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Weird Tales - Scottish
Allan MacTavish's Fishing

By the Author of “Three Nights in a Lifetime.”

In a secluded nook of one of the wildest and most solitary parts of the Argyllshire coast, where it is washed by the Atlantic waters, there stood, some thirty years ago, the cottage of a Highland fisherman, whom we shall name Allan MacTavish. Its appearance was nearer that of the neat and carefully kept abodes of the peasantry on a Lowland gentleman’s estate, than the slovenly hut of a northern fisherman. Some pains had been taken to form a little garden beside it, at the sheltering foot of the cliff; and these pains—screened as it was from all high winds, even from those blowing off the sea, at least in ordinary weather—had been attended with considerable success. Everything around the door was kept in extreme order; and the narrow strip of grass on which the sand had not encroached, served as a little bleaching-green to the fisherman’s young and lovely Lowland wife, on which she was often to be seen spreading out her clothes, with her baby laid upon the grass beside her, while awaiting the return of her husband from his fishing; at which time it was her usual custom to repair to the beach, in order to assist him in carrying up his nets to the house.

Margaret Weir, the young wife of Allan, loved her husband with a depth and intensity of affection which had led her to do as she had done—to violate filial duty for his sake ; but which could not teach her to forget the fault she had committed, or the parent whom she had deserted; and the consciousness of her disobedience was with her in her happiest hour, to sink her heart as with a weight of lead. She was the only child of a wealthy farmer, originally from Ayrshire, who had come during his daughter’s childhood, immediately after the death of his wife, to settle in Stirlingshire, not far from the Bridge of Allan. Andrew Weir was one of those who still retain, almost in all their original strictness, the peculiar tenets and ideas of the Cameronians, of whom there are many to be found at the present day in the wild and lonely districts of the south - western part of Scotland. His notions of family discipline, and of strict seclusion from those who held a different doctrine from his own, were extremely rigid; yet, notwithstanding these, the affection which he had borne his daughter was very great, — nor had the harmony subsisting between them ever experienced any interruption, until the arrival of Allan MacTavish near their place of residence; and his subsequent acquaintance with Margaret, first broke in upon the calm tenor of her life, by introducing sensations to which her heart had never before been awakened. The intimacy of his daughter with the young Highlander had continued for a considerable time ere Andrew Weir became aware of it; for Margaret knew her father’s prejudices too well to dare make him acquainted with her lover. It came to his knowledge by accident, and his anger was proportionably great. In common with many of his countrymen, Andrew entertained an extreme dislike to Highlanders, which dislike, in the present instance, received tenfold confirmation from the circumstance of MacTavish being a Catholic. He would have considered himself as signing the warrant for his daughter’s eternal perdition, had he not instantly forbidden all intercourse between them.

At this juncture, Allan’s foster-brother died, and left him a small legacy; but with his death, at the some time ceased all the reasons for Allan’s remaining absent from his own country. He contrived an interview with Margaret ere he should depart. It is needless to linger on an oft - told tale. The struggle between filial affection and all-powerful love in the heart of the unsophisticated girl, was severe and long continued; while the religious feelings in which she had been educated, contributed to swell the amount of reluctance and of terror with which she contemplated the step to which she was urged. But love at last prevailed. Margaret fled from her father’s house with her lover. They instantly proceeded to Edinburgh, where they were marrried by a Catholic priest; and then sought the lonely solitudes of Allan’s old Argyllshire mountains. But Margaret—so strict had been the filial obedience in which she was brought up, so severe the religious faith of her youth—could not find happiness the portion of her married life notwithstanding all the kindness of her husband, the loveliness of her infant, and the peacefulness of her home. The image of her gray-haired father going down in his sorrow to a lonely grave, mourning, in bitterness of heart the sin and the falling-away of his only child, was ever before her eyes. She concealed from her husband the remorse which embittered her happiness; but often, when his boat was on the sea, and she was alqne in her little dwelling with her infant,—not a sight or a sound of a human being near,—nothing but the sea birds screaming from the cliffs, and the sea making wild music to their song, as it plashed and roared against the rocks that shut out the cove from the world—often at such an hour, would Margaret look back to the image of the cheerful farm-house in the green sunny holm by Allan water ;—to the blazing ingle, by whose side stood her old father’s chair,—to the venerable form of that now forsaken father, as he opened “the big Ha’ Bible,” to begin the evening worship; while she sat by his side, and the farm-servants formed a circle around. Alas ! her accustomed seat was empty now. The name of the undutiful daughter was heard no more in the dwelling of her childhood. Had she indeed still a father? or had her guilty desertion not broken his heart, and sent him to a death-bed which no filial hand had smoothed? Then would she press her baby to her heart, while the tears of bitter and fruitless repentance fell on its innocent face, and pray to God that her sin might not be visited on it; nor be punished in her own person by a like instance of ingratitude in her own child. The return of her beloved husband might for a time dispel these miserable thoughts ; but still they came again when he left her—sometimes even when he was by her side. And when, as often happened, his boat was out in rough and tempestuous weather, the anxiety and the terror of poor Margaret were indeed terrible. She seemed ever haunted by some mysterious dread of punishment through the means of her warmest affections—her husband or her child.

There came a bright sunny day in April, when the sun set calmly and cloudlessly, leaving a long train of light over the sea. Allan MacTavish went to his bed at sunset, bidding his wife awake him at eleven at night. It would be high tide in about an hour after that time, when his boat would be most easily floated off; and he, in company with the fishermen who lived in the neighbouring cottages, farther along the coast, were then to depart upon their expedition. Margaret determined accordingly to sit up until that hour, in order to obviate any danger of not waking in proper time, had she laid down to sleep. But as the night darkened in, and all became stillness and silence in the cottage, an unwonted drowsiness crept over her ; in spite of all her efforts, her eyes closed—thoughts wavered before her mind in confusion and shapeless forms, till they gradually melted away into dreams; and leaning her head upon a chair beside the low stool on which she had seated herself, she sank into a profound sleep.

When at last she opened her eyes, which was with a sudden start, she perceived her husband standing on the floor, and nearly dressed. Casting her eyes towards a silver watch (the gift of Allan’s foster-brother), which hung upon the wall, she perceived by the fire-light that it was after eleven; and hastily rose from her seat, in that confusion of ideas which attends a hurried awakening from sleep.

“Margaret, dear,” said her husband kindly, “what for did ye stay out of bed? I never knew it till I wakened, and saw ye sleeping there.”

“Have I no’ been i’ my bed?” exclaimed Margaret, as she looked around her. “Ou, ay, I mind it a’ noo. I just fell asleep sittin’ aside the fire. An’, Allan, whar are ye gaun e’en noo?”

“Where am I gaun?” returned Allan. “Where would I be gaun? Ye’er no awake yet, Margaret, dear. I’m for the boat, lass.”

“The boat!” almost shrieked Margaret, as the recollection seemed to rush upon her; “the boat! Oh no, Allan, ye maurina’ gang the nicht! No the nicht, Allan. Ye maunna gang!”

“Not gang to-night! ” exclaimed he in astonishment. “And what for no?—I must gang in half an hour’s time. And gang ye to your bed, hinny, and tak’ a sleep.”

“Oh, Allan,” said Margaret, bursting into tears, “be guided by me, and tak’ na’ the boat the nicht, or we’se a’ rue it.”

“What’s the matter, Margaret?” anxiously inquired he. “What’s pitten that in yer head?”

“I had a dream e’en now, Allan,” sobbed Margaret, “that warned me no to let ye gang. I fell asleep, and I dreamed that I was sittin’ here, i’ the ingle-neuk, an’ on a sudden the door opened, and my auld faither cam’ ben, and stood afore me; there whaur you’re stannin’, Allan. An’ I thocht he leukit gey an’ stern-ways at me; an’says he, ‘Margaret,’ says he, ‘tell your husband to bide at hame the nicht, and no gang to the fishin’, or ye’ll maybe rue it when ye canna’ mend it.’ And wi’ that he turned roun’, and gaed awa’ again, or ever I had pooer to speak till him ; an’ I startit up, and waukenet wi’ the fricht. But do, Allan ! ” and Margarfct again burst into a flood of weeping : "it’s na’ for nocht that I’ve seen the auld man this nicht. Be ruled by the warnin’ he gied me, and dinna gang to the fishin’.”

"Hoots, bairn,” exclaimed her husband, "your father liked na’ me. It was mair like he wad warn ye no’ to let me gang, to hinder me from some good than from ill. No, no, Margaret dear, gang I must, this night.” "

Margaret again wept, wrung her hands, and implored her husband not to go. But superstitious as every Highlander is, on this night it appeared that his wife’s mysterious dream made no impression upon Allan MacTavish. His spirits, on the contrary, had seldom seemed so high or so excited. He led Margaret to the door;—showed her the calm, clear sky, brilliant with stars, and the full spring-tide coming so tranquilly into the little bay ;—asked her with a kiss, if this were a night to let a dream frighten him from his fishing; and without awaiting further remonstrance, strode to the place where his boat was moored ; and as he pushed it from the shore, turned his head, once more to utter a light and laughing farewell. "Gang to your bed, my bonny Peggy,” he said, "and be up belyve the morn, to see the grand boat-load o’ fish that I’ll bring ye back.”

Margaret stood upon the shore and watched his boat as it doubled the headland, until, through the darkness, her straining eye could no longer discern it; heedless the while of the still advancing tide, that now laved her feet. She dried her tears, and looked up to the calm heaven, where not a cloud obscured the dark-blue bosom of night; till at last, half reassured by her husband’s cheerful anticipations, half cheered by the serene aspect of the weather, she returned to the cottage, and after commending him in a fervent prayer to the protection of Heaven, she replenished the fire with peats, and lay down beside her child, where in a short time she fell into a tranquil sleep.

How long Margaret had slept she knew not; but it could not have been very long, for, except the fitful flashes of the fire-light, all was darkness in the cottage, when she was suddenly awakened by a loud and prolonged sound. She started up in bed, and listened, in an agony of apprehension that almost froze the blood in her veins. It was no dream,—no delusion, —she distinctly heard the loud wild howling of the awakened blast, raging overhead as though it would tear off the very roof of the cottage, and scatter it in its fury. She had sunk to sleep when all was stillness on earth and in heaven. She woke to a tumult as awful, as though all the winds had at once been set free from their cave, and despatched to waste their wrath upon the vexed bosom of the sea. But, deeper and more awful than the winds, there came another sound —the raging of the waters, as they rose in their might, and dashed themselves with a loud booming roar upon the cliffs. Margaret sprang from her bed, and, undressed as she was, rushed to the cottage door. The inslant she raised the latch, the force of the tempest dashed it open against the wall. She looked out into the night. A pitchy darkness now brooded over all things; every star seemed blotted from the face of heaven; but dimly through the gloom she could descry the white crests of the waves, as they surged and lashed the beach within a few yards of the cottage door. The tide had risen to a height almost unexampled on that coast, beneath the influence of a vernal storm ; it had far overpassed its usual limits within the Cove of Craig-navarroch; and on the rocks, beyond which it could not go, it was breaking high,—high overhead,—with a noise like thunder. Never was change in the weather more sudden and more complete. Margaret stood for a minute in speechless horror and dismay; then, rushing back into the cottage, she fell upon her knees, and held up her hands to heaven. “Lord God!” she exclaimed—“have mercy! have mercy!” She could not utter another word. She hid her face in her hands, and sobbed in agony.

Still the tempest raged, and the waves roared on. Margaret dressed herself, and carefully covered her infant, whose sweet sleep was unbroken by the fearful tumult. Again she went to the door, and stood, looking into the night, regardless of the wind, which drove a heavy rain against her face. She strained her ears to distinguish some sound,— some cry,—amid the pauses of the hurricane. As well might she have striven to distinguish the low music of the woodland bird, as the wildest shriek that ever broke from the lips of despair and anguish, in the midst of an uproar of the elements like that through which she had dreamt of hearing it. But those from whom that sound must have come, were far—far beyond where her ear could catch their voices.

She closed the door, returned into the room, and knelt down again cm the floor, burying her face and closing her ears, as if to shut out the noise of the tempest; while her whole frame shook with the gasping sobs which brought no tears to relieve her; and at every fresh howl of the blast, she shuddered and her limbs shrank closer together. She tried to pray,—but the words died upon her lips. She could not speak;—she could not even think ;—she only felt as though she were all one nerve—one thrilling nerve—quivering beneath repeated and torturing pangs.

On a sudden the wind sunk,—completely sunk. For the space of three minutes there was not a breath heard to blow. Margaret raised her head, and listened. All was still. She was about to spring from the ground, when back—back it came again, —the hideous burst—the roaring bellow of the augmented hurricane, as though it had gained strength and fierceness from its brief repose ! Back it came— shaking the very cottage walls, and rattling the door and little window as though it would burst them open; and Margaret flung herself forward again with a wild shriek, and clasped her hands over her ears again, to deaden the sound.

Then she started from the ground, as a thought struck her, which seemed to bring some faint gleam of hope. "1 kenna whan the storm began,” said she to herself. “He may never hae won farrer nor the houses ayont the craigs yonder ;—or they mae hae pitten back in time to get ashore there; and he’ll be bidin’ the mornin’s licht, and the fa’in’ o’ the wind, or he come back here again. Oh ay, that’ll just be it ! Surely—surely that’ll be it,” she repeated, as if to assure herself of the truth of what she said. She took down the watch frcin the nail on which it hung, and looked at it by the fire-light. The hand pointed to half-past two. “Oh ! will it never be day?— will it never be licht again?” she exclaimed as she replaced it, “ that I may win yont the craigs, and see gin he be there.” She went again to the door. All was darkness still, and wild uproar without. No gleam of light to announce the far distant dawn. A fresh burst of wind drove her back. “Oh!” she exclaimed, wringing her hands; “oh! gin he had been advised by me! But the dochter that left her faither’s gray hairs to mourn her, deserves na’ a better lot. It was e’en owre muckle guidness to gie me a warnin’ o’ it.”

The long dark hours of that terrible night dragged on—on—in all the torments, the unutterable torments of suspense. And if anything can aggravate these torments, it is enduring them amid darkness. There is something awfully indefinite at all times in the thick impenetrable gloom of night; but when that gloom is armed with terrors, and big with dangers, to which the very impossibility of ascertaining their extent adds tenfold in the imagination, then it is that we truly feel the full amount of its awfulness. At last a faint dim glimmer of gray light began to break over the tumbling waves. Again Margaret was at her cottage door. It was barely light enough to show her how mountainous were the billows that dashed and raved upon the shore,—how thick and heavy were the clouds that darkened the sky. The wind howled with unabated fury, and the rain drove against her by fits. She could just discern, by the faint daybreak, the white foam that marked the top of the waves, which were now ebbing from the bay; while a thick rib of sand and sea-weed upon the grass not far from the door, marked how fearfully high they had flowed through the night. She cast an eager glance towards the cliffs. Surely by this time it would be practicable to scramble along their base, and to reach the pith on the shore to the fishermen’s huts? She felt as though it were impossible to remain another instant in that state of terrible uncertainty. But then, her infant ! She durst not carry it out by so hazardous a path, in the wet, cold, dark dawn; and should she leave it behind, it might wake and miss her ! She turned distractedly into the room, and approached its bed. It was still in a sound and tranquil sleep ; and with a desperate effort of resolution, she determined to make the attempt. She approached the door, and fastened her plaid firmly around her, ere she stepped upon her scarce distinguishable way.

At that moment, ere Margaret could cross the threshold, a strange sensation came across her. A cold air rushed past her, like that occasioned by the rapid approach and still more rapid passing of some indiscernible object. A dimness came over her sight;

it could not be said that she saw—but she felt as if something cold and wet had glided swiftly by her, with a scarce perceptible contact, into the house. A damp dew overspread her forehead ; her limbs trembled and bent beneath her, as she instinctively turned round, and looked into the room which she had quitted. The light was so faint, that within the house it scarce vanquished the darkness; but a bright gleam flashing up from the fire, showed everything in the room distinctly for an instant’s space ; and by that gleam, Margaret beheld the figure of her husband standing within the door, pale, as it seemed to her, and dim, and shadowy, with the water dripping from his clothes and hair. The fire-flash sunk as instantaneously as it had shone, and all again was obscurity, as she dropped upon the floor in a swoon.

When the unhappy wife again opened her eyes, and recovered her perceptions of what was passing around her, she found herself laid in her own bed. The bright glorious sunshine was beaming in at the cottage window, as though to mock her desolation. Several women, from the neighbouring fishing village, were in the room; one of whom held in her arms, the infant of Margaret, whom she was endeavouring to soothe and quiet; and at the moment she raised her head, the door opened, and upon the self-same spot where she had that morning beheld his likeness stand, she saw the lifeless corpse of her drowned husband, borne in the arms of some of his comrades, who had with difficulty rescued it from the devouring waves; yet rescued it too late to save.

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