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-Ledithat 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. Itll be a guid ane, one would say.
Yell be there, another would whisper. Well hae a nicht otthe
auld wifes 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
Garrys Hole; and, in fact, it was such a night
That a child might understand
The deil 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 farmers 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 bowldear 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 hae met wi a serious loss, and Im unco vexed to
hear o the death o yer guid mare, whispered the smith to the widow;
and, continued he, mony a time I hae pit shin on her feet.
Ou ay, deed hae ye, smith. Its a great loss to me the
loss o my gallant mare;the guidman, ye ken, was gettin a wee doitedit
was jist natur failin, responded the widow.
Bodies, be hearty, cried the old dame, turning round in
her rickety chair. Smith, gie them a drap ot, its guid speerits; an
atween you and me, smith, it neer saw the face o a gauger. Lassock,
she continued, see that that lichts no gaun din on the guidmans
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 singlar, woman, he was
sittin on his ain barra that wheeld hame his corpse, and lookin wi a
waefu look up to yon big branch thats 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; hell no get rest
in his grave; He took awa his ain life, ye ken, and atweel awat he
needna fashd, he wudna hae been lang hinnerd 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 stillnessthen 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 howlingO Lord! its Auld Nicks wark!
Then backward quick the door he drew,
And forward oer the horse he flew;
One by one they on did dash,
Oer head and heels among the wash.
Some roared out good, but more did evil,
While Vulcan yelled Its sure the devil!
He felt his rough and shaggy hide,
For oer 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 oer the hind legs he did thump,
And by the heels as he played bag,
The horrid thing it gied a wag!
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