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Summer at the Lake of Monteith
A Buchlyvie Lyke-Wake of the Olden Time


The days of “Lyke or Late Wakes” have in a great measure gone by, and although they are still kept up in certain rural districts, the debauches and orgies of yore have happily passed away.

In farm and cottars’ houses, when the remains of the deceased cannot be secured from the inroads of vermin, it may perhaps become a matter of expediency to “wake” in such cases; but this is now done by a few friends of the family in a quiet and becoming manner. It was not so, however, about the beginning of the present century, or even at a much later period. The scene here detailed was often described by an old friend of mine who lived in the immediate neighbourhood; and at the time it occurred, such scenes were by no means rare, although, perhaps, none so wild or devilish in their nature.

It was at the fall of the year, when fields are bare, the corn all gathered in, and when the old bodies begin to drop away one by one; when the sharp hoar-frost strews the ground with falling leaves, and the gusts of wind begin to wreck nature, and send wanderers running to their homes. November had set in, with its surly blasts blowing straight from Ben-Ledi—that mother of frosts; and poor bodies, with their thin clothes, thin flesh, and far thinner blood, could ill stand the shock. The link that bound them to earth was shivered; and so it was with the taxman of Upper Kepdourie. He was honest, true, and old; he had

“Seen yon weary wintry sun
Twice forty times return;
And every time had added proofs
That man was made to mourn.”

When the “word broke out” that the old man had died, servant-maids and “herd laddies” might be seen meeting at the marches, and laying schemes for the wake. “It’ll be a guid ane,” one would say. “Ye’ll be there,” another would whisper. “We’ll ha’e a nicht o’t—the auld wife’s a hearty ane.” “Ay, feth!” And so they whiled away the time till it turned dark. The old man died in the morning; and in the fore part of the day the wind began to blow the leaves into eddies at the roadsides, the afternoon was drizzling and wet, and with the dark came the piercing storm. The sleet drifted along the braes of Buchlyvie; the burns began to come down; and the spate roared among the rocks of Arnfaichlach glen. The wind howled among the turrets of the old baronial house of Auchentroig, and soughed wildly among the dark recesses of “Garry’s Hole;” and, in fact, it was such a night

“That a child might understand
The de’il had business on his hand.”.

In spite, however, of drifting sleet and splashy road, the wakers began to gather. The fanner left his horse and kine to pay the last tribute of respect to his honest neighbour; the country weaver left his shuttle mute, and hurried through the drift to lend his presence to the scene; the cobbler and tailor flung aside the awl and needle to “wake” their honest friend; while Vulcan rushed from din of hammer, steekit the smithy door, and groped his way in the dark along a road famous in days of yore for the haunts of spirits and the resort of ghosts, to lend consolation to the lonely widow.

It was an old custom, and a good one, at scenes of this kind, that when the “wakers” first arrived, each had to drink a large horn of whisky, and on this occasion it was not overlooked. We shall now suppose the company to be assembled; and the gentle reader will please follow me while I describe the house, that he may have a better idea how matters went on. The little farm-house of Upper Kepdourie was one of those oldfashioned onestoreyed “biggins,” with a “but and ben,” and small closet; the kitchen was large and roomy, with a bed near the back wall, and close to the “ bed-end ” was the back window.

In front of the house there was a “causeway,” made up of rough stones, and only about three or four feet wide; beyond this was the manure-stead, which, when filled with the sap of the dung, was from four to six feet in depth. As Fate would have it, the farmer’s old mare chanced to die the same day as her master, and still lay unburied within the stable, which stood but a few yards from the kitchen door. Some wags had laid their heads together during the day, and resolved to have some fun at the wakers’ expense. Getting access to the house during the day, they fixed a rope round the neck of the corpse, concealing it with the bed-clothes, and had it drawn out at the window, to be ready when the convenient time arrived. With some labour, but aided by the stormy night and the din within, they managed to drag the dead animal unheard to the front of the kitchen door, and fixed on its back, the four legs grimly dangling in the air. Placed in this position, no one could get out without falling over the hideous carcase, and once over, they were sure to get buried in the “wash.” This part of the performance over, the lads stood by the rope and waited their time, seeing and hearing all that passed within. Gathered around the blazing peat fire sat the wakers, a rather motley crew, old and young, lads and lasses. At one side sat the weaver and his friend the cobbler, discussing the news and events of the times; at the other, sat two farmer chiels, cracking about “horse,” and swearing; while in the peat-neuk sat two herd laddies, bragging who had the best roaring bull or fighting dog; and in each corner were lads with their arms around the lasses’ necks. In front of the fire, stood a large four-footed table, groaning with bottles, and reeking with hot punch; at the head was the “big bowl”—dear to the old man as the “big ha’ Bible,” and far dearer to the wakers. Near the head of the table sat the douce old widow, in her drugget clothes and snow-white “sou-back ” cap; at her side was the grey, lank, lean smith, but yaul for his age, his great fists like “fore-hammers,” and the big blue veins twisted round his arms like “ivy stems on oak.” The smith had a singular gift for seeing ghosts, and a wonderful knack of telling ghost stories. He was a great favourite with the widow, and between rounds of punch they “cracked” loud and long.

“Ye ha’e met wi’ a serious loss, and I’m unco vexed to hear o’ the death o’ yer guid mare,” whispered the smith to the widow; “and,” continued he, “mony a time I ha’e pit shin on her feet.”

“Ou ay, deed ha’e ye, smith. It’s a great loss to me the loss o’ my gallant mare;—the guidman, ye ken, was gettin’ a wee doited—it was jist natur failin’,” responded the widow.

“Bodies, be hearty,” cried the old dame, turning round in her rickety chair. “Smith, gi’e them a drap o’t, it’s guid speerits; an’ atween you and me, smith, it ne’er saw the face o’ a gauger.” “Lassock,” she continued, “ see that that licht’s no gaun din on the guidman’s breast; the witches would turn him in a moment; I ance had a forebearer that was couped, an’ them a’ i’ the house! Lord help us! it was awfu’!”

“But, smith,” whispered the widow, “I was hearin’ ye got a bit glif o’ our auld neebor, Mungo, the ither nicht?” “Atweel awat, I did that,” responded the smith. “I was jist takin’ a bit dauner i’ the gloamin’, the ither nicht, an’, cornin’ near the tree1 he planted wi’ his ain haun, and who should I see but himsel’, dressed in his auld red nicht-cap and blue breeks; an’ vera sin’glar, woman, he was sittin’ on his ain barra that wheel’d hame his corpse, and lookin’ wi’ a waefu’ look up to yon big branch that’s neist Garbawn. I was jist openin’ my mouth to say Ms that you, Mungo?’ when awa he flew.”

“Ou ay, smith,” returned the old dame; “he’ll no get rest in his grave; He took awa his ain life, ye ken, and atweel awat he needna fash’d, he wudna ha’e been lang hinner’d at ony rate.”

By this time the drink had done its own work; the lads and lasses made grand sport in the corners, while peats and potatoes were showered through the house like hail. The smith began to make an awful noise among the glasses, and to boast about his courage and strength; and, in fact,

“The mirth and fun flew fast and furious.”

The whole affair collapsed when Vulcan struck the table a blow with his mighty fist that made it shiver on its legs; and, springing to his feet, with a voice like an echo, he drank the health of the departed, while the whole house rose to do it honours. The rascals at the rope saw their time was now come, and pulling gently till they got the body nearly in an upright position, then giving a tremendous jerk, they sent the old farmer right into the midst of the floor!

There was a moment of terrible stillness—then a wild roar and a rush to get out,—while the smith gave a fearful look, opened his lank jaws, and pronounced a word awfully like “hell,”and dashed towards the door howling—“O Lord! it’s Auld Nick’s wark!”

“Then backward quick the door he drew,
And forward o’er the horse he flew;
One by one they on did dash,
O’er head and heels among the wash.
Some roared out good, but more did evil,
While Vulcan yelled ‘ It’s sure the devil!’
He felt his rough and shaggy hide,
For o’er his belly he did glide.
The weaver he did roar and wail,
As sure as death he saw the tail;
It was a short and hairy stump,
For o’er the hind legs he did thump,
And by the heels as he played bag,
The horrid thing it gie’d a wag!’


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