost at the edge of a waterfall. A resemblance is next traced, which is termed reading the glass, between the images displayed in it and some objects of either art or nature; and these are regarded as constituting a hieroglyphic of the person’s future fortunes. Thus, the ramparts of a fortress surmounted by streamers, a plain covered with armies, or the tents of an encampment, show that the female whose hand covered the glass is to be united to a soldier, and that her life is to be spent in camps and garrisons. A fleet of ships, a church or pulpit, a half-finished building, a field stripped into furrows, a garden, a forest—all these, and fifty other scenes, afford symbols equally unequivocal. And there are melancholy hieroglyphics, too, that speak of death when interrogated regarding marriage;—there are the solitary tomb, the fringed shroud, the coffin, and the skull and cross-bones. “ Ah ! ” said a young girl, whom I overheard a few years ago regretting the loss of a deceased companion, “ Ah! I knew when she first took ill that there was little to hope. Last Halloween we went together to

Mrs.- to break our eggs. Betsie’s was first cast, and there rose under her hand an ugly skull. Mrs.-said nothing, but reversed the glass, while poor Betsie laid her hand on it a second time, and then there rose a coffin. Mrs.-called it a boat, and I said I saw the oars; but Mrs.-well knew what it meant, and so did I.”

The other north country charm, which, of Celtic origin, bears evidently the impress of the romance and melancholy so prodominant in the Celtic character, is only known and practised (if, indeed, still practised anywhere) in a few places of the remote Highlands. The person who intends trying it must stpal out unperceived to a field whose furrows lie due south and north, and, entering at the western side, must proceed slowly over eleven ridges, and stand in the centre of the twelfth, when he will hear either low sobs and faint mournful shrieks, which betoken his early death, or the sounds of music and dancing, which foretell his marriage. But the charm is accounted dangerous. About twelve years ago, I spent an autumn in the mid-Highlands of Ross-shire, where I passed my Halloween, with nearly a dozen young people, at a farmhouse. We burned nuts and ate apples; and when we had exhausted our stock of both, some of us proposed setting out for the steading of a neighbouring farm, and robbing the garden of its cabbages; but the motion was overruled by the female members of the party; for the night was pitch dark, and the way rough; and so we had recourse for amusement to story-telling. Naturally enough most of our stories were of Halloween rites and predictions ; and much was spoken regarding the charm of the rig. I had never before heard of it; and, out of a frolic, I stole away to a field whose furrows lay in the proper direction, and after pacing steadily across the ridges until I had reached the middle of the twelfth, I stood and listened. But spirits were not abroad: —I heard only the wind groaning in the woods, and the deep sullen roar of the Conan. On my return I was greeted with exclamations of wonder and terror, and it was remarked that I looked deadly pale, and had certainly heard something very terrible. “But whatever you may have been threatened with,” said the author of the remark, “you may congratulate yourself on being among us in your right mind; for there are instances of people returning from the twelfth rig raving mad; and of others who went to it as light of heart as you, who never returned at all".

The Maccullochs of the parish of Cromarty, a family now extinct, were, for about two centuries, substantial respectable farmers. The first of this family, says tradition, was Alaster Macculloch, a native of the Highlands. When a boy he quitted the house of his widow mother, and wandered into the low country in quest of employment, which he at length succeeded in procuring in the parish of Cromarty, on the farm of an old wealthy tacksman. For the first few weeks he seemed to be one of the gloomiest little fellows ever bred among the solitudes of the hills;—all the social feelings of his nature had been frozen within him; but they began to flow apace; and it was soon discovered that neither reserve nor melancholy formed any part of his real character. A little of the pride of the Celt he still retained; when he attended chapel he wore a gemmy suit of tartan, and his father’s dirk always depended from his belt; but, in every other respect, he seemed a true Lowland Scot, and not one of his companions equalled him in sly humour, or could play off a practical joke with half the effect.

His master was a widower, and the father of an only daughter, a laughing warm-hearted girl of nineteen. She had more lovers than half the girls of the parish put together; and when they avowed to her their very sincere attachment, she tendered them her very hearty thanks in return. But then one’s affections are not in one’s own power; and as certainly as they loved her just because they could not help it, so certainly was she indifferent to them from the same cause. Their number received one last accession in little Alaster the herd-boy. He shared in the kindness of his young mistress, and his cattle shared in it too, with every living thing connected with her father or his farm; but his soul-engrossing love lay silent within him, and not only without words, but, young and sanguine as he was, almost without hope. Not that he was unhappy. He had the knack of dreaming when broad awake, and of making his dreams as pleasant as he willed them; and so his passion rather increased than diminished the amount of his happiness. It taught him, too, the very best species of politeness—that of the heart; and young Lillias could not help wondering where it was that the manners of the red-cheeked Highland boy had received so exquisite a polish, and why it was that she herself was so much the object of his quiet unobtrusive attentions. When night released him from labour, he would take up his seat in some dark comer of the house, that commanded a full view of the fire, and there would he sit for whole hours gazing on the features of his mistress. A fine woman looks well by any light, even by that of a peat fire; and fine women, it is said, know it; but little thought the maiden of the farmhouse of the saint-like halo which, in the imagination of her silent worshipper, the red smoky flames shed around her. How could she even dream of it  The boy Alaster was fully five years younger than herself, and it surely could not be forgotten that he herded her father’s cattle. The incident, however, which I am just going to relate, gave her sufficient cause to think of him as a lover.

The Halloween of the year 1560 was a very different thing in the parish of Cromarty from that of the year 1829. It is now as dark and opaque a night—unless it chance to be brightened by the moon—as any in the winter season; it was then clear as the glass of a magician;—people looked through it and saw the future. Late in October that year, Alaster overheard his mistress and one of her youthful companions—the daughter of a neighbouring farmer—talking over the rites of the coming night of frolic and prediction. “Will you really venture on throwing the clue?” asked her companion; “the kiln, you ken, is dark and lonely; and there’s mony a story no true if folk havena often been frightened.” “Throw it?—oh, surely!” replied the other; “ who would think it worth while to harm the like o’ me? and, besides, you can bide for me just a wee bittie aff. One would like, somehow, to know the name o’ one’s gudeman, or whether one is to get a gudeman at all.” Alaster was a lover, and lovers are fertile in stratagem. In the presence of his mistress he sought leave from the old man, her father, with whom he was much a favourite, to spend his Halloween at a cottage on a neighbouring farm, where there were several young people to meet; and his request was readily granted. The long-expected evening came; and Alaster set out for the cottage, without any intention of reaching it for at least two hours. When he had proceeded a little way he turned back, crept warily towards the kiln, climbed like a wild-cat up the rough circular gable, entered by the chimney, and in a few seconds was snugly seated amid the ashes of the furnace. There he waited for a full hour, listening to the beatings of his own heart. At length a light footstep was heard approaching; the key was applied to the lock, and as the door opened, a square patch of moonshine fell upon the rude wall of the kiln. A tall figure stepped timidly forward, and stood in the stream of faint light. It was Alaster’s young mistress. She looked fearfully round her, and then producing a small clue of yam, she threw it towards Alaster, and immediately began to wind.1 He suffered it to turn round and round among the ashes, and then cautiously laid hold of it. “Wha hauds?” said his mistress in a low startled whisper, looking as she spoke, over her shoulder towards the door; “Alaster Macculloch,” was the reply; and in a moment she had vanished like a spectre. Soon after, the tread of two persons was heard approaching the door. It was now Alaster’s turn to tremble. “Ah !” he thought, “I shall be discovered, and my stratagem come to worse than nothing.” “An’ did ye hear onything when you came out yon gate?” said one of the persons without. “ Oh, naething, lass, naething!” replied the other, in a voice whose faintest echoes would have been recognised by the lover within; “ steek too the door an’ lock it;—it’s a foolish conceit.” The door was accordingly locked, and Alaster left to find his way out in the manner he had entered.

It was late that night before he returned from the cottage to which, after leaving the kiln, he had gone. Next day he saw his mistress. She by no means exhibited her most amiable phase of character, for she was cold and distant, and not a little cross. In short, it was evident she had a quarrel with destiny. This mood, however, soon changed for the one natural to her ; years passed away, and suitor after suitor was rejected by the maiden, until, in her twenty-fourth year, Alaster Macculloch paid her his addresses. He was not then a little herd-boy, but a tall, handsome, young man of nineteen, who, active and faithful, was intrusted by his master with the sole management of his farm. A belief in destiny often becomes a destiny of itself; and it became such to Alaster’s mistress. How could the predestined husband be other than a successful lover? In a few weeks they were married ; and when the old man was gathered to his fathers, his son-in-law succeeded to his well-stocked farm.

There are a few other traditions of this northern part of the country—some of them so greatly dilapidated by the waste of years, that they exist as mere fragments—which bear the palpable impress of a pagan or semi-pagan origin. I have heard imperfectly-preserved stories of a lady dressed in green, and bearing a goblin child in her arms, who used to wander in the night-time from cottage to cottage, when all the inhabitants were asleep. She would raise the latch, it is said, take up her place by the fire, fan the embers into a flame, and then wash her child in the blood of the youngest inmate of the cottage, who would be found dead next morning. There was another wandering green lady, her contemporary, of exquisite beauty and a majestic carriage, who was regarded as the Genius of the smallpox, and who, when the disease was to terminate fatally, would be seen in the grey of the morning, or as the evening was passing into night, sitting by the bedside of her victim. I have heard wild stories, too, of an unearthly, squalid-looking thing, somewhat in the form of a woman, that used to enter farmhouses during the day, when all the inmates, except perhaps a solitary female, were engaged in the fields. More than a century ago, it is said to have entered, in the time of harvest, the house of a farmer of Navity, who had lost nearly all his cattle by disease a few weeks before. The farmer’s wife, the only inmate at the time, was engaged at the fireside in cooking for the reapers ; the goblin squatted itself beside her, and* shivering, as if with cold, raised its dingy, dirty-looking vestments over its knees. “Why, ye nasty thing,” said the woman, “hae ye killed a’ our cattle?”—“An’ why,” inquired the goblin in turn, “did the gudeman, when he last roosed them, forget to gie them his blessing?”

Immediately over the sea, the tract of table-land, which forms the greater part of the parish of Cromarty, terminates, as has been already said, in a green sloping bank, that for several miles sweeps along the edge of the bay. In the vicinity of the town, a short half mile to the west, we find it traversed by a deep valley, which runs a few hundred yards into the interior; ’tis a secluded, solitary place, the sides sprinkled over with the sea-hip, the sloe, and the bramble—the bottom occupied by a blind pathway, that, winding through the long grass like a snake, leads to the fields above. It has borne, from the earliest recollections of tradition, the name of Moriav's Den, a name which some, on the hint of Sir Thomas Urquhart, ingeniously derive from the Greek, and others, still more ingeniously, from the Hebrew ; and it has, for at least the last six generations, been a scene of bird-nesting and truant-playing during the day, and of witch and fairy meetings, it is said, during the night. Rather more than a century ago, it was the locale, says tradition, of an interesting rencounter with one of the unknown class of spectres. On a Sabbath noon a farmer of the parish was herding a flock of sheep in a secluded comer of the den. He was an old grey-haired man, who for many years had been affected by a deafness, which grew upon him as the seasons passed, shutting out one variety of sounds after another, until at length he lived in a world of unbroken silence. Though secluded, however, from all converse with his brother men, he kept better company than ever, and became more thoroughly acquainted with his Bible, and the fathers of the Reformation, than he would have been had he retained his hearing, or than almost any other person in the parish. He had just despatched his herd-boy to church, for he himself could no longer profit by his attendance there ; his flock was scattered over the sides of the hollow ; and with his Bible spread out before him on a hillock of thyme and moss, which served him for a desk, and sheltered on either hand from the sun and wind by a thicket of sweetbriar and sloethorn, he was engaged in reading, when he was startled by a low rushing sound, the first he had heard for many months. He raised his eyes from the book; a strong breeze was eddying within the hollow, waving the ferns and the bushes ; and the portion of sea which appeared through the opening was speckled with white ; —but to the old man the waves broke and the shrubs waved in silence. He again turned to the book—the sound was again repeated; and on looking up a second time, he saw a beautiful, sylph-looking female standing before him. She was attired in a long flowing mantle of green, which concealed her feet, but her breast and arms, which were of exquisite beauty, were uncovered. The old man laid his hand on the book, and raising himself from his elbow, fixed his eyes on the face of the lady. “ Old man,” said she, addressing him in a low sweet voice, which found prompt entrance at the ears that had so long been shut up to every other sound, “you are reading the book; tell me if there be any offer of salvation in it to us”—“ The gospel of this book,” said the man, “ is addressed to the lost children of Adam, but to the creatures of no other race.” The lady shrieked as he spoke, and gliding away with the rapidity of a swallow on the wing, disappeared amid the recesses of the hollow.

About a mile further to the west, in an inflection of the bank, there is the scene of a story, which, belonging to a still earlier period than the one related, and wholly unlike it in its details, may yet be deemed to resemble it in its mysterious, and, if I may use the term, unclassified character.

A shipmaster, who had moored his vessel in the upper roadstead of the bay, some time in the latter days of the first Charles, was one fine evening sitting alone on deck, awaiting the return of some of his seamen who had gone ashore, and amusing himself in watching the lights that twinkled from the scattered farmhouses, and in listening in the extreme stillness of the calm to the distant lowing of cattle, or the abrupt bark of the watch-dog. As the hour wore later, the sounds ceased, and the lights disappeared—all but one solitary taper, that twinkled from the window of a cottage situated about two miles west of the town. At length, however, it also disappeared, and all was dark around the shores of the bay as a belt of black velvet. Suddenly a hissing noise was heard overhead; the shipmaster looked up, and saw one of those meteors that are known as falling stars, slanting athwart the heavens in the direction of the cottage, and increasing in size and brilliancy as it neared the earth, until the wooded ridge and the shore could be seen as distinctly from the ship-deck as by day. A dog howled piteously from one of the outhouses, an owl whooped from the wood. The meteor descended until it almost touched the roof, when a cock crew from within. Its progress seemed instantly arrested; it stood still; rose about the height of a ship’s mast, and then began again to descend. The cock crew a second time. It rose as before, and after mounting much higher, sunk yet again in the line of the cottage. It almost touched the roof, when a faint clap of wings was heard, as if whispered over the water, followed by a still louder note of defiance from the cock. The meteor rose with a bound, and continuing to ascend until it seemed lost among the stars, did not again appear. Next night, however, at the same hour, the same scene was repeated in all its circumstances—the meteor descended, the dog howled, the owl whooped, the cock crew. On the following morning the shipmaster visited the cottage, and, curious to ascertain how it would fare when the cock was away, he purchased the bird; and sailing from the bay before nightfall, did not return until about a /month after.

On his voyage inwards he had no sooner doubled an intervening headland, than he stepped forward to the bows to take a peep at the cottage : it had vanished. As he approached the anchoring ground, he could discern a heap of blackened stones occupying the place where it had stood; and he was informed, on going ashore, that it had been burnt to the ground, no one knew how, on the very night he had quitted the bay. He had it rebuilt and furnished, says the story, deeming himself, what one of the old schoolmen would have perhaps termed, the occasional cause of the disaster. About fifteen years ago there was dug up, near the site of the cottage, a human skeleton, with the skull and the bones of the feet lying together, as if the body had been huddled up twofold into a hole; and this discovery led to that of the story, which, though at one time often repeated and extensively believed, had been suffered to sleep in the memories of a few elderly people for nearly sixty years.


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