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TALES AND ADVENTURES OF A BOTANIST:
Illustrative Of The Manners And Superstitions Of The
Highlands Of Scotland,
A U L D 0 U R.
Here Miss Grisilda and one or two of her nieces screamed outright The Captain sprung to his feet to catch the first that should fall, and the Doctor laid hold of a decanter containing cold water which happened to stand on the table, believing from the paleness of the ladies' looks that it would be instantly needed. The bare sight of it, however, seemed to act as an antidote, and by its means and the help of smelling-bottles together, all the terrified, fair contrived to keep their feet, and by-and-bye recovered in some degree their vanished colour. As soon as they had recovered from their trepidation, Maclaine at their request proceeded with his narrative.
"Having got rid of this goblin
"But how, pray, got you rid of him?" said Miss Grisilda.
"Why, being ashamed to turn back, I made all haste to pass him. I looked behind me aftor I had proceeded a few paces, and I still beheld him as if slowly following me. You will readily suppose I did not wait for his company, but pressed on with all possible expedition till I thought myself beyond his reach, and had left the silent cemetery at some distance in rear of me.
"When I next looked behind me, I saw no sheeted corpse, but was scarcely less surprised to behold a faint light glimmering, apparently through one of the windows of the ruins of the chapel. I watched it for a few moments, and bethought myself of Kirk Alloway; but while I yet hesitated whether I should return to examine the phenomenon more narrowly, it suddenly vanished and left me again in darkness.
"My anxiety to gain the gloves would not allow me to make another pause till I had penetrated towards the centre of the corry. Here a faint noise, like that of horses' feet, at a distance attracted my attention. I recollected the story of the phantom troopers, who are said to hold occasionally their nocturnal parade there, and regretted much that the darkness would prevent me from seeing how they went through their exercise. While I stood to listen, the noise increased in force and distinctness. The impression of each thundering hoof upon the solid turf left no room to doubt that a powerful cavalcade was approaching. I already felt the ground in tremulous motion around me, and became somewhat apprehensive of being trodden under foot without any possibility of avoiding the danger. They passed me, however, at some twenty yards' distance. They seemed to consist of about a dozen horses. I could faintly discern their figure through the gloom, but could not distinguish their riders, though something rung in my stunned ears like loud laughter as they again vanished into darkness, and the sound of their footsteps waxed faint in the distance.
"I nut with no further surprise till I reached the UainJt-a-Bhodakh, where, after much groping, I luckily succeeded in laying my hand on the objects of my search; but not, I must confess, till I had received a more serious alarm than any yet mentioned."
Here he paused; but before he had reached this stage of his narrative the recital had called forth, as may be readily supposed, many additional exclamations from the fair portion of the audience, though no alarming symptoms of another nervous attack More betrayed. Here they again exchanged significant glances, and Miss Grisilda got her phial of volatile salts in readiness for the next catastropha The Captain, hovrevei-, was in no haste to proceed with his narration. He evidently betrayed some reluctance to communicate what passed in the cave, and when admonished on the subject, he made answer, after a few minutes' reflection, that he must request to be excused detailing any further particulars till next morning at breakfast time, when he would reveal the whole occurrences in his adventure. It -was in vain that he was urged to gratify the expectation which he had excited, by telling all, and not keeping them on the rack of uncertainty and conjecture for so many tedious hours, and even spoiling their night's repose; for Miss Grisilda protested that she should not be able to close au eye by thinking on it. The Captain was quite inexorable, and his inquisitive examinators were obliged to content themselves with remarking that it was certainly the Budach himself that he had encountered, and Miss Grisilda said that lie might think himself fortunate in getting so easily out of his hands. She added that the many dreadful things which he had that night seen and heard were evidently a judgment on his rashness and scepticism ; and she at length bade him good-night, with the consolatory reflection that she hoped he would be a belter man for it all the days of his life.
As soon as the door closed behind Miss Grisilda and her train—who displayed on this occasion a rather uncommon degree of ceremonious courtesy in relinquishing to each other the honour of precedency as th'-y left tho room—Maclaine burst forth into an obstreperous lit of laughing. When he had recovered his composure we requested him to explain; for though none of us believed that there was anything supernatural in the phenomena which the Captain had witnessed, yet we all appeared at a loss to account for them.
"Why, gentlemen," said Maclaine, "it is the easiest thing in the world to conjure up a spectre and impose on all tho five senses with a little assistance from fancy. During the short time I have been out I have met with materials enough for some half dozen or more tales of wonder, each as good as any you have heard to-night, yet all easily explained without any necessity of having recourse to supernatural agency. 1 shall satisfy you all at breakfast that I have told nothing but the exact truth, and that I have, notwithstanding, met with nothing extraordinary. It will be a choice treat to observe how Miss Grizzy will look when I turn the tables upon her.
"Yet there occurred one circumstance in the case, which, to confess the truth, gave me a good deal of surprise; and, though I never for a moment supposed it anywise supernatural, it still puzzles me to account for it It was for this reason that I declined to mention it to the ladies till I return, as I mean to do as soon as the morning dawns, to llnd ont tho causo of it. As I was groping in the darkness for tho gloves, 1 thought I heard a noise as of a person breathing, towards the inner part of the cave, which you know is of considerable extent. I held my breath to listen, when I fully satisfied myself of the fact. The slow, strong, and somewhat stentorious respiration of one in sleep was distinctly audible.
"I stood for some minutes to listen, and endeavour to find out some plausible explanation of the phenomenon, but all my ingenuity was exerted in vain. I could attribute it to no wild animal that had there sought a lair, and to suppose that any human being would take up his night's lodging in so dreary an abode seemed hardly more probable. Yet this last was the most satisfactory conjecture which I could form, and at last I felt almost quite persuaded that some vagabond maniac had there sought a shelter from the inclemency of the midnight air.
"The idea that I was in the society of such an unmanageable being, in circumstances where I could do nothing to defend myself from his violence, was scarcely more comfortable than if my invisible companion had been the Bodaeh Gins himself. I confess, therefore, that I lost no time in effecting my retreat with all possible quietness, and perhaps as I made my exit from the pitchy den my feelings were not very different in kind from what might have been inspired by the apprehension of something supernatural."
"We were now all equally curious to know the bottom of this strange affair, and unanimously expressed a wish to accompany the Captain in his investigations. It now wanted but a few hours of dawn, and we could not venture to bed, lest wo should oversleep ourselves. We therefore resolved to watch till the break of day. With the aid of a chess-board and the Terrific Register, we contrived to keep our eyes open till the approach of day was discernible in the east. Wo then stepped quietly forth by raising a window-sash, and after a smart walk of nearly an hour we reached the entrance of the Uaimh-a-Bhoilaich just as the sun had begun to gild the tops of the mountains.
At first entering the interior of the cave was too dark, even at noon, to allow one object to be distinguishable from another; but remaining a few minutes in it sufficed to rendor everything dimly visible. We therefore required to proceed with caution till our organs of sight became familiarised to the obscurity of the place. We stole softly in till we had reached nearly the middle of the cavern, where we stood a while quite motionless to listen and to reconcile our eyes to our situation. We all heard the' breathing distinctly as Maclaine had described it; and we had not listened long when wo couid faintly discern a human figure, wrapt in a plaid, and lying on a couch of heather near the inner extremity. He seemed still asleep, and we were careful not to rouse him till wo had made more narrow observations.
But as wo approached, the sound of our footsteps, in spite of all our caution, awoke him. He started suddenly to his elbow, laid his hand on a stout oaken sapling that lay beside him, and put himself in a determined posture of defence, while ho fiercely scrutinised the intruders upon his repose.
I instantly recognised my kind host, the smuggler of Glenaverain, though his appearance was sadly altered since I had parted with him. From beneath his fur cap appeared a handkerchief, besmeared with blood, around his temples. One of his shaggy whiskers was also clotted with blood, both his eyes were bloodshot, and his whole appearance bore evident marks of violenco. On seeing me his aspect of savage ferocity softened into a slight grin of recognition, and his suspicious glance was exchanged for an air of seeming confidence, but still ho retained the attitude of defence and the grasp of his shillelah.
"My honest friend, Alastair, can this be you?" said I. "I am sorry to see you in such a plight."
"Och, I hope she's very well," he replied, while with the familiarity of an old acquaintance he presented to me his huge fist, which, I remarked, was likewise stained with blood.
"Pray, Alastair, what made you take up your lodging in such a place, and how came you by all these marks of strife? Have you had a scuffle lately with your neighbour, Rory of the Glen?"
"Och, sir, I had a visit yesterday from worse neighbours than Eory of the Glen ever was to me."
I had already begun to suspect the true cause of the smuggler's calamity, and, observing thnt he still kept a distrustful eye on my companions, whose presence seemed to lay a constraint upon his tongue, I assured him that he need be under no apprehension from them, as they would be as sorry as myself to reveal anything to his prejudice. When they all had confirmed by their own mouths what I had said, and encouraged him to explain his case with confidence, Alastair Roy—for this was his true name—proceeded without reserve to detail the particulars of a visit which he had received from a party of Excise. They had demolished his still, destroyed all his apparatus, and would have also made himself their captive, but for the stubborn resistance which he offered, and for the presence of mind and masculine courage of his female assistant
This heroine had not only taken an active part in the scuffle from its commencement, but when Alastair had been stunned and felled to the ground by a stroke from a cutlass, and the man that dealt the blow w.is about to secure him with manacles, she snatched his weapon from hii hands and, presenting it to his bosom, compelled him to relinquish his prey, and kept him and all his companions at bay till the smuggler recovered his senses and his trusty claymore. Their united efforts then succeeded in putting to flight all the party, though they themselves had been reduced in consequence to the necessity of consulting their safety by absconding. Last evening in the dusk Alastair had arrived in Glen Lynna; but fearing to entrust his safety with any of the inhabitants, with whom he had been but slightly acquainted, and being unable to proceed farther on account of fatigue, he had preferred abiding for a night in the Uainih a Bhodaich, although he was not ignorant of its forbidding character. He said ho would much rather encounter the Bixlach Glas, together with all the other goblins in Glen Lynna, than be put on his trial before the powdered wigs of the Exchequer Court in Edinburgh. Knowing how much Alastair Roy stood in awe of imaginary beings, I could Tcadily believe that his horror of the venerable Bench of Barons was by no means fictitious, when rather than confront them he could thus venture to brave all the powers of darkness. I could also form some conception of the magnitude of liis sufferings and fatigue when he could sleep M soundly in the very stronghold of the demons of Olen Lynna.
It was his intention, he said, to continue his ilight, now that he was
somewhat refreshed by sleep, to a distant part of the country, where he had some friends, by whose means he hoped to be able to lie concealed till the storm was blown over. By this time his calamities, whether merited or not, had engaged as much the sympathies of my companions as my own. The Doctor now examined his wounds, and gave it as his opinion that it would be very dangerous for him to attempt going farther till they were in a better state. After a brief consultation, therefore, it was agreed that he should remain for some days at a shealing belonging to the Captain not far distant, along with two of his shepherds, whose secrecy he would take care to secure. The Doctor engaged to visit him there till he were again fit for his journey. On inquiry after my friend the shepherd of Glenaverain, I was glad to find that, by the surgical skill of the wise man of the clachan, and the capital attention of his own affectionate Ericht, he was already on foot again, and able, with the aid of a crutch, to walk small distances.
When everything was arranged for Alastair Roy's accommodation, we set out on our return to Auldour, where we arrived before many eyelids were yet opened. When at length all the company assembled round the breakfast table, it was a high treat to observe the victorious airs with which Miss Grisilda began to crow over the seemingly crestfallen Captain. The latter sat silent and apparently thoughtful, while she proceeded to state how he had made a full recantation of all his heretical opinions, and represented in glowing colours all the dreadful sights and sounds which he had last night witnessed. He had been nearly frightened out of his wits by a white ghost at the churchyard; by a dreadful burning inside the old chapel; by a troop of phantom horsemen, who hailed him with a volley of loud laughter as they galloped past him; and lastly, by something in the haunted cave, of which he had promised to give a full account at breakfast—even the particulars of an encounter which he had had with the Bodach Glas himself. She concluded by now calling on him to fulfil his engagement, and gratify the company with what he had promised.
"Miss Grisilda," replied the Captain, "I must take the liberty to tell you that in your representation of my last night's confessions you make rather a more liberal use of the figure of speech called hyperbole than strict justice to the accused party would demand. I made no recantation whatever—begging your pardon, ma'am—nor did I admit that I had seen or encountered either deadlight, goblin, or bodach, much less that I had been so seriously terrified as your words imply."
"Well, after that, anything I" exclaimed Miss Grisilda, raising both her hands and eyes with astonishment, and appearing as the actual personification of surprise. "I appeal," she added with much emphasis, "to Miss Jacobina, to Miss Madelina, to Miss Johanna, and to all the other ladies and gentlemen who were present, if I have not faithfully reported your words. Did you not say, 'that if ever a sheeted ghost was seen in a churchyard, you saw one last night?' Answer me that, Captain Maclaine."
"Why, I must admit that I made use of words much to that import But I am glad, Miss Grisilda, that you remembered the if. 'There is much virtue in your ifs,' you know, and I see I must be much beholden to them on the present occasion. If ever a ghost was seen in a churchyard, I am still ready to allow that last night I did see one, and trembled