Wandering Willie's Tale
Ye maun have heard of Sir Robert Redgauntlet of that Ilk, who lived in
these parts before the dear years. The country will lang mind him; and
our fathers used to draw breath thick if ever they heard him named. He
was out wi' the Hielandmen in Montrose's time; and again he was in the
hills wi' Glencairn in the saxteen hundred and fifty-twa; and sae when
King Charles the Second came in, wha was in sic favour as the Laird of
Redgauntlet? He was knighted at Lonon court, wi' the King's ain sword;
and being a redhot prelatist, he came down here, rampauging like a lion,
with commissions of lieutenancy (and of lunacy, for what I ken), to put
down a' the Whigs and Covenanters in the country. Wild wark they made of
it; for the Whigs were as dour as the Cavaliers were fierce, and it was
which should first tire the other. Redgauntlet was aye for the strong
hand; and his name is kend as wide in the country as Claverhouse's or
Tam Dalyell's. Glen, nor dargle, nor mountain, nor cave, could hide the
puir hill-folk when Redgauntlet was out with bugle and bloodhound after
them, as if they had been sae mony deer. And troth when they fand them,
they didna mak muckle mair ceremony than a Hielandman wi' a
roebuck--It was just, "Will ye tak the test?"--if not, "Make
ready--present--fire!"--and there lay the recusant.
Far and wide was Sir Robert hated and feared. Men thought he had a
direct compact with Satan--that he was proof against steel--and that
bullets happed aff his buff-coat like hailstanes from a hearth--that he
had a mear that would turn a hare on the side of Carrifragawns--and
muckle to the same purpose, of whilk mair anon. The best blessing they
wared on him was, "Deil scowp wi' Redgauntlet!" He wasna a bad maister
to his ain folk, though, and was weel aneugh liked by his tenants; and
as for the lackies and troopers that rade out wi' him to the
persecutions, as the Whigs caa'd those killing times, they wad hae
drunken themsells blind to his health at ony time.
Now you are to ken that my gudesire lived on Redgauntlet's grund--they
ca' the place Primrose-Knowe. We had lived on the grund, and under the
Redgauntlets, since the riding days, and lang before. It was a pleasant
bit; and I think the air is callerer and fresher there than ony where
else in the country. It's a' deserted now; and I sat on the broken
door-cheek three days since, and was glad I couldna see the plight the
place was in; but that's a' wide o' the mark. There dwelt my gudesire,
Steenie Steenson, a rambling, rattling chiel he had been in his young
days, and could play weel on the pipes; he was famous at "Hoopers and
Girders"--a' Cumberland couldna touch him at "Jockie Lattin"--and he had
the finest finger for the backlilt between Berwick and Carlisle. The
like o' Steenie wasna the sort that they made Whigs o'. And so he became
a Tory, as they ca' it, which we now ca' Jacobites, just out of a kind
of needcessity, that he might belang to some side or other. He had nae
ill-will to the Whig bodies, and liked little to see the blude rin,
though, being obliged to follow Sir Robert in hunting and hosting,
watching and warding, he saw muckle mischief, and maybe did some, that
he couldna avoid.
Now Steenie was a kind of favourite with his master, and kend a' the
folks about the Castle, and was often sent for to play the pipes when
they were at their merriment. Auld Dougal MacCallum, the butler, that
had followed Sir Robert through gude and ill, thick and thin, pool and
stream, was specially fond of the pipes, and aye gae my gudesire his
gude word wi' the Laird; for Dougal could turn his master round his
Weel, round came the Revolution, and it had like to have broken the
hearts baith of Dougal and his master. But the change was not
a'thegether sae great as they feared, and other folk thought for. The
Whigs made an unco crawing what they wad do with their auld enemies, and
in special wi' Sir Robert Redgauntlet. But there were ower mony great
folks dipped in the same doings, to mak a spick and span new warld. So
Parliament passed it a' ower easy; and Sir Robert, bating that he was
held to hunting foxes instead of Covenanters, remained just the man he
was. His revel was as loud, and his hall as weel lighted, as ever it had
been, though maybe he lacked the fines of the nonconformists, that used
to come to stock his larder and cellar; for it is certain he began to be
keener about the rents than his tenants used to find him before, and
they behoved to be prompt to the rent-day, or else the Laird wasna
pleased. And he was sic an awsome body, that naebody cared to anger him;
for the oaths he swore, and the rage that he used to get into, and the
looks that he put on, made men sometimes think him a devil incarnate.
Weel, my gudesire was nae manager--no that he was a very great
misguider--but he hadna the saving gift, and he got twa terms' rent in
arrear. He got the first brash at Whitsunday put ower wi' fair word and
piping; but when Martinmas came, there was a summons from the
grund-officer to come wi' the rent on a day preceese, or else Steenie
behoved to flit. Sair wark he had to get the siller; but he was
weel-freended, and at last he got the haill scraped thegether--a
thousand merks--the maist of it was from a neighbour they caa'd Laurie
Lapraik--a sly tod. Laurie had walth o' gear--could hunt wi' the hound
and rin wi' the hare--and be Whig or Tory, saunt or sinner, as the wind
stood. He was a professor in this Revolution warld, but he liked an orra
sough of this warld, and a tune on the pipes weel aneugh at a by time;
and abune a', he thought he had a gude security for the siller he lent
my gudesire ower the stocking at Primrose-Knowe.
Away trots my gudesire to Redgauntlet Castle, wi' a heavy purse and a
light heart, glad to be out of the Laird's danger. Weel, the first thing
he learned at the Castle was, that Sir Robert had fretted himself into a
fit of the gout, because he did not appear before twelve o'clock. It
wasna a'thegether for sake of the money, Dougal thought; but because he
didna like to part wi' my gudesire aff the grund. Dougal was glad to see
Steenie, and brought him into the great oak parlour, and there sat the
Laird his leesome lane, excepting that he had beside him a great,
ill-favoured jackanape, that was a special pet of his; a cankered beast
it was, and mony an ill-natured trick it played--ill to please it was,
and easily angered--ran about the haill castle, chattering and yowling,
and pinching, and biting folk, especially before ill-weather, or
disturbances in the state. Sir Robert caa'd it Major Weir, after the
warlock that was burnt; and few folk liked either the name or the
conditions of the creature--they thought there was something in it by
ordinar--and my gudesire was not just easy in his mind when the door
shut on him, and he saw himself in the room wi' naebody but the Laird,
Dougal MacCallum, and the Major, a thing that hadna chanced to him
Sir Robert sat, or, I should say, lay, in a great armchair, wi' his
grand velvet gown, and his feet on a cradle; for he had baith gout and
gravel, and his face looked as gash and ghastly as Satan's. Major Weir
sat opposite to him, in a red laced coat, and the Laird's wig on his
head; and aye as Sir Robert girned wi' pain, the jackanape girned too,
like a sheep's-head between a pair of tangs--an ill-faur'd, fearsome
couple they were. The Laird's buff-coat was hung on a pin behind him,
and his broadsword and his pistols within reach; for he keepit up the
auld fashion of having the weapons ready, and a horse saddled day and
night, just as he used to do when he was able to loup on horseback, and
away after ony of the hill-folk he could get speerings of. Some said it
was for fear of the Whigs taking vengeance, but I judge it was just his
auld custom--he wasna gien to fear ony thing. The rental-book, wi' its
black cover and brass clasps, was lying beside him; and a book of
sculduddry sangs was put betwixt the leaves, to keep it open at the
place where it bore evidence against the Goodman of Primrose-Knowe, as
behind the hand with his mails and duties. Sir Robert gave my gudesire a
look, as if he would have withered his heart in his bosom. Ye maun ken
he had a way of bending his brows, that men saw the visible mark of a
horse-shoe in his forehead, deep-dinted, as if it had been stamped
"Are ye come light-handed, ye son of a toom whistle?" said Sir Robert.
"Zounds! if you are----"
My gudesire, with as gude a countenance as he could put on, made a leg,
and placed the bag of money on the table wi' a dash, like a man that
does something clever. The Laird drew it to him hastily--"Is it all
here, Steenie, man?"
"Your honour will find it right," said my gudesire.
"Here, Dougal," said the Laird, "gie Steenie a tass of brandy down
stairs, till I count the siller and write the receipt."
But they werena weel out of the room, when Sir Robert gied a yelloch
that garr'd the Castle rock. Back ran Dougal--in flew the livery
men--yell on yell gied the Laird, ilk ane mair awfu' than the ither. My
gudesire knew not whether to stand or flee, but he ventured back into
the parlour, where a' was gaun hirdy-girdie--naebody to say "come in,"
or "gae out." Terribly the Laird roared for cauld water to his feet, and
wine to cool his throat; and hell, hell, hell, and its flames, was aye
the word in his mouth. They brought him water, and when they plunged his
swoln feet into the tub, he cried out it was burning; and folk say that
it _did_ bubble and sparkle like a seething caldron. He flung the cup at
Dougal's head, and said he had given him blood instead of burgundy; and,
sure aneugh, the lass washed clotted blood aff the carpet the neist day.
The jackanape they caa'd Major Weir, it jibbered and cried as if it was
mocking its master; my gudesire's head was like to turn--he forgot baith
siller and receipt, and down stairs he banged; but as he ran, the
shrieks came faint and fainter; there was a deep-drawn shivering groan,
and word gaed through the Castle, that the Laird was dead.
Weel, away came my gudesire, wi' his finger in his mouth, and his best
hope was, that Dougal had seen the money-bag, and heard the Laird speak
of writing the receipt. The young Laird, now Sir John, came from
Edinburgh, to see things put to rights. Sir John and his father never
gree'd weel. Sir John had been bred an advocate, and afterwards sat in
the last Scots Parliament and voted for the Union, having gotten, it was
thought, a rug of the compensations--if his father could have come out
of his grave, he would have brained him for it on his awn hearthstane.
Some thought it was easier counting with the auld rough Knight than the
fair-spoken young ane--but mair of that anon.
Dougal MacCallum, poor body, neither grat nor graned, but gaed about the
house looking like a corpse, but directing, as was his duty, a' the
order of the grand funeral. Now, Dougal looked aye waur and waur when
night was coming, and was aye the last to gang to his bed, whilk was in
a little round just opposite the chamber of dais, whilk his master
occupied while he was living, and where he now lay in state, as they
caa'd it, weel-a-day! The night before the funeral, Dougal could keep
his awn counsel nae langer; he cam doun with his proud spirit, and
fairly asked auld Hutcheon to sit in his room with him for an hour. When
they were in the round, Dougal took ae tass of brandy to himsell, and
gave another to Hutcheon, and wished him all health and lang life, and
said that, for himsell, he wasna lang for this world; for that, every
night since Sir Robert's death, his silver call had sounded from the
state-chamber, just as it used to do at nights in his lifetime, to call
Dougal to help to turn him in his bed. Dougal said, that being alone
with the dead on that floor of the tower (for naebody cared to wake Sir
Robert Redgauntlet like another corpse), he had never daured to answer
the call, but that now his conscience checked him for neglecting his
duty; for, "though death breaks service," said MacCallum, "it shall
never break my service to Sir Robert; and I will answer his next
whistle, so be you will stand by me, Hutcheon."
Hutcheon had nae will to the wark, but he had stood by Dougal in battle
and broil, and he wad not fail him at this pinch; so down the carles sat
ower a stoup of brandy, and Hutcheon, who was something of a clerk,
would have read a chapter of the Bible; but Dougal would hear naething
but a blaud of Davie Lindsay, whilk was the waur preparation.
When midnight came, and the house was quiet as the grave, sure aneugh
the silver whistle sounded as sharp and shrill as if Sir Robert was
blowing it, and up gat the twa auld serving-men, and tottered into the
room where the dead man lay. Hutcheon saw aneugh at the first glance;
for there were torches in the room, which showed him the foul fiend, in
his ain shape, sitting on the Laird's coffin! Over he cowped as if he
had been dead. He could not tell how lang he lay in a trance at the
door, but when he gathered himself, he cried on his neighbour, and
getting nae answer, raised the house, when Dougal was found lying dead
within twa steps of the bed where his master's coffin was placed. As for
the whistle, it was gaen anes and aye; but mony a time was it heard at
the top of the house on the bartizan, and amang the auld chimneys and
turrets, where the howlets have their nests. Sir John hushed the matter
up, and the funeral passed over without mair bogle-wark.
But when a' was ower, and the Laird was beginning to settle his affairs,
every tenant was called up for his arrears, and my gudesire for the full
sum that stood against him in the rental-book. Weel, away he trots to
the Castle, to tell his story, and there he is introduced to Sir John,
sitting in his father's chair, in deep mourning, with weepers and
hanging cravat, and a small walking rapier by his side, instead of the
auld broadsword, that had a hundred-weight of steel about it, what with
blade, chape, and basket-hilt. I have heard their communing so often
tauld ower, that I almost think I was there mysell, though I couldna be
born at the time. (In fact, Alan, my companion mimicked, with a good
deal of humour, the flattering, conciliating tone of the tenant's
address, and the hypocritical melancholy of the Laird's reply. His
grandfather, he said, had, while he spoke, his eye fixed on the
rental-book, as if it were a mastiff-dog that he was afraid would spring
up and bite him.)
"I wuss ye joy, sir, of the head seat, and the white loaf, and the braid
lairdship. Your father was a kind man to friends and followers; muckle
grace to you, Sir John, to fill his shoon--his boots, I suld say, for he
seldom wore shoon, unless it were muils when he had the gout."
"Ay, Steenie," quoth the Laird, sighing deeply and putting his napkin to
his een, "his was a sudden call, and he will be missed in the country;
no time to set his house in order--weel prepared Godward, no doubt,
which is the root of the matter--but left us behind a tangled hesp to
wind, Steenie.--Hem! hem! We maun go to business, Steenie; much to do,
and little time to do it in."
Here he opened the fatal volume. I have heard of a thing they call
Doomsday-book--I am clear it has been a rental of back-ganging tenants.
"Stephen," said Sir John, still in the same soft, sleekit tone of
voice--"Stephen Stevenson, or Steenson, ye are down here for a year's
rent behind the hand--due at last term."
_Stephen._ "Please your honour, Sir John, I paid it to your father."
_Sir John._ "Ye took a receipt then, doubtless, Stephen; and can produce
_Stephen._ "Indeed I hadna time, an it like your honour; for nae sooner
had I set doun the siller, and just as his honour Sir Robert, that's
gaen, drew it till him to count it, and write out the receipt, he was
ta'en wi' the pains that removed him."
"That was unlucky," said Sir John, after a pause. "But you maybe paid it
in the presence of somebody. I want but a _talis qualis_ evidence,
Stephen. I would go ower strictly to work with no poor man."
_Stephen._ "Troth, Sir John, there was naebody in the room but Dougal
MacCallum the butler. But, as your honour kens, he has e'en followed his
"Very unlucky again, Stephen," said Sir John, without altering his voice
a single note. "The man to whom ye paid the money is dead--and the man
who witnessed the payment is dead too--and the siller, which should have
been to the fore, is neither seen nor heard tell of in the repositories.
How am I to believe a' this?"
_Stephen._ "I dinna ken, your honour; but there is a bit memorandum note
of the very coins; for, God help me! I had to borrow out of twenty
purses; and I am sure that ilka man there set down will take his grit
oath for what purpose I borrowed the money."
_Sir John._ "I have little doubt ye _borrowed_ the money, Steenie. It is
the _payment_ to my father that I want to have some proof of."
_Stephen._ "The siller maun be about the house, Sir John. And since your
honour never got it, and his honour that was canna have ta'en it wi'
him, maybe some of the family may have seen it."
_Sir John._ "We will examine the servants, Stephen; that is but
But lackey and lass, and page and groom, all denied stoutly that they
had ever seen such a bag of money as my gudesire described. What was
waur, he had unluckily not mentioned to any living soul of them his
purpose of paying his rent. Ae quean had noticed something under his
arm, but she took it for the pipes.
Sir John Redgauntlet ordered the servants out of the room, and then said
to my gudesire, "Now, Steenie, ye see you have fair play; and, as I have
little doubt ye ken better where to find the siller than ony other body,
I beg, in fair terms, and for your own sake, that you will end this
fasherie; for, Stephen, ye maun pay or flit."
"The Lord forgie your opinion," said Stephen, driven almost to his wit's
end--"I am an honest man."
"So am I, Stephen," said his honour; "and so are all the folks in the
house, I hope. But if there be a knave amongst us, it must be he that
tells the story he cannot prove." He paused, and then added, mair
sternly, "If I understand your trick, sir, you want to take advantage
of some malicious reports concerning things in this family, and
particularly respecting my father's sudden death, thereby to cheat me
out of the money, and perhaps take away my character, by insinuating
that I have received the rent I am demanding.--Where do you suppose this
money to be?--I insist upon knowing."
My gudesire saw everything look sae muckle against him, that he grew
nearly desperate--however, he shifted from one foot to another, looked
to every corner of the room and made no answer.
"Speak out, sirrah," said the Laird, assuming a look of his father's, a
very particular ane, which he had when he was angry--it seemed as if the
wrinkles of his frown made that self-same fearful shape of a horse's
shoe in the middle of his brow;--"Speak out, sir! I _will_ know your
thoughts;--do you suppose that I have this money?"
"Far be it frae me to say so," said Stephen.
"Do you charge any of my people with having taken it?"
"I wad be laith to charge them that may be innocent," said my gudesire;
"and if there be anyone that is guilty, I have nae proof."
"Somewhere the money must be, if there is a word of truth in your
story," said Sir John; "I ask where you think it is--and demand a
"In hell, if you _will_ have my thoughts of it," said my gudesire,
driven to extremity,--"in hell! with your father, his jackanape, and his
Down the stairs he ran (for the parlour was nae place for him after such
a word), and he heard the Laird swearing blood and wounds behind him, as
fast as ever did Sir Robert, and roaring for the bailie and the
Away rode my gudesire to his chief creditor (him they caa'd Laurie
Lapraik), to try if he could make ony thing out of him; but when he
tauld his story, he got but the warst word in his wame--thief, beggar,
and dyvour, were the saftest terms; and to the boot of these hard terms,
Laurie brought up the auld story of his dipping his hand in the blood of
God's saunts, just as if a tenant could have helped riding with the
Laird, and that a laird like Sir Robert Redgauntlet. My gudesire was, by
this time, far beyond the bounds of patience, and, while he and Laurie
were at deil speed the liars, he was wanchancie aneugh to abuse
Lapraik's doctrine as weel as the man, and said things that garr'd
folk's flesh grue that heard them;--he wasna just himsell, and he had
lived wi' a wild set in his day.
At last they parted, and my gudesire was to ride hame through the wood
of Pitmurkie, that is a' fou of black firs, as they say.--I ken the
wood, but the firs may be black or white for what I can tell.--At the
entry of the wood there is a wild common, and on the edge of the common,
a little lonely change-house, that was keepit then by an ostler-wife,
they suld hae caa'd her Tibbie Faw, and there puir Steenie cried for a
mutchkin of brandy, for he had had no refreshment the haill day. Tibbie
was earnest wi' him to take a bite of meat, but he couldna think o't,
nor would he take his foot out of the stirrup, and took off the brandy
wholely at twa draughts, and named a toast at each:--the first was, the
memory of Sir Robert Redgauntlet, and might he never lie quiet in his
grave till he had righted his poor bond-tenant; and the second was, a
health to Man's Enemy, if he would but get him back the pock of siller,
or tell him what came o't, for he saw the haill world was like to regard
him as a thief and a cheat, and he took that waur than even the ruin of
his house and hauld.
On he rode, little caring where. It was a dark night turned, and the
trees made it yet darker, and he let the beast take its ain road through
the wood; when, all of a sudden, from tired and wearied that it was
before, the nag began to spring, and flee, and stend, that my gudesire
could hardly keep the saddle.--Upon the whilk, a horseman, suddenly
riding up beside him, said, "That's a mettle beast of yours, freend;
will you sell him?"--So saying, he touched the horse's neck with his
riding-wand, and it fell into its auld heigh-ho of a stumbling trot.
"But his spunk's soon out of him, I think," continued the stranger, "and
that is like mony a man's courage, that thinks he wad do great things
till he come to the proof."
My gudesire scarce listened to this, but spurred his horse, with "Gude
e'en to you, freend."
But it's like the stranger was ane that doesna lightly yield his point;
for, ride as Steenie liked, he was aye beside him at the self-same pace.
At last my gudesire, Steenie Steenson, grew half angry; and, to say the
truth, half feared.
"What is it that ye want with me, freend?" he said. "If ye be a robber,
I have nae money; if ye be a leal man, wanting company, I have nae heart
to mirth or speaking; and if ye want to ken the road, I scarce ken it
"If you will tell me your grief," said the stranger, "I am one that,
though I have been sair miscaa'd in the world, am the only hand for
helping my freends."
So my gudesire, to ease his ain heart, mair than from any hope of help,
told him the story from beginning to end.
"It's a hard pinch," said the stranger; "but I think I can help you."
"If you could lend the money, sir, and take a lang day--I ken nae other
help on earth," said my gudesire.
"But there may be some under the earth," said the stranger. "Come, I'll
be frank wi' you; I could lend you the money on bond, but you would
maybe scruple my terms. Now, I can tell you, that your auld Laird is
disturbed in his grave by your curses, and the wailing of your family,
and if ye daur venture to go to see him, he will give you the receipt."
My gudesire's hair stood on end at this proposal, but he thought his
companion might be some humorsome chield that was trying to frighten
him, and might end with lending him the money. Besides, he was bauld wi'
brandy, and desperate wi' distress; and he said, he had courage to go to
the gate of hell, and a step farther, for that receipt.--The stranger
Weel, they rode on through the thickest of the wood, when, all of a
sudden, the horse stopped at the door of a great house; and, but that he
knew the place was ten miles off, my father would have thought he was at
Redgauntlet Castle. They rode into the outer courtyard, through the
muckle faulding yetts, and aneath the auld portcullis; and the whole
front of the house was lighted, and there were pipes and fiddles, and as
much dancing and deray within as used to be in Sir Robert's house at
Pace and Yule, and such high seasons. They lap off, and my gudesire, as
seemed to him, fastened his horse to the very ring he had tied him to
that morning, when he gaed to wait on the young Sir John.
"God!" said my gudesire, "if Sir Robert's death be but a dream!"
He knocked at the ha' door just as he was wont, and his auld
acquaintance, Dougal MacCallum,--just after his wont, too,--came to open
the door, and said, "Piper Steenie, are ye there, lad? Sir Robert has
been crying for you."
My gudesire was like a man in a dream--he looked for the stranger, but
he was gane for the time. At last he just tried to say, "Ha! Dougal
Driveower, are ye living? I thought ye had been dead."
"Never fash yoursell wi' me," said Dougal, "but look to yoursell; and
see ye tak naething frae onybody here, neither meat, drink, or siller,
except just the receipt that is your ain."
So saying, he led the way out through halls and trances that were weel
kend to my gudesire, and into the auld oak parlour; and there was as
much singing of profane sangs, and birling of red wine, and speaking
blasphemy and sculduddry, as had ever been in Redgauntlet Castle when it
was at the blithest.
But, Lord take us in keeping! what a set of ghastly revellers they were
that sat round that table!--My gudesire kend mony that had long before
gane to their place, for often had he piped to the most part in the hall
of Redgauntlet. There was the fierce Middleton, and the dissolute
Rothes, and the crafty Lauderdale; and Dalyell, with his bald head and a
beard to his girdle; and Earlshall, with Cameron's blude on his hand;
and wild Bonshaw, that tied blessed Mr Cargill's limbs till the blude
sprang; and Dunbarton Douglas, the twice-turned traitor baith to country
and king. There was the Bluidy Advocate MacKenyie, who, for his worldly
wit and wisdom, had been to the rest as a god. And there was
Claverhouse, as beautiful as when he lived, with his long, dark, curled
locks, streaming down over his laced buff-coat, and his left hand always
on his right spule-blade, to hide the wound that the silver bullet had
made. He sat apart from them all, and looked at them with a melancholy,
haughty countenance; while the rest hallooed, and sung, and laughed,
that the room rang. But their smiles were fearfully contorted from time
to time; and their laughter passed into such wild sounds, as made my
gudesire's very nails grow blue, and chilled the marrow in his banes.
They that waited at the table were just the wicked serving-men and
troopers, that had done their work and cruel bidding on earth. There was
the Lang Lad of the Nethertown, that helped to take Argyle; and the
Bishop's summoner, that they called the Deil's Rattle-bag; and the
wicked guardsmen, in their laced coats; and the savage Highland
Amorites, that shed blood like water; and many a proud serving-man,
haughty of heart and bloody of hand, cringing to the rich, and making
them wickeder than they would be; grinding the poor to powder, when the
rich had broken them to fragments. And mony, mony mair were coming and
ganging, a' as busy in their vocation as if they had been alive.
Sir Robert Redgauntlet, in the midst of a' this fearful riot, cried, wi'
a voice like thunder, on Steenie Piper, to come to the board-head where
he was sitting; his legs stretched out before him, and swathed up with
flannel, with his holster pistols aside him, while the great broadsword
rested against his chair, just as my gudesire had seen him the last time
upon earth--the very cushion for the jackanape was close to him, but the
creature itsell was not there--it wasna its hour, it's likely; for he
heard them say as he came forward, "Is not the Major come yet?" And
another answered, "The jackanape will be here betimes the morn." And
when my gudesire came forward, Sir Robert, or his ghaist, or the deevil
in his likeness, said, "Weel, piper, hae ye settled wi' my son for the
With much ado my father gat breath to say, that Sir John would not
settle without his honour's receipt.
"Ye shall hae that for a tune of the pipes, Steenie," said the
appearance of Sir Robert--"Play us up 'Weel hoddled, Luckie.'"
Now this was a tune my gudesire learned frae a warlock, that heard it
when they were worshipping Satan at their meetings; and my gudesire had
sometimes played it at the ranting suppers in Redgauntlet Castle, but
never very willingly; and now he grew cauld at the very name of it, and
said, for excuse, he hadna his pipes wi' him.
"MacCallum, ye limb of Beelzebub," said the fearfu' Sir Robert, "bring
Steenie the pipes that I am keeping for him!"
MacCallum brought a pair of pipes might have served the piper of Donald
of the Isles. But he gave my gudesire a nudge as he offered them; and
looking secretly and closely, Steenie saw that the chanter was of steel,
and heated to a white heat; so he had fair warning not to trust his
fingers with it. So he excused himself again, and said, he was faint and
frightened, and had not wind aneugh to fill the bag.
"Then ye maun eat and drink, Steenie," said the figure; "for we do
little else here; and it's ill speaking between a fou man and a
Now these were the very words that the bloody Earl of Douglas said to
keep the King's messenger in hand, while he cut the head off MacLellan
of Bombie, at the Threave Castle; and that put Steenie mair and mair
on his guard. So he spoke up like a man, and said he came neither to
eat, or drink, or make minstrelsy; but simply for his ain--to ken what
was come o' the money he had paid, and to get a discharge for it; and he
was so stout-hearted by this time, that he charged Sir Robert for
conscience-sake--(he had no power to say the holy name)--and as he hoped
for peace and rest, to spread no snares for him, but just to give him
The appearance gnashed its teeth and laughed, but it took from a large
pocket-book the receipt, and handed it to Steenie. "There is your
receipt, ye pitiful cur; and for the money, my dog-whelp of a son may go
look for it in the Cat's Cradle."
My gudesire uttered mony thanks, and was about to retire, when Sir
Robert roared aloud, "Stop, though, thou sack-doudling son of a whore! I
am not done with thee. HERE we do nothing for nothing; and you
must return on this very day twelvemonth, to pay your master the homage
that you owe me for my protection."
My father's tongue was loosed of a suddenty, and he said aloud, "I refer
mysell to God's pleasure, and not to yours."
He had no sooner uttered the word than all was dark around him; and he
sunk on the earth with such a sudden shock, that he lost both breath and
How lang Steenie lay there, he could not tell; but when he came to
himsell, he was lying in the auld kirkyard of Redgauntlet parochine,
just at the door of the family aisle, and the scutcheon of the auld
knight, Sir Robert, hanging over his head. There was a deep morning fog
on grass and gravestane around him, and his horse was feeding quietly
beside the minister's twa cows. Steenie would have thought the whole was
a dream, but he had the receipt in his hand, fairly written and signed
by the auld Laird; only the last letters of his name were a little
disorderly, written like one seized with sudden pain.
Sorely troubled in his mind, he left that dreary place, rode through the
mist to Redgauntlet Castle, and with much ado he got speech of the
"Well, you dyvour bankrupt," was the first word, "have you brought me my
"No," answered my gudesire, "I have not; but I have brought your honour
Sir Robert's receipt for it."
"How, sirrah?--Sir Robert's receipt!--You told me he had not given you
"Will your honour please to see if that bit line is right?"
Sir John looked at every line, and at every letter, with much attention;
and at last, at the date, which my gudesire had not observed,--"_From
my appointed place_," he read, "_this twenty-fifth of
November_."--"What!--That is yesterday!--Villain, thou must have gone to
hell for this!"
"I got it from your honour's father--whether he be in heaven or hell, I
know not," said Steenie.
"I will delate you for a warlock to the Privy Council!" said Sir John.
"I will send you to your master, the devil, with the help of a
tar-barrel and a torch!"
"I intend to delate mysell to the Presbytery," said Steenie, "and tell
them all I have seen last night, whilk are things fitter for them to
judge of than a borrel man like me."
Sir John paused, composed himsell, and desired to hear the full history;
and my gudesire told it him from point to point, as I have told it
you--word for word, neither more nor less.
Sir John was silent again for a long time, and at last he said, very
composedly, "Steenie, this story of yours concerns the honour of many a
noble family besides mine; and if it be a leasing-making, to keep
yourself out of my danger, the least you can expect is to have a red-hot
iron driven through your tongue, and that will be as bad as scaulding
your fingers with a redhot chanter. But yet it may be true, Steenie; and
if the money cast up, I shall not know what to think of it.--But where
shall we find the Cat's Cradle? There are cats enough about the old
house, but I think they kitten without the ceremony of bed or cradle."
"We were best ask Hutcheon," said my gudesire; "he kens a' the odd
corners about as weel as--another serving-man that is now gane, and that
I wad not like to name."
Aweel, Hutcheon, when he was asked, told them, that a ruinous turret,
lang disused, next to the clock-house, only accessible by a ladder, for
the opening was on the outside, and far above the battlements, was
called of old the Cat's Cradle.
"There will I go immediately," said Sir John; and he took (with what
purpose, Heaven kens) one of his father's pistols from the hall-table,
where they had lain since the night he died, and hastened to the
It was a dangerous place to climb, for the ladder was auld and frail,
and wanted ane or twa rounds. However, up got Sir John, and entered at
the turret door, where his body stopped the only little light that was
in the bit turret. Something flees at him wi' a vengeance, maist dang
him back ower--bang gaed the knight's pistol, and Hutcheon, that held
the ladder, and my gudesire that stood beside him, hears a loud
skelloch. A minute after, Sir John flings the body of the jackanape down
to them, and cries that the siller is fund, and that they should come up
and help him. And there was the bag of siller sure aneugh, and mony orra
things besides, that had been missing for mony a day. And Sir John, when
he had riped the turret weel, led my gudesire into the dining-parlour,
and took him by the hand, and spoke kindly to him, and said he was sorry
he should have doubted his word, and that he would hereafter be a good
master to him, to make amends.
"And now, Steenie," said Sir John, "although this vision of yours tends,
on the whole, to my father's credit, as an honest man, that he should,
even after his death, desire to see justice done to a poor man like you,
yet you are sensible that ill-dispositioned men might make bad
constructions upon it, concerning his soul's health. So, I think, we had
better lay the haill dirdum on that ill-deedie creature, Major Weir, and
say naething about your dream in the wood of Pitmurkie. You had taken
ower muckle brandy to be very certain about onything; and, Steenie, this
receipt," (his hand shook while he held it out,)--"it's but a queer kind
of document, and we will do best, I think, to put it quietly in the
"Od, but for as queer as it is, it's a' the voucher I have for my rent,"
said my gudesire, who was afraid, it may be, of losing the benefit of
Sir Robert's discharge.
"I will bear the contents to your credit in the rental-book, and give
you a discharge under my own hand," said Sir John, "and that on the
spot. And, Steenie, if you can hold your tongue about this matter, you
shall sit, from this term downward, at an easier rent."
"Mony thanks to your honour," said Steenie, who saw easily in what
corner the wind was; "doubtless I will be conformable to all your
honour's commands; only I would willingly speak wi' some powerful
minister on the subject, for I do not like the sort of soumons of
appointment whilk your honour's father----"
"Do not call the phantom my father!" said Sir John, interrupting him.
"Weel, then, the thing that was so like him,"--said my gudesire; "he
spoke of my coming back to him this time twelvemonth, and it's a weight
on my conscience."
"Aweel, then," said Sir John, "if you be so much distressed in mind, you
may speak to our minister of the parish; he is a douce man, regards the
honour of our family, and the mair that he may look for some patronage
Wi' that, my gudesire readily agreed that the receipt should be burnt,
and the Laird threw it into the chimney with his ain hand. Burn it would
not for them, though; but away it flew up the lum, wi' a lang train of
sparks at its tail, and a hissing noise like a squib.
My gudesire gaed down to the manse, and the minister, when he had heard
the story, said, it was his real opinion, that though my gudesire had
gaen very far in tampering with dangerous matters, yet, as he had
refused the devil's arles (for such was the offer of meat and drink),
and had refused to do homage by piping at his bidding, he hoped, that if
he held a circumspect walk hereafter, Satan could take little advantage
by what was come and gane. And, indeed, my gudesire, of his ain accord,
long forswore baith the pipes and the brandy--it was not even till the
year was out, and the fatal day passed, that he would so much as take
the fiddle, or drink usquebaugh or tippenny.
Sir John made up his story about the jackanape as he liked himsell; and
some believe till this day there was no more in the matter than the
filching nature of the brute. Indeed, ye'll no hinder some to threap,
that it was nane o' the Auld Enemy that Dougal and my gudesire saw in
the Laird's room, but only that wanchancy creature, the Major, capering
on the coffin; and that, as to the blawing on the Laird's whistle that
was heard after he was dead, the filthy brute could do that as weel as
the Laird himsell, if no better. But Heaven kens the truth, whilk first
came out by the minister's wife, after Sir John and her ain gudeman were
baith in the moulds. And then my gudesire, wha was failed in his limbs,
but not in his judgment or memory--at least nothing to speak of--was
obliged to tell the real narrative to his freends, for the credit of his
good name. He might else have been charged for a warlock.
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