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Book of Scottish Story
The Laird of Wineholm, Part 2 of 2

The “Ettrick Shepherd”"

"If you dare disturb the sanctuary of the grave," said the doctor vehemently, "or with your unhallowed hands touch the remains of my venerable and revered predecessor, it had been better for you, and all who make the attempt, that you never had been born. If not then for my sake, for the sake of my wife, the sole daughter of the man to whom you have all been obliged, let this abominable and malicious calumny go no farther, but put it down; I pray of you to put it down, as you would value your own advantage.”

"I have seen him, and spoke with him--that I aver,” said the dominie. "And shall I tell you what he said to me?"

"No, no! I’ll hear no more of such absolute and disgusting nonsense,” said the doctor.

"Then, since it hath come to this, I will declare it in the face of the whole world, and pursue it to the last," said the dominie, "ridiculous as it is, and I confess that it is even so. I have seen your father-in-law within the last twenty-four hours; at least a being in his form and habiliments, and having his aspect and voice. And he told me that he believed you were a very great scoundrel, and that you had helped him off the stage of time in a great haste, for fear of the operation of a will, which he had just executed, very much to your prejudice. I was somewhat aghast, but ventured to remark, that he must surely have been sensible whether you murdered him or not, and in what way. He replied that he was not very certain, for at the time you put him down, he was much in his customary way of nights—very drunk ; but that he greatly suspected you had hanged him, for ever since he had died, he had been troubled with a severe crick in his neck. Having seen my late worthy patron’s body deposited in the coffin, and afterwards consigned to the grave, these things overcame me, and a kind of mist came over my senses; but I heard him saying as he withdrew, what a pity it was that my nerves could not stand this disclosure ! Now, for my own satisfaction, I am resolved that, tomorrow, I shall raise the village, with the two ministers at the head of the multitude, and have the body, and particularly the neck of the deceased, minutely inspected."

"If you do so, I shall make one of the number," said the doctor. "But I am resolved that, in the first place, every means shall be tried to prevent a scene of madness and absurdity so disgraceful to a well-regulated village and a sober community."

"There is but one direct line that can be followed, and any other would either form an acute or obtuse angle," said the dominie; "therefore I am resolved to proceed right forward, on mathematical principles;" and away he went, skipping on his crutch, to arouse the villagers to the scrutiny.

The smith remained behind, concerting with the doctor how to controvert the dominie’s profound scheme of unshrouding the dead; and certainly the smith’s plan, viewed professionally, was not amiss--

"O, ye ken, sir, we maun just gie him another heat, and try to saften him to reason, for he’s just as stubborn as Muirkirk airn. He beats the world for that."

While the two were in confabulation, Johnston, the old house servant, came in, and said to the doctor—

"Sir, your servants are going to leave the house, every one, this night, if you cannot fall on some means to divert them from it. The old laird is, it seems, risen again, and come back among them, and they are all in the utmost consternation. Indeed, they are quite out of their reason. He appeared in the stable to Broadcast, who has been these two hours dead with terror, but is now recovered, and telling such a tale downstairs as never was heard from the mouth of man.”

"Send him up here," said the doctor. "I will silence him. What does the ignorant clown mean by joining in this unnatural clamour?"

John came up, with his broad bonnet in his hand, shut the door with hesitation, and then felt thrice with his hand if it was really shut.

"Well, John," said the doctor, "what absurd lie is this that you are vending among your fellow-servants, of having seen a ghost?”

John picked some odds and ends of threads out of his bonnet, and said nothing.

"You are an old superstitious dreaming dotard,” continued the doctor; "but if you propose in future to manufacture such stories, you must, from this instant, do it somewhere else than in my service, and among my domestics. What have you to say for yourself?”

"Indeed, sir, I hae naething to say but this, that we hae a’ muckle reason to be thankfu’ that we are as we are."

"And whereon does that wise saw bear? What relation has that to the seeing of a ghost? Confess then, this instant, that you have forged and vended a deliberate lie."

"Indeed, sir, I hae muckle reason to be thankfu’—”

"For what?"

"That I never tauld a deliberate lie in my life. My late master came and spoke to me in the stable; but whether it was his ghaist or himself—a good angel or a bad ane—I hae reason to be thankfu’ I never said; for I DO – NOT - KEN."

"Now, pray let us hear from that sage tongue of yours, so full of sublime adages, what this doubtful being said to you?"

“I wad rather be excused, an’ it were your honour’s will, and wad hae reason to be thankfu’.”

"And why should you decline telling this?”

"Because I ken ye wadna believe a word o’t, it is siccan a strange story. O, sirs, but folks hae muckle reason to be thankful that they are as they are!"

"Well, out with this strange story of yours. I do not promise to credit it, but shall give it a patient hearing, providing you swear that there is no forgery in it."

"Weel, as I was suppering the horses the night, I was dressing my late kind master's favourite mare, and I was just thinking to mysel, an’ he had been leeving, I wadna hae been my lane the night, for he wad hae been standing ower me, cracking his jokes, and swearing at me in his good-natured hamely way. Ay, but he’s gane to his lang account, thinks I, and we puir frail dying creatures that are left ahint, hae muckle reason to be thankfu’ that we are as we are; when I looks up, and behold there’s my auld master standing leaning against the trivage as he used to do, and looking at me. I canna but say my heart was a little astoundit, and maybe lap up through my midriff into my breath-bellows—I couldna say; but in the strength o’ the Lord I was enabled to retain my senses for a good while. ‘John Broadcast said he, with a deep angry tone,—‘John Broadcast, what the d—l are you thinking about? You are not currying that mare half. What lubberly way of dressing a horse is that?’

"‘Lord make us thankfu’, master,' says I; ‘are you there?’
"‘Where else would you have me be at this hour of the night, old blockhead?’ says he.

"‘In another hame than this, master says I ; ‘but I fear it is nae good and that ye are sae soon tired o’t.’

"‘A d—d bad one, I assure you, says he.

"‘Ay, but master,’ says I, ‘ye hae muckle reason to be thankfu’ that ye are as ye are.’

"‘In what respect, dotard?’ says he.

"‘That ye hae liberty to come out o’t a start now and then to get the air,' says I; and oh, my heart was sair for him when I thought o’ his state ! And though I was thankfu’ that I was as I was, my heart and flesh began to fail me, at thinking of my speaking face to face wi’ a being frae the unhappy place. But out he breaks again wi’ a great round o’ swearing, about the mare being ill-keepit; and he ordered me to cast my coat and curry her weel, for he had a lang journey to take on her the morn.

"‘You take a journey on her!’ says I; ‘I doubt my new master will dispute that privilege wi’ you, for he rides her himsel the morn.’

"‘He ride her!’ cried the angry spirit; and then he burst out into a lang string of imprecations, fearsome to hear, against you, sir; and then added, ‘Soon, soon, shall he be levelled with the dust!—the dog! the parricide! First to betray my child, and then to put down myself ! But he shall not escape—he shall not escape!’ he cried with such a hellish growl that I fainted, and heard no more."

"Weel, that beats the world," exclaimed the smith. "I wad hae thought the mare wad hae luppen ower yird and stane, or fa’en down dead wi’ fright."

"Na, na," said John, "in place o’ that, whenever she heard him fa' a swearing, she was sae glad that she fell a nichering.”

"Na, but that beats the hale world a’thegither!" quoth the smith. "Then it has been nae ghaist ava, ye may depend on that.”

"I little wat what it was," replied John, “but it was a being in nae gude or happy state o’ mind, and is a warning to us how muckle reason we hae to be thankfu’ that we are as we are."

The doctor pretended to laugh at the absurdity of John’s narration, but it was with a ghastly and doubtful expression of countenance, as though he thought the story far too ridiculous for any clod-poll to have contrived out of his own head ; and forthwith he dismissed the two dealers in the marvellous, with very little ceremony, the one protesting that the thing beat the world, and the other that they had both reason to be thankful that they were as they were.

Next morning the villagers, small and great, were assembled at an early hour to witness the lifting of the body of the late laird, and, headed by the established and dissenting clergymen, and two surgeons, they proceeded to the tomb, and soon extracted the splendid coffin, which they opened with all due caution and ceremony. But instead of the murdered body of their late benefactor, which they expected in good earnest to find, there was nothing in the coffin but a layer of gravel, of about the weight of a corpulent man.

The clamour against the new laird then rose all at once into a tumult that it was impossible to check, every one declaring that he had not only murdered their benefactor, but, for fear of discovery, had raised the body, and given, or rather sold it, for dissection. The thing was not to be tolerated; so the mob proceeded in a body to Wineholm Place, to take out their poor deluded lady, and burn the doctor and his basely acquired habitation to ashes. It was not till the multitude had surrounded the house that the ministers and two or three other gentlemen could stay them, which they only did by assuring the mob that they would bring out the doctor before their eyes, and deliver him up to justice. This pacified the throng ; but on inquiry at the hall, it was found that the doctor had gone off early that morning, so that nothing further could be done for the present. But the coffin, filled with gravel, was laid up in the aisle, and kept open for inspection.

Nothing could now exceed the consternation of the simple villagers of Wineholm at these dark and mysterious events. Business, labour, and employment of every sort, were at a stand, and the people hurried about to one another’s houses, and mingled their conjectures together in one heterogeneous mass. The smith put his hand to his bellows, but forgot to blow till the fire went out ; the weaver leaned on his loom, and listened to the legend of the ghastly tailor. The team stood in mid-furrow, and the thrasher agape over his Hail; and even the dominie was heard to declare that the geometrical series of events was increasing by no common ratio, and therefore ought to be calculated rather arithmetically than by logarithms ; and John Broadcast saw more and more reason for being thankfu’ that he was as he was, and neither a stock, nor a stone, nor a brute beast.

Every new thing that happened was more extraordinary than the last; and the most puzzling of all was the circumstance of the late laird’s mare, saddle, bridle, and all, being off before daylight next morning ; so that Dr Davington was obliged to have recourse to his own, on which he was seen posting away on the road towards Edinburgh. It was thus but too obvious that the late laird had ridden off on his favourite mare,--but whither, none of the sages of Wineholm could divine. But their souls grew chill as an iceberg, and their very frames rigid, at the thought of a spirit riding away on a brute beast to the place appointed for wicked men. And had not John Broadcast reason to be thankfu’ that he was as he was?

However, the outcry of the community became so outrageous of murder and foul play, in so many ways, that the officers of justice were compelled to take note of it ; and accordingly the sheriff-substitute, the sheriff-clerk, the fiscal, and two assistants, came in two chaises to Wineholm to take a precognition; and there a court was held which lasted the whole day, at which Mrs Davington, the late laird’s only daughter, all the servants, and a great number of the villagers, were examined on oath. It appeared from the evidence that Dr Davington had come to the village and set up as a surgeon ; that he had used every endeavour to be employed in the laird’s family in vain, as the latter detested him; that he, however, found means of inducing his only daughter to elope with him, which put the laird quite beside himself and from thenceforward he became drowned in dissipation; that such, however, was his affection for his daughter, that he caused her to live with him, but would never suffer the doctor to enter his door; that it was, nevertheless, quite customary for the doctor to be sent for to his lady’s chamber, particularly when her father was in his cups; and that on a certain night, when the laird had had company, and was so overcome that he could not rise from his chair, he had died suddenly of apoplexy; and that no other skill was sent for, or near him, but this his detested son-in-law, whom he had by will disinherited, though the legal term for rendering that will competent had not expired. The body was coffined the second day after death, and locked up in a low room in one of the wings of the building ; and nothing farther could be elicited. The doctor was missing, and it was whispered that he had absconded; indeed it was evident, and the sheriff acknowledged that, according to the evidence taken, the matter had a very suspicious aspect, although there was no direct proof against the doctor. It was proved that he had attempted to bleed the patient, but had not succeeded, and that at that time the old laird was black in the face.

When it began to wear nigh night, and nothing further could be learned, the sheriff-clerk, a quiet considerate gentleman, asked why they had not examined the wright who had made the coffin, and also placed the body in it. The thing had not been thought of; but he was found in court, and instantly put into the witness-box, and examined on oath. His name was James Sanderson, a little, stout-made, shrewd-looking man, with a very peculiar squint. He was examined thus by the procurator-fiscal :—-

"Were you long acquainted with the late Laird of Wineholm, James?"

"Yes, ever since I left my apprenticeship ; for, I suppose, about nineteen years."

"Was he very much given to drinking of late?”

"I could not say; he took his glass geyan heartily. "

"Did you ever drink with him.”

"O yes, mony a time."

"You must have seen him very drunk, then? Did you ever see him so drunk, for instance, that he could not rise?"

"Never; for long afore that, I could not have kenned whether he was sitting or standing."

"Were you present at the corpse-chesting?"

"Yes, I was."

"And were you certain the body was then deposited in the coffin?"

"Yes; quite certain."

"Did you screw down the coffin lid firmly then, as you do others of the same make ?”

"No, I did not.”

"What were your reasons for that?"

"They were no reasons of mine; I did what I was ordered. There were private reasons, which I then wist not of. But, gentlemen, there are some things connected with this affair, which I am bound in honour not to reveal. I hope you will not compel me to divulge them at present."

"You are bound by a solemn oath, James, the highest of all obligations; and, for the sake of justice, you must tell everything you know ; and it would be better if you would just tell your tale straightforward, without the interruption of question and answer."

"Well, then, since it must be so :— That day, at the chesting, the doctor took me aside and said to me, ‘James Sanderson, it will be necessary that something be put into the coffin to prevent any unpleasant odour before the funeral; for owing to the corpulence, and the inflamed state of the body by apoplexy, there will be great danger of this.’

"‘Very well, sir,’ says I; ‘what shall I bring?’

"‘You had better only screw down the lid lightly at present, then,’ said he; ‘and if you could bring a bucketful of quicklime a little while hence, and pour it over the body, especially over the face, it is a very good thing, an excellent thing, for preventing any deleterious effluvia from escaping.’

"‘Very well, sir,’ said I; and so I followed his directions. I procured the lime; and as I was to come privately in the evening to deposit it in the coffin, in company with the doctor alone, I was putting off the time in my work-shop, polishing some trifle, and thinking to myself that I could not find in my heart to choke up my old friend with quicklime, even after he was dead, when, to my unspeakable horror, who should enter my workshop but the identical laird himself dressed in his dead-clothes in the very same manner in which I had seen him laid in the coffin, but apparently all streaming in blood to the feet. I fell back over against a cart-wheel, and was going to call out, but could not; and as he stood straight in the door there was no means of escape. At length the apparition spoke to me in a hoarse trembling voice, and it said to me, ‘Jamie Sanderson! O, Jamie Sanderson! I have been forced to appear to you in a d—d frightful guise!’ These were the very first words it spoke, and they were far from being a lie; but I halfflins thought to mysel that a being in such circumstances might have spoken with a little more caution and decency. I could make no answer, for my tongue refused all attempts at articulation, and my lips would not come together ; and all that I could do was to lie back against my new cart-wheel, and hold up my hands as a kind of defence. The ghastly and blood-stained apparition, advancing a step or two, held up both its hands, flying with dead ruffles, and cried to me in a still more frightful voice, ‘Oh, my faithful old friend, I have been murdered ! I am a murdered man, Jamie Sanderson! And if you do not assist me in bringing upon the wretch due retribution, dire will be your punishment in the other world.’

"This is sheer raving, James," said the sheriff interrupting him. "These words can be nothing but the ravings of a disturbed and heated imagination. I entreat you to recollect that you have appealed to the Great Judge of heaven and earth for the truth of what you assert here, and to answer accordingly.”

"I know what I am saying, my Lord Sheriff " said Sanderson; "and I am telling naething but the plain truth, as nearly as my state of mind at the time permits me to recollect. The appalling figure approached still nearer and nearer to me, breathing threatenings if I would not rise and fly to his assistance, and swearing like a sergeant of dragoons at both the doctor and myself. At length it came so close to me that I had no other shift but to hold up both feet and hands to shield me, as I had seen herons do when knocked down by a goshawk, and I cried out; but even my voice failed, so that I only cried like one through his sleep.”

"‘What the d—l are you lying gaping and braying at there?’ said he, seizing me by the wrist and dragging me after him. ‘ Do you not see the plight I am in, and why won’t you fly to succour me?’

"I now felt, to my great relief that this terrific apparition was a being of flesh, blood, and bones like myself;—that, in short, it was indeed my kind old friend the laird popped out of his open coffin, and come over to pay me an evening visit, but certainly in such a guise as earthly visit was never paid. I soon gathered up my scattered senses, took my old friend into my room, bathed him all over, and washed him well with lukewarm water; then put him into a warm bed, gave him a glass or two of hot punch, and he came round amazingly. He caused me to survey his neck a hundred times, I am sure ; and I had no doubt he had been strangled, for there was a purple ring round it, which in some places was black, and a little swollen; his voice creaked like a door-hinge, and his features were still distorted. He swore terribly at both the doctor and myself ; but nothing put him half so mad as the idea of the quicklime being poured over him, and particularly over his face. I am mistaken if that experiment does not serve him for a theme of execration as long as he lives.”

"So he is alive, then, you say?” asked the fiscal.

"O yes, sir, alive, and tolerably well, considering. We two have had several bottles together in my quiet room; for I have still kept him concealed, to see what the doctor would do next. He is in terror for him, somehow, until sixty days be over from some date that he talks of, and seems assured that the dog will have his life by hook or crook, unless he can bring him to the gallows betimes, and he is absent on that business to-day. One night lately, when fully half seas over, he set off to the schoolhouse, and frightened the dominie; and last night he went up to the stable, and gave old Broadcast a hearing for not keeping his mare well enough.

"It appears that some shaking motion in the coffining of the laird had brought him back to himself, after bleeding abundantly both at mouth and nose; that he was on his feet ere he knew how he had been disposed of, and was quite shocked at seeing the open coffin on the bed, and himself dressed in his grave-clothes, and all in one bath of blood. He flew to the door, but it was locked outside; he rapped furiously for something to drink, but the room was far removed from any inhabited part of the house, and none regarded; so he had nothing for it but to open the window, and come through the garden and the back lane leading to my workshop. And as I had got orders to bring a bucketful of quicklime, I went over in the forenight with a bucketful of heavy gravel, as much as I could carry, and a little white lime sprinkled on the top of it; and being let in by the doctor, I deposited it in the coffin, screwed down the lid, and left it. The funeral followed in due course, the whole of which the laird viewed from my window, and gave the doctor a hearty day’s cursing for daring to support his head and lay it in the grave. And this, gentlemen, is the substance of what I know concerning this enormous deed, which is, I think, quite sufficient. The laird bound me to secrecy until such time as he could bring matters to a proper bearing for securing the doctor; but as you have forced it from me, you must stand my surety, and answer the charges against me."

The laird arrived that night with proper authority, and a number of officers, to have the doctor, his son-in-law, taken into custody; but the bird had down ; and from that day forth he was never seen, so as to be recognised, in Scotland. The laird lived many years after that ; and though the thoughts of the quicklime made him drink a great deal, yet from that time he never suffered himself to get quite drunk, lest some one might take it into his head to hang him, and he not know anything about it. The dominie acknowledged that it was as impracticable to calculate what might happen in human affairs as to square the circle, which could only be effected by knowing the ratio of the circumference to the radius. For shoeing horses, vending news, and awarding proper punishments, the smith to this day just beats the world. And old John Broadcast is as thankfu’ to heaven as ever that things are as they are.

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