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Deeside Tales
Chapter XIX


WATTIE’S last bosom cronie was a neighbouring farmer, as full of argument as himself, with an imagination as vigorous of wing, and a temper as imperturbable. The two set at nought all previous theories of things mundane and super-mundane, yet they seldom agreed on a new code of belief. The farmer, who was an intelligent, well-informed man, often played with his neighbour’s credulity, and did not really entertain all the notions he put forth in argument against him. Though of sound religious principles, he was so full of quaint Scotch humour, and Wattie’s absurdities afforded such a tempting butt for its practice, that it must be allowed he could not always restrain it from touching upon matters that ought to be held more sacred; and yet it was not such matters, but his neighbour’s absurd speculations regarding them, that he had any intention of speaking lightly of.

On religious subjects Wattie therefore considered him heretical, and laboured hard, but in vain, to convince him of his errors. The errors generally related to the condition of departed souls, and the existence of an intermediate state.

It was no unusual thing for the two to fall to this subject afresh after an evening spent upon it, when the farmer went to see Wattie home, and to spend hours on the discussion, walking slowly backwards and forwards between their respective houses.

It happened one evening, while they were thus perambulating, that the debate ran unusually high; and to settle the matter they entered into an engagement that whoever departed this life first should come back and inform the survivor of the actual state of things in the other world. In their after private disquisitions, frequent allusions were made to this covenant, but no third party knew anything of it till more than a year after Wattie’s death. The following is the farmer’s account of the transaction—

“Aweel, ye see, it was about purgatory. We had aigued a long while east and wast the road, and at last it came to, ‘What will ye wager?’ Wattie was keen for a wager; but I says to him, ‘Wattie,’ says I, 'by the time we’ll ken fa’s i’ the richt, fa’ll care for the payment?’

‘“At ony rate,’ says he, ‘let’s make a paction that whoever dies first, hell come back an’ tell the ither how things are regulated i’ the ither warl*.’

“  think there may be some eese in that,’ says I; 'let’s agree as to time an’ place.’

“‘It maun be i’ the nicht time,’ says Wattie; ‘for, ye see, I dinna believe that it’s given to the spirits o’ the departed to revisit this warl’ i’ the daytime. Leastwise, I never heard tell o’ sic a thing as a ghost appearan’ i’ the face o’ the sun.’

“‘Weel, weel,’ says I, 'we’ll tak’ the time we’re surest o’; well say the mirk hour o’ midnicht.*

‘“Sae be’t,* says he, *sae be’t; twal o’clock that day week after the first o’s dees.’

“Thinks I, that’s gey an’ sharp. I verily believe it’s his opinion that I’ll be the first to wear awa’, an’ he’s impatient to hear.

'“Na, na,’ says I, 'as we’re upon so weighty a business as this, we maun mak’ it firm an’ sure. I’m nae sayan’ that aither o’s is vera blate; but in a week’s time we would hardly hae seen about us richt, an’ there’ll be sae muckle to see. Na, na, we’ll say that nicht twalmonth.1

“Says he, ‘We may be baith gane afore that time.’

“Allowan,’ say I; ' we’ll baith ken then; but I’m for nane o’s coman’ back wi* a wrang story to the ither. Na, na, let’s tak time to get acquant.’

“He would hae yielded onything to me that nicht, he was sae anxious to get the bargain struck; and says he—

“'We’ll haud it sae; twal o’clock that nicht twalmonth, aifter the first o’s dees. An’ noo for the trystan’ place; what do ye say to my yard?’

“Thinks I, ‘ ye’re lookan’ out for yer ain convenience, my man; but I’ll agree to naething o’ the kind,’ and says I—

“'Wattie, we maim mak this bargain fair a’ the ways o’t, or it’s doubtfu’ gin ony o’s be allowed to keep it It maun be naither at your house nor at mine, but half-gates atween the twa. There’s a bonnie howie ower here below the rocks, just about even distance. We’re nae likely to be disturbit there; so that there may be nae mistake, we’ll just step across an see’t’ Wi’ that I wears awa’, an’ Wattie follows.

“Doon we sat upon a bankie, an’ had our sneeshan; an’ syne we concluded the bargain, an’ shook han’s on the heads o’t

“From that day forth, I verily believe naething would hae delighted him sae much as to hae heard that I was dead.

And yet he liket me vera weel for a’ that; but he was sae impatient for the meeting, that he couldna keep f’ae speakan’ o’t ony time we happened to be passing the way, an’ aye as gin I were to dee first. But he wasna to be gratified, peer man; for about two years after we had made the paction he deet himsel’, an’ left me i’ the land o’ the livan’.

“I had my ain thought about the meeting, but still I resolved to keep the tryst, an’ tell’t naebody a word about it, for fear o’ bean’ watched When the time cam’ round, I did go. Oh yes, I did go, oftener than once; for ye see, I kent Wattie was nae arithmeticionar, though he had a good memory, an’ he micht maybe hae mista’en the nicht, though he wasna likely to hae gane far agley. So I gaed three times to the trysting place, the nicht afore, the vera nicht, an’ the nicht after, an’ waited ilka time f’ae eleven o’clock till one o’clock; but Wattie didna appear; oh no, he did not”

“Once,” says a friend, who was very intimate with the farmer, and esteemed him highly, but whose opinions on those matters were of a more modem type than those the farmer held, or affected to hold, “ once, as he concluded his account of the covenant between him and Wattie, I thought I had him floored on the subject of the reappearance of the dead, but he got out of it in a most characteristic way.

“Now,’ said I, ‘seeing that Wattie, for all his anxiety to meet you, was not permitted to come back, does not that prove to you that there is no such thing as ghosts appearing to living men?’

“It does nothing of the kind,’ he replied; 'but it proves to me what I was gey an' sure o’ before, that my notion o’ the ither warl’ was richt an’ Wattie’s was quite wrong. Ye didna ken Wattie sae weel as I did. When I began to think what could hae keepit the bodie f’ae stan’an’ till’s tryst, an’ h&udan’ me waitan’ sae lang, I had little doubt about the appearance presented so distinctly to my eyes was a dream, I cannot for a moment doubt; yet for years I had had no communication with G , nor had there been anything to recall him to my recollection; nothing had taken place during our Swedish travels either connected with G or with India, or with anything relating to him, or to any member of his family. I recollected quickly enough our old discussion, and the bargain we had made. I could not discharge from my mind the impression that G must have died, and that his appearance to me was to be received by me as proof of a future state; yet all the while I felt convinced that the whole was a dream; and so painfully vivid, and so unfading was the impression, that I could not bring myself to talk of it, or to make the slightest allusion to it. I finished dressing, and as we had agreed to make an early start, I was ready by six o’clock, the hour of our early breakfast

“Brougham, October 16,1862.—I have just been copying out from my journal the account of this strange dream : Certissima mortis imago! And now to finish the story, begun about sixty years since. Soon after my return to Edinburgh, there arrived a letter from India, announcing G ’s death! and stating that he had died on the 19th of December!! Singular coincidence ! yet when one reflects on the vast number of dreams which night after night pass through our brains, the number of coincidences between the vision and the event are perhaps fewer and less remarkable than a fair calculation of chances would warrant us to expect Nor is it surprising, considering the variety of our thoughts in sleep, and that they all bear some analogy to the affairs of life, that a dream should sometimes coincide with a contemporaneous or even with a future event. This is not much more wonderful than that a person, whom we had no reason to expect, should appear to us at the very moment we had been thinking or speaking of him. So common is this that it has for ages grown into the proverb, ‘Speak of the devil' I believe every such seeming miracle is, like every ghost story, capable of explanation. ”


 


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