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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XI


"Give us, for our abstractions, solid facta—
For our disputes, plain pictures.”—Wordsworth.

Religion never operates on the human mind without stamping upon it the more prominent traits of its own character, and very rarely without being impressed in turn (if I may so speak) with some of the peculiar traits of every individual mind on which it acts. Like a chemical test applied to a heterogeneous mixture, it meets much that it must necessarily repel, and much also with which it combines. And we find it not only accommodating itself in this way to the peculiarities of character, but, in many instances, even adding a new force to these. In the mind of the deep thinker it is moulded into a sublime and living philosophy, and he cannot subsist under its influence without thinking more deeply, and becoming more truly a philosopher than before. And what does it prove to the ignorant and credulous man ?—no superstition certainly, and yet so exceedingly akin in some of its effects to superstition, that we find it lending, as if it were really such, an indirect sanction to at least the less heterodox of his superstitious beliefs—the wonders of Revelation moulding themselves into a kind of corroborate evidences of whatever else of the supernatural he had previously credited. It imparts a higher tone of ecstasy to the raptures of the enthusiast—furnishes the visionary with his brightest dreams —gives a more intense gaiety to the joyous—a deeper gravity to the serious—and not unfrequently a darker gloom to the melancholy. Like the most fervent of its apostles, and in much the same degree, it becomes all things to all men. And if this hold true in individual character, its truth is not less strikingly apparent in the character of an age or country. The schoolmaster of Cromarty and the elder of Nigg belonged each to a numerous class ; and the brief notices of these men which I have introduced into the foregoing chapter, may properly enough be regarded rather as national than individual in their character. No one who has perused the more popular writings of the Covenanters—Naphtali, the Hind let Loose, the Tracts of Peter Walker, and the older editions of the Scots Worthies—will fail of recognising, in my quotation from Morrison, the self-same spirit which animated the writers of these volumes, or be disposed to question the propriety of classing Donald Roy with our Cargills, Pedens, and Rutherfords.

The aspect of religion, when thus amalgamated with the enthusiasm or the superstitions of a country, is always in accordance with the direction which that enthusiasm has taken,. or with the peculiar cast of these superstitions, or with the nature of the circumstances and events by which they were modified or produced. These last (circumstances and events) must be regarded as primary agents in this process of amalgamation; and they may be divided into three distinct classes. In the first are great political convulsions, which agitate and unsettle the minds of Whole communities. In every period of the history of every country, there exists a certain quantum of superstition and enthusiasm—a certain proportion of the men who see visions and dream dreams ; but in times of quiet, when every visionary has his own distinct province assigned to him by some little chance peculiar to himself, the quantum is variously directed; and thus, flowing in a thousand obscure channels, it can have no marked effect on the body of a people. But it is not thus in times of convulsion, when all men look one way, are interested in the same events, and direct their energies on the same objects. The quantum, swollen in bulk by the workings of these storms of the people, flows also in one channel; and thus, to a force increased in all its details, there is added a collective impetus. Hence its overmastering power. No one acquainted with English history need be reminded of those times of the Commonwealth, in which, through an atmosphere of lightning and tempest, whole hordes of visionaries gazed on what they deemed a still brighter, but more placid future, and called each one on his own little sect to rejoice in the prospect. And the first French Revolution was productive of similar effects. I need not refer to the singular interest elicited in our own country among the humbler people by the wild predictions of Brothers, or to the many soberer dreamers who were led, by the general excitement and portentous events of the period, to interpret amiss a surer word of prophecy. No one intimate enough with human nature to recognise its impulses and passions in their various disguises of belief and opinion, can be ignorant that there is a superstition of scepticism as surely as of credulity, or fail of identifying the wild infidelity of the French Commonwealth with the almost equally wild fanaticism of the English one.

The second class of circumstances includes famine, pestilence, and persecution; and, in particular, the effects of the last are strikingly singular. In the others, the mind, unsettled by suffering and terror, ceases to deduce the evils which are overwhelming it from the old fixed causes which govern the universe, and sends out imagination in quest of the new. Demons are abroad—death itself becomes a living spirit, voices of lamentation are heard in the air—spectres seen on the earth. In such circumstances, however, the very prostration of the mind sets limits to its delusions; the inventive powers are rather passive than active; but it is not so in seasons of persecution, when our fellow-creature—man—is the visible cause of the evils to which we are subjected, and the combative principle, maddened by oppression, is roused into an almost preternatural activity. Hence, and from the energy of excitement and the melancholy of suffering, the persecuted enthusiast becomes more enthusiastical, and the superstitions of the credulous assume a darker aspect. Even the true religion seems impressed with a new character. As Solomon has well expressed it— “ wise men become mad;” and, seen through the medium of their disturbed imaginations, the common traits of character and of circumstance are exaggerated into the supernatural. The oppression which is grinding them to the earth, assumes for their destruction a visible form, and a miraculous control over the laws of nature. The evil spirit is no longer formidable merely from his power of biassing the will, and obliterating the better feelings of the heart; for, assuming a still more terrible character, and a real and tangible shape, he assails them in their hiding-places—the cavern and the desert. Even their human enemies, charmed against the stroke of sword and bullet, are rendered invulnerable by the same power. And there are miracles wrought also in their behalf. Their places of hiding are discovered by the persecutor; but a sudden blindness falls on him, and he cannot avail himself of the discovery. They are pursued on the hill-side by a troop of horse; but, when exhausted in the flight, a thick cloud is dropped over them, and they escape. The enemy is removed by judgments sudden and fearful. Their curse becomes terribly potent. There is a power given them of reading the inmost thoughts of the heart; they have visions of the distant—revelations of the future. These, however, are but the traits of a comparatively sober enthusiasm, which persecution cannot altogether goad into madness. In some of the wilder instances we see even the moral principle unsettled. The Huguenots of Languedoc, when driven to their mountains by the intolerance of Louis XIV., were headed by two leaders, a young man whom they named David, and a prophetess whom they termed the Great Mary. These leaders exercised over them a despotic authority; and, when any of them proved refractory, they were condemned by the prophetess without form of trial, and put to death by their infatuated companions. A few years after the battle of Bothwell Bridge, a small party of Covenanters, of whom the greater part, says "Walker, “were serious and very gracious souls, though they then stumbled and fell,” assembled in a moor near Stirling, and burned their Bibles. Is it not probable that the terrible feuds which convulsed Jerusalem during the siege of Titus, aggravating in a tenfold degree the horrors of war and famine, were in part the effects of a similar frenzy?

The third class of circumstances is of a quieter, but not less influential character. When a false religion gives place in any country to the true, there is commonly a mass of what may be termed neutral superstitions which survive the change. Thor and Woden are dethroned and forgotten, but the witch, the fairy, and the seer, the ghost of the departed, and the wraith of the dying, the spirits of the moor and the forest, of the sea and the river, remain as potent as before. The great national colossuses of heathenism are prostrated before the genius of Christianity; but the little idols of the household can be vanquished by only philosophy and the arts. For religion, as has been already remarked, instead of militating against the minor superstitions, lends them, in at least the darker ages, the support of what seems a corroborative evidence. And as, from natural causes, they must still be receiving fresh accessions of strength in every country in which they have taken root, and which remains unvisited by the arts, the testimony of the heathen fathers regarding them is confirmed by what is deemed the experience of the Christian children. The visions of the seer are as distinct as ever, the witch as malignant, the spectre as terrible. Enthusiasm and superstition go hand in hand together as before, and under the supposed sanction of a surer creed. The one works miracles, the other inspires a belief in them; the one predicts, the other traces the prediction to its fulfilment; the one calls up the spirits of the dead, the other sees them appear, even when uncalled.

From a peculiar circumstance in the past state of this country, its traditional history presents us both with the appearance assumed by superstition when thus connected with religion, and the very similar aspect which it bears when left to itself. The country had its two distinct tribes of people, believers in nearly the same superstitions, but as unlike as -can well be imagined in their degree of religious feeling. No pagan of the past ages differed more in this respect from the Christians of the present, than the clansmen of the Highland host did from the poor Covenanters, on whom they were turned loose by the Archbishop of St. Andrews. And yet neither Peden nor Cargill, nor any of the other prophets of the Covenant, were favoured with clearer revelations of the future than some of the Highland seers. What was deemed prophecy in the one class, was reckoned indeed merely the second-sight in the other; but there seems to be little danger of error in referring what are so evidently the same effects to the same causes. Donald Roy’s vision of the foundering boat, and of the woman perishing in the snow, is quite in character with the visions of the seers. Peden was forty miles from Bothwell Bridge on the day of the battle; but he saw his friends “ fleeing and falling before the enemy, with the hanging and hashing, and the blood running like water.” “Oh the monzies! the monzies! ” he exclaimed on another occasion, when foretelling a bloody invasion of the French which was to depopulate the country, “ See how they run! see how they run! they are at our firesides, slaying men, women, and children.” “ Be not afraid,” said Bruce of Anwoth, in a sermon preached on the day the battle of Killiecrankie was stricken; “ be not afraid, I see the enemy scattered, and Claverhouse no longer a terror to God’s people. This day I see him killed—lying a corpse!” But there is no lack of such instances, nor of the stories of second-sight with which they may be so clearly identified. The Tracts of Peter Walker, and the Lives of the Scots Worthies, abound with the former; some very striking specimens of the latter may be found in Pepys Correspondence with Lord Rea.

Kenneth Ore, a Highlander of Ross-shire, who lived some time in the seventeenth century, may be regarded as the Peden of the class whom I have described as superstitious without religion. It is said, that when serving as a field labourer with a wealthy clansman, who resided somewhere near Brahan Castle, he made himself so formidable to the clansman’s wife by his shrewd sarcastic humour, that she resolved on destroying him by poison. With this design, she mixed a preparation of noxious herbs with his food, when he was one day employed in digging turf in a solitary morass, and brought it to him in a pitcher. She found him lying asleep on one of those conical fairy hillocks which abound in some parts of the Highlands; and her courage failing her, instead of awakening him, she set down the pitcher by his side, and returned home. He awoke shortly after, and, seeing the food, would have begun his repast, but feeling something press coldly against his heart, he opened his waistcoat, and found a beautiful smooth stone, resembling a pearl, but much larger, which had apparently been dropped into his breast while he slept. He gazed at it in admiration, and became conscious as he gazed that a strange faculty of seeing the future as distinctly as the present, and men’s real designs and motives as clearly as their actions, was miraculously imparted to him. And it was well for him that he should have become so knowing at such a crisis; for the first secret he became acquainted with was that of the treachery practised against him by his mistress. But he derived little advantage from the faculty ever after, for he led, it is said till extreme old age, an unsettled, unhappy kind of life—wandering from place to place, a prophet only of evil, or of little trifling events, fitted to attract notice when they occurred, merely from the circumstance of their having been foretold.

There was a time of evil, he said, coming over the Highlands, when all things would appear fair and promising, and yet be both bad in themselves, and the beginnings of what would prove worse. A road would be opened among the hills from sea to sea, and a bridge built over every stream; but the people would be degenerating as their country was growing better; there would be ministers among them without grace, and maidens without shame; and the clans would have become so heartless, that they would flee out of their country before an army of sheep. Moss and muir would be converted into com-land, and yet hunger press as sorely on the poor as ever. Darker days would follow, for there would arise a terrible persecution, during which a ford in the river Oickel, at the head of the Dornoch Firth, would render a passage over the dead bodies of men, attired in the plaid and bonnet; and on the hill of Finnbheim, in Sutherlandshire, a raven would drink her full of human blood three times a day for three successive days. The greater part of this prophecy belongs to the future; but almost all his minor ones are said to have met their fulfilment. He predicted, it is affirmed, that there would be dram-shops at the end of almost every furrow; that a cow would calve on the top of the old tower of Fairbum; that a fox would rear a litter of cubs on the hearth-stone of Castle Downie; that another animal of the same species, but white as snow,' would be killed on the western coast of Sutherlandshire; that a wild deer would be taken alive at Fortrose Point; that a rivulet in Western Ross would be dried up in winter; and that there would be a deaf Seaforth. But it would be much easier to prove that these events have really taken place than that they have been foretold. Some of his other prophecies axe nearly as equivocal, it has been remarked, as the responses of the old oracles, and true merely in the letter, or in some hidden meaning capable of being elicited by only the events which they anticipated. He predicted, it is said, that the ancient Chanonry of Ross, which is still standing, would fall “ full of Mackenzies;” and as the floor of the building has been used, for time immemorial, as a burying-place by several powerful families of this name, it is supposed that the prophecy cannot fail, in this way, of meeting its accomplishment. He predicted, too, that a huge natural arch near the Storhead of Assynt would be thrown down, and with so terrible a crash that the cattle of Led-more, a proprietor who lived twenty miles inland, would break from their fastenings at the noise. It so happened, however, says the story, that some of Ledmore’s cattle, which were grazing on the lands of another proprietor, were housed within a few hundred yards of the arch when it fell. The prophet, shortly before his death, is said to have flung the white stone into a lake near Brahan, uttering as his last prediction, that it would be found many years after, when all his prophecies would be fulfilled, by a lame humpbacked mendicant.

There is a superstitious belief which, in the extent to which it has been received, ranks next in place to that enthusiasm which inspired the visionary and the prophet; and it was alike common in the past age to the Highlander and the Presbyterian. I allude to the belief that evil spirits have a power of assuming visible forms, in which to tempt and affright the good, and sometimes destroy the bad—a belief as old, at least, as the days of St. Dunstan, perhaps much older. For it seems probable that Satan is merely a successor in the class of stories which illustrates this belief to the infernal deities; indeed, in some of our more ancient Scottish traditions, nearly the old designation of one of these is retained. The victims of Flow-den were summoned at the Cross of Edinburgh in the name of Platcock, i.e., Pluto. There is but one story of this class which I at present remember in the writings of Walker—that of Peden in the cave of Galloway; the author of Waverley, however, in referring to the story, attests the prevalence of the belief. The autobiographies of Methodists of the last century abound with such; they form, too, in this part of the country (for the story of Donald Roy and the dog is but one of a thousand) the most numerous class of our traditions. Out of this multitudinous class I shall select, by way of specimen, two stories which belong to the low country party, and two others peculiar to the Highlands.

Not much more than thirty years ago, a Cromarty fisherman of staid, serious character, who had been visiting a friend in the upper part of the parish, was returning home after nightfall by the Inverness road. The night was still and calm, and a thick mantle of dull yellowish clouds, which descended on every side from the centre to the horizon, so obscured the light of the moon, though at full, that beyond the hedges which bounded the road all objects seemed blended together without colour or outline. The fisherman was pacing along in one of his happiest moods; his mind occupied by serious thoughts, tempered by the feelings of-a genial devotion, when the stillness was suddenly broken by a combination of the most discordant sounds he had ever heard. At first he supposed that a pack of hounds had opened in full cry in the field beside him; and then, for the sounds sunk as suddenly as they had risen, that they were ranging the moors on the opposite side of the hill. Anon there was a fresh burst, as if the whole pack were baying at him through the hedge. He thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew out a handful of crumbs, the residue of his last sea stock; but as he held them out to the supposed dogs, instead of open throats and glaring eyes, he saw only the appearance of a man, and the sounds ceased. “Ah!” thought he, “here is the keeper of the pack; -—I am safe.” He resumed his/walk homewards, the figure keeping pace with him as he went, until, reaching a gap in the hedge, he saw it turning towards the road. He paused to await its coming up; but what was his astonishment and horror to see it growing taller and taller as it neared the gap, and then, dropping on all fours, assume the form of a horse. He hurried onwards; the horse hurried too. He stood still; the horse likewise stood. He walked at his ordinary pace; the horse walked also, taking step for step with him, without either outstripping him or falling behind. It seemed an ugly misshapen animal, bristling all over with black shaggy hair, and lame of a foot. It accompanied him until he reached the gate of a burying-ground, which lies about two hundred yards outside the town; where hewras blinded for a moment by what seemed an intensely bright flash of lightning; and, on recovering his sight, he found that he was alone. There is a much older but very similar story told of a man of Ferindonald, who, when on a night journey, is said to have encountered the evil one in five different shapes, and to have lost his senses through fright & few hours after; but this story, unlike the one related, could be rationally enough accounted for, by supposing the man to have lost his senses a few hours before.

The parishes of Cullicuden and Kiltearn are situated on opposite sides of the bay of Cromarty; and their respective manses, at the beginning of the last century, nearly fronted each other ; the waters of the bay flowing between. Their clergymen, at that period, were much famed for the sanctity of their lives, and their diligence in the duties of their profession ; and, from the similarity of their characters, they became strongly attached. They were both hard students ; and, for at least two hours after midnight, the lights in their closet windows would be seen as if twinkling at each other across the Firth. When the light of the one was extinguished, the other regarded it as a signal to retire to rest. “ But, how now,” thought the minister of Kilteam, as one night, in answer to the accustomed sign, he dropped the extinguisher on his candle, “ how now are the sleeping watchmen to fulfil their duties % Would it not be better that, like sentinels, we should relieve each other by turns ? There would then be at all times within the bounds appointed us, open eyes and a praying heart.” He imparted the thought to his friend ; and ever after, as long as they lived, the one minister never retired to bed until the casement of the other had given evidence that he had risen to relieve him. A few years after this arrangement had taken place, a parishioner of Cullicuden, who had been detained by business till a late hour in some of the neighbouring parishes, was walking homeward over the solitary Maolbuoy, when he was joined by a stranger gentleman, who seemed journeying in the same direction, and entered with him into conversation. He found him to be one of the most intelligent, amusing men he had ever met with. He seemed to know everything; and though he was evidently no friend to the Church, he did nothing worse than laugh at it. The man of Cullicuden felt more than half inclined to laugh at it too, and more than half convinced by the ludicrous stories of the stranger, that its observances were merely good jokes. In this mood they reached the extreme edge of the Maolbuoy, where it borders on Cullicuden, when the stranger made a full stop. “Our road runs this way,” said the man. “Ah!” replied the stranger, “but I cannot accompany you: see you that?” pointing, as he spoke, to a faint twinkling light on the opposite side of the bay—“The watchman is stationed there, and I dare not come a step further.” It was only from this confession that the Cullicuden man learned the true character of his companion.

The merely superstitious stories of this class are generally of a wilder and more imaginative cast than those which have sprung up within the pale of the Church ; and the chief actor in them is presented to us in a more imposing attitude, and in some instances bears rather a better character. Somewhat less than a century ago (I am wretchedly uncertain in my dates), the ancient castle of Ardvrock in Assynt was tenanted by a dowager lady —a wicked old woman, who had a singular knack of setting the people in her neighbourhood together by the ears. A gentleman who lived with his wife at a little distance from the castle, was lucky enough to escape for the first few years; but on the birth of a child his jealousy was awakened by some insinuations dropped by the old lady, and he taxed his wife with infidelity, and even threatened to destroy the infant. The poor woman in her distress wrote to two of her brothers, who resided in a distant part of the country; and in a few days after they both alighted at her gate. They remonstrated with her husband, but to no effect. “ We have but one resource,” said the younger brother, who had been a traveller, and had spent some years in Italy; “ let us pass this evening in the manner we have passed so many happy ones before, and visit to-morrow the old lady of Ardvrock. I will confront her with perhaps as clever a person as herself; and whatever else may come of our visit, we shall at least arrive at the truth.” On the morrow they accordingly set out for the castle—a grey, whinstone building, standing partly on a low moory promontory, and partly out of a narrow strip of lake which occupies a deep hollow between two hills. The lady received them with much seeming kindness, and replied to their inquiries on the point which mainly interested them with much apparent candour. “ You can have no objection,” said the younger brother to her, “ that we put the matter to the proof, by calling in a mutual acquaintance?” She replied in the negative. The party were seated in the lowbrowed hall of the castle, a large, rude chamber, roofed and floored with stone, and furnished with a row of narrow, unglazed windows, which opened to the lake. The day was calm, and the sun riding overhead in a deep blue sky, unspecked by a cloud. The younger brother rose from his seat on the reply of the lady, and bending towards the floor, began to write upon it with his finger, and to mutter in a strange language; and as he wrote and muttered, the waters of the lake began to heave and swell, and a deep fleece of vapour, that rose from the surface like an exhalation, to spread over the face of the heavens.

At length a tall black figure, as indistinct as the shadow of a man by moonlight, was seen standing beside the wall. “Now,” said the brother to the husband, “ put your questions to thatr but make haste and the latter, as bidden, inquired of the spectre, in a brief tremulous whisper, whether his wife had been faithful to him. The figure replied in the affirmative : as it spoke, a huge wave from the lake came dashing against the wall of the castle, breaking in at the hall windows; a tremendous storm of wind and hail burst upon the roof and the turrets, and the floor seemed to sink and rise beneath their feet like the deck of a ship in a tempest. “He will not away from us without his bountith,” said the brother to the lady, “whom can you best spare?” She tottered to the door, and as she opened it, a little orphan girl, one of the household, came rushing into the hall, as if scared by the tempest. The lady pointed to the girl  “No, not the orphan !” exclaimed the appearance; “ I dare not take her.” Another immense wave from the lake came rushing in at the windows, half filling the apartment, and the whole building seemed toppling over. “ Then take the old witch herself!” shouted out the elder brother, pointing to the lady—“take her.”—“ She is mine already,” said the shadow, “ but her term is hardly out yet; I take with me, however, one whom your sister will miss more.’-’ It disappeared as it spoke, without, as it seemed, accomplishing its threat; but the party, on their return home, found that the infant, whose birth had been rendered the occasion of so much disquiet, had died at the very time the spectre vanished. It is said, too, that for five years after the grain produced in Assynt was black and shrivelled, and that the herrings forsook the lochs. At the end of that period the castle of Ardvrock was consumed by fire, kindled no one knew how ; and luckily, as it would seem, for the country, the wicked lady perished in the flames ; for after her death things went on in their natural course—the com ripened as before, and the herrings returned to the lochs. The other Highland story of this class is, if possible, of a still wilder character.

The river Auldgrande, after pursuing a winding course through the mountainous parish of Kilteam for about six miles, falls into the upper part of the Firth of Cromarty. For a considerable distance it runs through a precipitous gulf of great depth, and so near do the sides approach each other, that herd-boys have been known to climb across on the trees, which, jutting out on either edge, interweave their branches over the centre. In many places the river is wholly invisible : its voice, however, is ever lifted up in a wild, sepulchral wailing, that seems the lament of an imprisoned spirit. In one part there is a bridge of undressed logs thrown over the chasm. “And here,” says the late Dr. Robertson in his statistical account of the parish, “ the observer, if he can look down on the gulf below without any uneasy sensation, will be gratified by a view equally awful and astonishing. The wildness of the steep and rugged rocks—the gloomy horror of the cliffs and caverns, inaccessible to mortal tread, and where the genial rays of the sun never yet penetrated—the waterfalls, which are heard pouring down in different places of the precipice, with sounds various in proportion to their distances—the hoarse and hollow murmuring of the river, which runs at the depth of one hundred and thirty feet below the surface of the earth—the fine groves of pines, which majestically climb the sides of a beautiful eminence that rises immediately from the brink of the chasm—all these objects cannot be contemplated without exciting emotions of wonder and admiration in the mind of every beholder.”

The house and lands of Balconie, a beautiful Highland property, lie within a few miles of the chasm. There is a tradition that, about two centuries ago, the proprietor was married to a lady of very retired habits; who, though little known beyond her narrow circle of acquaintance, was regarded within that circle with a feeling of mingled fear and respect. She was singularly reserved, and it was said spent more of her waking hours in solitary rambles on the banks of the Auldgrande, in places where no one else would choose to be alone, than in the house of Balconie. Of a sudden, however, she became more social, and seemed desirous to attach to herself, by acts of kindness and confidence, one of her own maids, a simple Highland girl; but there hung a mysterious wildness about her—a sort of atmosphere of dread and suspicion—which the change had not removed; and her new companion always felt oppressed, when left alone with her, by a strange sinking of the vital powers—a shrinking apparently of the very heart—as if she were in the presence of a creature of another world. And after spending with her, on one occasion, a whole day, in which she had been more than usually agitated by this feeling, and her ill-mated companion more than ordinarily silent and melancholy, she accompanied her at her bidding, as the evening was coming on, to the banks of the Auldgrande.

They reached the chasm just as the sun was sinking beneath the hill, and flinging his last gleam on the topmost boughs of the birches and hazels which then, as now, formed a screen over the opening. All beneath was dark as midnight. “Let us approach nearer the edge,” said the lady, speaking for the first time since she had quitted the house. “Not nearer, ma’am,” said the terrified girl; “ the sun is almost set, and strange sights have been seen in the gully after nightfall.” “ Pshaw,” said the lady, “how can you believe such stories? come, I will show you a path which leads to the water: it is one of the finest places in the world; I have seen it a thousand times, and must see it again to-night. Come,” she continued, grasping her by the arm, “ I desire it much, and so down we must go.” “No, lady!” exclaimed the terrified girl, struggling to extricate herself, and not more startled by the proposal than by the almost fiendish expression of mingled anger and fear which now shaded the features of her mistress, “I shall swoon with terror and fall over.” “ Nay, wretch, there is no escape!” replied the lady, in a voice heightened almost to a scream, as, with a strength that contrasted portentously with her delicate form, she dragged her, despite of her exertions, towards the chasm. “ Suffer me, ma’am, to accompany you,” said a strong masculine voice from behind; “your surety, you may remember, must be a willing one.” A dark-looking man, in green, stood beside them; and the lady, quitting her grasp with an expression of passive despair, suffered the stranger to lead her towards the chasm. She turned round on reaching the precipice, and, untying from her belt a bunch of household keys, flung them up the bank towards the girl; and then, taking what seemed to be a farewell look of the setting sun, for the whole had happened in so brief a space that the sun’s upper disk still peeped over the hill, she disappeared with her companion behind the nearer edge of the gulf. The keys struck, in falling, against a huge granitic boulder, and sinking into it as if it were a mass of melted wax, left an impression which is still pointed out to the curious visitor. The girl stood rooted to the spot in utter amazement.

On returning home, and communicating her strange story, the husband of the lady, accompanied by all the males of his household, rushed out towards the chasm; and its perilous edge became a scene of shouts, and cries, and the gleaming of torches. But, though the search was prolonged for whole days by an eager and still increasing party, it proved fruitless. There lay the ponderous boulder impressed by the keys; immediately beside it yawned the sheer descent of the chasm ; a shrub, half uprooted, hung dangling from the brink; there was a faint line drawn along the green mould of the precipice a few yards lower down; and that was just all. The river at this point is hidden by a projecting crag, but the Highlanders could hear it fretting and growling over the pointed rocks, like a wild beast in its den; and as they listened and thought of the lady, the blood curdled at their hearts. At length the search was relinquished, and they returned to their homes to wonder, and surmise, and tax their memories, though in vain, for a parallel instance. Months and years glided away, and the mystery was at length assigned its own little niche among the multitudinous events of the past.

About ten years after, a middle-aged Highlander, the servant of a maiden lady who resided near the Auldgrande, was engaged one day in fishing in the river, a little below where it issues from the chasm. He was a shrewd fellow, brave as a lion and kindly-natured withal, but not more than sufficiently honest; and his mistress, a stingy old woman, trusted him only when she could not help it. He was more than usually successful this day in his fishing; and picking out some of the best of the fish for his aged mother, who lived in the neighbourhood, he hid them under a bush, and then set out for his mistress with the rest. “ Are you quite sure, Donald,” inquired the old lady as she turned over the contents of his basket, “ that this is the whole of your fishing —where have you hid the rest?” “Not one more, lady, could I find in the bum.” “O Donald!” said the lady. “No, lady,” reiterated Donald, “ devil a one!” And then, when the lady’s back was turned, off he went to the bush to bring away the fish appropriated to his mother. But the whole had disappeared ; and a faintly marked track, spangled with scales, remained to show that they had been dragged apparently by some animal along the grass in the direction of the chasm.

The track went winding over grass and stone along the edge of the stream, and struck off, as the banks contracted and became more steep and precipitous, by a beaten path which ran along the edge of the crags at nearly the level of the water, and which, strangely enough, Donald had never seen before. He pursued it, however, with the resolution of tracing the animal to its den. The channel narrowed as he proceeded; the stream which, as he entered the chasm, was eddying beneath him in rings of a mossy brown, became one milky strip of white, and, in the language of the poet, “ boiled, and wheeled, and foamed, and thundered through;” the precipices on either hand, beetled in some places so high over his head as to shut out the sky, while in others, where they receded, he could barely catch a glimpse of it through a thick screen of leaves and bushes, whose boughs meeting midway, seemed twisted together like pieces of basket work. From the more than twilight gloom of the place, the track he pursued seemed almost lost, and he was quite on the eve of giving up the pursuit, when, turning an abrupt angle of the rock, he found the path terminate in an immense cavern. As he entered, two gigantic dogs, which had been sleeping one on each side of the opening, rose lazily from their beds, and yawning as they turned up their slow heavy eyes to his face, they laid themselves down again. A little further on there was a chair and table of iron apparently much corroded by the damps of the cavern. Donald’s fish, and a large mass of leaven prepared for baking, lay on the table; in the chair sat the lady Df Balconie.

Their astonishment was mutual. “O Donald!” exclaimed the lady, “what brings you here?” “I come in quest of my lish,” said Donald, “but, 0 lady! what keeps you here? Com* away with me, and I will bring you home; and you will be lady of Balconie yet.” “No, no !” she replied, “that day is past; I am fixed to this seat, and all the Highlands could not raise me from it.” Donald looked hard at the iron chair; its ponderous legs rose ‘direct out of the solid rock as if growing out of it, and a thick iron chain red with rust, that lay under it, communicated at the one end to a strong ring, and was fastened round the other to one of the lady’s ankles. “Besides,” continued the lady, “ look at these dogs.—Oh ! why have you come here? The fish you have denied to your mistress in the name of my jailer, and his they have become; but how are you yourself to escape! ” Donald looked at the dogs. They had again risen from their beds, and were now eyeing him with a keen vigilant expression, very unlike that with which they had regarded him on his entrance. He scratched his head. “’Deed, mem,” he said, “ I dinna weel ken;—I maun first durk the twa tykes, I’m thinking.” “ No,” said the lady, “ there is but one way; be on the alert.” She laid hold of the mass of leaven which lay on the table, flung a piece to each of the dogs, and waved her hand for Donald to quit the cave. Away he sprangstood for a moment as he reached the path to bid farewell to the lady; and after a long and dangerous scramble among the precipices, for the way seemed narrower, and steeper, and more slippery than when he had passed by it to the cave, he emerged from the chasm just as the evening was beginning to darken into night. And no one, since the adventure of Donald, has seen aught of the lady of Balconie.


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