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The Haunted Ale-house

Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories

'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 in
ormation of his

foster-brother Alastair.

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

of discovery.

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

Shillmoor's edge.

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

my troth.'

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

failed ye.'

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.'