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!