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Book of Scottish Story
The Ghost with the Golden Casket

By Allan Cunningham.


The young fishermen having concluded their song, my companion proceeded. -

"The lightning still flashed vivid and fast, and the storm raged with unabated fury; for, between the ship and the shore, the sea broke in frightful undulation, and leaped on the green-sward several fathoms deep abreast. My father, mounted on one horse, and holding another in his hand, stood prepared to give all the aid that a brave man could to the unhappy mariners; but neither horse nor man could endure the onset of that tremendous surge. The bark bore for a time the fury of the element ; but a strong eastern wind came suddenly upon her, and crushing her between the wave and the freestone bank, drove her from the entrance of my father’s little bay towards the dwelling of Gibbie Gyrape, and the thick forest intervening, she was out of sight in a moment. My father saw, for the last time, the lady and her husband looking shoreward from the side of the vessel, as she drifted along; and as he galloped round the head of the forest, he heard for the last time the outcry of some, and the wail and intercession of others. When he came before the fisherman’s house, a fearful sight presented itself : the ship, dashed to atoms, covered the shore with its wreck, and with the bodies of the mariners—not a living soul escaped, save Richard Faulder, whom the fiend who guides the spectre shallop of the Solway had rendered proof to the perils of the deep.

The fisherman himself came suddenly from his cottage, all dripping and drenched, and my father addressed him :-—

"‘O, Gilbert, Gilbert, what a fearful sight is this ! Has Heaven blessed thee with making thee the means of saving a human soul?’

"‘Nor soul nor body have I saved,’ said the fisherman, doggedly. ‘ I have done my best; the storm proved too stark, and the lightning too fierce for me ; their boat alone came near with a lady and a casket of gold, but she was swallowed up with the surge.’

"My father confessed afterwards that he was struck with the tone in which these words were delivered, and made answer—

"‘If thou hast done thy best to save souls to-night, a bright reward will be thine;—if thou hast been fonder for gain than for working the mariners’ redemption, thou hast much to answer for.’

"As he uttered these words, an immense wave rolled landward, as far as the place where they stood; it almost left its foam on their faces, and suddenly receding, deposited at their feet the dead body of the lady. As my father lifted her in his arms, he observed that the jewels which had adorned her hair—at that time worn long—had been forcibly rent away; the diamonds and gold that enclosed her neck, and ornamented the bosom of her rich satin dress, had been tom off,—the rings removed from her fingers,—and on her neck, lately so lily-white and pure, there appeared the marks of hands—not laid there in love and gentleness, but with a fierce and deadly grasp.

"The lady was buried with the body of her husband, side by side, in Caerlaverock burial-ground. My father never openly accused Gilbert the fisherman of having murdered the lady for her riches, as she reached the shore, preserved from sinking, as was supposed, by her long, wide, and stiff satin robes ;—but from that hour till the hour of his death, my father never broke bread with him-- never shook him or his by the hand, nor spoke with them in wrath or in love. The fisherman from that time, too, waxed rich and prosperous; and from being the needy proprietor of a halve-net, and the tenant at will of a rude cottage, he became, by purchase, lord of a handsome inheritance, proceeded. to build a bonny mansion, and called it Gyrape-ha’ ; and became a leading man in a flock of a purer kind of Presbyterians, and a precept and example to the community.

"But though the portioner of Gyrape-ha’ prospered wondrously, his claims to parochial distinction, and the continuance of his fortune, were treated with scorn by many, and with doubt by all; though nothing open or direct was said, yet looks, more cutting at times than the keenest speech, and actions still more expressive, showed that the hearts of honest men were alienated—the cause was left to his own interpretation. The peasant scrupled to become his servant; sailors hesitated to receive his grain on board, lest perils should find them on the deep ; the beggar ceased to solicit alms ; the drover and horse-couper—an unscrupulous generation—found out a more distant mode of concluding bargains than by shaking his hand; his daughters, handsome and blue-eyed, were neither wooed nor married ; no maiden would hold tryst with his sons, though maidens were then as little loth as they are now; and the aged peasant, as he passed his new mansion, would shake his head and say—‘ The voice of spilt blood will be lifted up against thee ; and a spirit shall come up from the waters, and cause the corner-stone of thy habitation to tremble and quake.’

It happened, during the summer which succeeded this unfortunate shipwreck, that I accompanied my father to the Solway, to examine his nets. It was near midnight, the tide was making, and I sat down by his side and watched the coming of the waters. The shore was glittering in starlight as far as the eye could reach. Gilbert, the fisherman, had that morning removed from his cottage to his new mansion ; the former was therefore untenanted, and the latter, from its vantage-ground on the crest of the hill, threw down to us the sound of mirth, and music, and dancing, -- a revelry common in Scotland on taking possession of a new house. As we lay quietly looking on the swelling sea, and observing the water-fowl swimming and ducking in the increasing waters, the sound of the merriment became more audible. My father listened to the mirth, looked to the sea, looked to the deserted cottage, and then to the new mansion, and said--" ‘My son, I have a counsel to give thee ; treasure it in thy heart, and practise it in thy life : the daughters of him of Gyrape-ha’ are fair, and have an eye that would wile away the wits of the wisest. Their father has wealth,—I say nought of the way he came by it,—they will have golden portions doubtless. But I would rather lay thy head aneath the gowans in Caerlaverock kirkyard (and son have I none beside thee), than see thee lay it on the bridal pillow with the begotten of that man, though she had Nithsdale for her dowry. Let not my words be as seed sown on the ocean. I may not now tell thee why this warning is given. Before that fatal ship-wreck, I would have said Prudence Gyrape, in her kirtle, was a better bride than some who have golden dowers. I have long thought some one would see a sight; and often, while holding my halve-net in the midnight tide, have I looked for something to appear, for where blood is shed there doth the spirit haunt for a time, and give warning to man. May I be strengthened to endure the sight! ’

"I answered not, being accustomed to regard my father’s counsel as a matter not to be debated, as a solemn command: we heard something like the rustling of wings on the water, accompanied by a slight curling motion of the tide. ‘ God haud His right hand about us !’ said my father, breathing thick with emotion and awe, and looking on the sea with a gaze so intense that his eyes seemed to dilate, and the hair of his forehead to project forward, and bristle into life. I looked, but observed nothing, save a long line of thin and quivering light, dancing along the surface of the sea : it ascended the bank, on which it seemed to linger for a moment, and then entering the fisherman’s cottage, made roof and rafter gleam with a sudden illumination. ‘ I’ll tell thee what, Gibbie Gyrape,’ said my father, ‘I wouldna be the owner of thy heart, and the proprietor of thy right hand, for all the treasures-in earth and ocean.’

"A loud and piercing scream from the cottage made us thrill with fear, and in a moment the figures of three human beings rushed into the open air, and ran towards us with a swiftness which supernatural dread alone could inspire. We instantly knew them to be three noted smugglers who infested the country; and rallying when they found my father maintain his ground, they thus mingled their fears and the secrets of their trade, for terror fairly overpowered their habitual caution.

"‘I vow by the night tide, and the crooked timber,’ said Willie Weethause, ‘ I never beheld sic a light as yon since our distillation pipe took fire, and made a burnt instead of a drink offering of our spirits ; I’ll uphold it comes for nae good-a warning maybe—sae ye may gang on, Wattie Bouseaway, wi’ yer wickedness; as for me, I’se gang hame and repent.’

"‘Saulless bodie!’ said his companion, whose natural hardihood was considerably supported by his communion with the brandy cup-‘ saulless bodie, for a flaff o’ fire and a maiden’s shadow, would ye foreswear the gallant trade? Saul to gude ! but auld Miller Morison shall turn yer thrapple into a drain-pipe to wyse the waste water from his mill, if ye turn back now, and help us nae through wi’ as strong an importation as ever cheered the throat, and cheeped in the crapin. Confound the fuzhionless bodie! he glowers as if this fine starlight were something frae the warst side o’ the world, and thae staring een o’ his are busy shaping heaven’s sweetest and balmiest air into the figures of wraiths and goblins.’

"‘Robert Telfer," said my father, addressing the third smuggler, ‘ tell me naught of the secrets of your perilous trade ; but tell me what you have seen, and why ye uttered that fearful scream, that made the wood-doves start from Caerlaverock pines.’

"‘I’ll tell ye what, goodman,’ said the mariner, ‘ I have seen the fires of heaven running as thick along the sky, and on the surface of the ocean, as ye ever saw the blaze on a bowl o’ punch at a merry-making, and neither quaked nor screamed ; but ye’ll mind the light that came to that cottage to-night was one for some fearful purport, which let the wise expound; sae it lessened nae one’s courage to quail for sic an apparition? ’Od, if I thought living soul would ever make the start I gied an upcast to me, I’d drill his breast-bane with my dirk like a turnip-lantern.’

"My father mollified the wrath of this maritime desperado, by assuring him that he beheld the light go from the sea to the cottage, and that he shook with terror, for it seemed no common light.

"‘Ou, then,’ said hopeful Robin, ‘since it was ane o’ our ain cannie sea apparitions, I care less about it. I took it for some landward sprite! And now I think on’t, where were my een? Did it no stand amang its ain light, with its long hanks of hair dripping and drenched ; with a casket of gold in ae hand, and the other guarding its throat? I’ll be bound it’s the ghost o’ some sonsie lass that has had her neck nipped for her gold; and had she stayed till I emptied the bicker o’ brandy, I would have asked a cannie question or twa.’

"Willie Weethause had now fairly overcome his consternation, and began to feel all his love return for the ‘gallant trade,’ as his comrade called it.

"‘The tide serves, lads! the tide serves; let us slip our drap o’ brandy into the bit bonnie boat, and tottle awa amang the sweet starlight as far as the Kingholm or the town quarry—ye ken we have to meet Bailie Gardevine and Laird Soukaway o’ Ladlemouth.’

"They then returned, not without hesitation and fear, to the old cottage; carried their brandy to the boat; and as my father and I went home, we heard the dipping of their oars in the Nith, along the banks of which they sold their liquor, and told their tale of fear, magunifying its horror at every step, and introducing abundance of variations.

"The story of the Ghost with the Golden Casket flew over the country side with all its variations, and with many comments. Some said they saw her, and some thought they saw her; and those who had the hardihood to keep watch on the beach at midnight had their tales to tell of terrible lights and strange visions. With one who delighted in the marvellous, the spectre was decked in attributes that made the circle of auditors tighten round the hearth; while others, who allowed to a ghost only a certain quantity of thin air to clothe itself in, reduced it in their description to a very unpoetic shadow, or a kind of better sort of will-o’-the-wisp, that could for its own amusement counterfeit the human shape. There were many others who, like my father, beheld the singular illumination appear at midnight on the coast ; saw also something sailing along with it in the form of a lady in bright garments, her hair long and wet, and shining in diamonds ; and heard a struggle, and the shriek as of a creature drowning.

"The belief of the peasantry did not long confine the apparition to the sea coast; it was seen sometimes late at night far inland, and following Gilbert the fisherman, like a human shadow—like a pure light—like a white garment --and often in the shape and with the attributes in which it disturbed the carousal of the smugglers. I heard douce Davie Haining—a God-fearing man, and an elder of the Burgher congregation, and on whose word I could well lippen, when drink was kept from his head—I heard him say that as he rode home late from the Roodfair of Dumfries -- the night was dark, there lay a dusting of snow on the ground, and no one appeared on the road but himself; he was lilting and singing the canny end of the auld sang, ‘ There’s a' cutty stool in our kirk,’ which was made on some foolish quean’s misfortune, when he heard the sound of horses’ feet behind him at full gallop, and ere he could look round, who should flee past, urging his horse with whip and spur, but Gilbert the fisherman ! ‘ Little wonder that he galloped,’ said the elder, ‘ for a fearful form hovered around him, making many a clutch at him, and with every clutch uttering a shriek most piercing to hear. But why should I make a long story of a common tale? The curse of spilt blood fell on him, and on his children, and on all he possessed; his sons and daughters died; his flocks perished; his grain grew, but never filled the ear ; and fire came from heaven, or rose from hell, and consumed his house and all that was therein. He is now a man of ninety years ; a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, without a house to put his white head in, and with the unexpiated curse still clinging to him. "

While my companion was making this summary of human wretchedness, I observed the figure of a man, stooping to the earth with extreme age, gliding through among the bushes of the ruined cottage, and approaching the advancing tide. He wore a loose great-coat, patched to the ground, and fastened round his waist by a belt and buckle; the remains of stockings and shoes were on his feet ; a kind of fisherman’s cap surmounted some remaining white hairs, while a long peeled stick supported him as he went. My companion gave an involuntary shudder when he saw him—

"Lo and behold, now, here comes Gilbert the fisherman! Once every twenty-four hours does he come, let the wind and the rain be as they will, to the nightly tide, to work o’er again, in imagination, his old tragedy of unrighteousness. See how he waves his hand, as if he welcomed some one from the sea; he raises his voice, too, as if something in the water required his counsel ; and see how he dashes up to the middle, and grapples with the water as if he clutched a human being!"

I looked on the old man, and heard him call in a hollow and broken voice--

"Ahoy! the ship ahoy,—turn your boat’s head ashore! And, my bonnie leddy, keep haud o’ yer casket. Hech be’t! that wave would have sunk a three-decker, let a be a slender boat.

See—see an she binna sailing abune the water like a wild swan I "—and wading deeper in the tide as he spoke, he seemed to clutch at something with both hands, and struggle with it in the water.

"Na, na—dinna haud your white hands to me; ye wear ower mickle gowd in your hair, and ower mony diamonds on your bosom, to ’scape drowning. There’s as mickle gowd in this casket as would have sunk thee seventy fathom deep." And he continued to hold his hands under the water, muttering all the while.

"She’s half gane now; and I’ll be a braw laird, and build a bonnie house, and gang crousely to kirk and market. Now I may let the waves work their will ; my wark will be ta’en for theirs."

He turned to wade to the shore, but a large and heavy wave came full dash on him, and bore him off his feet, and ere any assistance reached him, all human aid was too late; for nature was so exhausted with the fulness of years, and with his exertions, that a spoonful of water would have drowned him. The body of this miserable old man was interred, after some opposition from the peasantry, beneath the wall of the kirkyard ; and from that time the Ghost with the Golden Casket was seen no more, and only continued to haunt the evening tale of the hind and the farmer.

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