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The Long Glen
Chapter VII - Remorse and Ghost

ROB was obliged in the morning to resort to physical force to get his young comrades out of bed ; and when they assembled in the smearing-house, they looked so downcast and miserable that the old man declared they must ha\e eaten for supper all the possessed pigs which had ever rushed into the water since the beginning of the world.

Diarmad answered Rob's jeering very solemnly—"I'll never have hand in a blazing again. It is downright wicked and miserable work. And, then, whatever are we to do with the Ten Plagues of Egypt up there in the loft?"

Rob—"You'll better let them loose on the unco guid whom your soul detests."

Diarmad—"Oh, man of age, do not hit so sore."

Angus—"And I, too, will never join in such a ploy again. But, believe me who knows, the ants were worse than the frost-stiffened clothes."

Ewan—"Ochoin, ochoin! it is I that is murdered altogether. My throat is sore, and my cheeks are swollen. There is a hot and cold shiver in my whole body. I have no roof to my head. No, none whatever. Sneezing must have blown it off. And, as for my nose, it is just not to be spoken of at all; for it is just running like a ben fountain which is in haste to become a salmon stream."

Diarmad—"But what are we to do with the Ten Plagues of Egypt? Rob, will you be kind enough to take the whole lot of them."

Ewan—"Aye, dhuine ghasda, [Good man.] do take them. It will be the great kindness to us miserable sinners."

Rob—"Me take the Ten Plagues of Egypt! Why, Sheena is as strict in her notions as any member of Session in all Alba. Aye, a deal more strict than some famed watchmen of Israel, who, as long as it was to be got, made no objection whatever to good whisky that had never paid a penny of King's taxes."

Ewan—"But Sheena is with your married daughter, far enough away, and why should she ever hear a word about it?"

Rob—"Aye, man, but you are not married yet. Sheena sends me word our daughter has got a knave bairn, and she herself may be expected home any day."

Ewan—"Rob, you are an old deceiver; for well you know, this being your daughter's second knave child, it must have your name."

Diarmad—"Yes, the good name of the Bruce, which has been well kept up by the Bannockburn clans for five hundred years. Sheena will be sure to wait till after the christening."

Rob—"Ach, I don't know that. She is wearying to get home."

Diarmad—"Still, she is not home yet; and your Annie is a lassie to be trusted. So you must take, at least, some of these plagues."

Rob—"One, then, just to please you all."

Ewan—"One will not please us at all, at all."

Rob—"Two, then; but you must all promise to come to eat them. They must be got rid off, scale, and fin, and bone, before Sheena's home-coming."

Diarmad—"Very well, then ; and good be to you. What next, about the eight remaining plagues?"

Angus—"When I go up the hill for white sheep in the morning, I can see John Macpherson."

Ewan—"To be sure. Will you take as many as the poke of your plaid will hold to John?"

Angus—"I'll just take two of the smallest, and no more."

Ewan—"It might be I could take one down to Isbal Chrubach."

Diarmad—"Two, man. Two big ones for Isbal, and that makes six nicely disposed of. Isbal is as true as the steel of an old sword ; and the fish will be a sort of winter meat for the good old creature."

Angus—"Good, he says. Why, some people think her no better than a witch ; and, surely, she is not a favourite with the Session, or they would give her some help."

Rob—"She is too proud to ask for help, and grinds away at her wheel. She has not come of a begging race."

Diarmad—"She has a much better chance of getting into Heaven than a good many favourites of the Session. But, now, what are we to do with the remaining four plagues?"

Angus—"Eat them ourselves, I think. Ask thy mother to give us a big fish dinner to-day."

Diarmad—"Ask my mother! I hardly like to do that. Her mind would be troubled afterwards. But she has been long promising to go on an errand for me to my uncle. I'll step away this minute, scold her hard for breach of promise, and make her go directly. So we'll get her away from the baile for the rest of the day; and then Aunt Seonaid and the lassies will obey orders, and the old folks' stomachs and consciences will not be troubled at all, at all."

By going diplomatically to work, Diarmad achieved perfect success; and the Ten Plagues were got rid of as comfortably and quickly as could be reasonably expected. But the Water Kelpie's musical night sleeps were much disturbed for the remainder of that watching season, through his having unfortunately found, many miles lower down the Glen, the stump of a burnt torch, which Ewan had thoughtlessly thrown into the river.

When those who went to Falkirk returned home, they brought back with them the startling news that a ghost haunted the mountain pass of Lochan-na-larig, and that John of the Hens had seen it.

This John of the Hens was a canny body, who earned his living, and made savings also, by selling needles, thimbles, pirns, and groceries, and buying yarn, eggs, and poultry, in places far away from shops and markets. John owned a pony, which carried his goods in panniers; and he and his pony were well acquainted with many lonely passes and rugged sheep tracks. John, at his late time of life, and after having been so long spared from visitations, was the last person a decent ghost could think of troubling. But now it was the theme of general cackle that a ghost who cared nothing for the proprieties had given John a terrible scare. The Lochan-na-larig pass, moreover, got such a bad name that none of the people returning from Falkirk cared to risk crossing it alone in the dark. But, to be sure, they always liked to go away and come back in social bands, not pledged to eschew intoxicating drinks, although abstemious enough for all good purposes.

Few Highlanders yet dared to doubt the existence of ghosts; although the fierce onslaughts of ministers and Sessions on the poetry, ancient superstitions, and inherited customs of the Celtic race had already banished the fairies from their dancing rings and mound dwellings. The Witch of Endor story, and other Bible references, saved ghosts from banishment, and made their existence an article of orthodox belief.

The only doubt, therefore, was as to whether John of the Hens had, in reality, seen a ghost, or only slept, dreamed, and thought he saw with bodily eyes what he merely saw in vision. The general verdict was strongly in favour of John's strict veracity and strict wakefulness. The ghost story made him something of a hero. Everybody knew him, and everybody wanted to hear the story from his own lips. When notes were compared, it was found that he told the same identical story, without variation, to all inquirers.

John of the Hens came to the Glen on his regular round about a fortnight after he had seen the ghost. Rob, who was an old friend of his, got him to come to the smearing-house with his story, which he told as follows :—

"The night was right dark. It was a length past midnight, but there would be hours yet before the mouth of the morning. And I and my horse Pogy were helping each other to keep the path. And, look you, to keep the path at that place, in such a dark night, was not very easy. If we went a foot too far to the right hand, we would fall into a bog; and if we went a foot too far to the left, there would be a chance of broken bones. So I shogged Pogy off when I thought him coming too near my side, and Pogy stiffened his shoulder against my body when he thought I was keeping him too near the edge of the bog. Thus, we were slowly and carefully getting on to where, if it were only daylight or good moonlight, the Lochan would forthwith come into sight ; and Pogy stopped short and snorted. I think he also trembled. Then I looked upward and forward to see what frightened him; and, believe me or not, sure as death, I saw the crag above the lochan as if flames played upon it. Yes, and it was the black oozy part of the rock that seemed most ablaze. The eagle's nest was a patch of darkness, while bright light danced on the sgeirean1 above and on the wet stairs below. The light shimmered, wavered, flickered, and cast queer shadows. Greatly was I frightened, and greatly was Pogy frightened, too. We stood still to gaze at the marvel, and our hearts went on pit-a-patting like two eight-day clocks. And as we were gazing—sure as death, it is the very truth I am telling—the light, even in the winking of an eye, went clean out; and there was nothing at all to be seen but the darker darkness of the hills, and a few stars above in the clo-cloth sky; and few and feeble the stars were, for much veiled was the face of the night. I thought of turning back upon our footprints; but Pogy blew his nose, shook his head, as if to get rid of crealags,2 and then stepped boldly forward. So I just let Pogy have his way ; and we saw no more strange sights that night—which, for sure, was a blessing. And that is the whole story, and the clean truth, as sure as death; and if Pogy could speak, he would say the same. But, now, I must say good-day to you ; for Pogy is waiting for his dinner, and will be thinking I have forgotten him."

When John of the Hens turned his back on the smearing-house door, the evil-doers looked at one another, and Diarmad, starting up from his stool, said decisively, " This will never do ; the man must be told the truth." Angus said, " Yes, for sure;" but Ewan was beginning to raise objections, to which Diarmad did not stay to listen. He ran after John of the Hens, found him feeding Pogy, and explained to him, in few words, why on the night in question light was shining on the lochan crags. John was exceedingly pleased to be emancipated from the ghostly fear, on which he had constantly brooded since he saw the light. He voluntarily promised secrecy, and faithfully kept that promise ever afterwards. But, to the end of his life, he continued when asked—and he was asked hundreds of times—to tell the story of the vision, taking care, however, to preface it with the words of caution—"Mind, I don't say I saw a ghost, at all, at all, but I'll tell you what I saw."

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