CHAPTER FORTY THREE
THE VENGEANCE OF ‘YON’
Gash Gibbie surveyed the sight with a kind of twisted satisfaction. He went hirpling about the body round and round. He squatted with crossed legs at its head.
‘What think ye o' that?’ he asked, ‘that's my mither. She's near as bonny as me, think ye no? Yon micht hae made her bonnier to look at, gin He was to be so ill to her.’
And the monster crouched still lower, and took the terrible scarlet-stained face and neck on his knees.
‘Mither! mither!’ he wailed, ‘I aye telled ye it wad come to this—mockin' Yon disna do. A wee while, maybe, He lets ye gang on; but no for lang! Yon can bide His time, and juist when ye are crawin' croose, and thinkin' on how blythe and canty ye are—blaff! like a flaught o' fire—Yon comes upon ye, and where are ye?’
He took a long and apparently well-satisfied look at his mother.
‘Aye, there ye lie, an' by my faith, ye are no bonny, mither o' mine. Mony is the time I telled ye what it wad be, afore Yon had dune wi' ye.’
Small wonder that it chilled our blood to hear the twisted being cry out thus upon the mother that bore him. He seemed even no little pleased that what he had foretold had come to pass. So we stood, Wat and I, in silent amaze before him, as the storm continued to blare till the whole heaven above us appeared but the single mouth of a black trumpet.
Sometimes we seemed to be in a large place, ribbed and rafted with roaring sound, upholstered with lightning flashes of pale violet and blue. Then again the next moment we were shut within a tent of velvet blackness like a pall, with only the echoes of the warring midnight rolling away back among the hills. There seemed no God of Pity abroad that night to look after puir muir-wandered folk, but only mocking devils riding rough-shod on the horses of the pit.
‘Come away hame, Gibbie,’ said I, ‘ye can do her little good. I fear she's by wi' it!’
‘By wi' it!’ quoth the natural, fleeringly. ‘Na, only beginning wi' it. D'ye no ken, hill-man-wi'-the-hirpling-leg, that Yon has gotten her. I can see her stannin' afore Yon, wi' her face like red fire, a black lie in her mouth and ill-intent in her heart. For as the tree falls, so doth it lie.’
The imp seemed to have gotten the words at some field-preaching.
‘Think ye I didna warn her?’ he went on. ‘My braw chiels, ye hae gotten your warnin' this nicht! Meddle na wi' Yon, neither dare Him to His face lest He be angry. For juist like Gibbie killin' a speckly taed, Yon can set His heel on ye!’
He stroked the hair off the dead woman's brow with a hand like a hairy claw.
‘Aye, an' ye were na sic an ill mither to me, though ye selled yoursel' to Ye-Ken-Wha! Whatna steer there is up there aboot the soul o' ae puir auld body. Hear till it——’
And he waved his hands to the four airts of heaven, and called us to hearken to the hills shaking themselves to pieces. ‘Siccan a steer aboot a puir feckless auld woman gaun to her ain ill place! I wonder Yon is no' shamed o' himsel'!’
And the twisted man-thing put his hands to his brow and pressed the palms upon his eyes, as if to shut out the unceasing pulsing of the lightning and the roar of the anger of God breaking like sea upon the mountains.
‘Sae muckle squandered for sae little—an' after a' but little pleasure in the thing! I dinna see what there is in the Black Man's service to mak' siccan a brag aboot. Gin ye sup tasty kail wi' him in the forenicht, he aye caa's roond wi' the lawin' i' the mornin'!
‘Losh! Losh! Sae muckle for sae little. I declare I will cut oot the three marks that my mither made on me, and gang doon to Peden at the Shalloch. I want na mair sic wark as this! Na, though I was born wi' the Black Man's livery on me!
‘Preserve us!’ he cried. ‘This is as fearsome as that year there was nae meat in the hoose, and Gash Gibbie brocht some back, and aye brocht it, and brocht it even as it was needed. And Kate o' the Corp-licht, she readied it and asked nae quastions. But only tearin' belly-hunger gied us strength to eat that awesome meat. An' a' the neighbours died o' starvation at Tonskeen and the Star an' the bonny Hill o' the Buss—a' but Gib an' his mither, their leevin' lanes. But yae nicht Yon sent Gibbie's sin to find him oot; or maybe the Black Thing in the Hole gat lowse, because it was his hour.
And at ony rate puir Gibbie gat a terrible fricht that nicht.
‘Wad ye like to hear? Aweel, puir Gibbie was lying on his bed up that stair, an' what think ye there cam' to him?’
He paused and looked at us with a countenance so blanched and terrible that almost we turned and ran. For the lightning played upon it till it seemed to glow with unholy light, and that not from without but from within. It was the most terrifying thing to be alone with such a monstrous living creature, and such a dead woman in the lonesome place he had called the ‘Nick of the Deid Wife.’ What with the chattering of our teeth, the agitation of our spirits, and the flicker of the fire, the old dead witch seemed actually to rise and nod at us.
So Gash Gibbie, puir man, lay and listened in his naked bed, for he had gotten his fill that nicht, though a' the lave were hungry—an' that o' his ain providin'. But as he lay sleepless, he heard a step come to the door, the sneck lifted itsel', an' a foot that wasna his mither's came into the passage, dunt-duntin' like a lameter hirplin' on two staves!
An' then there cam' a hard footstep on the stair, and a rattle o' fearsome-like sounds, as the thing cam' up the ladder. Gibbie kenned na what it micht be. An' when the door opened an' the man wi' the wooden feet cam' in—preserve me, but he was a weary-lookin' tyke.
'Whaur came ye frae?' says puir Gash Gibbie.
'Frae the Grave!' says he. He hadna muckle to say, but his e'en war like fiery gimblets in his head.
'What mak's your e'en bones sae white an' deep?'
'The Grave!' says he. He hadna muckle to say, but he spak' aye mair dour and wearisome than ever.
‘'What mak's ye lauch sae wide at puir Gibbie?'
'The Grave!' says he. He hadna muckle to say, but syne he steppit nearer nearer to the bedside.
'What made that great muckle hole in your side?'
'You made it!' cried the ghaist, loupin' at Gibbie's throat; an' puir Gib kenned nae mair.’
And even as the monster shouted out the last words—the words of the spectre of his cannibal vision—Gash Gibbie seemed to us to dilate and lean forward to spring upon us. The wild-fire reeled about as though the very elements were drunken, and Wat and I fairly turned and fled, shouting insanely with terror as we ran—leaving the silent stricken witch with the face of blood, and the misshapen elf, her hell's brood progeny, raving and shouting on the hillside—these two alone at midnight in the ‘Nick of the Deid Wife.’
‘Aye, rin, rin,’ we heard him call after us. ‘Rin fast, and Yon will maybe no' catch ye—till it is your hour!’
And truly Wat and I did run in earnest, stumbling and crying out in our terror—now falling and now getting up, then falling to the running again without a single reasonable word. But as we came hot-foot over the Rig of Lochricaur, we seemed to run into the sheeted rain. For where we had been hitherto, only the blue dry fire had ringed us, but here we ran into a downpour as though the fountains of the deep of heaven had broken up and were falling in a white spate upon the world.
We were wet, weary, and terrified, more than we had ever been in our lives, before we reached the hermitage of the cave of Macaterick. There we found the women waiting for us, listening fearfully to the roar of the storm without, and hearkening in the lown blinks to Auld Anton Lennox praying—while the lightning seemed to run into the cave, and shine on the blade of the sword he held gripped in his right hand. So we stripped our wet clothes, and lay in the outer place all the night, where there was a fire of red peats, while the women withdrew themselves into their inner sanctuary. I could see the anxiety in their eyes when we came in, for they could not but discern the ghastly terror in our faces. But without any agreement between ourselves, Wat and I silently resolved that we should not acquaint any of the party with the hideous judgments of that night, to which we had been eye-witnesses.
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men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.