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Book of Scottish Story
Ezra Peden

Chapter Two

It happened on an evening about the close of the following spring, when the oat braird was flourishing, and the barley shot its sharp green spikes above the clod, carrying the dew on the third morning, that Ezra Peden was returning from a wedding at Buckletiller. When he left the bridal chamber it was about ten o’clock. His presence had suppressed for a time the natural ardour for dancing and mirth which characterises the Scotch; but no sooner was he mounted, and the dilatory and departing clatter of his horse’s hoofs heard, than musicians and musical instruments appeared from their hiding-places. The floor was disencumbered of the bridal dinner-tables, the maids bound up their long hair, and the hinds threw aside their mantles, and, taking their places and their partners, the restrained mirth broke out like a whirlwind. Old men looked on with a sigh, and uttered a feeble and faint remonstrance, which they were not unwilling should be drowned in the abounding and augmenting merriment.

The pastor had reached the entrance of a little wild and seldom frequented glen, along which a grassy and scarce visible road winded to an ancient burial-ground. Here the graceless and ungodly merriment first reached his ears, and made the woody hollow ring and resound. Horse and rider seemed possessed of the same spirit—the former made a full halt when he heard the fiddle note, while the latter, uttering a very audible groan, and laying the bridle on his horse’s neck, pondered on the wisest and most effectual way of repressing this unseemly' merriment-of cleansing the parish of this ancient abomination. It was a beautiful night ; the unrisen moon had yet a full hour of travel before she could reach the tops of the eastern hills; the wind was mute, and no sound was abroad save the chaiing of a small runnel, and the bridal mirth.

While Ezra sat casting in his own mind a long and a dubious contest with this growing and unseemly sin, something like the shadowy outline of a horse and rider appeared in the path. The night was neither light nor dark, and the way, grassy and soft, lay broad and uninterrupted between two hazel and holly groves. As the pastor lifted up his eyes, he beheld a dark rider reining up a dark horse side by side with his own, nor did he seem to want any accoutrement necessary for ruling a fine and intractable steed. As he gazed, the figure became more distinct; it seemed a tall martial form, with a slouched hat and feather, and a dark and ample mantle, which was muffled up to his eyes. From the waist downward all was indistinct, and horse and rider seemed to melt into one dark mass visible in the outline alone. Ezra was too troubled in spirit to court the intrusion of a stranger upon his meditations; he bent on him a look particularly forbidding and stern, and having made up his mind to permit the demon of mirth and minstrelsy to triumph for the present, rode slowly down the glen.

But side by side with Ezra, and step by step, even as shadow follows substance, moved the mute and intrusive stranger. The minister looked at his companion, and stirred his steed onward ; with corresponding speed moved the other, till they came where the road branched off to a ruined castle. Up this way, with the wish to avoid his new friend, Ezra turned his horse; the other did the same. The former seemed suddenly to change his mind, and returned to the path that led to the old burial-ground; the latter was instantly at his side, his face still hidden in the folds of his mantle.

Now, Ezra was stem and unaccommodating in kirk controversy, and the meek and gentle spirit of religion, and sense of spiritual interest, had enough to do to appease and sober down a temper naturally bold, and even war-like. Exasperated at this intruding stranger, his natural triumphed over his acquired spirit, and lifting his riding-stick, and starting up in his stirrups, he aimed a blow equal to the unhorsing of any ordinary mortal. But the weapon met with no obstruction—it seemed to descend through air alone. The minister gazed with dread on this invulnerable being ; the stranger gazed on him ; and both made a halt like men preparing for mortal fray. Ezra, who felt his horse shuddering beneath him, began to suspect that his companion pertained to a more dubious state of existence than his own, and his grim look and sable exterior induced him to rank him at once among those infamous and evil spirits which are sometimes permitted to trouble the earth, and to be torment to the worthy and the devout.

He muttered a brief and pithy prayer, and then said,-

"Evil shape, who art thou, and wherefore comest thou unto me? If thou comest for good, speak; if for my confusion and my harm, even do thine errand; I shall not fly from thee."

"I come more for mine own good than for thy harm,” responded, the figure. "Far have I ridden, and much have I endured, that I might visit thee and this land again.”

"Do you suffer in the flesh, or are you tortured in the spirit?" said the pastor, desirous to know something certain of his unwelcome companion.

"In both," replied the form. "I have dwelt in the vale of fire, in the den of punishment, hollow, and vast, and dreadful; I have ridden through the region of snow and the land of hail; I have swam through the liquid wilderness of burning lava,—passed an illimitable sea, and all for the love of one hour of this fair green earth, with its fresh airs and its new-sprung corn."

Ezra looked on the figure with a steady and a penetrating eye. The stranger endured the scrutiny.

"I must know of a truth to whom and what I speak—I must see you face to face. Thou mayest be the grand artificer of deceit come to practise upon my immortal soul. Unmantle thee, I pray, that I may behold if thou art a poor and an afflicted spirit punished for a time, or that fierce and restless fiend who bears the visible stamp of eternal reprobation. "

"I may not withstand thy wish," muttered the form in a tone of melancholy, and dropping his mantle, and turning round on the pastor, said, "Hast thou forgotten me?"

"How can I forget thee?” said Ezra, receding as he spoke. "The stern and haughty look of Bonshaw has been humbled indeed. Unhappy one, thou art sorely changed since I beheld thee on earth with the helmet-plume fanning thy hot and bloody brow as thy right hand smote down the blessed ones of the earth! The Almighty doom—the evil and the tormenting place—the vile companions—have each in their turn done the work of retribution upon thee; thou art indeed more stern and more terrible, but thou art not changed beyond the knowledge of one whom thou hast hunted and hounded, and sought
to slay utterly."

The shape or spirit of Bonshaw, dilated with anger, and in a quicker and fiercer tone, said-

"Be charitable; flesh and blood, be charitable, Doom not to hell-fire and grim companions one whose sins thou canst not weigh but in the balance of thine own prejudices. I tell thee, man of God, the uncharitableness of the sect to which thou pertainest has thronged the land of punishment as much as those who headed, and hanged, and stabbed and shot, and tortured. I may be punished for a time, and not wholly reprobate. ”

"Punished in part, or doomed in whole, thou needs must be," answered the pastor, who seemed now as much at his ease as if this singular colloquy had happened with a neighbouring divine.

"A holy and a blessed spirit would have appeared in a brighter shape. I like not thy dubious words, thou half-punished and half-pardoned spirit. Away, vanish! shall I speak the sacred words which make the fiends howl, or wilt thou depart in peace ?"

"In peace I come to thee," said the spirit, "and in peace let me be gone. Hadst thou come sooner when I summoned thee, and not loitered away the precious death-bed moments, hearkening the wild and fanciful song of one whom I have deeply wronged, this journey might have been spared—a journey of pain to me, and peril to thyself."

"Peril to me!" said the pastor; "be it even as thou sayest. Shall I fly for one cast down, over whose prostrate form the purging fire has passed? Wicked was thy course on earth—manyand full of evil were thy days—and now thou art loose again, thou fierce and persecuting spirit,—a woe, and a woe to poor Scotland !”

"They are loose who never were bound," answered the spirit of Bonshaw, darkening in anger, and expanding in form, "and that I could soon show thee. But, behold, I am not permitted ;—there is a watcher—a holy one come nigh prepared to resist and to smite. I shall do thee no harm, holy man—I vow by the pains of punishment and the conscience-pang—now the watcher has departed.”

"Of whom speakest thou?” inquired Ezra. "Have we ministering spirits who guard the good from the plots of the wicked ones? Have we evil spirits who tempt and torment men, and teach the maidens ensnaring songs, and lighten their feet and their heads for the wanton dance?”

"Stay, I pray thee," said the spirit; "there are spirits of evil men and of good men made perfect, who are permitted to visit the earth, and power is given them for a time to work their will with men. I beheld one of the latter even now, a bold one and a noble; but he sees I mean not to harm thee, so we shall not war together."

At this assurance of protection, the pastor inclined his shuddering steed closer to his companion, and thus he proceeded:—

"You have said that my sect—my meek and lowly, and broken, and long persecuted remnant—have helped to people the profound hell; am I to credit thy words? "

"Credit them or not as thou wilt," said the spirit; "whoso spilleth blood by the sword, by the word, and by the pen, is there; the false witness; the misinterpreter of the Gospel; the profane poet; the profane and presumptuous preacher; the slayer and the slain; the persecutor and the persecuted; he who died at the stake, and he who piled the faggot;—all are there, enduring hard weird and penal fire for a time reckoned and days numbered. They are there whom thou wottest not of,” said the confiding spirit, drawing near as he spoke, and whispering the names of some of the worthies of the Kirk, and the noble, and the far-descended.

"I well believe thee," said the pastor; but I beseech thee to be more particular in thy information: give me the names which some of the chief ministers of woe in the nether world were known by in this. I shall hear of those who built cathedrals and strongholds, and filled thrones spiritual and temporal."

"Ay, that thou wilt,” said the spirit, "and the names of some of the mantled professors of God’s humble Presbyterian Kirk also; those who preached a burning fire and a devouring hell to their dissenting brethren, and who called out with a loud voice, ‘Perdition to the sons and daughters of men; draw the sword; slay and smite utterly.’"

"Thou art a false spirit assuredly," said the pastor; "yet tell me one thing. Thy steed and thou seem to be as one, to move as one, and I observed thee even now conversing with thy brute part; dost thou ride on a punished spirit, and is there injustice in hell as well as on earth?"

The spirit laughed.

"Knowest thou not this patient and obedient spirit on whom I ride?—what wouldst thou say if I named a name renowned at the holy altar? the name of one who loosed the sword on the bodies of men, because they believed in a humble Saviour, and he believed in a lofty. I have bestrode that mitred personage before now; he is the hack to all the Presbyterians in the pit, but he cannot be spared on a journey so distant as this.”

"So thou wilt not tell me the name of thy steed?" said Ezra; "well, even as thou wilt."

"Nay," said the spirit, " I shall not deny so good a man so small a matter. Knowest thou not George Johnstone, the captain of my troop,—as bold a hand as ever bore a sword and used it among fanatics? We lived together in life, and in death we are not divided.”

"In persecution and in punishment, thou mightest have said, thou scoffing spirit,” said the pastor. "But tell me, do men lord it in perdition as they did on earth ; is there no retributive justice among the condemned spirits?"

"I have condescended on that already,” said the spirit, "and I will tell thee further : there is thy old acquaintance and mine, George Gordon; punished and condemned though he be, he is the scourge, and the whip, and the rod of fire to all those brave and valiant men who served those equitable and charitable princes, Charles Stewart, and James, his brother. "

"I suspect why those honourable cavaliers are tasting the cup of punishment," said the pastor; "but what crime has sedate and holy George done that his lot is cast with the wicked?"

“Canst thou not guess it, holy Ezra?" answered the spirit. "His crime was so contemptible and mean that I scorn to name it. Hast thou any further questions? "

"You spoke of Charles Stuart, and James, his brother," said the pastor; "when sawest thou the princes for whom thou didst deluge thy country with blood, and didst peril thine own soul?"

"Ah ! thou cunning querist,” said the spirit, with a laugh; "canst thou not ask a plain question? Thou askest questions plain and pointed enough of the backsliding damsels of thy congregation—why shouldst thou put thy sanctified tricks on me, a plain and straight-forward spirit, as ever uttered response to the godly? Nevertheless, I will tell thee; I saw them not an hour ago-- Charles saddled me my steed; wot ye who held my stirrup ?-- even James, his brother. I asked them if they had any ancient kingdom of Scotland. The former laughed, and bade me bring him the kirk repentance-stool for a throne. The latter looked grave. and muttered over his fingers like a priest counting his beads ; and hell echoed far and wide with laughter at the two princes."

"Ay, ay!" said the pastor; "so I find you have mirth among you: have you dance and song also? "

"Ay, truly,” answered the spirit; "we have hymns and hallelujahs from the lips of that holy and patriotic band who banished their native princes, and sold their country to an alien ; and the alien himself rules and reigns among them; and when they are weary with the work of praise, certain inferior and officious spirits moisten their lips with cupfuls of a curious and cooling liquid, and then hymn and thanksgiving recommence again."

"Ah, thou dissembler,” said the minister; "and yet I see little cause why they should be redeemed, when so many lofty minds must wallow with the sinful for a season. But, tell me; it is long since I heard of Claud Hamilton,—have you seen him among you? He was the friend and follower of the alien—a mocker of the mighty minds of his native land—a scoffer of that gifted and immortal spirit which pours the glory of Scotland to the uttermost ends of the earth—tell me of him, I pray.”

Loud laughed the spirit, and replied in scorn---

"We take no note of things so mean and unworthy as he ; he may be in some hole in perdition, for aught I know or care. But, stay; I will answer thee truly. He has not passed to our kingdom yet ; he is condemned to the punishment of a long and useless life on earth ; and even now you will find him gnawing his flesh in agony to hear the name he has sought to cast down renowned over all the earth."

The spirit now seemed impatient to be gone; they had emerged from the glen; and vale and lea, brightened by the moon, and sown thick with evening dew, sparkled tar and wide.

"If thou wouldst question me farther,” said the frank and communicative spirit of Bonshaw, "and learn more of the dead, meet me in the old burial-ground an hour before moon-rise on Sunday night: tarry at home if thou wilt; but I have more to tell thee than thou knowest to ask about; and hair of thy head shall not be harmed.”

Even as he spoke the shape of horse and rider underwent a sudden transformation--the spirit sank into the shape of a steed, the steed rose into the form of the rider, and wrapping his visionary mantle about him, and speaking to his unearthly horse, away he started, casting as he flew a sudden and fiery glance on the astonished pastor, who muttered, as he concluded a brief prayer, -- “There goes Captain George Johnstone, riding on his fierce old master!”

End of Chapter Two

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