The Haunted Ale-house
'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' so Donald Macgregor
muttered to himself as he strode cautiously down the water of Coquet,
halting at the many crooks of that wayward water to spy out the land as
he went forward.
He had already good suspicions of where his quarry was harboured, for he
had seen and interviewed drovers who had returned from the great
Stagshawbank Fair, and had gleaned certain information of his
But more than this he had to direct his feet; there was in his ears the
echo of Alastair's pibroch--the piobaireachd--which he was to hear
whenever the Laird would be in trouble or wanting him.
Onward the piobaireachd led him--down the water of amber-coloured
Coquet--and now round the last crook he had just turned he saw a
building of dark grey stone upon the edge of the haugh below him.
He halted at once, retraced his steps, and hid himself in the bracken,
for he knew from the descriptions given him that the Slyme ale-house lay
there below him--the last place on the English border at which Alastair
had been seen or heard of. The Slyme ale-house had an ill repute, and
was said to be haunted moreover; none would lie there the night who had
anything to lose--'twas the haunt of kites and 'corbie craws.' As he
watched and waited there stole down from the fells above him 'oncome' of
mist or 'haar' from the eastward, which soon drew a plaid of hodden grey
above the shoulder of Shillmoor. On the lower level a ray of white light
still showed like the gleam of a malevolent eye behind a mask.
Meantime a cold mist came stealing up the valley. The eerie lonely
aspect of all about him made Donald shiver and earnestly debate his
Spying about, he saw an outcrop of rock some two hundred yards further
along the fell side. Thither he crawled like a rogue collie, and watched
therefrom, keen-eyed as a kestrel, the ale-house below.
He had some strips of meat with him and oatmeal in a bag, and with this
he satisfied his hunger as he lay at watch. All the while the
piobaireachd was still sounding in his ears.
Through the mist he could see two cows 'coming home' on the haugh below
slowly and sedately to their milking.
Now three figures emerged from the inn; a tall, thin man came first--a
collie at his heels--that was at once sent off to round up a hirsel of
ewes on the hill.
A woman followed, calling 'guss-guss' to the pig routing on the bank;
finally a third figure--short, misshapen--a hunchback, as the watcher
noted, who called 'coop-coop' to a rough pony cropping grass in the
intake beyond the inn.
Shortly this gear was rounded up and driven into the walled enclosure--a
half pound attached to the western end of the buildings.
The three figures followed their stock within, and the watcher surmising
that all were housed for the night cautiously made his way down the
slope, but on a sudden all three reappeared, and the watcher dropped
like a shot rabbit straight into a bed of thistles and nettles, fearful
It seemed that they were about to secure themselves and their flocks
against evil by way of charm and spell, for round about the ale-house
they bent their steps--the way of the sun--brandishing rowan boughs and
chanting a fragment of ancient rhyme:
'By the rowan's power--
By the thorn's might
Safe i' the bower
Be all our insight!'
Having perambulated round their buildings and wall three successive
times they disappeared within, and the watcher heard to his
gratification the sound of bolt and bar being pushed home.
The solitary watcher smiled to himself--the secret smile of the
Highlander who has grasped the situation and knows how to make profit
thereof unknown to others.
The tall, thin man was the innkeeper--evidently a timorous fellow; the
hunchback was his 'man'--malevolent probably, the doer of the other's
dark behests; whilst the woman was presumably his wife, the cook and
housekeeper of the ale-house.
Well, while they slept he would investigate and complete his plans for
the early morn at the time when all three would reappear and drive forth
their flocks again.
There was a small haystack at the west end of the inn, which Donald
marked out as his resting-place for the night. Thither he made his
cautious way--the piobaireachd sounding ever more clearly in his ears.
When he reached the haystack the melody seemed to be intensified; then
suddenly he heard it no more.
Ha! a flash of inspiration shook him. This must be the very spot where
Alastair was done to death--perhaps even buried here. He looked about
him and noted that the wind was freshening and the mist was scurrying in
dense clouds above as if it might lift, and then the moon might light
him to further discovery.
Thus reflecting he sat down behind the stack, and waited patiently for
the moon to rise and shine above the mist.
An hour passed, then a faint glimmer showed in the east above
He stood up and peeped round the stack; he could distinguish the rounded
moon--nearly at the full--beating with white wings like an owl through
the tangled mist.
In another quarter of an hour he could see sufficiently well to commence
investigation. He noted as he searched the ground about him that quite
recently the earth had been disturbed just beyond the verge of the
haystack. A space had evidently been roughly dug over--a space that
seemed the size of a grave.
Hereupon he sought for some instrument wherewith to make further
investigation, and by good luck soon hit upon an old, broken-shafted
spade that lay in a small potato croft adjoining. With this he set to
work to howk the turf away, and found it light to work, for it had been
loosely shovelled in, and came away with ease. Working incessantly, at
four feet below the excavated turf, he saw an object lying loose, which
he seized in excited, trembling hands, and surveyed in the moonlight.
Ay, it was Alastair's bonnet, for there was the blackcock's tail
feathers which Alastair had always proudly worn in right of his birth.
Stained with blood--the bonnet itself cloven in twain with a blow from
hatchet or axe. 'My bonny Alastair!' he groaned aloud. 'Dear laddie!
But, by Gott--ye'll be avenged fine the morn's morning!' Reverently he
went on with his howking, and soon Alastair's pale face showed in the
moonlight, stained with soil, and bloody under the gash above his
Donald kneeled down in the grave and kissed like a lover his
foster-brother on the brow.
Then pondering awhile he muttered brokenly, 'I'll hap ye in again,
Alastair, beloved; when I've a sign to bury wi' ye that will prove to ye
So saying he sat down beside the grave and cleaned Alastair's bonnet,
then placed it on his own head in token of his vow, and waited for the
dawn and his revenge.
He did not sleep, but thought again of the past: how he had had the care
of the young fatherless Laird, had learned him to stalk the red deer and
draw salmon from the river; how Alastair had even outstripped his
teacher, and how each after Culloden's fight had saved the other's life.
Then, finally, how he had counselled Alastair to turn drover with him
till the 'Redcoats' should depart, as the best method to avoid capture,
and how constantly Alastair's high spirits led them into danger. And now
it was all over--all over save the final duty to his brother. As he thus
meditated long and deeply the hours went swiftly by, and it was with a
sudden shock that he heard the bolts and bars being withdrawn on the
further side of the inn. Instantly he sprang to his feet, prepared for
action. He left his sword ready in the scabbard, and his dag primed for
use. Then he stole round the corner, and there saw the tall man and the
hunchback before him.
''Tis his wraith!' cried the tall man, noticing the bonnet, and swung
back in his terror, as he tried to cross himself by way of charm.
'I tell't ye,' quoth the hunchback unperturbed, 'that we should ha'
driven a stake through his inside to prevent him from walkin' this
'Whisht ye, haud your damned whisht!' cried the other in a fury, his
knees shaking in terror. Then turning servilely towards Donald, whom he
now perceived to be a stranger, 'Ye are welcome, sir, to any ale or
Rhenish my poor inn affords, for ye will be a Highland grazier--yen of
our best customers,' he ended in an attempt at a bow.
'Draw and defend your nainsel',' was Donald's reply.
The tall man laid his hand to his whinger at his side, and shouted to
his 'man,' 'Draw, Jarret, and knife this murdering Scots villain.'
The hunchback, nothing loath, produced an evil-looking jockteleg, and
hastened to his master's assistance.
'Knife him i' the back,' cried the former, 'whiles I haud him i' play i'
The hunchback was so furious in his attack, which he pressed right home
within Donald's guard, that Donald was unable to ward off the tall man
in front of him.
Then just as the innkeeper had Donald at his mercy, and was in the very
act of striking home, his arm was suddenly paralysed, a spasm of terror
shook him through and through, his eyes glazed over. 'There's twa o'
them,' he muttered, and instead of striking he shrank his hand back as
if to ward off a new assailant, and Donald had a momentary vision of his
brother by his side. The innkeeper made a pass, then his whinger
dropped; he turned to flee, tripped and fell upon his face, and lay
motionless--his whinger by his side. At this the hunchback broke into
rage, 'Ye're no worth fightin' for,' he cried in his fury, gave a kick
at his fallen master, and fled to the inn door.
Donald fired his dag at his retreating foe, winged him in the shoulder,
and hastened his retreat, but failed to bring him down. The door was
slammed to, the bolt was shot. The hunchback had gained his city of
All was quiet; Donald was victorious; he looked upon the fallen
innkeeper, turned him over, and saw that his eyes were fixed in death.
'Ye hae helped fine to your ain vengeance, Alastair,' he said quietly,
as he picked up the fallen whinger. 'Ye niver failed me yet; and I haena
Then Donald carried the whinger with him and went back to the graveside,
still open to the sky.
'I ha' paid the debt, Alastair,' said Donald, taking off his bonnet and
laying the whinger in the grave as proof of his fealty, 'and it is
farewell, my brother.'
Kneeling down he reverently happed him in afresh, then rising with a
heart contented, whistled triumphant as a pibroch, and took the airt of
Scotland by way of Cocklawfoot, murmuring to himself, 'an eye for an
eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'
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