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Elder 'machiavelli-er'

Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories


On the evening after the stained-glass 'windie' had been set up in the

new kirk and dedicated to the memory of Saint Cuthbert, the Reverend

Alexander Macgregor and his elder, Ringan Telfer, the ancient 'herd,'

sat together in the manse's little 'sanctum' or library, enjoying a

'crack,' a glass of whisky, and a pipe of tobacco.

'It's a gey an' useful thing a ghaist,' said Ring
n meditatively. 'It

fleys folk fine an' stirs up their conscience graund. I aince thocht I

caught a keek o' "Parcy" mysel', but I wasna muckle gliffed, for though

I ken fine I'm a sinner, I've naethin' particular on my conscience.

'Mind ye, I dinna ken whether 'twas a wraith I saw or no--for I'd been

first footin', ye ken, an' maybe I had a wee drappie i' my e'e.'

'Gey an' likely,' assented the Minister, nodding his head

sympathetically, and drawing deep upon his pipe.

'Onnyway, naethin' came o't,' continued Ringan, imbibing thoughtfully

from his glass, 'but what I'm thinkin' the noo is that aiblins anither

ghaist-gliff micht do a body I ken o' a guid turn.'

'There's many a body that micht be the better of a bit "gliff," but it

disna always last, and it's a daungerous game to play at. But wha is the

body?' inquired the Minister.

'It's a lang story,' replied the other, as he extracted a document from

his pocket, 'but gey easy to understand. Weel, this document is a bit

codicil to the will of a far-off cousin o' mine, but it wasna signed, as

ye'll note, and i' the eye o' the law, as they call it, o' nae value.

Noo the testator, Mistress Wallace, was a widow wi' a bit heritable

property the whilk she'd but a life interest in, but she had a bit

siller i' the bank, an' 'twas this she was leavin' awa different frae

her will by this bit codicil.

'The siller was twa hundred pounds, an' it was lyin' at the bank, and

the bank manager got it for various advice--ceevility an' attention paid

to Mistress Wallace.

'Weel, there was anither puir widdie--a far-off cousin o' hers, that had

a bairn born till her after her man died, and the puir widdie juist

askit Mistress Wallace to be its godmither.

'Noo Mistress Wallace had nae bairns o' her ain, ye ken, an' it

pleasured her fine to be a godmither to the fatherless bairn, but bein'

verra frail i' body, she didna get the codicil signed an' witnessed

before her "stroke."

'Weel, the doctor, he kenned aal about the hail matter, an' he gied the

puir widdie the bit paper, since he was managin' her bit affairs. He

thocht aiblins if the bank manager saw it he micht "pairt"--but deevil

a bodle wull he hand ower, though the doctor saw him himsel'.'

The Minister nodded his apprehension, then taking the pipe out of his

mouth, inquired, 'Wha was the puir widdie woman?'

'Ye'll ken my sister?' replied Ringan, gazing fixedly at the fire,

'Effie that was marrit on puir Jock Ord--a fine laddie he was--verra

knowledgeable wi' sheep, wha perished in a snowstorm, mindin' his


'She was left gey ill aff, an' noo wi' a bairn to provide for, hard pit

till 't. Twa hundred punds wull provide for his upbringin', an' aiblins

turn him into a meenister at the finish.'

'Ay,' replied the Minister,' I mind Effie well, puir decent body, for

didna I marry them? An' I heard tell o' her man's death, but I hadna

seen nither since they went herdin' ower the Carter Bar. But whaur does

the "ghaist" come intil the story?' inquired the speaker in conclusion.

Ringan continued to contemplate the fire with fixed attention, then

slowly delivered himself as follows:

'I'm hearin' that the Burnside Field Club wull be comin' up the water to

hold their meetin' here shortly, an' to view the Roman Camp. I mind they

were here ten years before, an' this year the president is the bank

manager doon at the auld toon, wha has gruppit the siller I've tell't ye

aboot. Weel, ye'll ken him, an' aiblins,' here the speaker took up the

bellows and thoughtfully assisted the fire's respiration, 'aiblins it

wud be a ceevil matter to offer to gie him a night's lodgin', for it's a

gey lang way up frae the auld toon, an' the manager's gettin' gey white

aboot the pow.'

Here the speaker laid down the bellows, then took up his glass

thoughtfully, drained it off slowly, and resumed his contemplation of

the fire.

The Minister also refreshed himself, then, keenly watching his companion

from the tail of his eye, admitted an acquaintanceship with the bank


'Ay, I ken him. He's a verra decent body--a bit near maybe, an' terribly

superfeecial i' antiquarian knowledge. I mind I had a bit differ wi' him

the time he was last up at the Camp.

'But supposin' I was inclined to be ceevil till him--what then?'

'Then aiblins,' replied the elder, stooping and knocking the ashes from

his pipe against the fender, 'there micht be a bit gliff, an' this bit

paper micht come in gey useful by way o' stirrin' up his conscience the

whilk, I'm thinkin', has been growin' stiff i' his auld age. If it disna

there's nae harm dune.'

The Minister thrust out his legs, and gazed up at the ceiling.

'Was it Dr. Thomson that tended Effie, an' that saw the manager?'

'Ay, 'twas him,' replied his companion.

There was a pause of silence after this response, the elder gazing

abstractedly into the fire, the Minister surveying his ceiling, yet all

the while out of the tail of his eye keeping watch on his elder.

Ultra sardonic he was, reflected the watcher affectionately, intolerant,

plus Calviniste que Calvin meme--sceptical of the world, with

up-twisted eyebrows that seemed to signify a perpetual interrogation,

yet faithful unto death to his duty and his own ideals. He minded well

assisting to dig Ringan out of a snowdrift wherein he was seated, calmly

tending a ewe and her two tiny lambs.

'Aweel,' said the Minister, breaking the silence, 'I micht--be offerin'

hospitality to Macmanus, the banker; 'twould be the ceevil thing to do,

but if he comes he's my guest, ye ken--I maunna hae ony "frightfulness";

an' the cuddy wull be locked up.'

'Ay,' responded the other, 'an' sae wull the goat be.'

'I ken naethin' aboot that,' retorted the other, bringing his gaze down

from the ceiling to rest upon the swag-bellied green bottle on the table

beside him.

'It's gettin' on intil the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal,"' he added;

'ye mun hae a "deoch-an-doruis" afore startin' "aff."'

'Deed, an' I wull,' replied Ringan, as he rose up and held out his

glass, whilst wrapping his plaid about his shoulders.


Fergus Macmanus, bank manager, amateur antiquary, and President of the

Burnside Field Club, accepted the invitation from the Reverend Alexander

Macgregor, and returned with him from the Roman Camp to the manse for

the night after a successful meeting, whereat he had given an address on

Castrametation and the Roman Wall, which had abundantly satisfied

himself, if not his host.

Macmanus was a short, thick-set, well-preserved man of some seventy

years of age, with a complexion reminiscent of Harvest Festival. His

Pauline motto of 'All things to all men' was a little impeded by an

assurance of infallibility which he founded upon his 'common-sense view

of things.' Hence after supper he proceeded to demonstrate to his host

that all the theorists were wrong; that he had walked along the line of

the wall and satisfied himself that wall and vallum were not

contemporaneous, and that if Hadrian had made any use of the vallum--an

early dyke or limes--it was merely for the screening of his troops

whilst the wall was building.

'Common sense,' retorted the Minister, 'willna tak ye verra far. Common

sense assures me the world is flat, an' stands stock still in the centre

o' things.'

'Common sense,' echoed his companion; 'man alive! why it includes the

use of all the rational faculties. What I mean is that folk get wedded

to a theory and disregard the practical side o' things. Noo the Romans

were first and foremost a practical people, as a'body kens. They made

sure o' their conquest, an' then built their wall, sae that the popular

theory that the vallum was a protection against the south is a' stuff

an' nonsense.'

'Isna the result,' queried the Minister, 'that ye haud ane theory, ither

folks anither?'

'If a thorough excavation were carried out many secrets micht be

discovered, but noo folks prefer to travel an' dig i' the remotest

pairts o' the earth, an' no' at home.'

'Aweel,' the Minister continued, with a sudden deft twist to the

conversation, 'it's no excavation o' the earth that's interestin' me the

noo--it's the excavation o' the mind. I have been readin' o' what a

clever doctor chield has accomplished i' Edinbro' by the pooer o' mind

upon mind----'

'Ye mean Christian Science--Faith-Healing?' queried his companion


'Na, na,' returned the Minister, 'he ca's it Psycho-therapeutics--an'

has worked miracles by it. For an instance, he actually operated wi' the

knife on a puir body withoot any chloroform, ether, or anaesthetic

whatever--an' the patient ne'er had a wink o' pain under it. His

consciousness was under control, ye ken, directed clean awa from thocht

o' pain----'

'I'd like to see the man that could mak me believe he'd gien me security

for his overdraft when he hadna,' interrupted his companion


'I think I hae heard o' the thing haein' been accomplished, natheless,'

returned the Minister with a twinkle in his eye.

'Man!' acknowledged the banker with a smile, 'but ye're gleg.'

The two men surveyed each other silently, like fencers awaiting feint or

lunge, when suddenly a peal of thunder echoed on the air and shook the

windows of the sanctum.

'A thunderstorm,' said the banker, 'i' the distance. Well, there's ane

thing I'd be glad to hear o' frae your new doctor, an' that is no' to be

gliffed by thunner an' lightin'. I was verra nigh struck by a flash when

I was a bairn oot fishin' for troots--an' I canna get the better o't.'

''Tis a lang way off,' replied the Minister, rising and looking out o'

window; 'weel, it's bedtime, I'm thinkin'. Ye mun juist have a night-cap

before retiring.'

Nothing loath, his guest fortified himself handsomely, and was escorted

to his bedroom by his host.

Entering his own room, which was opposite the other, the Minister

proceeded to undress, leaving the door ajar advisedly, in the event of

any strategy of Ringan's contriving.

He lay awake some while in watchful expectation, but as the

thunderstorm had passed over and no other sound was audible, he shortly

fell sound asleep.

Suddenly he was roused by the most extraordinary noise. The manse seemed

to be shaken to its foundation.

He started up in bed. Could a flash of lightning have hit the chimney?

Then he saw a light without on the landing, heard footsteps, and a voice

calling him by name.

'Minister Macgregor,' it called. 'The house has been struck wi'

lightnin', I'm certain.'

The Minister hurried out on to the landing, and seeing his guest, by the

light of the candle which he held in his shaking hand, to be much

perturbed, endeavoured to comfort him.

'It was a fearfu' noise yon; it wakened me up oot o' the sleep o' the

just,' he said. 'I thocht the chimney mun have been stricken, but if

sae, stanes wud hae come through the roof. Maist likely the auld

ash-tree by the door has been stricken. Hark!' he added, 'I think the

storm's past, for it's rainin' hard enoo.'

Somewhat reassured, his guest was induced to return to bed, and after

the Minister left him he heard the door bolted behind him.

The Minister went back to his own bed, but this time he refused to lie

down, for he felt assured that Ringan was up to some fresh cantrip or

other, and he wished to forestall him.

The rain shortly ceased, and a faint moonlight showed itself through the

window. Almost at the same time the Minister was aware of stealthy soft

footings on the stairs without. Noiselessly he approached his open door,

and there he saw by the dim skylight a tall figure moving on stockinged

feet at the stair-head. Was it a burglar? he thought fearfully. 'No, it

was Ringan. But what on earth was he carrying?

Before he could interfere the tall figure set a dark object rolling down

the stairs with infernal reverberation, then sat himself down on what

seemed a tea-tray, and shot clattering into the gloomy deep.

The Minister turned and leaped into his bed, annoyed, yet shaken with


Another moment and he heard the door opposite unbolted, and a perturbed

but angry voice rose outside his door:

'What the devil are ye up to? Are ye playing a trick on me, Minister?

What was that fearfu' noise?'

'I'm playin' nae tricks on ye,' replied the Minister, as he opened the

door and stood face to face with his guest, whose face was plainly

agitated by fear and anger. 'It's either the storm, or aiblins a ghaist,

or else some one's playin' tricks on baith o' us.'

'Did ye no place this bit paper i' my room?' inquired his guest

wrathfully, holding up a document with his hand accusingly.

'What bit paper is 't?' inquired the Minister. 'I hae pit nae bit paper

i' your room.'

'Did Dr. Thomson o' the auld toon no' send ye this bit

waste-paper--codicil he called it, or come to see ye aboot it?'

'No, he didna,' replied the Minister, 'neither he nor any ither doctor

has been i' my manse yet, an' I hope never wull.'

'On your hon----' began the other. Then catching his host's gleaming

eye, said brokenly, 'It's the ---- Well--it's the most extraordinary

thing that ever happened to me i' my life. The ghastly noise--then to

find this bit paper lyin' i' my room.'

'What is the paper?' inquired the Minister. 'Can ye no hae brocht it wi'

ye yoursel'?'

Macmanus looked about him stricken and unnerved, the anger had died down

in his face, and he seemed to be seeking consolation.

'I'll tell ye the hail matter,' he decided impulsively, 'and what's

mair, I'll abide by your advice.'

Thereon very briefly he set forth the tale of the codicil, justified

himself on all legal grounds, and awaited the Minister's decision.

'Aweel, Macmanus,' replied the Minister slowly but decisively, 'as ye

ask my opeenion, aal I can say is that if I was i' your shoes I'd juist

forego my legal rights an' let the puir woman hae the twa hundred


'I believe you're richt,' replied the other; 'but if that ghastly noise

happens again I'll come and spend the rest o' the night i' your


'Come your ways in noo,' responded his host, 'and I'll get ye a drop


'Aweel,' murmured the listener with pricked ears, who sat beside gong

and tea-tray at the stair-foot, 'I'm thinkin if the Meenister's

Macchiavelli, the elder's Machiavelli-er.'