Brander Matthews (18521929). The Short-Story. 1907.
VI. Wandering Willies Tale
By Walter Scott
HONEST folks like me! How do ye ken whether I am honest, or what I am? I may be the deevil himsell for what ye ken, for he has power to come disguised like an angel of light; and, besides, he is a prime fiddler. He played a sonata to Corelli, ye ken.
There was something odd in this speech, and the tone in which it was said. It seemed as if my companion was not always in his constant mind, or that he was willing to try if he could frighten me. I laughed at the extravagance of his language, however, and asked him in reply if he was fool enough to believe that the foul fiend would play so silly a masquerade.
It is very true, said the blind man, that when I am tired of scraping thairm or singing ballants I whiles make a tale serve the turn among the country bodies; and I have some fearsome anes, that make the auld carlines shake on the settle, and the bits o bairns skirl on their minnies out frae their beds. But this that I am going to tell you was a thing that befell in our ain house in my fathers timethat is, my father was then a hafflins callant; and I tell it to you, that it may be a lesson to you that are but a young thoughtless chap, wha ye draw up wi on a lonely road; for muckle was the dool and care that came o t to my gudesire.
He commenced his tale accordingly, in a distinct narrative tone of voice, which he raised and depressed with considerable skill; at times sinking almost into a whisper, and turning his clear but sightless eyeballs upon my face, as if it had been possible for him to witness the impression which his narrative made upon my features. I will not spare a syllable of it, although it be of the longest; so I make a dashand begin:
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 Montroses 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 favor as the laird of Redgauntlet? He was knighted at Lonon Court, wi the kings ain sword; and being a red-hot 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 Claver-houses or Tam Dalyells. 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 make muckle mair ceremony than a Hielandman wi a roebuck. It was just, Will ye tak the test? If notMake readypresentfire! 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 Carrifragauns; 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 master to his ain folk, though, and was weel aneugh liked by his tenants; and as for the lackeys and troopers that rade out wi him to the persecutions, as the Whigs caad 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 Redgauntlets grundthey 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 onywhere else in the country. Its a deserted now; and I sat on the broken doorcheek three days since, and was glad I couldna see the plight the place was inbut thats 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 back-lilt 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 hoisting, watching and warding, he saw muckle mischief, and maybe did some that he couldna avoid.
Now Steenie was a kind of favorite with his master, and kend a the folk 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 finger.
Weel, round came the Revolution, and it had like to hae broken the hearts baith of Dougal and his master. But the change was not athegether 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 owermony great folks dipped in the same doings to make 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 behooved 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 managerno that he was a very great misguiderbut he hadna the saving gift, and he got twa terms rent in arrear. He got the first brash at Whitsunday put ower wi fan 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 behooved to flit. Sair wark he had to get the siller; but he was weel freended, and at last he got the haill scraped thegethera thousand merks. The maist of it was from a neighbor they caad Laurie Lapraika sly tod. Laurie had wealth 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, bune a, he thought he had gude security for the siller he len 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 lairds danger. Weel, the first thing he learned at the castle was that Sir Robert had fretted himsell into a fit of the gout because he did no appear before twelve oclock. It wasna athegether 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 parlor; and there sat the laird his leesome lane, excepting thar he had beside him a great, ill-favored 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 angeredran about the haill castle, chattering and rowling, and pinching and biting folk, specially before ill weather, or disturbance in the state. Sir Robert caad it Major Weir, after the warlock that was burnt; and few folk liked either the name or the conditions of the creaturethey thought there was something in it by ordinarand my gudesire was not just easy in mind when the door shut on him, and he saw himsell in the room wi naebody but the laird, Dougal MacCullum, and the majora thing that hadna chanced to him before.
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 Satans. Major Weir sat opposite to him, in a red-laced coat, and the lairds wig on his head; and aye as Sir Robert girned wi pain, the jackanape girned too, like a sheeps head between a pair of tangsan ill-faured, fearsome couple they were. The lairds 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 sway after ony of the hill-folk he could get speerings of. Some said it was for fear of the Whigs taking vengence, but I judge it was just his auld customhe wasna gine not fear onything. The rental book, wi its black cover and brass clasps, was lying beside him; and a book of sculduddery 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 horseshoe in his forehead, deep-dinted, as if it had been stamped there.
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 all here, Steenie, man?
But they werena weel out of the room when Sir Robert gied a yelloch that garrd the castle rock. Back ran Dougal; in flew the liverymen; 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 parlor, where a was gaun hirdie-girdienaebody 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 folks say that it did bubble and sparkle like a seething caldron. He flung the cup at Dougals 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 caad Major Weir, it jibbered and cried as if it was mocking its master. My gudesires head was like to turn; he forgot baith siller and receipt, and downstairs he banged; but, as he ran, the shrieks came fainter 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 greed weel. Sir John had been bred an advocate, and afterward sat in the last Scots Parliament and voted for the Union, having gotten, it was thought, a rug of the compensationsif 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 anebut 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 caad it, weeladay! The night before the funeral Dougal could keep his awn counsel nae longer; he came doun wi 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 a 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 Roberts 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 weak 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 doun 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 enough the silver whistle sounded as sharp and shrill as if Sir Robert was blowing it; and up got 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 lairds coffin! Ower he couped as if he had been dead. He could not tell how lang he lay in a trance at the door, but when he gathered himsell he cried on his neighbor, and getting nae answer raised the house, when Dougal was found lying dead within twa steps of the bed where his masters coffin was placed. As for the whistle, it was gane 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 bogie 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 fathers 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 hunderweight of steel about it, what with blade, chape, and basket hilt. I have heard their communings 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 humor, the flattering, conciliating tone of the tenants address and the hypocritical melancholy of the lairds 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 brid lairdship. Your father was a kind man to freends and followers; muckle grace to you, Sir John, to fill his shoonhis boots, I suld say, for he seldom wore shoon, unless it were muils when he had the gout.
Aye, 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 orderweel 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.
Stephen. Indeed, I hadna time, and it like your honor; for nae sooner had I set doun the siller, and just as his honor, Sir Robert, thats gaen, drew it till him to count it and write out the receipt, he was taen wi the pains that removed him.
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 honor; 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.
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 saw 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 ye 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.
So am I, Stephen, said his honor; and so are all the folks in this house, I hope. But if there be a knave among 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 fathers 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.
Speak out, sirrah, said the laird, assuming a look of his fathers, a very particular ane, which he had when he was angryit seemed as if the wrinkles of his frown made that selfsame fearful shape of a horses shoe in the middle of his brow; speak out, sir! I will know your thoughts; do you suppose that I have this money?
Down the stairs he ran (for the parlor 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 baron-officer.
Away rode my gudesire to his chief creditor (him they caad Laurie Lapraik), to try if he could make onything out of him; but when he tauld his story, he got but the worst word in his wamethief, beggar, and dyvour were the saftest terms; and to the boot of these hard terms, Laurie brought up the auld story of dipping his hand in the blood of Gods 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 Lapraiks doctrine as weel as the man, and said things that garrd folks flesh grue that heard themhe 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 hostler wifethey suld hae caad her Tibbie Fawand 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 may he never lie quiet in his grave till he had righted his poor bond tenant; and the second was, a health to Mans 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, Thats a mettle beast of yours, freend; will you sell him? So saying, he touched the horses neck with his riding wand, and it fell into its auld heigh-ho of a stumbling trot. But his spunks soon out of him, I think, continued the stranger, and that is like mony a mans courage, that thinks he wad do great things.
But its like the stranger was ane that doesna lightly yield his point; for, ride as Steenie liked, he was aye beside him at the selfsame pace. At last my gudesire, Steenie Steenson, grew half angry, and, to say the truth, half feard.
What is it that you 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 mysell.
But there may be some under the earth, said the stranger. Come, Ill 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 gudesires 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 laughed.
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 at Sir Roberts 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.
He knocked at the ha door just as he was wont, and his auld acquaintance, Dougal MacCallumjust after his wont, toocame to open the door, and said, Piper Steenie, are ye there, lad? Sir Robert has been crying for you.
So saying, he led the way out through halls and trances that were weel kend to my gudesire, and into the auld oak parlor; and there was as much singing of profane sangs, and birling of red wine, and blasphemy sculduddery as had ever been in Redgauntlet Castle when it was at the blythest.
But Lord take us in keeping! what a set of ghastly revelers there were that sat around 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 Camerons blude on his hand; and wild Bonshaw, that tied blessed Mr. Cargills limbs till the blude sprung; and Dumbarton Douglas, the twice-turned traitor baith to country and king. There was the Bludy Advocate MacKenzie, 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 with 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 sang and laughed, and the room rang. But their smiles were fearfully contorted from time to time; and their laughter passed into such wild sounds as made my gudesires 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 bishops summoner, that they called the Deils Rattlebag; and the wicked guardsmen in their laced coats; and the savage Highland Amorites, that shed blood like water; and mony 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 thereit wasna its hour, its 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 years rent?
Now this was a tune my gudesire learned frae a warlock, that heard it when they were worshiping 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 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 himsell 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 its ill speaking between a fou man and a fasting. Now these were the very words that the bloody Earl of Douglas said to keep the kings 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 nor drink, nor make minstrelsy; but simply for his ainto 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 his ain.
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 Cats Cradle.
My gudesire uttered mony thanks, and was about to retire, when Sir Robert roared aloud: Stop, though, thou sack-doudling son of a! 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.
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 ministers 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.
Sir John looked at every line, and at every letter, with much attention; and at last at the date, which my gudesire had not observedFrom my appointed place, he read, this twenty-fifth of November.
Sir John was silent again for a long time, and at last he said, very composedly: Steenie, this story of yours concerns the honor of many a noble family besides mine; and if it be a leasing-making, to keep yoursell 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 wi a red-hot 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 Cats Cradle? There are cats enough about the old house, but I think they kitten without the ceremony of bed or cradle.
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, above the battlements, was called of old the Cats Cradle.
There will I go immediately, said Sir John; and he tookwith what purpose Heaven kensone of his fathers pistols from the hall table, where they had lain since the night he died, and hastened to the battlements.
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 owerbang! gaed the knights 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 thing 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-parlor, 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 fathers 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 souls 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 taen ower-muckle brandy to be very certain about onything; and, Steenie, this receipthis hand shook while he held it outits but a queer kind of document, and we will do best, I think, to put it quietly in the fire.
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 time downward, at an easier rent.
Mony thanks to your honor, said Steenie, who saw easily in what corner the wind was; doubtless I will be conformable to all your honors 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 honors father
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 honor of our family, and the mair that he may look for some patronage from me.
Wi that, my father readily agreed that the receipt should be burned; 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 gane very far in tampering with dangerous matters, yet as he had refused the devils 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, lang forswore baith the pipes and the brandyit was not even till the year was out, and the fatal day past, 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, yell no hinder some to thread that it was nane o the auld Enemy that Dougal and Hutcheon saw in the lairds room, but only that wanchancie creature the major, capering on the coffin; and that, as to the blawing on the lairds whistle that was heard after he was dead, the filthy brute could do that as weel as the laird himsell, if not better. But Heaven kens the truth, whilk first came out by the ministers wife, after Sir John and her ain gudeman were baith in the molds. And then my gudesire, wha was failed in his limbs, but not in his judgment or memoryat least nothing to speak ofwas 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.
The shades of evening were growing thicker around us as my conductor finished his long narrative with this moral: You see, birkie, it is nae chancy thing to tak a stranger traveler for a guide when you are in an uncouth land.
Aye, but they had baith to sup the sauce o t sooner or later, said Wandering Willie; what was fristed wasna forgiven. Sir John died before he was much over threescore; and it was just like of a moments illness. And for my gudesire, though he departed in fullness of life, yet there was my father, a yauld man of forty-five, fell down betwixt the stilts of his plow, and rase never again, and left nae bairn but me, a puir, sightless, fatherless, motherless creature, could neither work nor want. Things gaed weel aneugh at first; for Sir Regwald Redgauntlet, the only son of Sir John and the oye of auld Sir Robert, and, wae s me! the last of the honorable house, took the farm aff our hands, and brought me into his household to have care of me. My head never settled since I lost him; and if I say another word about it, deil a bar will I have the heart to play the night. Look out, my gentle chap, he resumed, in a different tone; ye should see the lights at Brokenburn Glen by this time.