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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XXV


“Unquiet souls
Risen from the grave, to ease the heavy guilt
Of deeds in life concealed.’’—Akenside.

Of all the wilder beliefs of our forefathers, there is none which so truly continues to exist as the belief in the churchyard spectre. Treat it as we may, it has assuredly a fast hold of our nature. We may conceal, but we cannot smother it;—we may deny it as pointedly as the lackey does his master when the visitor is an unwelcome one, but it is not from that circumstance a whit the less at home. True or false, too, it seems to act no unimportant part in the moral economy of the world. For without a deeper sense of religion to set in its place than most people entertain, men would be greatly the worse for wanting it. There are superstitions which perform, in some measure, the work of the devotional sentiment, when the latter is either undeveloped or misdirected; and the superstition of the churchyard ghost is unquestionably one of the number.

I am fortunate, so far as the sympathy of place can have any influence on the mind, in the little antique room in which I have set myself to illustrate the belief. Just look round you for one brief minute, and see how the little narrow windows rise into the thatch, and how very profoundly one requires to stoop ere one can enter by the door. The ceiling rises far into the roof. There is a deep recess in the wall occupied by a few pieces of old china, and a set of shelves laden with old books; and only see how abruptly the hearth-stone rises over the sanded floor, and how well the fashion of yonder old oaken table agrees with that of the old oaken scrutoire in the opposite comer. Humble as my apartment may seem, it is a place of some little experience in the affairs of both this world and the other. It has seen three entire generations come into being and pass away, and it now shelters the scion of a fourth. It has been a frequent scene of christenings, bridals, and Jykewakes—of the joys and sorrows, the cares and solicitudes of humble life. Nor were these all. There is the identical door at which it is said a great-grand-aunt of the writer saw a sheeted spectre looking in upon her as she lay a-bed ; and there the window at which another and nearer relative was sitting in a stormy winter evening, thinking of her husband far at sea, when, after a dismal gust had howled over the roof, the flapping of a sail and the cry of distress were heard, and she wrung her hands in anguish, convinced that her sailor had perished. And so indeed it was. Strange voices have echoed from the adjoining apartment; the sounds of an unknown foot have been heard traversing its floor; and I have only to descend the stair ere I stand on the place where a shadowy dissevered hand was once seen beckoning on one of the inmates. How incalculably numerous must such stories have once been, when the history of one little domicile furnishes so many?

About sixteen years ago, I accompanied an elderly relative —now, alas ! no more—on a journey through the parishes of Nigg, Fearn, and Tarbat. He was a shrewd, clear-headed man, of great warmth of heart, who continued to bear a balmy atmosphere of the enthusiasm of early youth about him, despite of the hard-earned experience of fifty-five. There could not be a more delightful companion even to a boy. I never knew one half so well acquainted with the traditionary history of the country. Every hamlet we passed, almost every green mound, had its story; and there was that happy mixture of point and simplicity in his style of narrative, which almost every one knows how to admire, and scarcely one of a thousand how to imitate. He had, I suspect, a good deal of the sceptic in his composition, and regarded his ghost stories rather as the machinery of a sort of domestic poetry than as pieces of real history; but then, no one could value them more as curious illustrations of human belief, or show less of the coldness of infidelity in his mode of telling them. “Yonder lofty ridge,” said he, as we passed along, “is the hill of Nigg, so famous, you know, as a hunting-place of the Fions. Were we on the other side, where it overhangs the sea, I could point out to you the remains of a cottage that has an old ghost story connected with it—a story that dates, I believe, some time in the early days of your grandmother. Two young girls, who had grown up together from the days of their childhood, and were mutually attached, had gone to the lykewake of a female acquaintance, a poor orphan, and found some women employed in dressing the body. There was an indifference and even light-heartedness shown on the occasion that shocked the two friends; and they solemnly agreed before parting, that should one of them outlive the other, the survivor, and no one besides, should lay out the corpse of the departed for the grave. The feeling, however, passed with the occasion out of which it arose, and the mutual promise was forgotten, until several years after, when one of the girls, then the mistress of a solitary farmhouse on the hill of Nigg, was informed one morning, by a chance passenger, that her old companion, who had become the wife of a farmer in the neighbouring parish of Feam, had died in childbed during the previous night. She called to mind her promise, but it was only to reflect how impossible it was for her to fulfill it. She had her infant to tend, and no one to intrust it to—her maid having left her scarcely an hour before for a neighbouring fair, to which her husband and his ploughman had also gone. She spent an anxious day, and it was with no ordinary solicitude, as she saw the evening gradually darkening, and thought of her promise and her deceased companion, that she went out to a little hillock beside the house, which commanded a view of the moor over which her husband and the servants had to pass on their way from the fair, to ascertain whether any of them were yet returning. At length she could discern through the deepening twilight, a female figure in white coming along the moor, and supposing it to be the maid, and unwilling to appear so anxious for her return, she went into the house. The outer apartment, as was customary at the period, was occupied as a cow-house; some of the animals were in their stalls, and on their beginning to snort and stamp as if disturbed by some one passing, the woman half turned her to the door. What, however, was her astonishment to see, instead of the maid, a tall figure wrapped up from head to foot in a winding-sheet! It passed round to the opposite side of the fire, where there was a chair drawn in for the farmer, and seating itself, raised its thin chalky arms and uncovered its face. The features, as shown by the flame, were those of the deceased woman; and it was with an expression of anger, which added to the horror of the appearance, that the dead and glassy eyes were turned to her old companion, who, shrinking with a terror that seemed to annihilate every feeling and faculty except the anxious solicitude of the mother, strained her child to her bosom, and gazed as if fascinated on the terrible apparition before her. She could see every fold of the sheet; the black hair seemed to droop carelessly over the forehead; the livid, unbreathing lips were drawn apart, as if no friendly hand had closed them after the last agony; and the reflection of the flame seemed to rise and fall within the eyes—varying by its ceaseless flicker the statue-like fixedness of the features. As the fire began to decay, the woman recovered enough of her self-possession to stretch her hand behind her, and draw from time to time out of the child’s cradle a handful of straw, which she flung on the embers; but she had lost all reckoning of time, and could only guess at the duration of the visit by finding the straw nearly expended. She was looking forward with a still deepening horror to being left in darkness with the spectre, when voices were heard in the yard without. The apparition glided towards the door; the cattle began to snort and stamp, as on its entrance; and one of them struck at it with its feet in the passing; when it uttered a faint shriek and disappeared. The farmer entered the cottage a moment after, barely in time to see his wife fall over in a swoon on the floor, and to receive the child. Next morning, says the story, the woman attended the lykewake, to fulfil all of her engagement that she yet could ; and on examining the body, discovered that, by a strange sympathy, the mark of a cow’s hoof was distinctly impressed on its left side.”

We passed onwards, and paused for a few seconds where the parish of Nigg borders on that of Feam, beside an old hawthorn hedge and a few green mounds. “ And here,” said my companion, “ is the scene of another ghost story, that made some noise in its day ; but it is now more than a century old, and the details are but imperfectly preserved. You have read, in Johnson’s Life of Denham, that Charles II., during his exile in France, succeeded in procuring a contribution of ten thousand pounds from the Scotch that at that time wandered as itinerant traders over Poland. The old hedge beside you, and the few green mounds beyond it, once formed, the dwelling-house and garden fence of one of these Polish traders, who had returned in old age to his native country, possessed, as all supposed, of very considerable wealth. He was known to the country folk as the ‘Rich Polander.’ On his death, however, which took place suddenly, his strong-box was found to contain only a will, bequeathing to his various relations large sums that were vested, no one knew where. Some were of opinion that he had lent money to a considerable amount to one or two neighbouring proprietors; and some had heard him speak of a brother in Poland, with whom he had left the greater part of his capital, and who had been robbed and murdered by banditti, somewhere on the frontier territories, when on his return to Scotland. In the middle of these surmisings, however, the Polander himself returned, as if to settle the point. The field there to the right, in front of the ruins, was at that time laid out as a lawn; there was a gate in the eastern corner, and another in the west; and there ran between them a road that passed the front of the house. And almost every evening the apparition of the Polander, for years after his decease, walked along that road. It came invariably from the east, lingered long in front of the building, and then, gliding towards the west, disappeared in passing through the gateway. But no one had courage enough to meet with it, or address it; and till this day the legacies of the Polander remain unpaid. I was acquainted in my younger days with a very old man, who has assured me that he repeatedly saw the apparition when on its twilight peregrinations along the road ; and once as he lay a-bed in the morning in his mother’s cottage, long after the sun had risen. There was a broad stream of light falling through an opening in the roof, athwart the grey and mottled darkness of the interior, and the apparition stood partly in the light, partly in the shadow. The richly-embroidered waistcoat, white cravat, and small clothes of crimson velvet, were distinctly visible ; but he could see only the faint glitter of the laced hat and of the broad shoe-buckles; and though the thin withered hands were clearly defined, the features were wholly invisible.”

We had now entered the parish of Feam. “And here,” continued my companion, as we approached the abbey, “is the scene of two other ghost stories, both, like the last, somewhat meagre in their details, but they may serve to 'show how, in a rude and lawless age, the cause of manners and of morals must have found no inefficient ally in a deeply-seated belief in the supernatural. A farmer of the parish, who had just buried his wife, had gone on the evening of the funeral to pay his addresses to a young woman who lived in a cottage beside the burying-ground yonder. There was, it would seem, little of delicacy on either side; and his suit proved so acceptable, that shortly after nightfall he had his new mistress seated on his knee. They were laughing and joking together beside a window that opened to the churchyard, when the mother of the young girl entered the apartment, and, shocked by their levity, reminded him that the corpse of the woman so lately deceased lay in all the entireness and almost all the warmth of life not forty yards from where they sat. ‘ No, no, mother,’ said the man; ‘ entire she may be, but she was cold enough in all conscience before we laid her there.’ He turned round as he spoke, and saw his deceased wife looking in upon him through the window. And returning home, he took to his bed, and died of a brain fever only a fortnight after. Depend on’t, that widowers in this part of the country would be less hasty ever after in courting their second wives.

“The cottage higher up the hill—that one with the roof nearly gone, and the old elm beside it—was occupied about sixty years ago by a farmer of the parish and a harsh-tempered one-eyed woman, his wife. He had a son and daughter, the children of a former marriage, who found the dame a very stepmother. The boy was in but his fifth, the daughter in but her seventh year; and yet the latter was shrewd enough to remark on one occasion, when beaten by the woman for transferring a little bit of leaven from the baking-trough to her mouth, that her second mother could see better with her one eye than her first mother with her two. The deceased, an industrious housewife, had left behind her large store of blankets and bed-linen ; but the bed of the two children for the summer and autumn after the marriage of their father, was covered by only a few worn-out rags, and when the winter set in, the poor things had to lie in one another’s arms for the early part of every night shuddering with cold. For a week together, however, they were found every morning closely wrapt up in some of their mother’s best blankets. The stepdame stormed, and threatened, and replaced the blankets in a large store-chest, furnished with lock and hasp ; but it was all in vain—they were found, notwithstanding, each morning on the children’s bed regularly as the morning came; and the poor things, though threatened and beaten, could give no other account of the matter than that they had been very cold when they fell asleep, and warm and comfortable when they awoke. At length, however, the girl was enabled to explain the circumstance in a manner that had the effect of tempering the severity of the stepmother all her life after. Her brother had fallen asleep, she said, but she was afraid, and could not sleep ; she was, besides, very cold, and so she lay awoke till near the middle of the night, when the door opened, and there entered a lady all dressed in white. The fire was blazing brightly, and she could see as clearly as by day the large chest lying locked in the comer; but when the lady went to it the hasp flew open, and she took out the blankets and wrapt them- carefully round her brother and herself in the bed. The lady then kissed her brother, and was going to kiss her too, when she looked up in her face, and saw it was her first mother. And then she went away without opening the door.

“I remember another ghost story,” continued my companion, “the scene of which I shall point out to you when we have entered the parish of Tarbat. There is a little muddy lake in the upper part of the parish which almost dries up in the warmer seasons, and on the further edge of which we shall be able to trace the remains of what was once a farmhouse. Considerably more than a century ago, a young man who travelled the country as a packman suddenly disappeared, no one knew how ; and several years after, in a dry summer, which reduced the lake to less than half its usual size, there was found a human skeleton among the mud and rushes at the bottom.

Long ere the discovery, however, the farmhouse was haunted by a restless, mischievous spectre, wrapped up in a grey plaid. Like most murdered folk of those days, the pedlar walked, restricting his appearance, however, to the interior of the cottage, which at length came to be deserted ; and falling into decay, it lay for the greater part of a half century as a roofless grass-covered ruin. Its old inmates had died off in extreme penury and wretchedness, and both they and the pedlar were nearly forgotten,, when a young man, no way related to either, availing himself of the site of the cottage and the portions of its broken walls which still remained, rebuilt it when on the eve of his marriage, and removed to it with his young wife. On the third evening, when all the wedding guests had returned to their respective homes, the young couple were disturbed by strange noises in an adjoining room, and shortly after the door of the apartment fell open, and there entered a figure wrapped up in a grey plaid. ‘Who are you V said the man, leaping out of bed and stretching forth his arms to grapple with the figure. ‘The unhappy pedlar replied the spectre, stepping backwards, ‘who was murdered sixty years ago in this very room, and his body thrown into the loch below. But I shall trouble you no more. The murderer has gone to his place, and in two short hours the permitted time of my wanderings on earth shall be over; for had I escaped the cruel knife, I would have died in, my bed this evening a greyheaded old man.’ It disappeared as it spoke; and from that night was never more seen nor heard by the inmates of the farmhouse.” According to Hogg—

“Certain it is, from that day to this,
The ghaist of the pedlar was never mair seen.”

It seems curious enough that such a story should have been received for many years as true in a district of country in which the people hold, as strict Calvinists, that no man, however sudden or violent his death, can die before his appointed time. It may, however, belong to a somewhat remoter period than that assigned to it—some time in the early half of the last century—and may have originated in the age of the curates, whose theology is understood to have been Arminian. Another of my companion’s stories, communicated on this occasion, had its scene laid in a district of country full sixty miles away.

The wife of a Banffshire proprietor, of the minor class, had been about six months dead, when one of her husband’s ploughmen, returning on horseback from the smithy in the twilight of an autumn evening, was accosted, on the banks of a small stream, by a stranger lady, tall and slim, and wholly attired in green, with her face wrapped up in the hood of her mantle— who requested to be taken up behind him on the horse, and carried across. There was something in the tones of her voice that seemed to thrill through his very bones, and to insinuate itself in the form of a chill fluid between his skull and the scalp. The request, too, seemed a strange one; for the rivulet was small and low, and could present no serious bar to the progress of the most timid traveller. But the man, unwilling ungallantly to disoblige a lady, turned his horse to the bank, and she sprang up lightly behind him. She was, however, a personage that could be better seen than felt; and came in contact with the ploughman’s back, he said, as if she had been an ill-filled sack of wool. And when, on reaching the opposite side of the streamlet, she leaped down as lightly as she had mounted, and he turned fearfully round to catch a second glimpse of her, it was in the conviction that she was a creature considerably less earthly in her texture than himself. She opened with two pale, thin arms, the enveloping hood, exhibiting a face equally pale and thin, which seemed marked, however, by the roguish, half-humorous expression of one who had just succeeded in playing off a good joke. “My dead mistress!” exclaimed the ploughman. “Yes, John, your mistress replied the ghost. “ But ride home, my bonny man, for it’s growing late; you and I will be better acquainted erelong.” John accordingly rode home, and told his story.

Next evening, about the same hour, as two of the laird’s servant-maids were engaged in washing in an out-house, there came a slight tap to the door. “ Come in,” said one of the maids; and the lady entered, dressed, as on the previous night, in green. She swept past them to the inner part of the washing-room; and seating herself on a low bench, from which, ere her death, she used occasionally to superintend their employment, she began to question them, as if still in the body, about the progress of their work. The girls, however, were greatly too frightened to reply. She then visited an old woman who had nursed the laird, and to whom she used to show, ere her departure, considerably more kindness than her husband. And she now seemed as much interested in her welfare as ever. She inquired whether the laird was kind to her; and, looking round her little smoky cottage, regretted she should be so indifferently lodged, and that her cupboard, which was rather of the emptiest at the time, should not be more amply furnished.-For nearly a twelvemonth after, scarce a day passed in which she was not seen by some of the domestics—never, however, except on one occasion, after the sun had risen, or before it had set. The maids could see her in the grey of the morning flitting like a shadow round their beds, or peering in upon them at night through the dark window-panes, or at half-open doors. In the evening she would glide into the kitchen or some of the out-houses—one of the most familiar and least dignified of her class that ever held intercourse with mankind —and inquire of the girls how they had been employed during the day; often, however, without obtaining an answer, though from a different cause from that which had at first tied their tongues. For they had become so regardless of her presence, viewing her simply as a troublesome mistress who had no longer any claim to be heeded, that when she entered, and they had dropped their conversation, under the impression that their visitor was a creature of flesh and blood like themselves, they would again resume it, remarking that the entrant was “only the green lady.” Though always cadaverously pale and miserable-looking, she affected a joyous disposition, and was frequently heard to laugh, even when invisible. At one time, when provoked by the studied silence of a servant girl, she flung a pillow at her head, which the girl caught up and returned; at another, she presented her first acquaintance, the ploughman, with what seemed to be a handful of silver coin, which he transferred to his pocket, but which, on hearing her laugh immediately after she had' disappeared, he drew out again, and found to be merely a handful of slate-shivers. On yet another occasion, the man, when passing on horseback through a clump of wood, was repeatedly struck from behind the trees by little pellets of turf; and, on riding into the thicket, he found that his assailant was the green lady. To her husband she never appeared; but he frequently heard the tones of her voice echoing from the lower apartments, and the faint peal of her cold unnatural laugh.

One day at noon, a year after her first appearance, the old nurse was surprised to see her enter the cottage, as all her previous visits had been made early in the morning or late in the evening; whereas now, though the day was dark and lowering, and a storm of wind and rain had just broken out, still it was day. “Mammie!” she said, “I cannot open the heart of the laird, and I have nothing of my own to give you; but I think I can do something for you now. Go straight to the White House [that of a neighbouring proprietor], and tell the folk there to set out, with all the speed of man and horse, for the black rock at the foot of the crags, or they’ll rue it dearly to their dying day. Their bairns, foolish things, have gone out to the rock, and the sea has flowed round them; and if no help reach them soon, they’ll be all scattered like seaware on the shore ere the fall of the tide. But if you go and tell your story at the White House, mammie, the bairns will be safe for an hour to come; and there will be something done by their mother to better you, for the news.” The woman went as directed, and told her story; and the father of the children set out on horseback in hot haste for the rock—a low, insulated skerry, which, lying on a solitary part of the beach, far below the line of flood, was shut out from the view of the inhabited country by a wall of precipices, and covered every tide by several feet of water. On reaching the edge of the cliffs, he saw the black rock, as the woman had described, surrounded by the sea, and the children clinging to its higher crags. But, though the waves were fast rising, his attempts to ride out through the surf to the poor little things were frustrated by their cries, which so frightened his horse as to render it unmanageable ; and so he had to gallop on to the nearest fishing village for a boat. So much time was unavoidably lost, in consequence, that nearly the whole beach was covered by the sea, and the surf had begun to lash the feet of the precipices behind; but, until the boat arrived, not a single wave dashed over the black rock; though immediately after the last of the children had been rescued, an immense wreath of foam rose twice a man’s height over its topmost pinnacle.

The old nurse, on her return to the cottage, found the green lady sitting beside the fire. “Mammie,” she said, “ you have made friends to yourself to-day, who will be kinder to you than your foster-son. I must now leave you: my time is out, and you’ll be all left to yourselves; but I’ll have no rest, mammie, for many a twelvemonth to come. Ten years ago a travelling pedlar broke into our garden in the fruit season, and I sent out our old ploughman, who is now in Ireland, to drive him away. It was on a Sunday, and everybody else was in church. The men struggled and fought, and the pedlar was killed. But though I at first thought of bringing the case before the laird, when I saw the dead man’s pack with its silks and its velvets, and this unhappy piece of green satin (shaking her dress), my foolish heart beguiled me, and I bade the ploughman bury the pedlar’s body under our ash-tree, in the comer of our garden, and we divided his goods and money between us. You must bid the laird raise his bones, and carry them to the churchyard; and the gold, which you will find in the little bole under the tapestry in my room, must be sent to a poor old widow, the pedlar’s mother, who lives on the shore of Leith. I must now away to Ireland to the ploughman; and I’ll be e’en less welcome to him, mammie, than at the laird’s; but the hungry blood cries loud against us both—him and me—and we must suffer together. Take care you look not after me till I have passed the knowe.” She glided away as she spoke in a gleam of light; and when the old woman had withdrawn her hand from her eyes, dazzled by the sudden brightness, she saw only a large black greyhound crossing the moor. And the green lady was never afterwards seen in Scotland. But the little hoard of gold pieces, stored in a concealed recess of her former apartment, and the mouldering remains of the pedlar under the ash-tree, gave evidence to the truth of her narrative.

I shall present the reader with one other story under this head—a ghost story of the more frightful class; which, though not at all inexplicable on natural principles, has as many marks f of authenticity about it as any of the kind I am acquainted with. For many years the Cromarty Post-office, which, from the peninsular situation of the place, lies considerably out of the line of the mail, was connected with Inverness by a brace of pedestrian postmen, who divided the road between them into two stages; the last, or Cromarty stage, commencing at Fortrose. The post who, about half a century ago, travelled over this terminal stage six times every week was an elderly Highlander of the clan Munro—a staid, grave-featured man, somewhat tinged, it was said, by the constitutional melancholy of his country-folk, and not a little influenced by their peculiar beliefs. He had set out for Fortrose on his way home one evening, when he was overtaken by two acquaintances—the one a miller of Resolis, the other a tacksman of the parish of Cromarty—both considerably in liquor, and loud and angry in dispute. One of the Fortrose fairs had been held that day; and they had quarrelled in driving a bargain. Saunders Munro strove to pacify them, but to little purpose—they bickered idly on with drunken pertinacity; and it was with no little anxiety that, as they reached the Burn of Rosemarkie, where the White-bog and Scarfs-craig roads part company, he saw them pause for a moment, as if to determine their route homewards. The miller was a tall athletic Highlander; the tacksman a compact, nervous man, not above the middle size, but resolute and strongly built. He could scarce, however, be deemed a full match for the Highlander; and under some such impression, old Saunders, unluckily as it proved, laid hold of him as he stood hesitating. “You must not go by that White-bog road,” he said; “it is the near road for the miller, but not for you; you must come with me by the Scarfs-craig.” “No, Saunders,” said the tacksman; “ I know what you mean; you do not like that I should cross the Maolbuie moor with the miller; but, big as he is, he’ll be bigger yet or he daunt me; and I’ll just go by the White-bog road to show him that.” “Hoot, man,” replied Saunders, “I’m no thinking o’ that at all; I’m just no very weel to-night, and would be the better for your company; and so ye’ll come hame this way with me.” “Not a foot,” doggedly rejoined the tacksman; and, shaking off the old man, he took the White-bog road with the miller. Saunders stood gazing anxiously after them as they descended the precipitous sides of the bum, until a jutting crag hid them from his sight. And for the rest of the evening, when pursuing his journey homewards, he felt burdened by an overpowering anxiety, which, disproportioned as it seemed to the occasion, he could not shake off.

The tacksman reached his home in less than two hours after he had parted from old Saunders; but two full days elapsed ere any one heard of the miller. In the evening of the second day, two young girls, .the miller’s sisters, who, after many fruitless inquiries regarding him, had at length come to learn in whose company he had quitted the fair, called at the farmhouse, and found the tacksman sitting moodily beside the fire. He started up, however, as one of them addressed him, and seemed strangely confused on being asked where he had parted from their brother. “ I do not remember,” he said, “ being with your brother at all; and yet, now that I think of it, we must.surely have left Rosemarkie together. The truth is, we had both rather too much drink in our heads. But I have some remembrance of passing the Grey Cairn in his company; and—and;—but-1 must surely have left him at the Grey Cairn.”

“It must be ill with my brother,” exclaimed one of the girls, “if he be still at the Grey'Cairn!” “In truth,” replied the tacksman, “I cannot well say where we parted, or whether I did not leave him at Rosemarkie with old Saunders Munro the post.” The evening was by this time merging into night, but the two terrified girls set out for the cairn; and the tacksman, taking down his bonnet, seemed as if he purposed accompanying them. On reaching, however, the outer wall of his yard, he stood for a few seconds as if undecided, and then, turning fairly round, left them to proceed alone. They entered one of the blind pathways that go winding in every direction through the long heath of the Maolbuie—a bleak, desolate, tumulus-mottled moor—the scene in some remote age of a battle unrecorded by the historian; and its grey cairn, a vast accumulation of lichened stone, is said to cover, as I have already stated in an early chapter, the grave of a Pictish monarch, who, with half his army, perished in the fray. They reached the cairn; but all was silent, save that a chill breeze was moaning through the interstices of the shapeless pile, and sullenly waving the few fir seedlings that skirt its base; and they had turned to leave the spot, when they were startled by the howling of a dog a few hundred yards away. There was a dolorous wildness blent with an ominous familiarity in the sounds, that smote upon their hearts; and they struck out into the moor in the direction whence they proceeded, convinced that they were at length to learn the worst. On coming up to the animal, they found it standing beside the dead body of its master, their brother. The corpse was examined next morning by some of the neighbouring farmers; but nothing could be conclusively determined respecting the manner in which the unfortunate man had met his death. The neckcloth seemed straitened, and the folds somewhat compressed, as if it had been grasped by the hand; but then the throat and neck were scarce at all discoloured, nor were the features more distorted, than if the death had been a natural one. The heath and mosses, too, in which the body had half sunk, rose as unbroken on every side of it as if they had never been pressed by the foot. There was no interference of the magistrate in the case, nor examination of parties. The body was conveyed to the churchyard and buried; and a little pile of moor-stones, erected by the herd-boys who tend their cattle on the moor, continued to mark, when I last passed the way, the spot where it had been found.

One evening, a few weeks after the interment, as old Saunders the postman was coming slowly down upon the town of Cromarty through the dark Navity woods, his eye caught a tall figure coming up behind him, and mistaking it in the uncertain light for an acquaintance, a farmer, he paused for a moment by the wayside, and placed his hand almost mechanically on the ready snuff-box. "What, however, was his horror and astonishment to find, that what he had mistaken for his acquaintance the farmer was the dead miller of Resolis, attired, as was the wont of the deceased when in holiday trim, in the Highland costume. He could see, scarce less distinctly than when he had parted from him at the Bum of Rosemarkie, the chequers of the tartan and the scarlet of the gay hose garter, and—a circumstance I have never known omitted in any edition of the story—the glimmer of the large brass pin which fastened the kilt at the waist. For an instant Saunders felt as if rooted to the spot; and then starting forward he hurried homewards, half beside himself with a terror that seemed to obliterate every idea of space and time, but collected enough to remark that the spectre kept close beside him, taking step for step with him as he went, until, at the gate of a burying-ground immediately over the town, it disappeared. On the following evening, when again passing through the Navity woods, nervous with the recollection of the previous night’s adventure, he was startled by a rustling in the bushes; a shadowy figure came gliding out from among them to the middle of the road, and he found himself a second time in the presence of the spectre, which accompanied him, as before, to the gate of the burying-ground. He contrived on the day after to leave Fortrose at so early an hour, that he had reached the outer skirts of the town of Cromarty as the sun was setting ; but on crossing the street to his own house, the spectre started up beside him in the clear twilight, and, regarding him with an expression of grieved anxiety, disappeared as he entered the door. An aunt of the writer, who had occasion to call at his house on this evening, found him in bed in a corner of the sitting-room of his domicile, and on inquiring whether he was ill, was informed by his wife, who sat beside him, the cause of his indisposition.

On his next day’s journey, Saunders, instead of following his usual road, struck, on his return, across the fields in the direction of a wooded ravine, which, forming part of the pleasure-grounds of Cromarty House, bears the name of the Ladies’ Walk. The evening was cloudless and bright; and the sun had but just disappeared behind the hill, when he entered the wooded hollow and crossed the little stream which runs along its bottom. But on rising along the opposite acclivity, he found that the apparition of the dead miller, true to him as his shadow, was climbing the hill by his side ; and where the path becomes so narrow—bounded on the one side by a steep descending bank, and on the other by a line of flowering shrubs—that two can hardly walk abreast, it glided onwards through the bushes as lightly as a column of smoke, not a leaf stirring as it passed. On reaching the broken wall which separates the pleasure-grounds from the old parish-churchyard, it stood, and, as Saunders was stepping over the fence, spoke for the first time. “ Stop, Saunders,” it said, “I must speak to you.” “I have neither faith nor strength,” replied Saunders, hurrying away, “to speak to the like of you.”

The minister of the parish at the time was a gentleman of strong good sense and a liberal tone of mind ; and when the old man waited on him in the course of the evening, and imparted to him his story, he questioned him regarding the state of his nerves and stomach, and gave him an advice which very considerably resembled the prescription of a physician. But though it might be the best possible in the circumstances, it wholly failed to satisfy Saunders ; and so he unburdened his mind on the matter to one of the elders of the parish, a worthy sensible Udoll farmer, a high specimen of the class well known in the north country as “the Men,” who, considerably advanced in life, had formed his beliefs at an earlier period than his minister, and was not in the least disposed to treat the case medicinally. He arranged with Saunders a meeting for the following evening at the hill of Eathie, a few miles from his journey’s end ; and at Eathie they accordingly met, and passed on through the Navity woods together. But though it was late and long ere they reached town, the details of what befell them by the way they never communicated to any one. Saunders Munro, however, did not again see the apparition, though he travelled for years after at all hours of the day and night. The elder, when rallied regarding the story by a town’s-man whom I well knew, and who related the circumstance to me, looked him full in the face, and, with an expression of severe gravity, “bade him never select that subject for a joke again.” “Young man,” he said, “it was no joking business!”

No one, however, evinced so deep an anxiety on the subject of the miller’s ghost, and its supposed interview with the elder, as the suspected tacksman. It is known that on one occasion he placed himself in the elder’s way when the latter was returning from a funeral, and solicited a few minutes’ private conversation with him ; but was sternly repelled. “You can have but one business with me,” the elder said; “and, if your conscience be clear from blood, not one itself.” Whatever hand the tacksman may have had in the miller’s death, no one who knew him, or the circumstances in which' he had parted on the fatal night from old Saunders, could regard him as a murderer; though few real murderers ever wore out life in greater apparent unhappiness than he. He never after held up his head, but went about his ordinary labours dejected and spiritless, and invincibly tacitur ; and, some few years subsequent to the event, he fell into a lingering illness, of which he died. Were one making a ghost story, it would be no difficult matter to make a more satisfactory one. Never was there a ghost that appeared to less purpose than that of the miller, or was less fortunate in securing a publisher for its secret; but sure I am, never was there a ghost story more firmly believed in the immediate scene of it, or narrated with greater truth-like minuteness of detail, or with less suspicion of at least the honesty of the parties on whose testimony it rested. Nor was it without its effect in adding strength, within the sphere of its influence, to the fence set around the sacred tabernacle of the human soul. Where such stories are credited, the violent spilling of man’s life is never regarded as merely “the diverting of a little red puddle from its source.”


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