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Legends and Traditions
The Tale of Sir James Ramsay of Bamff


"WEEL, ye see, I dinna mind the beginning o’ the story. But the Sir James Ramsay a’ Bamff of that time was said to be ane o’ the conspirators, and his lands were forfaulted, and himsel’ banished the country, and a price set upon his head if he came back.

"He gaed to France or Spain, I’m no sure which, and was very ill off. Ae day that he was walking in a wood, he met an oldish man wi’ a lang beard, weel dressed and respectable looking. This man lookit hard at Sir James, and then said to him that he lookit ill and distressed like; that he himsel’ was a doctor, and if Sir James would tell his complaints, maybe he might be able to do him good.

"Syne Sir James said he was not ill but for want o’ food, and that all the medicine he needed was some way to earn his living as a gentleman. The auld doctor said till him he would take him as an apprentice if he liked; that he should live in his house and at his table, and learn his profession. So Sir James went hame wi’ him, and was very kindly tret. After he had been wi’ him a while, his master said till him ae day that he kend how to make the best and most wonderful medicine in the world—a medicine that would make baith their fortunes, and a’ that belanged to them; but that it was a difficult business to get the materials that the medicine was made of—that they could only be gotten frae the river --, that ran through the county of —, in Scotland, and at a particular part of the river, which he described; and that it would need to be some canny person, that kend that pairt o’ the country weel, to gang wi’ ony chance o’ success. Sir James said naebody kend that pairt o’ the country better than himsel’, for it was on his ain estate o’ Bamff, and that he was very willing to run the risk o’ going hame for his master’s sake, that had been sae kind to him, and for the sake o’ seeing his am place again.

"Then the doctor gied him strict directions what he was to do, and how he was to make sure o’ getting the beast that he was to make the medicine o’. He was to gang to a pairt o’ the river where there was a deep pool o’ water, and he was to hide himsel’ behind some big trees that came down to the water-side for the three nights that the moon was at the full. He would see a white serpent come out o’ the water, and go up to a big stane, and creep under it. He maun watch till it came out again, and catch it on its way back to the water, and kill it, and bring it awa' wi’ him.

"Weel, Sir James did a’ that he was bidden. He put on a disguise, and gaed back to Scotland and to Bamff, and got there without onybody kenning him. He hid himsel’ behind the trees at the water-side, and watched night after night. He saw the white serpent come out the first twa nights, and creep under the stane; but it aye got back to the water afore he could catch it; but the third night he did catch it, and killed it, and brought it awa’ wi’ him to Spain to his master. His master was very glad to get it, but he wasna sae kind after to Sir James as he used to be. He told him, now that they had got the serpent, the next thing to do was to cook it, and he maun do that too. He was to go down to a vault, and there stew the serpent till it was turned into oil. If onybody saw him at the wark, or if he tasted food till it was done, the charm would be spoiled; and if by ony chance he was to taste the medicine, it would kill him at ance, unless he had the proper remedy. Sae Sir James gaed down to the vault, and prepared the medicine just as he had been ordered; but when he was pouring it out o’ the pan into the box where it was to be keepit, he let some drops fa’ on his fingers that brunt them; and in the pain and hurry he forgot his master’s orders, and put his fingers into his mouth to suck out the pain. He did not die, but he fand that his een were opened, and that he could see through everything. And when his master came down at the appointed time to speer if the medicine was ready, he fand he could see into his master’s inside, and could tell a’ that was going on there. But he keepit his ain secret, and never let on to his master what had happened; and it was very lucky, for he soon found out that his master was a bad man, and would have killed him if he had kend that he had got the secret o’ the medicine. He had only been kind to him because he kend that Sir James was the best man to catch the serpent. However, Sir James learnt to be a skilfu’ doctor under him; and at last he managed to get awa’ frae him, and syne he travelled over the wand as a doctor, doing mony wonders, because he could clearly see what was wrang in folk’s insides. But he wearied sair to get back to Scotland, and he thought that naebody would ken him as a doctor. Sae he ventured to gae back; and when he arrived, he fand that the king was very ill, and no man could find out what was the matter wi’ him. He had tried a’ the doctors in Scotland, and a’ that came to him frae far and near, but he was nane the better; and at last he published a proclamation, that he would gie the princess, his daughter, in marriage to ony man that would cure him. Sae Sir James gaed to the court, and askit leave to try his skill. As soon as he came into the king’s presence, and looked at him, he saw there was a ball o’ hair in his inside, and that no medicine could touch it. But he said if the king would trust to him, he would cure him; and the king having consented, he put him sae fast asleep, that he cuttit the ball o’ hair out of his inside without his ever wakening. When he did waken, he was free from illness, only weak a little frae the loss o’ blood; and he was sae pleased wi’ his doctor that Sir James kneeled down and telI’t him wha he was. And the king pardoned him, and gied him back a’ his lands, and gied him the princess, his daughter, in marriage."


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