Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
The Decline and Fall of the Ghost

What may this mean,
That thou, dead corse, ....
Kovisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?


Johnnie Hume was an Aberdonian of birth and rank—that is to say, a ploughman, and the son of a ploughman. I cannot swear that he was quite so intelligent as his clansman, the historian of England; but there is one thing certain: Johnnie was sprung from one of the most ancient and noble families upon earth, and his blood had never been contaminated by any deteriorating admixture with the blood of a meaner race. Johnnie could trace his descent from an ancestor whose dominions were more extensive than those of Pompey the Great, Peter the Great, Caesar the Great, or even Sandy the Great. The founder of Johnnie's family was Noah, who reigned over the whole earth; and, though he had neither wars nor taxes, prime minister nor privy counsellor, governed his subjects without rebellion, and died in the full possession of his regal authority.* Such being the ancestry of Johnnie Hume, it cannot be denied that he was both anciently and honourably descended.

Johnnie -was a little man, of plethoric body, with a short face, full, round, and rubicund—exceedingly expressive of self-complacency. His eyes were small, and almost entirely concealed beneath his shaggy eye-brows, which gave them the peculiar advantage of seeing without being seen. His mouth was large, and the under lip turned down with a graceful curl, resting confidingly on the soft, glittering, cushion-like redundancy of his short, broad, and sagacious chin. This lip was particularly serviceable to Johnnie when he and his social neighbours happened to meet over their evening dram; and it was curious to observe the gradual unfolding of that pouch-like appendage to his mouth, which, so soon as his fingers touched the glass, turned slowly upward, and formed itself into a regular and capacious receiver for the dearly loved liquid.

In his worldly circumstances Johnnie was "geyly provided for," as he himself expressed it, being in possession of a small farm, at that period when low rents and high prices raised so many of his fellow-landloupers to the quality of lairds. But though Johnnie possessed all the avarice of a man of the world, he was not possessed of the capacity of rising to a higher place in society. Though he was habitually cautious in parting with money, and habitually careful in collecting the last farthing of the smallest debt that was due to him, he had still to sustain the character of a liberal, good-hearted man among his ale-house companions; and this bottle generosity sometimes proved too hard for his domestic economy. Johnnie was no "scrub," as he himself asserted; but if, in settling accounts, there happened to be an odd halfpenny, which the payer claimed in discount, for want of change, or some other reasonable consideration, he never failed to show his sense of the value of it, by repeating the money table which he had learned at school— "Twa bawbees mak' ae penny, an' twall pennies mak' ae shil-lin', an' twenty shillin's mak' ae pound; sae ye see," said Johnnie, "though this be a little sum, it mak's a pairt o' a muckle ane,

It is recorded of this potentate, in the writings of Robert Burns, that

Graceless Ham leuch at his dad,
Which made Canaan a Nigger.

This seems to have been a sort of rebellion, though not to such an extent as to derogate from the sovereign dignity of Johnnie's Ancestor. "an' I canna want tho bawbee!" But though Johnnie's nature and education neither desired nor required the delicacies or refinements of life, his familiarity with the gill-stoup, and that Scottish inactivity in the general management of his affairs, which a habitual addiction to the use of ardent spirits never fails to produce, served to prevent his fortune from exceeding his capacity to enjoy it. Yet, after all, Johnnie was a substantial man, who could at any time change a pound to a neighbour who required it; and this command of money made him respectable among the rich as a subject of sport, and honourable among the poor as an object of convenience.

Johnnie's family consisted of four children, of the same sturdy constitution, and stubborn disposition as himself. It was the subject of his proudest boast, that he had "gien them a' a gueed edification; for there wasna ane o' them but was sax winters at the sceul." Yet, after all this long course of instruction, when he wished to avail himself of their learning, to relieve him from some arithmetical perplexity, he found their boasted education insufficient to tell him what was the cost of a boll of meal at one shilling and fourpence the peck.

Johnnie's family grew up. around him, in the light of his own example, and soon became the faithful representatives of their father in mind and in body. His eldest son, the inheritor of his patronymic, at the age of twenty-four was deemed fully qualified for the management of a farm of his own; and was, accordingly, provided with the portion necessary for commencing business on his own account. A small farm, adjacent to Dubbyside, became vacant; and old Johnnie, with great adroitness, negotiated a bargain with the proprietor, in behalf of his hopeful son. This farm was beautifully situated on the banks of the Tay; but the sweetness of the surrounding scenery added nothing to its value in the eyes of its intended cultivator. Johnnie was luckily ignorant of every production of nature, with the exception of wheat, barley, oats, turnips, and rye. Nevertheless, he succeeded in his calling, and soon ceased to, be considered as a dependent member of the family. But while Little Johnnie (as he continued to be called for distinction's sake, though the largest man of the two) increased in wealth, his venerable father declined in health. Though he was originally possessed of a stronger constitution than any other animal, carnivorous or herbaceous, on the farm of Dubbyside, he had poured more whisky over his throat than would have killed all the horses in his stable, and all the cows in his byre; and it so happened, that Johnnie became so seriously indisposed, that he was no longer able to travel the short distance which lay between his own house at Dubbyside, and the little inn at Drumdreggle, where, for the last twenty years of his life, he had been accustomed to repair for nightly consolation. But, alas for Johnnie ! those halcyon days and merry nights were gone; and he was the most miserable of men ! His mind was completely destitute of all internal sources of enjoyment; and therefore completely unprepared for the society of solitude.

His memory and imagination had never been developed by exercise; and he had, therefore, nothing to recall, and nothing to anticipate. The past presented no comfortable recollections, and the future exhibited no cheering hopes. He only possessed the present, and to him it was present misery. His good nature, which was the best quality in his composition, at length gave way under the painful circumstances of his situation; and he became peevish, fretful, and discontented with himself, and every thing around him. He was now a prisoner to nature for his previous contumacious disregard of her laws; and the only liberty which he possessed, was the privilege of swinging backwards and forwards in his old arm chair, with the pleasure of grumbling at every one who came within reach of his voice. But as he had lost all respect in his family, his admonitory addresses, and paternal reproofs, were generally answered by a scornful laugh, or a contemptuous repetition of his words.

Johnnie's disease, encouraged by the harsh treatment he received from his friends, and strengthened by his own discontent, soon reduced his bluff, good-humoured countenance to the most meagre dimensions; and being no longer able to keep his seat by the tire, he was gladly consigned, by his careful family, to the closer and more dreary incarceration of an old box bed, where even his last remaining consolation—the pleasure of grumbling—was fairly cut off; for, as the lids were kept shut, the household operations were concealed from his view; and he had no motive for the exercise uf his only available faculty. Yet he was sometimes so overcome with a desperate desire for utterance, that, raising himself up on his arm, and knocking against the wooden walls of his prison, he not unfrequently addressed his dear goodwife in such language as the following:

"Ho ye, Janet! D'ye hear me na—eh? Gae doun to Willie M'Bickers, an' be hanged to ye! an' tell him if he does na send me twa bottles o' his best ruaut whisky, he'll never see my face again at Drumdreggle; for I'm deein' for want o' a cure. Open thae lids, ye doure auld dromedary !" he would continue in a louder tone, " d'ye think that I'm to be keepit mowtherin', mowtherin' here like a mole in a peat stack, without ever seein' a blink o' licht for the lee-lang day but what comes in at the key-hole!"

To this violent remonstrance the tender-hearted goodwife only replied, by observing to her equally delicate daughter:

"Let him craw there like a cock i' the crib—he may weel fleg the chickens, but he canna brack the eggs noo!"

After a hearty laugh at her mother's wit, Tibby also had her humorous remark on her father's misery. Johnnie was too much accustomed to the want of affection in his family, to feel very acutely this utter contempt of his commands, and shameless disregard of his comfort. Yet the pain of his disease, aided by such ungentle treatment, sometimes operated so forcibly on his exhausted temper as to render him completely furious; and upon these occasions he tumbled about in his wooden dormitory liked a chafed tiger in his cage, imprecating curses on himself and all who were within hearing of his still stentorian voice. These fits of rage soon exhausted his little remaining strength; and they were generally succeeded by intervals of peace and repentance. During one of these melancholy qualms, the sad and solemn idea that he was a dying man at length fairly forced itself upon his stubborn brain; and as it was seemly for a man in his circumstances to settle his earthly affairs, Johnnie wisely bethought him of making his will. He had enjoyed no will of his own for some time past; but in this instance, some of the members of his family seconded his motion with great readiness; others who thought it would be more for their benefit that he should die intestate, opposed his inclination with great bitterness. And thus a debate arose in Johnnie's household, which was as noisy, as selfish, and, I had almost said, as sensible as any which has occurred in the British Parliament since the days of Pitt and Fox. Nevertheless, when the house divided, Johnnie's party prevailed; and, strange to tell, he experienced great kindness and attention from both sides ever afterwards; for the contending parties seemed to vie with each other in obeying his commands and supplying his wants; and between this period and the final settlement of Johnnie's last will and testament, his friend Willie M'Bickers of Drum-dreggle had been several times called upon in his behalf, and divers bottles of his best medicinal water kindly procured, and tenderly presented to the old invalid by his loving relatives and—expectant legatees.

Johnnie had no knowledge of legal forms; and he was only possessed of as much skill in the art of writing as to enable him to sign his own name. He was therefore incapable of preparing himself the necessary instrument for securing to his heirs the property which he intended to bequeath; and to call in the assistance of a professional gentleman was quite contrary to Johnnie's ideas of economy; for, as he wisely remarked, "a lawur wud tak' as muckle to tell fowk what they were to get, as a' he had to gi'e them." But he discovered a cheaper method of managing the affair, and one which answered the purpose as well with his simple family as the most nicely adjusted testament could have done; for they were not acquainted with the method of breaking obligations by the assistance of law.

After receiving from the hands of his dutiful wife a glass of double strong destructive, which had the happy effect of strengthening him to make his will, and of hurrying him out of the way, for the benefit of those whom it concerned, he raised himself up on his arm, with all the Scottish good humour of his better days beaming in his countenance, and thus addressed his faithful spouse—

"Ho ye, luckie! D'ye hear me na, eh? I fin' mysel' a gueed deal revived by that speen'ul [spoonful] o' drink, woman; and if a little dee [do] muckle gueed [good], muckle 'll dee mair; sae hand me anither glass o't. D'ye understand me na—eh? Wha kens but I may live to bless ye mony a lang day yet; but it's best to be prepared for the warst, as worthy Mr. Humelrigs was wont to say ; sae ye'll send aff immediately for my friends, Will M'Bickers and Sandy Hapabout, that they may come and bear testification to the guids I intend to contribute amang ye. D'ye understand me na, eh 1 An' hear ye me, luckie—may the gear that I gi'e ye blaw aff frae yer hand like birk seed frae the bensil, if ye forget the injunctions I leave ye, or mak' ony tirrivee about my testimony after I'm gane!"

This was no time to dispute the desires, or disobey the commands of Johnnie. The liquor which he requested was therefore granted him; and a special messenger despatched with all speed for the two individuals whom he had appointed as his executors, who both made their appearance in good time to drink his foy, and listen to the instructions which he had to give concerning the division of his property. Suffice it to say, that the whole affair was settled to Johnnie's satisfaction; and though there was a little natural grumbling among his family about the shares he had allotted to each, the peace was wonderfully preserved—no heads being broken, and no blood spilt upon the occasion. But Johnnie's' eldest son, who, by the law of primogeniture, should have inherited the whole, was excluded from all participation in the distribution of his father's effects —the old testator evidently showing, by his judicious conduct, in this respect, that he possessed more sense in his own brainless head than the collective wisdom of all our infallible ancestors is worth. For his son had previously received a sufficient portion in the stocking of the farm which he then occupied; and his own words upon the subject manifest more propriety of thought than the world was inclined to give him credit for. Addressing himself to one of his advisers, he inquired—

"An' fat think ye o' Johnnie, man! He has a gueed farm, a gueed house, a weel filled stable', an' a weel filled byre; an' I dinna ken fat mair he would he at, man."

After the affair was fully settled, by way of confirmation of the solemn engagements which had been entered into, the venerable testator and his two executors got gloriously drunk together, and fairly forgot before they parted all the obligations they had contracted since they met. Johnnie first became humorously drunk, uttered some popular oaths, told several facetious fictions, and laughed heartily at his own good-natured jokes. Anon, he became seriously drunk, and diverted his rude associates with several pathetic lamentations over the errors of his past life. Then he became confoundedly drunk, cried with one side of his mouth, and laughed with, the other, while prayers and blasphemies tumbled over each other, as they galloped forth with fearful rapidity from his garrulous jaws J and, lastly, he became speechlessly drunk, and never again moved lip nor limb in the capacity of a mortal man !

Shortly after this event, a wag of the neighbourhood composed the following


Here lies the dust o' Johnnie Hume,
Beneath the mountain daisy;
His spirit fled for want o' room,
An' left his body crazy.
But Johnnie, when his wame was toom,
Was unco ill to please aye,
Sae to avoid his glumsh and gloom,
An' keep his temper easy,
They ga'e him drink, till in a fume,
He vapour'd aff to Lizzy!

The news of Johnnie's death spread fast and far over the surrounding country, and tit length reached the ears of his distant son, who, influenced hy an earnest solicitude about the disposition of his father's hetter part, soon put on a decent coat and a decent face, and hurried away to the house of mourning, with a suitable lamentation on his lips.

After a few brief inquiries as to the manner of his father's exit, Johnnie the younger fully explained the object of his visit, by requesting to know "fat had been left as his legatee o' the gear that he had helpit sae weel to gather?"

He was faithfully presented with a silver-hinged snuff horn, which his father had bequeathed him, on account of the identity of his name with that which was engraved on the Scotch thistle that ornamented the lid of it. Though his brothers were prone enough to covet, they were too fearful to keep, anything which their father had assigned to another; for, as long as his body remained above ground, they apprehended that he would start up from his silent slumbers, and upbraid them for their infidelity, should they violate his will in the slightest degree. And thus, his lifeless remains commanded greater respect in his family, than he had ever possessed while alive. Johnnie, however, seemed to he less influenced by his awful veneration for the dead, for he rejected his father's bequest with the bitterest contempt, asserting, at the same time, that he had no use for horses without hoofs. "But ye'll hae preef o' the injustice o' yer dealins afore lang," continued he, "for cheatry aye kythes upon the livin' an' the dead; an' I'm muckle mista'en if my father get rest in his beerial place, or I get the guid o' my am?"

Thus saying, the disinherited son strode haughtily out of the house. But he had said eneugh to awaken the fears of his superstitious kinsfolk, and they now felt greater pain from the apprehension of Johnnie's return in the character of a ghost, than' they had done at his departure in that of a father. Every case with which they were acquainted, in which apparitions had manifested themselves to men, was conjured up to recollection; and the various circumstances connected with their appearance compared with those under which Johnnie had departed from this world; and, after long and anxious consultation, it was finally agreed that there was a probability of his return. But though they frequently cast their expectant eyes towards the bed where the lifeless body was laid, as if they thought he would rise up and rectify all past errors, by remodelling his will, no voice was heard, and no muscle stirred on the rigid convexity of his countenance. Day, however, soon passed away, and their apprehensions grew more terrible as the gloom of night approached, and an awful night it was; for the storm which had been long gathering in dark and dismal masses in the sky, at length burst forth with appalling violence, and soughed and howled among the hoary trees that surrounded the little farm-house of Dubbyside; and the fitful pauses and melancholy meanings of its inconstant voice might well have astounded stouter hearts than those which beat in the superstitious breasts of the Humes. In their ears every gust of the tempest, rang like a voice from the dead. They believed that all the inhabitants of the unseen world had been convoked by the spirit of their father, to revel and roar around their desolate dwelling; and the Various contortions which their countenances exhibited would have excited the risibility of the gravest observer, "if any laughter at such time could be."

Sleep was banished from every eye; and to add to their trepidation, the midnight hour was approaching, when the spirits of darkness are allowed the unlimited exercise of their own wicked wills. Short sharp shrieks, resembling those uttered in the first moments of mortal agony, began to swell, mingled with more distant wailings, like the dreary lamentations of madness, and followed by long, low, dismal groans. The solemn pauses which occurred in these terrible sounds were occasionally broken by the watch-dog at the door, whose yelling and growling seemed to bespeak a consciousness of "unholy spirits near." The door and windows creaked and rattled to every gust of wind, which, entering by their crevices, shook the old curtains of the bed of death, and waved the flame of the ghastly candles that were placed around it, now flaring with pale brilliance, and then sinking into a feeble spark, which imparted a dim, fantastic appearance to the antique furniture that filled the apartment, and increased the gloomy horrors of the scene.

Amidst these fearful alternations of glare and gloom, and surrounded by sights and sounds of woe, sat the simple family of Johnnie Hume in an agony of speechless apprehension, but not in silence; for there was a clattering among their jaw bones, which made them one of the noisiest little companies that ever was convened around a cottage hearth.

The old clock had no sooner began to rattle out the midnight hour in her accustomed way, than the snow-white linen cloth, that was so neatly folded over the round oak table, which stood in the centre of the room, flew away of its own accord, and disappeared through the cathole; and the bottles, glasses, and crockery which it supported rolled on the floor with a crash like the meeting of many waters. Unearthly sounds, too, began to arise in the garret, rattling and rumbling as if a shower of cannon-balls were descending upon the devoted dwelling, while long dismal shrieks, mingled with groans and lamentations, continued to swell in the distance, with appalling distinctness.

Terrified by this unaccountable storm of voices, the whole family fled from the chamber of death, and took refuge in the kitchen, where they concealed themselves under such articles of furniture as might afford the best protection from the grisly spectres which they every moment expected to burst upon their sight; and in an inconceivably short time every one of them was so judiciously stowed away that no mortal observer could have supposed the house inhabited. In this state of dreary durance, they lay quietly till the cheerful beams of the morning sun began to visit them in their separate cells. When at last the cock's shrill larum "roused them from their lowly beds," and restored them again to the blessings of light and liberty, they all assembled in the kitchen to consult about the best means of preventing the recurrence of such a disturbance.

"Gie Johnnie his share o' the gear," said one.

"Get my father beeried," said another.

Thus the family of Johnnie was again divided, and a stout debate ensued ; but the amendment prevailed over the original motion, for it had avarice on its side, and they had every reason to believe that the unearthly noises which they had heard were occasioned by a general muster of the spirits of darkness, who had assembled to receive the ghost of the deceased into their society, and instruct him in the mysteries of their commonwealth. Prompt measures were accordingly taken to have Johnnie conveyed to his long home; and though they scarcely deemed the coffin's lid would hold him fast, they had some hopes that he would never again find his way back to disturb them in their quiet possession of Dubbyside. But, alas, how frail are human hopes!

On the second night after Johnnie's interment, when the family were all in bed, they were again alarmed by several sharp raps upon the window, which recalled all the former scene of uproar and terror to their drowsy recollections; but none of them could find courage to demand who was there, nor even to turn their heads in the direction from which the sounds proceeded. This undoubtedly was the Ghost; but on this occasion he was either more lazy or m better humour; for he did not prosecute his "cantrips slight" so long or so zealously as he had done before.

Next night, however, he returned at the accustomed hour, and began his nocturnal exercises with greater vigour. The whole family again took refuge from their fears beneath the massy folds of their heavy home-spun blankets, which were alike impervious to sight and sound; and nothing but the application of fire could have induced them to come forth from their comfortable, concealment. There was one of the family, however, who began to entertain the serious intention of speaking to the Ghost; and this courageous individual—(who could have believed it \)—was one of the fair sex—in short, no other than Tibby Hume—Johnnie's beloved daughter; and

Who could appease like her a father's Ghost?

Full of her romantic project, the fair one arose from her warm bed, and arraying herself hurriedly in a petticoat and short-gown, that she might appear decently before the ghost of her father, proceeded cautiously towards the door,—

And turn'd the key wi' cannie thraw,
An' owre the threshold ventured;
But first on Sawnie ga'e a oa',
Syne bauldly out she enter'd.

The full moon was shining with unclouded splendour while the trembling girl cast her eyes fearfully around in hopes to find the object of her search; but she discovered, to her horror, that she was alone!

Had he sunk in the earth, or melted in air?
She saw not—she knew not—but nothing was there !

She leaned against the wall, and listened with breathless attention; but there came no sound upon her ear, save the beating of her own heart. At length she mustered courage to articulate faintly the name of him whom she sought, but not the endearing name of father. At that moment a solitary figure in white made his appearance from behind one of the stacks. It was not, however, the form of Sandy Hapabout, whom she in reality wished to meet, but it was indeed the ghost of her father, whose presence, above all things, she desired to avoid. She tried to run, but in her confusion fairly mistook her course, and instead of doubling the jaw-hole, which lay right ahead, she ran directly over its slippery verge, and fell with a fearful splash into its polluted waters, which were not a little troubled on her account. There she lay, with her eyes steadfastly fixed upon the apparition, which did not seem to possess the smallest grain of gallantry in its vapid composition ; for instead of coming directly to the assistance of the bemired maiden, it turned aside and hobbled away with all its speed, as if it had been a mere mortal, and susceptible of suffering suffocation by the noisome effluvia which arose from the dangerous pool, where the disconcerted beauty was plowtering for freedom! Nor did he once look over his shoulder to see whether his daughter was drowning, but repeating his accustomed song in his usual slow, melancholy tone, "Johnnie's a' wrang! Johnnie's a' wrang!" finally disappeared at the stable door, which seemed to open of its own accord for his reception.

As soon as the terrified girl could muster strength to move, she crawled into the house, and gave a solemn recital of all she had beheld; and her account was amply corroborated by the evidence of her bedraggled garments. The Ghost did not leave his grave for nothing. The traces which he left behind him proved to the satisfaction of all that it was no pleasure jaunt or idle freak that brought him so far abroad in the moonlight. In the morning, three of the best cows were found to have escaped from the byre, and busily employed regaling themselves upon one of the best pea-stacks in the barn-yard. The whole of the pigs had also been turned adrift, and were assiduously engaged in breakfasting on the contents of a potato pit which they had just disembowelled. A pair of the best horses, too, wondering at their unwonted liberty, were running races around the steading; and the hens were cackling, and cocks crowing, in joyful chorus, on the tops of the highest stacks. There was a general jubilee at Dubbyside, where all seemed to rejoice but its human inhabitants. The Ghost was certainly liberal in his notions, since he so generously conferred on all that were bound the freedom which he himself enjoyed. But there was evidently something beyond a mere love of liberty intended to be understood by this transaction. The number of domestic animals let loose seemed to indicate the share of his live stock which Johnnie the Ghost should have bequeathed to his son, Johnnie the Mortal, as we must henceforward distinguish him. The Humes were not altogether without a sense of their ghostly father's intention; but, like all other reasonable beings, they were slow to acknowledge, even to themselves, an understanding of any mystery, the clearing up of which was likely to operate to their own prejudice; so that it became a question among them, whether the presence of the Ghost or absence of the cattle and poultry, would be the greatest evil. Avarice, however, prevailed over fear, and they still retained the property of which the living and the dead seemed striving to deprive them. The indefatigable Ghost still continued to haunt the place of his former residence, reminding his family of the injustice of which they were guilty, and awakening them to a sense of the restless life which he was living upon their account.

Though it was known all over the neighbourhood that " Johnnie was gaun again," as the country people expressed it, and though the most of his former friends carefully avoided his supposed haunts after nightfall, there was one individual who was not to be daunted in the performance of what he believed to be a benevolent duty. He therefore braved every danger, and attended regularly at Dubbyside in the capacity of comforter to the distressed household. But Sandy Hapabout was in love, and to be in love is almost as good as to be in armour; for all lovers, since the days of Cervantes, have been successful in their "misventures." Though Sandy's mistress was once deceived by meeting a ghost instead of a gallant, she was not always so unfortunate in her assignations; but, despite all interruption from mortal and immortal apparitions, spent many a delightful hour with her faithful swain.

On one very stormy night, Sandy Hapabout knocked gently at the door of Dubbyside, and was promptly answered by his ever watchful mistress.

The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
Loud, deep, and long the thunder bellow'd:
That night, a child might understand
The deil had business on his hand.

Sandy confessed that it was an "awfu' thing to be out in sic a nicht"; but he turned it to good account, by making it a proof of the ardent passion which he felt for his fair Tibby. Tibby believed his assertions, of course, and smiled graciously upon the devoted attachment of her faithful swain. The night was too stormy for them to enjoy each other's company, sweet as it was, in the open air. Sandy accordingly advised, and Tibby agreed, that they should seek shelter in the barn.

And who can tell the rapturous caress
That followed wildly in that dark recess!

Suffice it to say, that the moments flew as expeditiously as if old Time, instead of dribbling them out grain by grain from his weary hour-glass, had been crushing down whole hours at once with a steam engine of sixty horse power.

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed.

While the young hearts of this happy pair were fluttering with the most exuberant delight, the awful ghost made his accustomed call at the door; and his long, melancholy cry, "Johnnie's a' wrang! Johnnie's a' wrang!" rung like a death knell in their ears, and thrilled their nerves like an electric shock—chasing away every pleasurable sensation, and leaving them in a wonderfully romantic situation for two modern lovers. The lady clung to her gallant, while he gallantly butted with his head among the straw; and after a little walloping with their legs, both succeeded in obtaining a tolerably comfortable burrow. But, alas? what covering could conceal, or what stronghold protect them from the approach of an enemy who found no impediment to his march in the strongest doors and the firmest locks and such an enemy was close at hand. He again uttered his dolorous cry, " Johnnie's a' wrang! Johnnie's a' wrang!" and the door flew open at the sound, as if touched by a magician's wand, or charmed by the presto of a conjurer.

Sandy gasped with apprehension as the Ghost advanced towards the place of their concealment; and every tramp of his feet on the floor seemed to communicate a convulsive energy to the fingers of his gentle mistress; for she clasped him so closely about the throat, that he could only groan out, in stifled accents, "Dinna worry me, Tibby—dinna worry me," when the unmannerly ghost actually planted his heavy iron-shod shoe upon the extended leg of the enamoured rustic. But, as if inspired by some heroic impulse of the heart, Sandy soon convinced the solemn intruder that he was not to be trodden on with impunity; for springing forward with the celerity of a mountain-cat, he seized the weighty apparition by the ankle with such a determined grip, that the ghost soon became more alarmed than the mortal; and totally forgetful of the dignity of his character, called out, in a voice tremulous with consternation,

" Wha the de—de—devil are ye?"

"Aha, lad!" said he of the straw, "I ken ye noo;" and in confirmation of the popular adage that "knowledge is power," Sandy tugged so strenuously at the brawny limb of the spectral aggressor, that he soon laid him as prostrate as himself!

Thus fell in an unfortunate hour the ghost of Johnnie Hume, who had "kept the country side in fear" for many a month, and afforded stout arguments in favour of the ghost system in many a lengthy debate. "Misfortunes love a train, and tread each other's heel;" and Johnnie's did not end here. He had yet to suffer "a deeper wreck—a greater fall;" for Sandy still held him fast by the ankle, and in the ineffectual struggle which he made to escape, he unluckily projected his anterior parts over a hole in the floor, which happened to be directly above the chafi-house; and as the ponderous ghost descended head foremost through the aperture, his depending weight proved too much for Sandy's extended nerves, who accordingly slipped his hold, and down went Johnnie to that dusty den, like Satan when "hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky."

Sandy stalked about for a few minutes in silent admiration of his own prowess. He had performed an achievement worthy of the greatest hero; for what was the sack of Rome to the overthrow of a ghost, or the valour of Brutus to the bravery of Sandy Hapabout? The Roman trembled before the eye of his evil genius, but the ploughman overcame his spiritual enemy. Nor can Scotland, the land of heroes, produce a single name worthy to stand beside Sandy's in the annals of Fame. Even the immortal Wallace fled before the ghost of his faithless follower; and the hero of Flodden field trembled at the appearance, though he disregarded the warning, of an old spectre who met him at Linlithgow. But Sandy grappled with and overthrew a ghost—not a meagre, white-headed, decrepit starveling, like that which terrified the ill-fated James IV., but a full-grown vigorous ghost, scarely less formidable for weight and bulk than that which, issuing from the brain of Horace Walpole, made such a fearful commotion in the Castle of Otranto.

Sandy stood still for a moment, and shook himself like Samson; but what was Samson to Sandy, or the pulling down of the pillars of Gaza to the overthrow of a ghost ? He could contain himself no longer, but called out in a rapture to the betrothed of his heart, who still lay crouched among the straw,

"Ho ye, Tibby ! Get up, woman there's na need for terri-fication noo, for the ghost's coupit heels ower head i' the chaff-house, an' he may plowter about long enough there or he get the gait oot again. He's been aye cry cryin' that he was a' wrang; but he'll no be sae far wrang in crying that he's a' wrang noo." Tibby did get up; and after bestowing due praise upon her eliverer, and arranging matters for their next meeting, they tore themselves asunder. Sandy went home to boast of his own prowess in discomfiting the ghost of Dubbyside; but Tibby spoke not a word of what had happened.

Next morning at daybreak, when her brothers went into the barn, they were alarmed by an unaccountable noise in the chaff-house; for the impatient ghost, after resting from the labours of the night, had risen " like a giant refreshed," with the firm intention of hreaking through every obstruction. It was now dim day-light, and the Humes had no fear for the ghost. They accordingly armed themselves with pitch-forks, and other warlike instruments, as if to contend with a physical foe; and placed themselves in such array as that they might be able to act on the offensive or defensive, as occasion might require. Every brow was knit, and every arm raised to strike, when one of the heroes advanced briskly and opened the door; but alas! what was their consternation when the ghost—the grim grisly ghost—shook his winding sheet, and gnashed his teeth in their faces!

They would have crossed themselves all muto,
They would have pray'd to burst the spell;

But at the stamping of his foot, Each hand down powerless fell!

Their lethal weapons dropped harmlessly to the ground; but though their arms were paralysed, their legs acquired a double degree of swiftness; and off they scampered one and all, without waiting a moment for the benison of their ghostly father. But the more haste the less speed, as the old proverb has it; for two of them reached the door exactly at the same time, and squeezed themselves so firmly into the narrow passage that they could neither get backwards nor forwards. The ghost beheld this new disaster with despair, for he was anxious to escape; but his retreat was now cut off by the bodies of those who had fled from his frown. He cursed his unlucky fate, and scratched his shaggy head in perplexity; but as ghosts are destitute of brains, it was in vain to dig there for wisdom. Fortune, however, favoured, where foresight failed. The two living fixtures, believing in their terror that it was the hand of the ghost that detained them, called out, each for himself, at the same time—" O let me gang, an' Johnnie sail get a' that belangs to him !"

This supplication contained a hint which brightened up the invention of the ghost, and aroused all the activity of his nature; and, again assuming the solemn dignity of his spiritual character, he addressed the trembling suppliants, with a hollow voice, in the following words:

"Gin ye honour the words o' yer faither, and do justiceness to the claims o' yer brother; gin ye promise, upon yer lives an' yer oaths to gie Johnnie his ain guid share o' the kye, an' the ca'ves, an' the ploughs, an' the carts, an' o' a' the ither gear upon my farm o' Dubbyside; an' his ain share o' the notes i' th' aumry, an' the siller that I left i' the leather pouch aboon the bed;—gin ye'll promise to dee a' this, without cheatry or lounry, ye'll ha'e lowsance frae yer bondage, an' there sail be nae mair bickerment about the matter. But gin ye break yer oblifications, or look ower yer shouthers afore ye be past the knocken stane, I'll torment ye as lang as ye live, an' gie ye to the devil for a greeshoch when ye dee. D'ye understand me na—eh ?"

The poor trembling mortals gave solemn promise of obedience, and the wily ghost stepped briskly forward, and seized one of them by the skirts of the coat, to pull him out of his wedgelike position, that both might go free, when at this important moment, the indefatigable Sandy Hapabout again made his appearance, and greeted his friends in the doorway with a hearty salute. But the only answer he received to his civil "Guid mornin'," was a convulsive gape of the jaws, and an involuntary oscillation of the tongue. This unmannerly silence was too much for the patience of Sandy to endure; and, imitating the ludicrous contortions of countenance which they exhibited with the skill of a practised ape, he exclaimed,—

"Guid sake, bodies! what are ye puffin' an' blawin', an' gapin' an' gantin' there for, wi' faces like a nor'-wast nieen, girnin' an' grainin' as if ye were tethered to a stake, an' twenty bleed-hounds howling at yer heels?"

Still no answer was returned; and, advancing a little closer to discover the cause of their speechless trepidation, the hero of the chaff-house caught his eye; and, peering over the shoulders of the two immoveable doorkeepers, with a grin of humorous recognition—for which Sandy was famous—he called out in a merry tone to the retiring spectre—

"Aha, lad! are ye aye there yet? I thought ye wad 'a been wearied o' the barn, an' hame ower to yer ain fireside lang syne; but a guid caff bed's no that encomfortable for a mornin' sleep, an' ye was gey an' late up last nicht, as ye ken yerself, forby ithers that baith saw an' heard ye."

Alas for the unfortunate ghost! His glory was now departed—his fall was complete! The terrors of his voice and the mystery of his character were dissipated by the salute of Sandy Hapabout. Even the poor trembling doormen caught courage from his familiarity, and fearlessly broke the promises which they had so solemnly sworn but a minute before. Sandy, to make a passage for himself, drove them out of the door, and all three turned in to talk with the harmless apparition, who, instead of disappearing in darkness, or vanishing in light, as any reasonable ghost would have done, stood bolt upright before them, in all the substantial materiality of a mortal man.

It were useless to tell what excuses he made, or what falsehoods he uttered, to palliate the enormity of his conduct; but the identity of Johnnie the Ghost with Johnnie the Mortal being fairly ascertained, all his previous pranks, which had occasioned so much alarm at Dubbyside, were easily accounted for. When he came in the evening to examine into the state of affairs at Dubbyside, he found his mother and brothers in the kitchen, and availed himself of their absence to slip into the chamber of death, where he dexterously attached a small cord to a corner of the table-cloth, and, passing it through the cat-hole, again retired to the outside of the house, where he busied himself with other preparations for his nocturnal project. When the clock struck twelve, which was the hour determined upon for the commencement of his operations, Johnnie pulled the cord, and away went the table-cloth like a "thing of life," while its precious furniture fell to the floor, and was shivered into a thousand pieces. The first trick was successful, which jncouraged Johnnie to proceed with the rest. Hurrying around to the back of the house, he ascended a ladder, previously prepared, and displacing a portion of the thatch of the roof, through which he inserted a large round stone, with a strong cord attached to it, he rolled it along the wooden floor of the garret, lifting it up and letting it fall at pleasure; and with this simple apparatus he produced those unearthly sounds which sent his friends to seek sanctuary among the barrels and tubs in the kitchen. He was civilly dismissed to seek redress for his grievances in some other quarter, and never again lodged a night in the chaff-house, nor sung the burden of his wrongs to the tune of his departed father. But as long as he lived he was known by the appellation of Johnnie the Ghost; and now that he has become that immortal essence whose character he ventured to assume, he is still remembered as the Ghost of Dubbyside, and his fame is likely to be permanent.

But I must now do justice to Sandy Hapabout, and make an end of my tale. Sandy received the reward of his valour in the lass of his love, who was united to him shortly after the Fall of the Ghost; but what was the result of his marriage, or the glory of his future exploits, I am not privileged to unfold. It is said, however, that he frequently boasted—as well he might—of the victory which he obtained over the Ghost at Dubbyside; and we may be allowed to believe, that more good accrued from that bloodless struggle, which shook the reign of superstition in the place where it happened, than mankind ever derived from the sack of cities and the dismemberment of empires.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus