Wandering Willie's Tale by Sir 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
"Ye ken little about it—little about it," said the old man, shaking
his head and beard, and knitting his brows. "I could tell ye something
What his wife mentioned of his being a tale-teller as well as a musician
now occurred to me; and as, you know, I like tales of superstition, I
begged to have a specimen of his talent as we went along.
"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 father's time—that 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 dash—and 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 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 red-hot
prelatist, he came down here, rampauging like a lion, with commission 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 make
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 Carrifra-gauns (a precipitous side
of a mountain in Moffatdale); 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 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 onywhere 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
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 favourite 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 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 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 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 behooved 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
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 the
Revolution warld, but he liked an orra sough of the 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
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 himsell into a fit
of the gout because he did no 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 rowling,
and pinching and biting folk, specially before ill weather, or disturbance
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 mind when the door shut on him, and he
saw himsell in the room wi' naebody but the laird, Dougal MacCallum, and
the major—a thing that hadna chanced to him before.
Sir Robert sat, or, I should say, lay, in a great arm-chair, 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 sway 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 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.
"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 all here, Steenie,
"Your honour will find it right," said my gudesire.
"Here, Dougal," said the laird, "gie Steenie a tass of brandy, 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 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 parlour, where
a' was gaun hirdie-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 folks say that it did
bubble and sparkle like a seething cauldron. 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 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 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 can'd 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 warld; 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 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 laird's 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 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 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 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 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 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 brid
lairdship. Your father was a kind man to freends 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
"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
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 ill 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 ye 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 that I want to have 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 hae 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 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."
"The Lord forgie your opinion," said Stephen, driven almost to his wits'
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 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
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 the money to be? I insist upon knowing."
My gudesire saw everything look so 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 selfsame 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 any one 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 correct
"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 silver whistle."
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 onything out of him; but when he tauld
his story, he got the worst 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 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 folks' flesh grue that heard
them—he wasna just himsell, and he had lived wi' a wild set in his
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 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 may 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."
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 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
"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 me 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 humoursome 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 at 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 you 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
the receipt that is your ain."
So saying, he led the way out through the 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 blasphemy and
sculduddery, as had ever been in Redgauntlet Castle when it was at the
But Lord take us in keeping! What a set of ghastly revellers 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 Cameron's blude on his hand; and wild
Bonshaw, that tied blessed Mr. Cargill's limbs till the blude sprung; and
Dumbarton Douglas, the twice turned traitor baith to country and king.
There was the Bludy 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 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, 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 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 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 year's
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 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 it's 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
king's messenger in hand while he cut the head off MacLellan of Bombie, at
the Threave Castle; and 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 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's 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 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 —! 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
myself to God's pleasure, and not to yours."
He had no sooner uttered the word than all was dark around him; and he
sank 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 laird.
"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 one."
"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 debate 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
"I intend to debate 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—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 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 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, above the battlements, was called of old the
"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 aneaugh, 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-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
"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 taen 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 fire."
"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
"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 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
"Do not call the phantom my father!" said Sir John, interrupting him.
"Well then, the thing that was so like him," said my gudesire; "he spoke
of my coming back to see him this time twelvemonth, and it's a weight on
"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 father 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 gane
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, lang forswore
baith the pipes and the brandy—it 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, ye 'll no hinder some to thread that
it was nane o' the auld Enemy that Dougal and Hutcheon saw in the laird's
room, but only that wanchancie 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.
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 traveller for a guide when you are in an
"I should not have made that inference," said I. "Your grandfather's
adventure was fortunate for himself, whom it saves from ruin and distress;
and fortunate for his landlord."
"Ay, 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 a moment's illness. And
for my gudesire, though he departed in fulness of life, yet there was my
father, a yauld man of forty-five, fell down betwixt the stilts of his
plough, 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 honourable 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."