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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter III

Superstitions of the glen—Frightful apparition—Discussion on visions—Discovery made by the Schoolmaster—Evanishment of the spectre—Oratory In the bush—Answer to prayer.

One faint, moonlight night in December, as Saunders and his family, with one or two pious neighbours, were convened around the hearth in the cottage, a young woman belonging to a neighbouring cottage burst open the door, rushed into the middle of the apartment, and shrieked out, "The dreary lady!" and fell down in a swoon. All was consternation. What was to be done? The first thing was to attend to the poor girl who lay senseless on the cold floor—and by the means commonly employed in such cases she was restored. When she came to herself all were anxious to know what had befallen—what had occasioned the fright. "The dreary lady!" she exclaimed, "it was the dreary lady!" and she shook and trembled till the household were thrown into a state of extreme agitation. "What!" cried Barbara, "the dreary lady come back again? I thought that that godly man, Ledgeo Cooper, who kept his school at the foot of the haunted lin, had for ever expelled that sad apparition that has so long caused such consternation to all the people in the glen, but it seems she is here again. I fear it bods nae guid but muckle ill! O! that we had another Ledgeo Cooper who had the courage to face her, and scare her away for ever." "But," said William Tait, a godly and intelligent shepherd, who was a frequent visitor in the patriarch's cottage " but the lassie may hae been mistaken. I hae seen things in my time in the lonely glens that I thought were bogles, and I hae heard sounds eerie and dowf in the far recesses amang the hills, that I hae ta'en for voices frae the other world. I became accustomed to such things, and then I acquired courage, and ventured to explore matters so far as I durst, and I found that there was nothing unworldly in the sights, nothing untowardly in the sounds, but that everything might be rationally accounted for. I hae never yet seen the dreary lady, muckle as I hae heard o' her; and I hae traversed the glen in the murkiest hours o' the night, and at all seasons o' the year." "Aye," replied Barbara, "that can be easily accounted for, for as we have been saying, the godly schoolmaster banished her from our quarter, and as long as he lived she never durst appear, but now he is dead, and has been some months in his grave, and has left an honoured name behind him, and now, it seems, the spectre has ventured out again, since he who overawed her is out of the way. O! how muckle need have we of the Lord's care; and this poor lassie has been nearly dung out o' her wits a' thegether; for that she has seen a real apparition is certain, because she fainted when she saw the light."

The story of the apparition is this:—The dreary lady of the lin, as she was familiarly called, had her residence in the dark gorge termed "The haunted lin," on account of the strange things that were heard and seen in its dusky retreats, and under the sombre shade of the old umbrageous trees, and the dense bushes that clothed the steep slopes of the lin on either side. A mountain streamlet purled along in its winding course in the deep bottom of the ravine, under the pendant arms of gloomy-oaks that kissed the surface of its limpid waters, as they went to meet the larger stream, to be carried along with it to the ocean.

The fancied lady appeared robed in the purest white, and always without the head, and some affirmed that even the red blood was seen trickling over her shoulders. Two things were always noticed respecting thi3 apparition. The one was, that she uniformly kept the same precise station, and the same unflinching posture, and the other was, that she usually appeared during the first quarter of the moon, or onward a little toward the second. Her station was a little below the brow of the gorge on the north side, and overlooking the darkest place in the ravine, and near a batch of trees, among which the nightly owl uttered his eerie and ungracious chant. "The dreary lady of the drum," as she was also called—drum literally signifying a ridge, which the northern side of the ravine was. Many had seen the lady at one time or another, for her station was near the road, and hence the fact of the apparition was amply confirmed. Still there were some who had their own doubts, and among these was William Tait. One evening, when a few friends in the cottage were conversing together, the subject of the spectre came to be discussed, and almost all agreed that it was a veritable vision from the other world. William stoutly asserted that it could be no such thing, and that the inhabitants of the invisible world were not allowed to roam the earth for the mere purpose of frightening harmless people, and that there must doubtless be some glamour or illusion in the case; and further, that the current stories about the ghost, or whatever it might be, made people believe that they saw it, just because others said that they had seen it. I have no faith in such things, for my part.

"Noo, William," said Barbara, "I ken that ye are baith a douce and a knowing man, and a man whose opinion I would rely on before the maist o' folk; but surely ye'll no hinder poor bodies like me to believe their ain een. Noo, I can tell ye that I hae seen the lady, the very lady that so many else hae seen. It was ae dark and murky night, when a wheen o' us were coming hame in company frae the winter sacrament, and a braw day we had o't, and muckle o' His gracious -presence who should be dear to us a'. Weel, as we were coming through the dark wood that fringes the road on baith sides, and past the auld font stane that stands lonely on the bonny green on the nether side o' the road, and as we were coming near the edge o' the burn that issues frae the hauntit lin, it happened that a black and fearfu' cloud had gathered on the high brow o' the Carco hill just before us; and oh how black!—black it was—we could not see a step o' the way, when a' at ance a startling flash o' lightning burst frae the bosom o' the grousome cloud, so that all the trees in the lin seemed to be in a bleeze, and there stood the white lady, as plain to our sight as you are to me at this moment. I will never forget that sight as lang as I live."

The worthy schoolmaster, who was present, and, like the rest, a believer in apparitions, argued that it was good to believe in such things; "for," said he, "these appearances form a link between us and the invisible world, and I think," added he, "we have in this a proof of the existence of human souls in a separate state, and this, in my creed, is a help to our faith in what the Holy Bible says on these matters." "I agree with you," said Saunders, "for I think these things are real, and there is no doubt a wise end to be served in permitting either angel or spirit to appear to us who still dwell on the earth beneath."

The decided opinion expressed by William, however, was not altogether without its effect. It made an impression on the honest schoolmaster, who determined in his secret mind quietly to investigate the matter. Accordingly, next day, he visited the side of the lin where the lady was in the habit of showing herself, and looking carefully among the stunted trees near the top, he noticed the stump of a decayed tree exactly the height of a man, having its bark all peeled to the bare wood— the trunk appeared to be of unusual whiteness, and crowned on the top with a quantity of brown moss, which had grown on it for years past. He looked, and looked again; he examined the scathed stump round and round, for it seemed to have been blasted by lightning. "Can it be possible," he said to himself, "that this is after all, the white lady? the dreary phantom that has scared us all. I shall, this very evening, examine it in the moonlight, and satisfy myself for once. Accordingly, when the moon was up, Ledgeo stationed himself on the other side of the ravine, right opposite the spectre's place, and there, all at once, appeared the dreary lady in her white drapery, on the upper edge of the lin, and, as nearly as he could guess, on the very spot where stood the barkless stump. He was now almost convinced that the whole was an illusion. He resolved, however, to put the thing still farther to the test, and determined to hew down the stump on the morrow, and in the moonlight again to witness the result. Having executed his design, he once more stationed himself on the other side of the glen, and looked across, but, behold, no white lady was to be seen, her place was vacated, and she never more appeared.

It was now the intention of the worthy man to disabuse the minds of the people in the glen with regard to the dreary lady; but how was this to be done? To tell them that the vision was just the bare stump of a tree illuminated by the moon was out of the question. This was far too simple a matter, and would not be credited for a single moment. In those times the popular belief was that ghosts, and bogles, and other veritable apparitions were to be allayed only by saintly men engaging in fervent prayer, and in employing certain incantations in addition. If these succeeded, all was well, and the ghosts and spectres would never more be seen. It now occurred to the honest schoolmaster just to say that he had now done that with regard to the. dreary lady that he would never reveal to mortal man, but that the inhabitants of the glen might rest secure from any further visitation from the dreaded object, and accordingly, no one ever after pretended that he had seen the lady, till the occurrence mentioned in the case of this young woman who fainted on the floor of Saunders' cottage, and which vision could have been easily traced to a similar cause with that now stated.

But even Ledgeo himself, though he made this discovery, and for once chased the dreary lady from the lin, was not thereby divorced from his own superstitious leanings. The following story is told of him:—One day, in his school, he was exhorting the children on the subject of secret prayer, and never to desist in the performance of the duty, whatever opposition they might meet with. He mentioned an incident that befel himself when one evening he was praying in the heart of a thick bush in the lin, not far from his own house. He said he was quite sure that the "Evil One" was near him, and pulling at his clothes behind to cause him to desist from the duty, but that he persisted till he overcame the adversary in fulfilment of the promise, "resist the devil, and he will flee from you." As he was narrating this, the poor children imagined that the devil was actually among them at that moment, and in a brief space the school was emptied, the children fleeing in every direction in sheer terror. "We remember in our younger days conversing with a man nearly ninety years of age who at that time was one of the scholars, and whose father, the laird of the orchard, and of the haunted lin, led him and the other children back to the school, which stood at the mouth of the lin, saying, "We manna allow the diel to misuse the honest man at that rate." The site of the good schoolmaster's house, on a beautiful green spot, used to be pointed out to us by Margaret Braidfoot, an aged woman, whose memory was full of old stories respecting the glen, and on which she dwelt with enthusiasm.

We have said that the good schoolmaster prayed among the thickets in the lin; and we may here mention that Saunders also had an oratory in a dense bush, a short distance from his dwelling house. It was a hazel thicket which grew for many a long year after, till the hand of modern improvement was put forth for the purpose of uprooting and clearing away the underwood, and other obstructions that lay in the way of the cultivation of the soil. Into the heart of this bush Saunders penetrated, and removed the twigs and young growth in the centre, forming there a sylvan chamber for himself into which to retire at his own convenience. The necessity of having such a place of retreat is obvious, when we consider that the cottages of the people at that time consisted, for the most part, of a single apartment, in which the whole family resided, and hence a small private chamber was much needed, especially for devotional purposes. An unostentatious Christian likes to be alone when he is communing with his God, and loves best when no human ear is near to listen. The floor of Saunders's bosky chamber was strewed with withered leaves and dried grass, full of scented herbs, which emitted a pleasant fragrance, and afforded a soft couch on which to recline. In this secrecy Saunders spent many a happy hour in devotional exercises and spiritual meditation. It was his custom, at least on the fine Sabbath mornings in summer, to get up at an early hour, and retire to his bush. The lark was then high in the sky, the sweet warblers on the trees and underwood were filling all the space around with delicious melody. The heart of honest Saunders rose in gratitude to the giver of all good who had made the earth and all nature so fair, notwithstanding the blight that man's sin has brought upon it, for Saunders was an admirer of nature; he could sit for hours on the open space on the hill, and wonder and adore. The gorgeousness of the scenery all around entranced him—the high sun, the blue sky, the flitting clouds, the green-clad heights, the deep ravines, the murmuring music of the mountain rills, the woodland copse, the dark openings in the murky gorges, the cushets cooing in the groves, with all the dusky inhabitants of Crowland—for the glen was one rookery from end to end—all and everything had a charm for Saunders, who, with true instinctive taste, rioted in the scene, and traced the footprints of the great Maker in the whole. Earth's scenery presented a banquet to Saunders of which he largely partook, and if he was not a philosopher, he was at least a poet in his tastes. It was a beautiful Sabbath morning, in the balmy month of June, and a high day in the parish, for it was their sacramental day, and Saunders was in his retirement at an early hour. He had been about two hours in his sweet retreat in the inmost bush before any of the cottagers were astir. There were several things that pressed on Saunders' mind that morning. One was the conversion of his youngest daughter Janet; for this he wrestled for a whole hour, till the perspiration burst out over his whole body, and with tears and sweat his face was suffused as with a shower of rain, and he arose from his knees refreshed in spirit, and confident that the hearer of prayer would have respect to his supplication through the intercession of the great High Priest before the throne. This we shall see in due time.

Another thing about which this man of prayer felt more than ordinarily solicitous this morning, was the preservation of the various domiciles in the glen when the inmates were at the church, for it was the custom that every individual man, woman, and child, who could at all move, should be present on the day of their annual sacrament. Old men leaning on their staves, and mothers, with their babes in their arms, and fathers leading their young children trotting by their side, all convened on that occasion, so that the cottages were left defenceless, and fully exposed to the inroads of all designing persons. The reason of the solicitude of honest Saunders on this Sabbath in particular, was a report that had spread down the valley of the Crawick, that certain plunderings had been going on in the places adjacent, and especially in the remote parish of Crawfordjohn, by a company of vagabonds, who exercised their calling particularly on the Sabbath days, when the most of the cottagers were at church. The plundering was indiscriminate,—butter and cheese, and eggs and poultry, and hams, and money; in fact, every portable article was carried off, so that many a poor household was robbed of all—clothes, and everything. Saunders felt unusually impressed with this consideration, and he poured out his requests before the Lord, for the special guardianship of the dwellings of the people in their absence. When he had ended his supplications, and had sat down on the soft hay to read a portion of the Divine word, he lighted on that part of it in the Books of Moses, wherein the Lord promises his special protection and safe-keeping of the dwellings and families of his people, when they went up to Jerusalem, to the great annual festivals, to worship. This, thought he, is the very thing for me, I will plead this, and abide by it.

As he was ruminating on the thing, he noticed a slight rustling among the bushes near him, and two men, obviously intruders, seated themselves close by his retreat. Every word they spoke was distinctly heard, and they appeared to be entire strangers. But the thing which mainly interested Saunders was the subject of their conversation, and that was, by no means, a pleasant topic; it was, in short, how they might best plunder the cottages in the absence of the people when at church.

He heard them lay their plans, he was informed of the place on which they intended to make their first attack, and the particular spot to which they were to convey their booty. The whole was now before him, and the thing with him was how to act. He knew he could now defeat their plans, and he deliberated whether to convey private information to the man of the cottages to put them on their guard, or to divulge the thing at once, and in the most public manner. He resolved on the latter, and creeping cautiously from his lair, and approaching the place where the men lay basking themselves in the warm sunshine, he exclaimed, "Ye villains! I have listened to your plans. I have heard your designs of robbery: up, get you away from this place." The men were confounded, as if a bombshell had exploded at their feet, and in their consternation betook themselves to the hill. By this time the cottagers were all astir, and hearing the voice of honest Saunders on the rising ground above them, their attention was directed to the circumstance as being somewhat unusual. They saw two men speeding as best they might up the steep face of the height before them, and Saunders vociferating, Villains! robbers! housebreakers! All was agog—the people ran and shouted, and threatened, and then a whole company of dogs, with a large brave mastiff at their head, bounded across the fields, and over fences, in one hilarious cavalcade, in keen chase after the robbers. The fugitives now saw their predicament, and, out of breath, they rounded the corner of the hill, where they vanished, and the dogs after them. How the affair ended in the lin could not well be known; but after a pretty long interval the dogs returned, with the mastiff marching majestically before them, as being commander-in chief, and the poor faithful animals looked in their masters faces with peculiar satisfaction, as much as to say have we not achieved a manly exploit?

It was supposed that the robbers had climbed a tree, and thus got out of the reach of the dogs, for certain branches appeared to have been newly broken, and a rag or two of their clothes were found dangling from a branch. Saunders then stated the whole case to the cottars, who felt truly thankful for the deliverance. Thus was the design of the robbers defeated, and thus were the prayers of an honest man answered.

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