Jessie Stevens started service in the the mansion of Kineddart. She was only fourteen at the time but it was roon aboot the age that maist lassies gaed intae service in the mid nineteenth century. Jessie was nae stranger tae work wi her being the eldest of a faimily of seven, fower brithers an twa sisters. She had fae an early age hid responsibilities far abeen her years. She felt mair than a little nervous though as she made her wye up the lang gravelled road that led tae the grand hoose of Kineddart.
It didna look that grand tae Jessie- jist a big ugly hoose made of dark steen and even darker shaddas caused by the daylicht strugglin tae push its wye throwe the heavy cloods. She could see the glimmer of licht in some of the mony windaes. At least somebody wis up and aboot. Her meagre belongings aa wuppit up in an aul bit o hodden grey wis aa she cairriet but even little as there wis seemed to weigh a ton as she trauchled on tae an uncertain fate. She made her wye to the back of the hoose and knocked.
“Sit down girl!” This was fae the grumpy looking cook. “What did you say your name was?”
“Jessie miss... Jessie Stevens”.
“Well you wait here Jessie and I'll go and fetch Mistress Gordon.She deals wi' all new servants!”
Dichtin her hands on her aapron she left the kitchen. Jessie sat looking aroon the place she'd be workin in for at least a year. She had nivver afore seen sic a huge range, the center wis the lowin fire and looked as if ye'd need a barra tae fill it but it wis the fire's surrounds that interested Jessie maist. There must have been a dizzen smaa doors leading tae different ovens and hot boxes. Wyte till she tellt her mither..!
The stern voice dragged Jessie back fae her contemplation of the cooking range tae the here and now. The voice belanged tae the maist crabbit lookin person she'd ever set een on.
“Don't you stand when a superior walks into the room”?
Jessie stumbled tae her feet saying “Sorry Miss”!
The grim lookin wifie wis obviously the Mrs Gordon the cook had gone to fetch. 'A gweed start' thocht Jessie an fin she lookit at the ticht face wi black fish een, her spirits drappit and it took her aa her time nae tae tak tae her heels an rin awa hame.
“I'm not 'miss' I'm to be addressed as Mistress Gordon at all times! Do you understand?”
Jessie nodded and said “Aye mis-- I mean Mistress Gordon”!
Mistress Gordon frowned and turned tae the cook faa wis scutterin aboot nearby.
“Take her disgusting coat and put it where it can't contaminate the kitchen!”
Jessie's hackles gaed up at this. Maybe her coat wisna the hicht o fashion nor wis it in the best of condition but it was clean and nae crabbit black eed hag wis gan tae say as much aboot her coat. She wis on the pynt of retaliating but the cook sensed Jessie's indignation, shook her heed ever so slightly and helpit her aff wi her coat. “I'll put it in the servant's cupboard for just now.”
Jessie wis shown her duties. As a lowly ‘scullery maid’ she'd tae start at five o'clock ivvery mornin and work throwe tae at least ten o'clock ivvery nicht. She was allowed one half day aff each month and that wis ayewis tae be a Sunday. Jessie didna worry ower muckle about the half day as she wis only five miles fae hame and could easily mak it there an back in the time allowed and at the same time she could gie her wages tae her mither.
Mistress Gordon tellt her she would get one pound twa shillings per month, her keep, twa hoddengrey smocks and a pair of work beets. The best bit o aa though wis her room; it was abeen the kitchen in a wee tower and the room wis half roon. She wid be like a lady wi a room o her very ain. Mistress Gordon then tellt her the rules o the hoose- faar she could go and mair importantly for her, faar she couldna go. On nae account were scullery maids to gyang intae the hoose proper; aa her duties were in the kitchen and confines. And, if for any reason some of the upstairs household were to come intae the kitchen then Jessie would turn to face the wall as a show of respect. Wi her heed buzzing she hoped she could remember aa the richts an wrangs.
Later that day Mr Pirie the soutar came tae the hoose wi work beets for Jessie.They were affa posh lookin and made o the saftest leather Jessie hid ever felt. He hid a few different pairs in different sizes and measured Jessie's feet wi a ruler. 'Size four' he muttered and handed a pair ower for Jessie tae try on. He gave her a smaa heuk tae pull the laces tight. She struggled wi the heuk till Mr Pirie showed her how tae use it richt. She stood up and stampit her feet tae sattle them intae the beets then walkit up and doon a file. They were heaven compared with the worn work sheen that she wore.Her ain were made wi chaip roch leather forbyes the new beets were like the anes that she saw ladies weerin.
Jessie smiled shyly and said to Mr Pirie 'They fit me like a glove.'
He laached and tellt her he wis pleased they fitted weel and wished her mony a gweed mile oot o' them. Mistress Gordon glowered at Jessie but spoke to Mr Pirie. 'You'd better give her two pairs, and if you've any felt slippers two pairs of those too!'
Jessie wis teen aback by this and smiled at Mistress Gordon but aa she got was a withering scowl. The cook winked at her though and said “Yer a lucky quinie!”
Mistress Gordon tellt Jessie tae follow her and teen her tae fit wis called the ‘Servant's Common Room’. Fae a cupboard she teen a puckle bundles of clyse and tellt Jessie tae try them on. They were smocks o hoddengrey. She soon found twa that gey near fitted but an oor wi the needle and she'd hiv them perfect. She rolled them up aifter Mistress Gordon checked them and was tellt faar the shewin stuff wis and that she wis tae help hersel tae fit she needed.
“Sit over there by the window to get the best light!”
At that Mistress Gordon left the room. Jessie found fit she nott and in nae time she wis busy shewin. She heard the door open but didna look up but waited for the “Well don't you stand when a superior enters the room!” But it wisna Mistress Gordon but the cook wi a plate of breid and cheese for her.
“Here lassie ye must be hungert-ye've been on the go for oors an' nae doot yer brain must be burnin wi' aa the rules an sic like ye've been getting blethered at ye!”
Jessie smiled “Aye ma heed is sair made tae tak it aa in but I suppose I'll learn foo tae dee athing the richt wye come time!”
The cook tellt her tae lay her shewin doon for eynoo and get some mait! Jessie thankit her for her kindness and soon cleared the plate.
“Michty me quine but ye must've been stairved o hunger!” said the cook fin Jessie returned the plate tae the kitchen. “Here ye'd better hae some mair!” and afore she kent it her plate wis filled again. “Wid ye like a bowel o milk tae wash it doon?”
For the rest of that day Jessie helpit the cook in the scullery deein general cleaning an helpin tae prepare the vegetables for that nicht's supper. The cook tellt her there was neen of the faimily in residence at the moment but Lord Braco wis expectit up at the weekend fae Edinburgh. She said it would gie her time tae learn the wyes o the hoose afore ony big denners or pairties were held.
Her first job in the mornin wis tae bring as mony bucketfaes o coal as the bink at the side o the fire could hud. The cook teen her doon tae the cellar tae show her faar the coal wis kept and by the gutterin glimmer o the lamp it wis a gey dreich lookin place wi its coomed ceilins. It put Jessie in mind o the story o the catacombs ablow Rome faar the Christians hid fae the Roman sodjers. At least though she widna hae tae cairry ilka bucketfae up the lang windin steps for there wis a thing the cook caad a ‘dumb waiter’ like a wee cupboard wi a door on’t. It could hud sax buckets and eence fulled aa Jessie hid tae dee wis ging back up tae the kitchen an pull on the rope till it cam up.
The cook said she'd need twa lifts o coal tae full the bink for that day’s use. Jessie wis neen worried aboot gettin the coal but the only problem for her wis the thocht o comin doon here in the early oors o the mornin. A gey eerie place it wis wi wee steen arches gan awa doon intae the bowels o the place. Her faither hid tellt her it wis eence a castle but hid been destroyed by the Bruce tae stop the Anglish fae usin it lang syne awa back in the days o yore. Jessie gied a bit shudder fin she thocht o aa the fowk that must've deet here.
Aifter a fine supper o tatties an neeps Jessie wis teen up tae her room jist abeen the kitchen. The room wis intae een o the towers an wis gotten fae the scullery by a windin stair. The room wisna big but it wis fair neat and tidy wi a wee bun in bed at the squarr side o the room on the curve o the tower there wis the bonniest leedit glaiss windae she'd ivver seen wi coloured glaiss jist like the kirk hid at Eden. The windae lookit oot abeen the kitchen gairden an it wis jist like the room, aa neat an tidy wi twa’r three men workin awa diggin the grun. There wis a kist at the side o the bed for her goods an chattels wi a wee table for tae hud a cannel jist aside it.
Jessie wis fair kinichtit wi the room.This wid be the first time in aa her life that she hid a room o her ain. Wi fower brithers an twa sisters there could nivver be muckle privacy an them aa bidin in a wee cottar hoose the wye they did. Her excitement wis spiled by the hoosekeeper comin in an tellin here that she'd tae keep it spotless clean an warned her that she wid inspeck it ivvery day tae mak sure o that. Wi that she wint back doon the stairs leavin Jessie an the cook lookin at eenanither. The cook smiled an said “Dinna mind her ower muckle ma quine her bark's waar nor her bite!”
At five next mornin Jessie gid doon tae the kitchen an raiked up the coals an opened the flap in aneth jist the wye she'd been shown tae kittle up the smoored coals. Jessie wis mair used tae her mither's fire wi its big iron grate that only nott a puckle peats tae get it lowin first thing in the mornin.Wi this thing though ye'd tae gang throwe a puckle different routines tae get the same. But sayin that the coal wis fairly the thing an in nae time, the fire wis lowin ready for her first job getting the kettle on the swye for the tea eence the cook came in.
Wi lantern in haan she made her wye doon the dark dank stairs tae the cellar. She felt the hairs on the back o her neck prickle mair that eence on the wye. Yin o the airches hid a door on it an this wis faar the coal wis stored. Hingin the lantern on the heuk for the job she soon hid the first sax buckets fulled and intae the dumb waiter.
As she made tae tak doon the lantern she thocht she saw a movement tae her richt so she held up the lantern tae cast licht farrer intae the cellar but she didna see onything an thocht it hid been a rat scurryin aboot. Onywye she held up the stairs tryin tae mak on that she wisna feart. A fyowe meenits later she wis back fullin up the buckets again. This time fin she feenished there came a bigger noise like something faain so grabbin the lantern she walkit a step or twa towards the sound. She got a gey fear fin she thocht she saw the shape o a man jist ayont the flickerin licht. Jessie wasted nae mair time but got oot o there as faist as her feet wid cairry her.
By the time the cook came in Jessie wis in a gey state aboot fit hid happened.' Jessie tellt her fit she’d seen or thocht she’d seen. The cook laached and tellt her it hid jist been the flicherin o the lantern oot o the tail o her ee. Jessie wis reassured at this but she nivver saa the scared look on the cook’s face as she turned awa.
Onywye as the wiks gaed in Jessie wid gyang doon for the coal ilka mornin. She didna look aboot but jist concentrated on the coal. Ayee she felt though that she wis bein watched and wid feel the goose pimples rise at the back o her neck and airms.
“It’s only the flicker o the lamp!” She’d reassure hersel but she still gaed up the dank stairs as faist as she could.
The Laird, his wife and son were in residence but they didna hae ony big pairties; jist a puckle freens noo an then for dinner. Mistress Gordon seemed tae hae thawed oot a bit and wid fyles come doon tae the kitchen for a cup o tae wi Jessie and the cook. Mistress Gordon tellt Jessie aboot Lord Braco being a lawyer doon in Edinburgh and that he wis a richt fine man and affa gweed tae his workers on the estate. His son wis at university in Edinburgh learnin tae be a lawyer like his father. Mistress Gordon said he wis affa gweed lookin wi blond hair and blue een like his mither,Lady Braco fa wis a gey bit younger than the Laird.
Jessie wis spellbound at the stories Mistress Gordon tellt her. She kent athing aboot the history o the faimily, sodjers, sailors, politicians and ancestors hid focht in countless wars and even een o the Laird’s forefathers hid been a pirate on the seven seas.
Jessie hid settled in richt fine and got her half day aff tae wun hame ilka month as promised. She’d gie her mither aa her pey tae help wi the feedin o the younger bairns. Jessie earned as much as her faither in a month aa thanks tae the kindness o Laird Braco faa’s policy it wis tae gie his workers a good wage an that wis a rare sentiment at that time fae ony laird in the land.
Ae mornin early Jessie gaed doon tae get the coal as usual but this time made the mistake o peyin heed tae the flichering shaddas at the tail o her ee. She stoppit fullin the coal pails and lookit doon intae the shaddas and that’s fin she saw him stannin there nae ten fit fae her. Jessie near skirled oot but it wis the sadness on the laddie’s face that stoppit her. She held up the lantern tae get a better look at him. She could see he wis nae muckle auler than hersel maybe aichteen or twenty. Her hairt beatin like a haimmer she askit o him fa he wis. In reply he jist shook his heed, turned and walked awa intae the gloom.
Jessie by this time wis near on her knees wi the fear and got oot o there as faist as her feet could cairry her. Fin the cook came in Jessie tellt her aboot the ghost she’d seen and refused point blank tae gang doon for the coal. Mistress Gordon wis called and she’d little sympathy for Jessie and wid hae nithing tae dee wi the idea o ghosts. Jessie’s refusal got her intae an affa lot o trouble and Mistress Gordon docked her pey for as lang as she keepit up refusing tae gyang for the coal. The only sympathy Jessie got wis fae the cook faa made a cup o tea and gave Jessie a hankie tae dry up her tears. The cook widna hae teen a king’s ransom tae gyang doon tae that place hersel but she didna tell that tae Jessie.
Een o the men came in fae the gairdens tae get the coal in the mornins but he nivver saa onything strange. This gaed on for mair than a fortnicht until in the hinner eyn wi the cook’s insistence Jessie saa sense. Onywye she’d already lost a half months pey and if she didna gyang back doon she’d lose the ither half.
At five the next mornin Jessie lichtit the lantern wi a taper fae the fire an set fit tae the cellar. She gaed doon the steps gey canny wi her knees near bucklin fae ablow her. Soon she’d the first sax buckets fulled. Nae lookin tae the left or richt she made tae gyang up the stairs tae haul up the dumb waiter. That wis fin she saw him stannin atween her an the stair.
Jessie backit awa an near fell in amongst the coal pile. There wisna ony place tae rin besides deeper intae the dark recesses o the dank eerie cellar. She opened her mooth tae scream fin the laddie said in a soft voice, “Dinna skirl Jessie I winna hurt ye!”
That stopped her and she only gave a wee whimper instead. He steppit nearer her and she cooried doon wi her back tae the coal. He held up a haan tae show he meant nae hairm and wi the ither haan he gave her twa coins.
“I’m sorry about your loss of pay because I frightened you, so I hope this will make it up to you!”
He then walked awa back intae the gloom and seemed tae vanish. Jessie a complete gibbering wreck by this time scooted up the stairs covered in coal styoo and tears. Sic a how-d’ye- do set up this time. The cook wis in an affa state at the condition o Jessie and tried aathing tae calm her doon. Misstress Gordon came in and saa straicht awa that Jessie wis in the complete hysterics. Her reaction wis swift and she gave Jessie a stinging slap in the face. That seemed tae calm her doon a wee bittie and atween saichs and sighs she blurted oot fit hid happened doon in the cellar.
The door opened and the Laird himsel came in wintin tae ken fit wis gan on. Jessie repeated fit hid happened and showed the coins tae the Laird. He’d been sittin in front o Jessie. Noo fin he saa the coins he stood up wi a gasp. He asked Jessie if she’d mind him takkin the coins then walked oot and gaed back intae the main hoose. A fyowe meenits later raised voices could be heard as if fowk were haein a row.
A filie aifter that yin o the hoose servants came in and asked if Mistress Gordon would be so kind as to come upstairs to the library and to take the scullery maid with her. Dichtin Jessie’s tearstained een and sortin her hair she then tellt Jessie tae run up tae her room and change intae a clean smock. Thus Mistress Gordon led Jessie,riggit but still sabbin, intae the hoose proper.
It wis the first time Jessie hid seen intae the hoose and she wis fair teen aback at the size o it an aa the fancy stuff hingin fae the waas. Paintings, sculptures, swords, spears and shields lined the waas. Suits o armour stood as if there wis men still inside them ready tae chaap ye wi their raised swords. Mistress Gordon hid her grim face on as she knockit at the huge double doors an wytit. Jessie kent she wis gyan tae get the saick for aa the cairry on and she could feel the tears trippin her again.
The door wis opened by a footman an Mistress Gordon ushered her in. It wis a huge room wi the waas lined wi shelves o beuks. In the middle there wis a big table wi wee sloped stands wi opened beuks on them. A lamp burned abeen them. She’d nivver seen a lamp like that afore, it hid fit looked like mirrors tae reflect the licht doon on the books. Jessie wis tellt by Mistress Gordon tae ging ower tae the table and that’s fin she saw the Laird pacing aboot ayont it at the fire. He looked affa troubled but fin he saa the state o Jessie he smiled and tellt her tae sit doon.
Jessie startit tae habber an apology for aathing but he said nae tae worry aboot it and just sit down. Jessie did fit she was bid and sat doon on a high backit chair. Emotions were rinnin riot in her mind and she felt her knees knockin thegither wi fear. Seein how close she was tae panic the Laird spoke softly telling her she wisna in ony trouble. His words put Jessie at her ease a wee bittie and she startit tae relax.
“Now Jessie could you tell me the story again about what happened in the cellar?”
Jessie tried tae spik English like they were taught at school but keepit faain doon throwe it. The Laird said tae pit her at her ease, “In yer ain words quine nivver mind the pan loaf. Cairry on!”
This got a big smile fae Jessie as she visibly relaxed. So she tellt the Laird in her ain words exactly fit happened.
Aifter she finished Jessie could see the Laird wis distracted and deep in thought. Comin tae a decision he went tae a big cord aside the fire and pulled doon on it a couple o times. A fitman came in fae a wee side door and the Laird said something tae him. A fylie later he cam back wi the Laird’s son. Jessie’s hairt missed a beat fin she saa him. Mistress Gordon wis richt eneuch, he wis really handsome wi pure blond hair and sky blue een. He smiled shyly at Jessie as he sat doon. The Laird wi a grim face on him said tae his son, “Now James I want you to apologise to Jessie for scaring her down in the coal cellar!”
James frowned at this sayin, “I told you earlier father. It wasn’t me and anyhow I don’t have gold coins like those!”
He pointed to the coins on the table. Jessie interrupted much to the consternation o Mistress Gordon who gave a gasp and was aboot tae gie Jessie intae trouble for her lack o respect fin the Laird held up his hand tae her and said tae Jessie, “Cairry on Jessie fit were ye gan tae say?”
Jessie cleared her throat and feelin the colour rise tae her cheeks she lookit at the Laird’s son and said, “It wisna him sir that wis doon in the cellar!” Pyntin at the big paintin abeen the fireplace she said, “That’s him there in the paintin!”
The paintin wis o a young laddie maybe aboot twenty stannin aside a chair weerin aul fashioned clyse wi a cane in his hand. The Laird gave a groan and sat doon staring at the paintin as if he’d nivver seen it afore. Jessie froze as she realised she’d done something affa wrang and fin she saa the laddie pour his father some brandy the bottom fell clean oot o her world.
Mistress Gordon wis scowlin at Jessie wi barely controlled anger. The Laird saw this and tellt Mistress Gordon aathing wis fine and asked her to leave the room. As Mistress Gordon reluctantly left the room Jessie felt like rinnin aifter her. The Laird composin himsel stood up and gid tae a safe built intae the waa and teen oot a wee box and took it tae the table. Turning tae Jessie he asked her tae come ower. He opened the wee box and teen oot a sma leather bag tied at the top. He untied it and cowpit it oot and seven gold coins jist the marra o Jessie’s eens rolled across the table.
He tellt her that his uncle gave seven each tae him and his brither Hugh fifty years afore. He’d been a pirate in his youth and had sailed the seven seas in search o Spanish treasure. The coins were doubloons and each yin wis worth a King’s ransom as there wis only fourteen o them ivver minted. His uncle thocht as he’d nae faimily that he’d gie them tae his only nephews.
The Laird said his brither Hugh wanted tae sail the seven seas jist like his uncle and wrote a letter saying as much tae his father. Hugh wis nivver heard fae again and that broke his mither’s hairt. Hugh wis the auler o the two so he should’ve been the Laird o Kinedder instead o him.
“And now this!” He handled the two coins fae Jessie deep in thought then lookit up at Jessie.
“Could you show me where you saw the apparition of my brother?”
She nodded and led him and his son doon tae the cellar. She showed them the arch he came oot o and left throwe.
The Laird thankit her and said she was a very brave lassie. Later the Laird and a fyowe o the men fae the gairdens gaed doon tae the cellar. They’d richt funcy lamps wi reflectors on them that the cook said burned a special ile fae sperm whales that burned wi a white licht instead o the yella peely-wally licht that they were used wi.
The laird and his men were doon there maist o the day and Jessie’s job wis tae tak mait doon for them so she saa the cellar lichtit up as nivver before. She didna ken fit they were lookin for but at aboot suppertime a shout set up and aboot an oor later the Laird, his son and aa the men came up fae the cellar covered in styoo and cobwebs. The Laird hid in his haan a wee leather bag exactly the same as the yin up in the library. It wisna tied like his yin and fin he cowpit it ontae the table only five coins fell oot instead o the seven that there should’ve been.
He looked at Jessie and said “We found this along with my brother’s remains. He must’ve been trying to sneak out without letting anyone know. There’s a small tunnel that leads out to the old bridge and must’ve been used in the days this building was a castle, Hugh had been killed when a part of it fell in!”
“Thank you Jessie for solving a mystery that has lasted for fifty years! I can now put my brother to his rest in the family vault at Kineddart kirkyard.”
So saying he picked the seven coins and put them in the wee leather bag. He handed them tae Jessie saying, “I think my brother Hugh would want you to have those.”
I’d jist feenished paintin the wee office o a fish seller in the Broch. It hid been a fine job an pretty straight forritt; white ceilings, magnolia waas and gloss painted widwork. As I said, straight forritt. The owner wiz fair pleased wi the work and gave me a wee box o kippers tae tak hame tae my mither. Fair chuffed wi this I put aa my gear intae the van and headed the road hame tae Macduff.
That nicht me and some o my mates hid booked a Burns’ supper at the Knowes hotel in Macduff; it wisna till eight o’clock so I’d plenty time tae get hame and changed,
It wiz an affa bonny clear nicht and the stars were twinklin awa in the heavens. In reality I wid rather hiv been oot wi my telescope lookin at the stars on a bonny nicht like this instead o sitting in a hotel, but aawell I’d made a promise an that as they wiz that.
Aboot fower miles oot o the Broch I decided tae turn richt an head alang the coast road instead o bidin ontae the good main road. This wye wid add miles tae my journey because it’s a gye twisted an hilly road and narra tae boot. Tae this very day I dinna ken why I went that road. Maybe I’d the idea tae stop an look at the stars athoot light pollution for a while but fitivver wiz my reason it widna be lang afore I regretted it.
I passed through the toon o New Aiberdour and headed tae the road that splits, one road tae the richt wid tak ye doon tae St Drostan’s kirk and Drostan’s well. The ither road I wanted took ye doon tae the wee briggie that crosses the Dour burn and intae Refillan Den. It wiz as I came up oot o the den that things began tae change.
The bonny clear nicht sky disappeared and it started tae snaa at the self same time the road got affa rough as if I wiz gan up an aal fairm track. I didna get a lot o time tae winder aboot it because the wind rose and the snaa made athing whiteoot. I put the wipers on but they did bugger all, so I’d tae slow richt doon tae a crawl. On tap o that the heater wisna workin so the windshield gummed up. There wiz wee clear bits in the flurries o snaa and in een o them I saw a pull-in aff the road, the last thing I wanted wiz anither car plooin up my erse. I did that an pulled aff the road and like an eejit I turned aff the engine.
I sat in the van for a good while as the wind and snaa buffeted aroon me. In nae time I started tae feel the caal but I could dee nithing aboot it so wid jist hae tae suffer. Nae wye wiz I gan tae rin the engine in a snaastorm; I’d eence seen a lad bein teen oot a corp wi deein that. He’d been gassed wi his ain engine. At least there wiz plenty dust sheets tae cover masel while I waited for the storm tae pass. Aboot an oor or so later the win wint doon and the snaa kind o eased aff.
There must’ve been aboot a sax inch o snaa hid fell so I kent my Ford Escort van could cope wi that nae problem (that wiz back in the days fin maist vans hid rear wheel drive and could ging throwe snaa athoot a hitch). I turned they key---click-click-click. Nithing! I pressed the horn---nithing the lichts---nithing. Cursin like a trooper I got oot and cleared the snaa aff the bonnet then popped the bonnet release. Bang! It came awa in my hand. I pulled eence mair but aa that I got wiz the snapped cable. It looked like I wisna gyan onywye this nicht so I wint back intae the van and sat shiverin wi the caal.
Wi nae licht o ony kind I raiked aboot ahin the seat for my big aal army jaiket I used for vrochtin ootside. I fun it and pulled it oot. It wiz glazed wi aal pint roon the wrists so fin I pulled it on it teen a minty afore I got ower the shudder o ma wrists against the glazed pint.
I wiz caal enough as it wiz but the crusty smelly jaicket made me even caaler and I sat there shiverin. Aifter a while and wi a load o dust sheets coverin ma I could feel my body still cooling doon. Sitting inactive in a works van wi nae heating and the ootside temperature drappin rapidly I thocht- “Na na! This isna for me,” and decided tae walk my wye hame or at least tae the nearest fairm so I could phone an tell my fowk fit hid happened and nae tae worry.
I got oot intae the chilled air that near cut throwe ma tae the bone. My legs were fushionless and I wabbled aboot a fair bit till I got them tae tak ma weicht. The sky wiz bonny and clear again and I could see the heavens like a paintin wi the icy glint o distant stars.
Even though I wiz haein a gye chave o it walkin throwe the snaa I wiz still struck by the wonder o the sky abeen and wished I’d my telescope. As I walked, my body started tae warm up fae the inside and I could feel life returning tae my extremities. Jesus but I’d been bloody caal sittin in the aal van.
I must’ve been walkin for a couple o miles and nivver yet hid I seen one sign o habitation, nae one glimmer o licht. I kent this wiz a sparsely populated bit o the coast but for aa that I thocht I’d hae come across a fairm or a crafty by noo?
Ivvery noo an then I’d stop and hae a look at the stars and my God whit a panorama the sky wiz tae the human ee. Michty even though I’d cursed being stuck, one part o ma wiz glaid that I had because in aa the years I’d looked at the nicht sky I’d nivver afore seen it looking this gweed.
I cairried on walkin skitterin aboot here an there as I stepped ontae saft snaa wi ice ablow it. I still couldna believe that a budy could get caught up in sic a storm jist oot o the blue like that. A lesson tae the unwary I suppose. It wid’ve been aboot a mile faarer in the road afore I eventually saw a wee glimmer o licht aff tae my left. I wiz glaid I’d saw it because flurries o snaa were beginnin tae rise up eence mair and the sky wiz becomin darker as the clouds hid the stars.
As I walked I keepit a gweed lookoot for the eyne o a road leadin up the wye tae the licht. In the event the placie wisna far aff the road and I waakit my wye intae a close and thankfully oot o the worst o the noo heavy faain snaa. I could see the peely wally licht aheed o ma comin fae a windae heich up in the buildin and chappit at the door ablow the lichted windae.
Aifter a minty or twa the door opened and a woman steed there hudin a paraffin lamp. Fin she saw the sotter I wiz in she gid oot wi an “Ae me laddie ye’d better come awa in!”
She steed aside tae let ma wun in and tellt ma jist tae hud up the stairs. It wiz jist a stair that wint fair aheed and I could see by the scam o the lamp that the waas were the aalfarrent timmer linings pintit dark oak. The waft o the fine smell o cookin came doon the stairs tae meet ma and ma mooth started tae water.
“Jist hud tae the left ma loon!” The woman tellt ma as she followed me up the stairs.
I lifted the aalfarrent latch an stepped intae the room. The first thing I saw wiz the big bleezin fire tae ma front as the heat hut ma.
An aal man wiz sittin on a cheer at the yett o the fire an lookit up as I came in sayin;
“Michty min fit the hell are ye deein oot in a nicht like this?”
The woman heisted me inaboot tae the fire and made me sit doon opposite the aal man. I could see she wid’ve been a gye bit younger than the aal man, maybe in her early fifties at a guess, so I teen it she wiz his dochter.
She’d her greyin hair up in a bun and wore een o yon ‘pinnies’ I think ye caa them, wi an aapron abeen it. She’d bonny reed chikks and the bluest een I’d ivver seen an a richt bonny smilin face. She fussed aboot ma getting the weet jaicket fae ma and made ma tak aff my beets weet socks and bilersuit.
She hung my jaicket, bilersuit and socks ontae a brass rail at the side o the fire then wint awa tae the ither side o the room an came back wi a pair o carpet slippers for ma feet. Aa the while the aal man wiz ficherin at the binkie at the side o the fire spoonin sugar an pittin some bilin water intae a bowl. Tae feenish it he added some whisky fae a flask.
Geein it a steer he handed it tae ma sayin;
“Here min get ye that doon ye tae warm yer cheeled beens!”
God min, nithing tasted better as the hate sweet liquid made its wye doon tae ma teem belly. I could feel the heat o the fire warmin ma fae the ootside and the toddy deein its work fae the inside.
I wisna muckle o a drinker back then usually a nippy or twa at Hogmanay and at ither times a bottle o beer. That nicht though whether it wiz a mixture o bein caal or takin drink on an empty belly it fairly wint tae ma heed.
The aal man laughed fin he saw the effect it wiz haein ontae ma an seen hid made me up anither.
“Tak yer time wi this een though laddie and get the bleed warmed!”
I did as he bid an jist sipped at it, feelin it gan doon tae ma puddens.
The man wid’ve been weel intae his seventies. He wore a flat cap, a sark athoot a collar and a pair o galluses wi fit lookit like moleskin troosers and a pair o tackity beets. He leaned ower tae a wee table at the side o his cheer and teen oot a pipe and a taper. He lichted it wi the taper and the fine smell o pipe tabacca waffted roon ma.
Sittin back wi a satisfied grunt he speired at ma why I’d been oot in sic a storm. So I tellt him fit hid happened and askit o him if I could use his phone.
At this he laached oot loud sayin;
“Michty me min we dinna hae sic a thing as a phone!”
The woman butted in though, sayin the fairm up at Dirumdreich hid yin but there’d be nae wye I’d be able tae wun up that road this nicht.
Jist aboot then I heard fitsteps comin up the stairs and twa lads came intae the room. Een wiz a gye big lad and hid tae jook his heed doon as he came throwe the door; the ither lad wiz much smaaer. They smiled at ma and came ower tae the fire. Baith o them were dressed much like the aal man apairt fae each weerin a wastcoat but the same kind o sark athoot a collar.
The woman drew up a couple o timmer seats and tellt them tae sit doon and that supper widna be lang. The aal man made up mair toddies for us aa and soon we were pittin them back. The big lad wiz Wully Tyler and he vrocht up at the fairm o Dirumdreich as cattlie and the ither lad wint by the name o Gordon Strachin, an he wiz the orraman at the same place. They must’ve bade here though for it wiz obvious they’d nae came in fae ootside. And that’s how it wiz, for baith o them hid a room doon the stairs and got fed wi the aal man an his dochter. The dochter Bunty Sangster and her faither Robbie vrocht aboot the aal fairmtoon keepin the place in order for the faimily up at Dirumdreich.
Bunty wiz at the big pot hingin abeen the fire that I’d nivver noticed and wi a cloot wuppit aboot the hoop handle she cairried it ower tae a big table set oot at the ither eyne o the room.
“Come on noo lads let the fusky be for a fylie it’s time for aitin!”
Aabody wint ower tae the table includin me an teen a seat. I wiz pitten tae the opposite eyne o the table and Bunty tellt ma that that place wiz always set jist in case o an unexpected visitor. And michty, I wiz fairly the unexpected visitor this nicht.
Gordon did a strange thing fin Bunty spoke aboot unexpected visitors. He started tae rub his haans thegither and said “Caal caal hannies an feeties in the Bogies o Ardallie!”
“Wheesht min, Dinna start that eynoo!”
Gordon hung his heed at this but seen smiled again fin Bunty handed him a big bowliefae o fine broth then een tae me. I wiz aboot tae get stuck in fin I noticed the aal man lookin at ma so I put the speen doon. Aifter aabody hid a bowl in front o them, the aal man smilin said that as I wiz the unexpected visitor micht be I’d say grace?
Noo in aa ma life I’d only once heard it fin a wifie that I wiz vrochtin for in Gamrie hid made us wyte afore aitin oor denner then said grace. And for the love o ma I couldna mind foo it wint. I kent aabody wiz awytin ma so the only grace I kent wiz fae Burns;
“Some hae mait an canna ate some hae mait that want it,
but we hae mait an we maun ate an tae the Lord be thankit!”
Aabody clapped an Robbie shouted,
“Weel said min! Weel said.”
Aifter a really fine supper o broth, tatties, meally jeemie and kail we aa returned tae the fire. Bunty served us aa a joog o tay and buttered scones wi hame made cheese an richt fine it wiz ana.
Michty it wiz rare an cosy sittin at the fire and the sound o the storm raging ootside. Robbie said the power line wiz doon and threw mair sticks ontae the fire tae licht up the proceedins and tellt Bunty tae turn the lampy doon a bittie. Aabody seemed tae be kinichted wi this and there wiz the scrapin o cheers being moved nearer tae the fire.
Lichtin his pipe Robbie lookit at me an aifter a fyowe puffs he’d her gyan tae his satisfaction an tapped oot the taper at the side o the fire.
“Weel Sanners!” says he “Div ye believe in ghosts?”
Nivver in aa ma life haein seen sic a thing I didna really ken foo tae answer that een so I thocht it micht be better tae gee a diplomatic kind o answer and said;
“Well I’ve nivver seen a ghost but there are mair things in Heaven an earth than the likes o me wid ken!”
Robbie got a richt laach at my answer an slapped his ain knee.
“That wiz a crackin answer Sanners an I’m thinkin ye should gyang intae the politics, bein a pinter yer waisted min!”
Aabody got a laach at that.
Wully Tyler made tae licht his pipe and that’s fin I saw that his richt haan wiz wantin three o the fingers and as he fichered wi the pipe I could see that he’d only his index finger an thoom. He noticed me lookin and removin the pipe fae his moo said huddin up the haan said.
“Jerry bullet!” Then cairried on ficherin wi his pipe.
Noo Wully wiz aboot the ages o masel, aboot his mid twenties maybe at a push thirty, so there’s nae wye he wiz aal enough tae hae focht in the war. Tae hiv deen that he’d need tae be intae his forties at the very least. I wiz aboot tae say that but Robbie spoke jist then an teen ma thochts awa fae Wully.
“Well fit div ye think aboot listenin tae ghost stories?”
Now I quite like a gweed ghost story and that’s fit I tellt Robbie. His een lichted at this an tellt ma that I wiz in luck because seein it’s Burns’ nicht they ayee tellt ghost stories aroon the hearth steen.
“Right. Faa’s gyan tae tell the first een?” speired Robbie.
At this Wully Tyler teen oot his watch fae his wastcoat pooch and steed up sayin;
“I’m awa up tae see tae the beasts!”
Gordon made tae rise but Wully put a haan ontae his shooder sayin;
“Bide faar ye are min an listen tae the story I winna be lang!”
I could see fear cross Wullie’s een as he said this, or maybe I jist imagined it? But I could’ve swore but for a second aabody’s een teen on the same look.
As Wully left, Robbie repeated;
“Come on noo, faa’s gyan tae tell the first story?”
He lookit aroon the company tae see faa it wid be but aabody in ae voice said;
“You first Robbie, you’re the best storyteller!”
Robbie smiled an nodded his heed sayin;
“Well I’m nae sure aboot the best but as it is I div hae a gweed wee story tae tell that micht tak yer attention.”
He laached and laid his pipe doon on the bink o the fire. His quine Bunty made a fuss roon him handin ower a cup o tay and a bit cheese. Aifterhins she handed each o’s a cuppy and a lump o cheese then settled hersel doon on the airm o her fadder’s cheer, folded her haans ontae her lap an awyted him tae begin.
The storm wiz blawin weel ootside and the aal windae frame rattled as each gust tried tae wun in on us. But it made the atmosphere aa the better for a ghost story. Rab made a comment aboot it sayin;
“Gweed sakes that’s a nicht nae fit for man nor beast!” He lookit ower at me; “Aye Sanners it wiz jist as weel ye made it here loon, ye wid’ve smoored oot intae that!”
Aabody lookit affa sad at this and Gordon started rubbin his haans eence mair;
“Caal caal hannies an feeties in the Boggies o Ardallie!”
He’d a strange haunted look ontae his face as if visualisin something atween yestreen an the morn. He made tae say it again but Bunty interrupted by offerin him anither bittie cheese. She looked scared hersel though and I could see she wiz disturbed by Gordon’s words for some reason. Robbie made a laach an tellt Gordon tae behave himsel but I could see that it bothered him ana.
“Richt!” said Robbie, “Is aabody settled? Weel the story I’m aboot tae tell ye happened tae a man I kent many years ago!”
He gid Bunty a poke and laachin said;
“Lang afore this een became the bane o ma life!”
Bunty gave him a shove;
“Awa ye go min,” she said wi a chuckle, “I’m nae that bad.”
“Weel noo faar wiz aa? Oh aye.” Robbie gid on wi his story: “His name wiz Donald Reid an he vrocht as a shepherd tae een o the ‘bunnet lairds’ up the Cabrach wye. A hard taskmaister wiz this ‘bunnet laird’ an renowned for illtreatin his fairm servants by hard vrocht an gye peer conditions.
Noo Donald wiz getting on in years an nae sae swaak aboot the legs as he eence wiz. The ‘laird’ hid for a while back been gien him a hard time garrin peer aal Donald tak the yowies in fae the surroundin hills weeks afore they should’ve been.
Onywye peer Donald hid been given a time tae get them doon fae the hills that wid’ve put twa young men tae a struggle. Donald kent fine noo that he wid be given the saik because there wisna onywye on this God’s earth that he’d manage this yoking? Wi a weary fit Donald an his aal Border collie Paddy, sets oot for the Buck, their first stop on the search for the yowies.
Donald teen it canny kind for he wiz gye hippet nooadays and he lookit doon at his peer aal dog faa’s walkin wisna muckle better norr his maister’s. He bent doon an gave him a clap. “Well aal pal it looks like it’s the peer’s hoose for us aal buggers!”
He shuddered at the thocht o the peer’s hoose. The fowk were aa dressed in black an starched fite collars that tore yer neck reed raw. He’d seen them plenty enough as they were teen fae the place an made tae vrocht aboot the toon for nae pey apart fae mait an the bed back at the workhoose. He kent fine that Paddy widnae be alloed tae come wi him and wid maist likely jist be shot.
Donald sat doon aside the track an ruffled Paddy’s luggies and he put his aal heed intae Donald’s bosie as if he kent fit wiz gyan on? Paddy hid been his constant companion for fifteen years an mair an the very thocht o some big bugger shootin him broke Donald’s hert. He cyaached aboot at the willin luggies an let the tears o a desperate man faa. Aifter a fylie he got tae his feet wi a gye chave an says tae Paddy “Come aal pal we’d best get yokit!”
Reluctantly Paddy shoochled tae his feet an hirpled alang wi Donald.”
Robbie stoppit spikkin an looked up at Bunty an gave her a powk.
“Hud aff fae greetin an mak up mair toddy for the loons here!”
I saw Bunty dicht her een, “Awa min I wisna greetin ava it wiz only that fool reek fae yer pipe got intae ma een.”
An wi that, Robbie laached, “Aa richt ma quine I’ll blaw it up the lum tae please ye!” nae believin a word fae her.
In nae time we’d aa gotten a bowiefae o fine toddy an Bunty wi her bonny smile teen up her seat on the airm o Robbie’s cheer eence mair.
“Richt noo faar aboot wiz aa? Och aye!” says Robbie pickin up the tale eence mair.
“Donald an Paddy got tae the hill o the Buck aboot haaf wyes throwe the mornin. Donald gave a silent curse for nae one yowie did he see. Speakin oot loud he said,
“Weel Paddy we maun cross ower tae the Glass side o the hill they must be doon aboot the haughs?”
Fin they got tae the sheltered side o the Buck Donald sat doon an teen oot their denner. A corter o breid each an a lump o kebbach. He haavered the cheese an breid wi Paddy an they ate like kings. Fae the first days they’d been thegither him and Paddy wint haaf shares in aa mait. That’s the wye it wiz and that’s the wye it wid ayee be.
He scratted Paddys luggies an got his haan lickit in response. That’s fin he saw something glitter in amongst a puckle boulders. Donald wint ower tae see fit it could be and wiz surprised tae see it wiz een o yon fancy telescope things the toffs cairried finivver they came up here for the shootin.
Pickin it up Donald could see that it hidnae been lyin there affa lang, for it wiz been dry an wid’ve been soakin o weet if it hid lay there owernicht. He could see it wiz a gye expensive lookin instrument an wid’ve teen years o Donalds pey tae buy yin. Faivver hid lost it couldna be far awa so he put it intae his pyoke in case he met in wi them an if no he’d gie it tae the factor fin he wun hame the wye.
By the time they got doon tae the Haughs baith o them were fair fochendeen an Donald could’ve grat fin he saw the yowies werena there ava but mair nor a mile awa on anither hill. He could see some them even farrer awa. He couldna mak them oot affa weel.
That’s fin he mind aboot the telescope. Takin it fae his pyoke he fichered aboot wi the lens covers that jist slid back tae reveal the lenses. He put it tae his ee an aifter a bit o a chave found oot how tae focus it. Michty the yowie swam intae focus an lookit as if it wiz only but feet awa an nae a couple o miles. He swore he could even hear it bleatin an it wisna till he teen the telescope fae his ee that he realised there wiz a yowie at his feet.
Paddy got rale excited at this an started barkin. Donald lookit at the yowie an windered why he’d nae seen it afore. He focused the telescope eence mair faar he’d been lookin at the yowie but saw it wisna there. Instead he lookit at anither yin far tae the richt an focused ontae it wi the same result as the last yin. It wiz the same an lookit feet awa an nae the couple o miles. This time though he heard the bleatin o twa yowies and fin looked at his feet there wiz twa o them noo.
Shocked kind, he eence mair lookit through the telecsope an that yowie fae the distant hill wiz gone. Wi an “Oh michty!” he threw the telescope fae him as if it wiz reed hate.
“Fit wiz gyan on here?”
Paddy seemed fair pleased though an in nae time hid baith yowies timmered doon as if ready tae drive them.
Donald wi a, “Na na this canna be happenin!” sat himsel doon on the heather.
Takin oot his pipe he Donald kenneled it up tae calm himsel doon an gie him a bittie time tae think.”
Robbie takin the opportunity ana, stopped spikkin an seen hid his ain pipe kennled as weel afore cairryin on.
“Well noo Donald sat there for a fair meenty, thinkin aboot the ongyans. He’d decided he’d jist leave the telescope faar it wiz for he thocht it hid been sanctified aathegither. But Paddy hid ither ideas and fetched an laid it at his feet. Donald shoochled awa fae it in fear. Na na, he wiz haein nithing tae dee wi it. But then again on reflection he thocht tae himsel if he used the sanctified instrument tae collect the yowies he’d avoid the peer’s hoose an Paddy wid avoid the bullet.
Canny kind, he picket up the telescope an tried it again but in a different wye jist tae prove something tae himself. He focused on the nearest yowie then aimed the scope at the far awa hill. Fin he glanced doon he could see een o the yowies at his feet wiz gone. In a second or twa he teen it back tae his feet.
Paddy yowled at this an came ahin his legs. Bendin doon tae clap him Donald said;
“It’s aaricht ma laddie, nithing will hurt ye!”
Aifter that day Donald used the telescope tae tak aa the yowies doon fae the hills. An michty it saved him an Paddy a lot o traachlin aboot. Of coorse he wiz careful nae tae use it in places faar fowk could see him. But it wiz handy for aa that even jist takkin them doon nearer wiz a great help. Fyles fin he lookit throwe the scope he could almost see a figure standin tae the left o the lens and ivvery time he tried tae focus ontae it there wiz nithing there.
Onywye Donald managed tae vrocht awa an managed tae keep the bunnet laird at bey. But nana, he still found faut wi Donald and Paddy.
Ae mornin at yokin time the laird tellt Donald that he’d nae mair need for his services and that he’d tae be oot o his hoosie this foreneen. Donald protested aboot this but tae nae avaul. Oot it wiz tae be an that wiz that! The laird hid a new lad wytin tae wun intae the hoose.
Jist at that he made his appearance throwe the close. Michty, he wiz a big strushle lookin lad wi a reed heed an beard on him an a richt scowlin face. He nivver spoke but jist gloured at Donald. Paddy bared his teeth at him so Donald made a haan for Paddy’s collar tae stop him fae makkin a darry at the big bugger but it wiz ower late. Paddy made a go at him but the big bastard kicked him in the ribs an put Paddy in the air. He landed ontae his side, yowlin.
Donald wint tae Paddy tae check on him, aa the while cursin the big reed deevil. This got the lad rale vrocht up and he made a go at Donald but Donald, aal an deen as he wiz, made a gweed show against the much younger man.
It could only end ae wye though an at’s how it ended, wi Donald getting a gweed thrashin. It wiz the ‘bunnet laird’ that put a stop tae it though wi a couple o the ither lads aboot the place. The big reed bull wiz roarin oot o it in rage fin it wiz put a stop tae.
The laird didna end it wi thocht for Donald though, he wiz mair concerned aboot the big lad, for he wiz a cousin o his ain an if he killed the aal useless man he’d get hung.
Donald got up fae the grun in agony. He micht be broken in body but nae in soul, that wiz tae come in a meenit or twa. He wiz pitten fae the place athoot his goods & chattles an nae a penny o the pey due tae him. He’d nithing else tae dee but tak his illtreated dog intae his bosie an leave the place tae the mockin laachter o the Reed Bull.
On the road a bittie he stoppit an laid Paddy doon an checked oot faar he’d been kicked by the big bastard. Nae ribs seemed broken but he didna ken fit damage hid been deen tae Paddy’s intimmers. Paddy jist lay there whimperin an breathin gye hard.
Aifter aboot an oor’s time passin and him rubbin Paddy’s chest he seemed tae get a bittie in better fettle an even got tottery kind tae his feet. Donald kent his dog wiz damaged badly but the plan he’d for baith o them wid be makkin athing fine afore lang. In fits an starts they eventually made it as far as the tap o the Buck hill. He got Paddy comfortable intae his bosie and wiz rewarded wi his face bein lickit.
He looked doon intae the face o his best pal in aa the world and couldna help the tears. Makkin a fuss o him he tellt him athing wid be fine. He thocht tae himsel that nae wye wiz he gan intae the peer’s hoose nor wiz onybody gyan tae shoot Paddy. He stroked the wee heedy kennin fine they werena gan tae be leavin this place.”
Robbie stopped tae licht his pipe again and I could see Bunty wiz greetin, an tae my surprise so wiz Gordon. I’d lang suspected that he wisna richt poor laddie, for he’d a couple o times during the story rubbed his haans thegither and said the strange wee rhyme; ‘Caal caal hannies an feeties in the boggies o Ardallie!’
Bunty tellt him tae be quate at that times but I’d seen the sadness in her een, aye and a touch o fear.
“Weel no! Faar aboot wiz a? says Robbie clearing his thrapple, “Oh aye!”
“Donald sat there wi Paddy in his bosie and he could hear his breathin become mair an mair laboured.
“Nae lang noo aal pal” he muttered.
Donald wiz still mighty angry at fit hid happened back at the fairm but he kent weel enough there wiz nithing he could dee aboot it ava. Unless? Donald teen oot the telescope fae his pyoke and ower the next oor he moved ivvery yowie he could see and put them as far awa as he could, an scattered the yowies ontae ivvery hill. That wid gie the big bastard a puckle days hard vrocht tae get them aa back again thocht Donald tae himsel.
Jist as he feenished deein this he saw the shada at the left o the lense again an quickly focused ontae it but this time he could see it wiz a woman weerin a reed cloak. She spoke tae him, for he’d teen her inaboot wi the glaiss as he’d been deein wi the yowies meeits afore.
Pittin the scope doon Donald lookit up at her and he felt Paddy gie a bittie o a move. She wiz a beautiful woman in the prime o life that even the big hood an cloak couldna hide.
“Aye Donald an Paddy baith o ye wid be in a gye pickle I’d be thinkin?” she said.
At this Paddy got tae his feet an lickit Donald’s face then started tae loup aboot the wye he used tae afore aal age teen a hud. Donald, the woman forgotten, held a work wi Paddy and the tears fleein fae him unheeded. It wiz then he realised that he’d nae pain himsel. That stoppit him in his tracks though.
He glanced up at the bonny woman an speired at her faa she wiz. She jist smiled an put oot her haan an says;
“Come on Donald an Paddy I wiz sent here tae tak ye doon amongst us ‘Gweed Fowk’.”
So saying she teen Donald’s haan in hers an wi Paddy loupin aboot wi excitement they walked intae the forivver alang ‘The Byway of Dreams!’”
Bunty let the tears flow an started sabbin coverin her face wi her haans. Robbie gave her a poke an teasingly said;
“Ye canna say it’s the rik fae ma pipe noo for it’s oot!”
Gordon wiz much the same and I must admit my ain een gave a prickle or twa at this endin.
Bunty composed hersel sayin tae her father;
“How could a telescope tak yowies aff a hill for gweed’s sake min?”
I noticed her avoidin ony mention o Donald and Paddy though. She believed the story hook line an sinker, her tear stained een proved that.
I wiz really enjoyin sittin at the fire wi sic gweed company, my belly full o fine mait an mair than twa’r three toddies intae ma an listenin tae sic a weel tellt story. I could still hear the storm rattlin the windae ootside but it seemed so far awa as if tae be lost in the crackle o the fire and my bein lost tae the moment.
Aifter a meenit or twa Robbie said;
“Aricht faa’s gyan tae tell the next story?”
He lookit at me but I shook ma heed sayin I didna ken ony gweed stories. He nodded his heed an smiled sadly at ma;
“Aye ye will though Sanners aifter this nicht ye will, mark my words!”
Bunty butted in.
“I’ve a richt story!”
Then Gordon began rubbin his haans an started sayin the wee rhyme but Bunty stoppit him.
“Hud yer wheesht Gordon! Jist let me tell my story then it’ll be your turn.”
Gordon hung his heed at this but I caught Robbie an Bunty exchange glances and I didna miss the fear in them.
Bunty made hersel comfortable an lookit roon us aa tae mak sure she hid oor attention. Aifter she wiz pleased we were aa peyin heed tae her an that Gordon wiz oot o his sulks she began.
“Weel I wiz in the service o Doctor Webster and his wife at New Deer. Ye micht ken the hoose it’s jist up fae aal kirk in the toon? Onywye I’d started tae vrocht there in the Mey term, jist deein general duties. They werena demandin fowk and apairt fae a fyowe freens roon noo an en my work wiz pretty mundane. Jist cleanin, cookin, washin an lookin aifter the haaf dizzen chuckins. The doctor’s wife did her ain shoppin so I’d neen o that tae dee. They’d electric lichts so I’d nae lamps tae full and clean an apart fae takkin in coal for the fire I’d gotten masel a gweed sit doon as far as service wiz concerned.
Onywye it wiz aboot the month o November as the nichts came in that I first noticed something strange. The first fyowe times I’d seen this I didna think muckle aboot it.
Noo Doctor Webster’s hoose backed ontae fields. There’s a lane rins atween the aal kirk an the hoose an as far as I could see it jist led tae the park. Onywye the first time I saw it I wiz oot shuttin the hens in for the nicht fin I saw a lassie makin her wye doon the lane.
I said “Aye aye!” tae her but she nivver let on she heard ma.
Neen put oot I closed up the hennies then checked the gate wiz richt tee.
I teen a glance doon the lane tae see faar aboot the deemy hid geen but nae signs o her could I mak oot? Micht be there’s a crafty doon there that I didna ken aboot? This wint on for a fyowe nichts an the illfashions got the better o ma so I’d nithing adee but tae hae a walk doon the lane neist day in daylight.
The lane led ontae a puckle yards faar fowk planted kail, cabbages an sic like. After that the track headed doon by a copse o trees then peetered oot at the entrance tae some parks. There wisna ony signs o hooses o ony kind.
Mair than a bittie puzzled I made my wye back thinkin aa the while faar that deemie could be gyan till in the late forenicht? Nae matter, that nicht fin I gid oot tae shut in the hennies I put my cwite on wi the full intention o follyin the deemie this time if she put in an appearance. But na na, she didna show that nicht nor for a puckle nichts aifter.
It wisna till aboot the Feersday o the next wik I saw her eence mair. I spoke till her again expectin tae be ignored as usual but this time she looked at ma, she nivver spoke but she fairly lookit at ma. An fin she did for some reason or ither, I felt the hairs on the back o ma neck birrs. Her face wiz snow white and her een were like black holes, it lookit tae me in the shadas that she tried tae spik but couldnae.
She cairried on waakin doon the lane so I followed her. She wiz fair knypin on so it teen me a minty tae catch up an keep her in view. Doon past the yards she wint and I could see she wiz headin towards the copse o trees. I lost her tae sicht there because doon here the shadas were much deeper. I stood still an slowly lookit aboot but nae a sign o her could I see. Faa wiz she an faar wiz she gan?
I wiz aboot tae wun ma wye hame fin I saw a movement at the side o the trees an there she wiz staanin lookin ower at ma. She then started tae pint doon at her feet ower and ower again then slowly she disappeared fae sicht. I teen tae ma heels at this as if the jookles o hell were ahin ma an got back tae the hoose in an affa sotter o swyte an fear.
By gweed luck Doctor Webster wiz gan in the back gate at the same time. He’d me intae the hoose in nae time poorin whisky doon ma thrapple. He said later he saw I wiz in a state o complete shock and the only thing he hid tae shock ma hert back intae a normal rhythm wiz whisky. I did manage tae tell him fit I’d seen eventually and he thocht I’d been imagining things. Mrs Webster though, now doon tae find oot wiz gan on, came oot ontae my side. She said that she’d also seen that lassie walk by mony’s the time but hid nivver thocht onything aboot it?”
Bunty hid a quick look roon us aa afore she cairried on.
“The neist day we aa wint doon tae faar I’d seen the lassie stop the nicht afore but of coorse there wisna onything tae see. Doctor Webster tellt me tae rin up tae the hoose for a shovel but I didna need tae bother for I met in wi an aal lad makkin his wye doon tae the yards wi a shovel intae his haan. In nae time he’d a scrape oot o the grun fin Doctor Webster tellt him tae stop. He bent doon an picked up fit lookit like a wee bit o stick. Aifter lookin at it a minty doctor Webster turned tae me an tellt ma I’d tae gyang up for the policeman for we’d jist uncovered human remains.
It turned oot the lassie hid been murdered an beeriet there aboot a haaf century afore. She’d been the dochter o the local soutar an hid geen missing athoot trace. An engraved locket wi her name wiz still roon her neck. At the time fowk said she’d run awa wi the lad she used tae ayee meet wi doon at the copse. The police thocht he’d killed her an beeriet her afore rinnin awa fae the district. But of course they couldna really be sure if it wiz him that did it or no.”
Bunty said, “Now fit did ye think o that yin?”
Robbie laached an tellt her she wiz getting as gweed as her aal man at tellin a tale.
She smiled shyly at this as she said;
“Awa min faa can tell a better story than the best story teller like yersel?”
But I could see she wiz fair kinichted wi the compliment neentheless. Gordon then spoke and that seemed tae soor the mood a bittie. I wisna sure but I thocht I saw fear pass ower Bunty an Robbie’s faces then I saw sadness in them fin they glanced at me.
Robbie nodded his heed sayin;
“Aaricht Gordon but let’s hae anither toddy afore ye start.”
Aifterhins Gordon started his story. He spoiled it a wee bittie fin he started in fit he thought wiz a mysterious voice but seen started speakin normal.
“I wiz fee’d at the Hash o Newbiggins at the ither side o Meedlick. There’d been an affa storm on the grun an we’d heen an gye job keepin the beasts fed ower the last puckle wikks. An affa lot o placies hid been cut aff wi the storm but noo wi the roads getting opened things were comin back tae normal. I wiz makkin ma wye hame fae Meedlick ae nicht aboot this time wi a puckle eerins for ma mither.
I decided I best be takkin the shortcut hame by Ardallie an that’s fin I saw a wee lichty in ma path. It wiz blue in colour an neen bigger norr a cannle flame. It danced aboot this wye an that, first gyan awa fae ma then wunnin back at ma. It did this a puckle times. I didna ken then fit it wiz but I began tae get a wee bit feart by noo.”
Gordon stoppit an started tae rub his haans thegither an lookit roon us aa wi a look o horror in his een.
“It’s aaricht Gordon yer deein fine min, ye hiv tae feenish yer story for us,” Robbie said softly.
Gordon nodded at this but the fear intae his een got waar. I noticed a similar look in Robbie an Bunty’s een ana as the fear began tae work ontae them. Gordon stoppit rubbin his haans an cairried on wi his tale.
“Well the lichty made its wye doon the road tae ma left and set tae dancin abeen the wee cotter hoosie at the Boggies then came back the wye o ma afore deein this again. It seemed tae me it wanted tae tak ma tae the wee cootar hoosie for some reason? An may God forgee ma but instead o gyan the wye it wanted I teen tae ma heels. By the time I wun hame aabody wiz bedded so it wisna till the next mornin I got tae tell ma mither fit I’d seen the nicht afore. Oh me, please forgee ma!”
Gordon lookit aroon us eence mair as if we could forgive him for something. His een were wild an he started tae rubb his haans thegither again but athoot the wee rhyme this time. He settled a bit afore gyan on.
“My mither tellt ma that I’d seen the ‘Death Cannel’ warnin ma something affa bad wiz happenin tae somebody. She said I should’ve wint faar it led tae see fit wiz wrang!”
He started tae sob at this an Bunty rose and crossed tae comfort him. She’d fear in her een and I saw Robbie lookin at the clock and hurriedly said tae Gordon.
“Come on Gordon it’s comin up time, so hash on wi yer story!”
Composin himself, he tellt us that later that day him an his father hid wint tae the bogs tae check oot aabody wiz aaricht.
“But by the time they got there aa they found wiz the corp o a lassie an her four wee bairnies faa’d aa deet o hunger and caal. The doctor said that een o the youngest bairns hid been the last tae dee a fyowe oors afore.”
The tears were fleein fae Gordon’s een as he said;
“I could’ve saved the peer bairnie’s life if I hidna teen tae ma heels!”
Bunty wiz in the same state, sobbin fit tae brak her hert.
Gordon started rubbin his haans;
“Caal caal are the haanies an feeties in the Boggies o Ardallie!” ower and ower again.
Robbie wiz lookin at the clock an there wiz pure terror intae his een as he followed the haan comin up tae the oor o ten.
A chap come tae the door that made aabody jump and I could feel a caal breeze come up the stairs as faivver it wiz let themsels in.
I could hear the thumpin o beets knockin aff the snaa then the feet makkin their wye up the stair. Bunty teen Gordon’s haan an tried tae sooth him a bittie.
The door opened and in came Wully Tyler that I’d met earlier. He wiz in a gye state wi his face pinched grey wi the caal. Afore sayin onything he made his wye tae the fire for some heat. Bunty leavin Gordon stannin wi the look o pure terror on his face made up a big toddy for Wully faa teen it gratefully and dooned it in a oner.
Clearin his thrapple an dichtin his moo wi the back o his wounded haan, he tellt Robbie that aa the beasts were oot. He said they’d eether get smoored in the storm or else gyang ower the cliffs intae the sea if they didna get them back inside.
Robbie glanced at Bunty an Gordon and I could noo see the same terror ontae his face. Wully didna seem tae see the fear his entrance hid caused an cairried on heatin himsel at the fire.
Robbie, Bunty and Gordon wint for their cwites. I made tae gyang wi them ana but Robbie put a haan ontae ma shooder sayin;
“Na na Sanners you canna come wi us, ye’d jist get lost!” Wi a quick look aroon at aabody he carried on, “We ken the area, you dinna. Onywye I think ye’ve seen enough snaa for this nicht?”
Turnin tae Bunty he said, “Gie him a blanket,” and pyntin tae the back o the room says tae me, “Sleep ower there on the deece.”
He pointed at fit tae me looked for aa the world like an aal kirk pew. Bunty busied hersel getting me a blanket fae a big press an heistin ma tae the deece. She spread the blanket for me tae lie on an gid ma a pilla sayin;
“Here noo ye should be warm enough there till we wun back.”
The fear hidna left her een but afore she followed aabody doon the stairs she steed for a minty lookin at ma as the saddest look I’d ivver in aa ma life seen passed ower her face. She turned awa an as she left she put the lamp doon low.
I must’ve fell asleep wi the sound o the storm raging ootside and waakened by the sound o a heavy diesel engine on full revs roarin ootside the windae. I come tee wi a bit o a heedache and an affa muchty smell in ma nose.
Fin I lookit aboot ma I’d tae think faar aboot I wiz. The room wiz the same but athing else wiz different. Instead o the furnishings fae the nicht afore aa I could see apart fae the odd bit o furniture wiz rowies o pycket weir an piles o timmer posts. I made tae rise fae the deece an found the blanket fell tae bits as I arose. I choked a bittie ontae the muchty styoo comin fae aff it. At the fireplace though I could see my jaicket an biler suit Bunty hid hung there tae dry. My beets were there ana so I quickly pulled them on.
Grabbin ma jaicket and biler suit I made for the door an aifter a fair yoke got it haafwyes open. I widnae be getting oot that wye for the stair wiz stappit almost tae the reef wi lengths o timmer. Makin my wye tae the windae instead I tried chappin tae get the attention o faivver wiz at the tractor.
Although I did see the man noo an then as he wiz attachin a bit o machinery tae the hineyne o the tractor there wisna onywye he’d hear ma wi aa that din gyan on so I bowffed the windae peen oot. Although he couldna hear ma he seen teen notice o a shoor o broken glass fleein aboot.
He lookit up at ma and I could see him mouth something then shakin his heed he wint intae the cab a shut the engine doon.
“Fit the bliddy hell are ye deein in there min?”
Christ he lookit gye angry an wiz sweerin like a trooper at ma. I tellt him tae calm doon an help ma get oot, we could spik aboot the foo’s an fyes aifter. I managed tae get the boddom sash o the windae oot athoot deein ony mair damage and got oot ontae the reef o the tractor’s cab an syne ontae the grun.
He started eence mair ontae ma but I tellt him tae hing fire an let me explain. Onywye I started tae tell him aboot my van brakin doon in the snaa and I saw a puzzled look come intae his face as he lookit aroon him. I could see fine fit he wiz lookin at.
There wisna one flake o snaa on the grun.
In aa the panic tae get oot o the buildin I’d nae noticed that till noo. Onywye I tellt him fit hid happened and how I got intae the building. He wint ower tae check the door tae see if somehow I’d managed tae wun in but the roosty lock proved I hidna got in that wye.
There wiz a doonstairs windae tae the left o the door but it wiz covered in chuckin weir an blue fertiliser bags so I hidna got in that wye. Scratin his heed he says tae me that I’d better come up tae the fairm wi him an tell his aal man fit I’d tellt him.
I wiz freezin o caal an shiverin so I got intae the cab an wint wi him tae see his father. I wiz teen intae the kitchen, an the fine smell o cookin an the heat wiz like heaven. The aal man bid ma sit at the table while his wife poored me a big joog o tay fussin aboot ma, sayin I lookit as if I could dee wi een.
Onywye I tellt the aal fairmer the whole story an aifter I feenished he tellt his loon tae gyang throwe tae the gweed room and get the group photae fae aff the waa. I wiz then handed the photae.
I could see richt awa Robbie, Bunty, Gordon an Wully and pinted them oot. Of course I said they lookit aaler than in that photae for it must’ve been teen a fyowe years afore I’d met them last nicht. The aal fairmer sat back an lookit at his wife an loon. I could see his face hid lost a fair bit o colour.
“O michty me!” wiz aa he could say.
Risin fae the table he left the room and his wife teen the opportunity tae pit a plate o ham an eggs in front o ma.
The fairmer wiz awa for a fair minty so I got stuck intae my braakfast and jist feenished fin he returned cairryin a wee cardboard box. Fae it he teen some aal yella newspaper clippins an showed ma something that made the hairs ontae the back o ma neck birss up. It wiz fae the Banffie for January 1927.
The headline read: ‘Four tragic deaths on Burns’ Night!’
It then wint ontae explain that the four folk hid died in the storm while trying to save cattle that had broken loose. It wint on tae name Robbie an Bunty Sangster, Gordon Strachin an Wully Tyler. It looked like Robbie hid been richt enough fin he’d said I’d be believin in ghosts afore the nicht wiz oot!
As I write this there’s a bit o a storm comin in aff the Moray Firth and the aal windae in my study is rattlin wi the gusts o ween as it tries tae punch its wye in. I’ve the fire weel stackit tae conteract the caal druchts blawin in throwe the leadit glaiss peens.
This is a strange story but I canna claim tae be its author as the man that wrote it lies at the aal kirkyard at Kineddart as he’s deen for the last hunder an forty odd years. That man wiz my three times greatgranda the Reverend Gordon S. Gow.
He wiz the meenister here at Eden for forty aicht years fae 1820 – 1868. He wiz a prolific writer and kept amazingly detailed journals and I’m lucky enough tae own them. They are written in a close neat hand in the copperplate style o the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They, by their very content, were nivver meant tae be published.
He records in great detail stories o ghosts, witches, Devil’s imps and ither strange ongyans o the occult aboot the pairish. For a man o the cloth he’d a great respect for folklore and nivver made a fool o local beliefs so obviously steeped in the pagan times. But noo in these mair enlightened times I think that some o his tales should be published, something he daurna hae deen in his ain time. I hiv published a few stories fae his journals already but nivver named him as their author. They are ‘The Lichtin Green’ ‘The Steens That Turned’ ‘The Prechum Steen’, ‘The Meal Girnal’ tae name but a fyowe. The ideas for many o my ither stories also come fae his journals so his influence is throughoot aa my ain writing.
Donnty Galbraith wiz walkin hame ae nicht fae the Mill o Eden faar he vrocht. He enjoyed bein oot intae the fresh nicht air aifter aa day among the styoo comin aff the mull. He wiz takkin up the hill and jist at the bend faar the road turned doon tae the fairm o Bowiebank fan an aal man coughed fair at his lug. He loupit clear shoutin “Aliss ye hoor!”
Whit a fleg he got and said intae the darkness “Gweed sakes min ye near stoppit ma hairt in ma breest ye silly bugger!”
But naebody made an answer and Donnty thinkin it wiz some o the loons fae the mill oot for reels at his expense made a dive up the bank faar he thocht they were hiding. Aa he found though wiz an aal yowie blinkin at him an hoasted again like an aal man afore rinnin awa. Laachin tae himsel for bein spookit he gid on the road.
As he cam roon the corner towards Castle Eden he could see its aal waasteens standin oot by the scam o the meen. He stood a meenitie lookin at the ruins and tried tae imagine fit it wid’ve lookit like centuries ago on a fine saft nicht like this. The castle hid stood guard here abeen the three roads since the fourteenth century at least and he tried tae picter aa the fowk that hid passed this wye an windered fit kind o lives they hid lived. That’s fin he heard the bairn greetin. It wiz a low miserable sound like a bairnie at the eyn o its tether so Donnty hid a gweed look aroon but nae sign o the bairn could he see ava. So he speired “Faar aboot are ye bairn? I can hear ye but I canna see ye!”
The greetin grew louder intae hairtbrakkin sobs and that’s fin Donnty saw the bairn sittin ablow a sign faar the three roads met on the wee triangle o girss. The bairnie wiz cooried doon wi its airms aboot its knees rockin back an forrit in its misery.
Donnty gid inaboot an speired at the barnie fit wiz wrang. As he did this the bairn lookit up at him wi the saddest painfilled een he’d ivver seen and shook its heed afore startin tae sob again as if its hairt wiz brakkin. Donnty bent doon tae pick the bairnie up but his haans passed richt throwe. Donnty didna hing aboot ava.He jist teen tae his heels wi a strange whimper comin up his thrapple. He nivver lookit ower his shooder incase the bairn wiz aifter him wi the horns o Hell stickin oot ilka side o its heed!
It wiz a fyowe days later fin Donnty gid tae see the minister at his mither’s insistence. He’d been in sic a state ower fit he’d seen that he wisna getting sleep for thinkin aboot it. His mither wiz beginnin tae get worried for him. So minister it wiz tae be. Donnty felt a richt gype gan tae see Reverend Gow but onywye he did it and tellt him exactly fit hid happened. Donnty wiz surprised that the minister didna chase him for comin oot wi sic nonsense but he seemed genuinely interested and even got him tae show him faar aboot the bairn hid been sittin. Donnty, reassured noo that he wisna gan aff the heed because even the minister believed him, gid hame the wye wi a spring in his step tae his aal mither.
Ower the next puckle wiks Reverend Gow in the course o his pastoral duties wid speir at the aaler fowk if they’d ivver heard ony strange things happenin at the three roads o Eden. He got a begaik at the amount o folklore there wiz aboot the aal castle but naebody mentioned onything aboot a bairn bein seen faar the three roads met.
He lookit back the records o the previous ministers but they it seemed kept gey desultory notes tae say the least. Some o them hardly keepin records o births, mairriages and deaths let aleen onything else.That wiz until he got tae the records kept by a Reverend Latimar fae 1623 till 1631. Now he keepit meticulous records and seemed tae be a richt ‘Hell Fire’ kine o minister.
In readin throwe the books it seemed that he’d gotten leave tae tak tae trial the suspect o a foul murder committed against an Elspeth Sangster, a widow woman. She’d been found in her hoose at Tocher Knowes brutally murdered by a billyheuk.The only suspect wiz her twelve year aal stepson Charlie Sangster. He’d been heard shoutin that she Elspeth hid been the daith o his faither by her greed for land.
The laird at that time hid been een o the first impover lairds and he encouraged the clearin o the muirs tae plant. Apparently if ye cleared roch land ye got the use o it for a token rent. She Mrs Sangster hid aye been on at her man tae clear even mair grun. This gid on till eventually he’d torn the guts oot o himsel and deet o overwork.
Aabody said she wiz a cruel woman and treated her man and stepson like they were beasts fae the field. She wisna affa weel likit by her neebours. Some fowk said she’d been haein a cairryon wi the minister Joshua Latimar the very man that hid noo been given leave tae judge young Charlie Sangster for the murder.
Fin Charlie heard that his stepmither wiz deed and that he wiz getting the blame he’d ran awa but wiz found hidin in the widdies at Forglen at the ither side o the Deveron fae Eden. He’d been put in chines an brocht back. He wiz only a bairn and although twelve he’d the stature o a laddie much younger and wiz slow minded. A bad treated bairn he wiz feart o his ain shadda an widnae hiv said boo tae a goose.
Onywye they threw the bairn intae a cell at the castle tae awyte his trial. Eventually he wiz brocht tae trial and the whole proceedings were owerseen by Reverend Latimar by him standing on a podium and writin aathing doon that wiz being said. He wiz questioned by some o the kirk elders and they werena ower worried aboot the methods used tae extract a confession fae Charlie.
The bairn protested his innocence sayin he’d nithing tae dee wi the murder o his stepmither. In his dimwitted wye he even tried tae get help fae Latimar tae clear his name by sayin he wid ken that he hidna killed his stepmither because his horse wiz at the hoose that very day. Nae help wiz forthcomin as Latimar said he wiz tellin lees aboot his horse bein there. Charlie did conter him but tae nae avail.
Aifter a good beetlin by the elders Charlie eventually owned up tae killin his stepmither wi the billyheuk. Latimar hid written wi obvious relish as he’d passed the sentence o the court. Charlie wiz tae be strippit nyaakit and be given a thoosan lashes o the the cat-o-nine-tails.
He wiz duly tied tae a frame erected faar the three roads o Eden met and given his punishment. It teen a hunder an twenty lashes for Charlie tae die in agony. The man at the lash stoppit layin on fin he seen the bairn wiz deed but Latimar ordered him tae tae complete the punishment o the court. Aifter a thoosan lashes there wisna an affa lot left o Charlie tae beery but his remains were laid in the wee triangle o girss faar the three roads met so his soul should forivver be lost nae kennin fitna road it should tak.
Reverend Gow wiz fair seeck readin aboot fit they’d deen tae peer wee Charlie and he could feel the anger comin up his thrapple.
Later he found oot mair aboot Latimar. He’d gaen on tae become a witch hunter doon aboot the Borders faar he’d enjoyed pittin peer aal weemin tae the ordeal. Nae one person wiz ivver spared that came afore Latimar and aa ended up bein brunt at the stake. He met his eyn in a drunken brawl ower a hooer an ended up bein gullied in the guts an teen mair than a week tae die in pure agony. A fittin eyn tae an animal like that thocht Gow.
That he’d been involved somehow in the murder o Elspeth Sangster didna seem muckle in doubt. Gow felt in his bones the bairn didna dee it but hid been made tae pey for anither person’s crime. Though it could nivver now be proved if Latimar wiz the murderer an affa lot o things seemed tae point in his direction. The apparition o Charlie at the three roads if true wid go some wye tae provin Charlie’s innocence if nae Latimar’s guilt.
He thocht lang an sair as tae fit he should dee. Eventually decidin he’d nott some ootside help he gaed intae Macduff tae see Father O’Maley a retired priest that bade up in the wee priory at Chapel Hillock. Father O’Maley could be a richt contermaschious aal bugger at times but the twa men although o different beliefs were the very best o freens. Weel intae his aichties Father O’Maley hid vast experience in the unseen world o the occult and the spirits therein.
Father O’Maley listened, quaitly sippin at the whisky Gow always teen him. Een o his parishoners hid a relation that bade up the Cabrach wye so there wiz ayewis a dram or twa passed on tae Gow.
Aifter Gow feenished his story Father O’Maley jist sat awa sippin at his fusky. Aifter a fyowe minutes he cleared his thrapple sayin tae Gow that as he wiz in gey peer health there wisna ony wye he could dee fit needit tae be deen but that he’d gie Gow the tools and the method tae set the bairn’s soul free.
As I said afore although they were o different beliefs they were the best o freens on a personal livvel and Father O’Maley often bade at the manse faar Gow’s wife doted on the aal priest treatin him like the grandfaither she’d nivver seen. There he regaled her wi stories o ‘Owld Ireland’ aboot the Bainshee combing her golden locks or the ‘Little People’ nae higher than yer knee. Mrs Gow wiz ayewis on at him tae come and bide at the manse faar she could look aifter him an see that he ate eneuch. He ayewis passed it aff wi an evasive answer an a wee laach.
Fin he returned tae the manse he put by the things Father O’Maley hid geen him. He’d hiv tae awyte the twentieth o December afore he could dee onything for that wiz the date Charlie hid died.
Onywye on the appointed nicht Reverend Gow teen oot the stuff that he’d been geen by Father O’Maley. There wiz a bottle o Holy Water aa the wye fae Rome, a big brass crucifix, a lock o St Drostan’s hair deen up in a wee gold box wi a glaiss front forbye three prayers rolled up an sealed wi reed wax. Gow hid nivver deen onything like this afore so he wiz understandably nervous. He’d been tellt nae tae show ony fear or doubt fin he came face tae face wi the spirit o Charlie but tae spik tae him and offer tae release him fae purgatory. He hoped he’d manage tae dee aathing richt even though deep inside he doubted if he’d see onything ava.
Pittin aathing intae a wee cloot pyoke he made his wye tae the three roads. He gey near forgot the very thing that Father O’Maley hid been so insistent aboot so he gaed doon tae the glebe and teen the milkin stool fae the byre. Yermin the milk coo wiz in her staa half asleep and fin she saw him she stared wi her bonny bovine een. He gaed inaboot and made a fuss o her scrattin her heed and giein her a puckle fresh hey. He’d a fyle tae wyte for darkness so he cleaned her oot an pit in fresh strae intae her staa.
Afore nicht he made his wye tae the three roads armed wi his cloot pyowk an the milkin stool. He placed the stool richt in front o the place Charlie hid been seen by Donnty Galbraith. Next he laid oot the Holy Water, the crucifix and the wee gold box wi St Drostan’s hair and awytit the licht tae fail. Really nervous now as darkness came doon it teen aa his belief tae bide there.
In the event he wiz sittin on the milkin stool for nearly three oors and freezin wi the caal. He wiz thinkin tae himsel he should’ve teen his big walkin cloak fin he heard the first whimper. He thocht he’d been mistakken an that it hid been the sound o some nicht craitur. He heard the whimper again much closer and felt the hairs on the back o his neck birrs up like a cat. His een ,weel accustomed tae the dark by noo could mak oot much o his surroundins but nae a sign could he see o the bairn. The whimperin got mair pathetic and even closer. He said much the same as Donnty “I can hear ye bairn but I canna see ye!”
Slowly at the bottom o the signpost the bairn came slowly intae focus. Gow felt the fear grippin his intimmers and he near teen tae his heels. The bairn wiz sittin jist as Donnty hid said: cooried wi its airms aboot its knees and rockin back an forrit, a pure picter o abject misery.
Though Gow feelin really scared now managed tae control the urge tae rin awa. But as he seen how sair made the bairn wiz his hairt near broke. “Oh ye peer bairn. Fit ails ye Charlie?”
At the soon o his name the bairn stoppit greetin and lookit up at Gow and in the saddest voice he’d ivver heard in his life say, “I didna dee’t I didna!”
Gow getting braver replied “I ken that Charlie. That’s fit wye I’m here tae set ye free!”
The wee facie lookit sae sad as if he didna believe him and jist shook its heed an startit showdin back an forrit again. Gow then speired at Charlie if he kent faa hid killed his stepmither. The look o terror on his facie made Gow think he’d feared the bairn’s spirit awa but it remained visible- jist the look o horror on his face.
Gow didna ask again but said one word “Latimar?” Charlie didnae respond but he didna need tae -his silence wiz mair than eneuch for Gow.
Charlie startit howlin in his distress and wi his airms aboot his knees began tae showd back an forrit again. Reverend Gow stoppit speirin onything aboot Latimar and speired at him instead if he wintit tae be free o this horrible place. But Charlie howled that he wiz tae bide here in purgatory until the Day o Judgement. Gow tellt the bairn that he could be set free for he wiz guilty o nae crime and that if he’d let him he’d set him free. The wee facie fair lichtit up at this so athoot fear now Reverend Gow gaed throwe the ceremony as dictated by Father O’Maley.
First he sprinkled the bairn wi the Holy Water sayin a prayer in Latin then he passed the relic o St Drostan three times deesil (clockwise) roon Charlie’s heed again sayin prayers in Latin. Aa this wiz deen while sittin on the milkin stool. Father O’Maley hid been really insistent on this point sayin the milkin stool represented ‘Earth’s Bounty’ and each o the three legs were The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost and wid protect him and the bairn fae ony malevolent spirit fae entering this now Holy place.
Next he placed the crucifix on the very spot Charlie sat and he felt a slight resistance as his hand passed throwe the bairn tae lay the cross on the grun. Continuing saying the Latin prayers, Charlie slowly disappeared fae sicht, his wee facie fair beamin.
The darkness wiz now total and Reverend Gow sat there shakkin wi the caal swyte rinnin fae him. A chill breeze sprung up and near teen him aff the seat. But Father O’Maley hid tellt him tae expect this as the angry demons fae purgatory wid be wantin anither soul tae replace Charlie’s. He’d nae tae leave the seat ava until he feenished the ceremony. So wi a different Latin prayer he then scraped a wee hole and put in the three prayers rolled up and sealed wi reed wax then covered them. The breeze then stopped and darkness got back tae normal and he could see oot aboot eence mair.
Next day Reverend Gow and the aal gravedigger made their wye tae the three roads. They dug doon faar Charlie hid appeared and in nae time came across his remains. Carefully liftin them they teen them back tae the kirkyard and gave his remains a Christian beerial. Sadly there wisna a marker for Charlie’s father, nae record for that could he find but he put the bones in a place that jist felt richt.
This story was originally published in Sanners Gow: Tales and Folklore of the Buchan. We'll be bringing you free stories from Sanners collection each week while the lockdown continues.
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.