Stories by English Authors in Scotland
Part 3 out of 3
recommendation of what they were pleased to call "the Glenmutchkin
system," and a hope that it might generally be carried out. What this
system was, I never clearly understood; but, of course, none of us had
any objections. This circumstance gave an additional impetus to the
shares, and they once more went up. I was, however, too cautious to
plunge a second time in to Charybdis, but M'Corkindale did, and again
emerged with plunder.
When the time came for the parliamentary contest, we all emigrated to
London. I still recollect, with lively satisfaction, the many pleasant
days we spent in the metropolis at the company's expense. There were
just a neat fifty of us, and we occupied the whole of a hotel. The
discussion before the committee was long and formidable. We were
opposed by four other companies who patronised lines, of which the
nearest was at least a hundred miles distant from Glenmutchkin; but as
they founded their opposition upon dissent from "the Glenmutchkin
system" generally, the committee allowed them to be heard. We fought
for three weeks a most desperate battle, and might in the end have
been victorious, had not our last antagonist, at the very close of his
case, pointed out no less than seventy-three fatal errors in the
parliamentary plan deposited by the unfortunate Solder. Why this was
not done earlier, I never exactly understood; it may be that our
opponents, with gentlemanly consideration, were unwilling to curtail
our sojourn in London--and their own. The drama was now finally
closed, and after all preliminary expenses were paid, sixpence per
share was returned to the holders upon surrender of their scrip.
Such is an accurate history of the Origin, Rise, Progress, and Fall of
the Direct Glenmutchkin Railway. It contains a deep moral, if anybody
has sense enough to see it; if not, I have a new project in my eye for
next session, of which timely notice shall be given.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
The Reverend Murdoch Soulis was long minister of the moorland parish
of Balweary, in the vale of Dule. A severe, bleak-faced old man,
dreadful to his hearers, he dwelt in the last years of his life,
without relative or servant or any human company, in the small and
lonely manse under the Hanging Shaw. In spite of the iron composure of
his features, his eye was wild, scared, and uncertain; and when he
dwelt, in private admonitions, on the future of the impenitent, it
seemed as if his eye pierced through the storms of time to the terrors
of eternity. Many young persons, coming to prepare themselves against
the season of the holy communion, were dreadfully affected by his
talk. He had a sermon on I Pet. V. 8, "The devil as a roaring lion,"
on the Sunday after every 17th of August, and he was accustomed to
surpass himself upon that text both by the appalling nature of the
matter and the terror of his bearing in the pulpit. The children were
frightened into fits, and the old looked more than usually oracular,
and were, all that day, full of those hints that Hamlet deprecated.
The manse itself, where it stood by the water of Dule among some thick
trees, with the Shaw overhanging it on the one side, and on the other
many cold, moorish hilltops rising toward the sky, had begun, at a
very early period of Mr. Soulis's ministry, to be avoided in the dusk
hours by all who valued themselves upon their prudence; and guidmen
sitting at the clachan alehouse shook their heads together at the
thought of passing late by that uncanny neighbourhood. There was one
spot, to be more particular, which was regarded with especial awe. The
manse stood between the highroad and the water of Dule, with a gable
to each; its bank was toward the kirktown of Balweary, nearly half a
mile away; in front of it, a bare garden, hedged with thorn, occupied
the land between the river and the road. The house was two stories
high, with two large rooms on each. It opened not directly on the
garden, but on a causewayed path, or passage, giving on the road on
the one hand, and closed on the other by the tall willows and elders
that bordered on the stream. And it was this strip of causeway that
enjoyed among the young parishioners of Balweary so infamous a
reputation. The minister walked there often after dark, sometimes
groaning aloud in the instancy of his unspoken prayers; and when he
was from home, and the manse door was locked, the more daring school-
boys ventured, with beating hearts, to "follow my leader" across that
This atmosphere of terror, surrounding, as it did, a man of God of
spotless character and orthodoxy, was a common cause of wonder and
subject of inquiry among the few strangers who were led by chance or
business into that unknown, outlying country. But many even of the
people of the parish were ignorant of the strange events which had
marked the first year of Mr. Soulis's ministrations; and among those
who were better informed, some were naturally reticent, and others shy
of that particular topic. Now and again, only, one of the older folk
would warm into courage over his third tumbler, and recount the cause
of the minister's strange looks and solitary life.
Fifty years syne, when Mr. Soulis cam' first into Ba'weary, he was
still a young man,--a callant, the folk said,--fu' o' book-learnin'
and grand at the exposition, but, as was natural in sae young a man,
wi' nae leevin' experience in religion. The younger sort were greatly
taken wi' his gifts and his gab; but auld, concerned, serious men and
women were moved even to prayer for the young man, whom they took to
be a self-deceiver, and the parish that was like to be sae ill
supplied. It was before the days o' the Moderates--weary fa' them; but
ill things are like guid--they baith come bit by bit, a pickle at a
time; and there were folk even then that said the Lord had left the
college professors to their ain devices, an' the lads that went to
study wi' them wad hae done mair and better sittin' in a peat-bog,
like their forebears of the persecution, wi' a Bible under their oxter
and a speerit o' prayer in their heart. There was nae doubt, onyway,
but that Mr. Soulis had been ower-lang at the college. He was careful
and troubled for mony things besides the ae thing needful. He had a
feck o' books wi' him--mair than had ever been seen before in a' that
presbytery; and a sair wark the carrier had wi' them, for they were a'
like to have smoored in the Deil's Hag between this and Kilmackerlie.
They were books o' divinity, to be sure, or so they ca'd them; but the
serious were o' opinion there was little service for sae mony, when
the hail o' God's Word would gang in the neuk of a plaid. Then he wad
sit half the day and half the nicht forby, which was scant decent--
writin', nae less; and first they were feard he wad read his sermons;
and syne it proved he was writin' a book himsel', which was surely no
fittin' for ane of his years an' sma' experience.
Onyway, it behooved him to get an auld, decent wife to keep the manse
for him an' see to his bit denners; and he was recommended to an auld
limmer,--Janet M'Clour, they ca'd her,--and sae far left to himsel' as
to be ower-persuaded. There was mony advised him to the contrar', for
Janet was mair than suspeckit by the best folk in Ba'weary. Lang or
that, she had had a wean to a dragoon; she hadnae come forrit for
maybe thretty year; and bairns had seen her mumblin' to hersel' up on
Key's Loan in the gloamin', whilk was an unco time an' place for a
God-fearin' woman. Howsoever, it was the laird himsel' that had first
tauld the minister o' Janet; and in thae days he wad have gane a far
gate to pleesure the laird. When folk tauld him that Janet was sib to
the deil, it was a' superstition by his way of it; and' when they cast
up the Bible to him, an' the witch of Endor, he wad threep it doun
their thrapples that thir days were a' gane by, and the deil was
Weel, when it got about the clachan that Janet M'Clour was to be
servant at the manse, the folk were fair mad wi' her an' him
thegether; and some o' the guidwives had nae better to dae than get
round her door-cheeks and chairge her wi' a' that was kent again' her,
frae the sodger's bairn to John Tamson's twa kye. She was nae great
speaker; folk usually let her gang her ain gait, an' she let them gang
theirs, wi' neither fair guid-e'en nor fair guid-day; but when she
buckled to, she had a tongue to deave the miller. Up she got, an'
there wasnae an auld story in Ba'weary but she gart somebody lowp for
it that day; they couldnae say ae thing but she could say twa to it;
till, at the hinder end, the guidwives up and claught haud of her, and
clawed the coats aff her back, and pu'd her doun the clachan to the
water o' Dule, to see if she were a witch or no, soum or droun. The
carline skirled till ye could hear her at the Hangin' Shaw, and she
focht like ten; there was mony a guid wife bure the mark of her neist
day an' mony a lang day after; and just in the hettest o' the
collieshangie, wha suld come up (for his sins) but the new minister.
"Women," said he (and he had a grand voice), "I charge you in the
Lord's name to let her go."
Janet ran to him--she was fair wud wi' terror--an' clang to him, an'
prayed him, for Christ's sake, save her frae the cummers; an' they,
for their pairt, tauld him a' that was kent, and maybe mair.
"Woman," says he to Janet, "is this true?"
"As the Lord sees me," says she, "as the Lord made me, no a word o'
't. Forby the bairn," says she, "I've been a decent woman a' my days."
"Will you," says Mr. Soulis, "in the name of God, and before me, His
unworthy minister, renounce the devil and his works?"
Weel, it wad appear that, when he askit that, she gave a girn that
fairly frichtit them that saw her, an' they could hear her teeth play
dirl thegether in her chafts; but there was naething for it but the ae
way or the ither; an' Janet lifted up her hand and renounced the deil
before them a'.
"And now," says Mr. Soulis to the guidwives, "home with ye, one and
all, and pray to God for His forgiveness."
And he gied Janet his arm, though she had little on her but a sark,
and took her up the clachan to her ain door like a leddy of the land,
an' her scrieghin' and laughin' as was a scandal to be heard.
There were mony grave folk lang ower their prayers that nicht; but
when the morn cam' there was sic a fear fell upon a' Ba'weary that the
bairns hid theirsel's, and even the men folk stood and keekit frae
their doors. For there was Janet comin' doun the clachan,--her or her
likeness, nane could tell,--wi' her neck thrawn, and her heid on ae
side, like a body that has been hangit, and a girn on her face like an
unstreakit corp. By-an'-by they got used wi' it, and even speered at
her to ken what was wrang; but frae that day forth she couldnae speak
like a Christian woman, but slavered and played click wi' her teeth
like a pair o' shears; and frae that day forth the name o' God cam'
never on her lips. Whiles she wad try to say it, but it michtnae be.
Them that kenned best said least; but they never gied that Thing the
name o' Janet M'Clour; for the auld Janet, by their way o' 't, was in
muckle hell that day. But the minister was neither to haud nor to
bind; he preached about naething but the folk's cruelty that had gien
her a stroke of the palsy; he skelpt the bairns that meddled her; and
he had her up to the manse that same nicht, and dwalled there a' his
lane wi' her under the Hangin' Shaw.
Weel, time gaed by, and the idler sort commenced to think mair lichtly
o' that black business. The minister was weel thocht o'; he was aye
late at the writing--folk wad see his can'le doon by the Dule Water
after twal' at e'en; and he seemed pleased wi' himsel' and upsitten as
at first, though a' body could see that he was dwining. As for Janet,
she cam' an' she gaed; if she didnae speak muckle afore, it was reason
she should speak less then; she meddled naebody; but she was an
eldritch thing to see, an' nane wad hae mistrysted wi' her for
About the end o' July there cam' a spell o' weather, the like o' 't
never was in that countryside; it was lown an' het an' heartless; the
herds couldnae win up the Black Hill, the bairns were ower-weariet to
play; an' yet it was gousty too, wi' claps o' het wund that rummled in
the glens, and bits o' shouers that slockened naething. We aye thocht
it but to thun'er on the morn; but the morn cam', an' the morn's
morning, and it was aye the same uncanny weather; sair on folks and
bestial. Of a' that were the waur, nane suffered like Mr. Soulis; he
could neither sleep nor eat, he tauld his elders; an' when he wasnae
writin' at his weary book, he wad be stravaguin' ower a' the country-
side like a man possessed, when a' body else was blithe to keep caller
ben the house.
Abune Hangin' Shaw, in the bield o' the Black Hill, there's a bit
enclosed grund wi' an iron yert; and it seems, in the auld days, that
was the kirkyaird o' Ba'weary, and consecrated by the papists before
the blessed licht shone upon the kingdom. It was a great howff, o' Mr.
Soulis's onyway; there he would sit an' consider his sermons' and
inded it's a bieldy bit. Weel, as he came ower the wast end o' the
Black Hill, ae day, he saw first twa, an' syne fower, an' syne seeven
corbie craws fleein' round an' round abune the auld kirkyaird. They
flew laigh and heavy, an' squawked to ither as they gaed; and it was
clear to Mr. Soulis that something had put them frae their ordinar. He
wasna easy fleyed, an' gaed straucht up to the wa's; and what suld he
find there but a man, or the appearance of a man, sittin' in the
inside upon a grave. He was of a great stature, an' black as hell, and
his een were singular to see. Mr. Soulis had heard tell o' black men,
mony's the time; but there was something unco abut this black man that
daunted him. Het as he was, he took a kind o' cauld grue in the marrow
o' his banes; but up he spak' for a' that; an' says he, "My friend,
are you a stranger in this place?" The black man answered never a
word; he got upon his feet, an' begude to hirsel to the wa' on the far
side; but he aye lookit at the minister; an' the minister stood an'
lookit back; till a' in a meenute the black man was ower the wa' an'
rinnin' for the bield o' the trees. Mr. Soulis, he hardly kenned why,
ran after him; but he was sair forjaskit wi' his walk an' the het,
unhalesome weather; and rin as he likit, he got nae mair than a glisk
o' the black man amang the birks, till he won doun to the foot o' the
hillside, an' there he saw him ance mair, gaun, hap, step, an' lowp,
ower Dule Water to the manse.
Mr. Soulis wasna weel pleased that this fearsome gangrel suld mak' sae
free wi' Ba'weary manse; an' he ran the harder, an' wet shoon, ower
the burn, an' up the walk; but the deil a black man was there to see.
He stepped out upon the road, but there was naebody there; he gaed a'
ower the gairden, but na, nae black man. At the hinder end, and a bit
feard as was but natural, he lifted the hasp and into the manse; and
there was Janet M'Clour before his een, wi' her thrawn craig, and nane
sae pleased to see him. And he aye minded sinsyne, when first he set
his een upon her, he had the same cauld and deidy grue.
"Janet," says he, "have you seen a black man?"
"A black man?" quo' she. "Save us a'! Ye 're no wise, minister.
There's nae black man in a' Ba'weary."
But she didna speak plain, ye maun understand; but yam-yammered, like
a powny wi' the bit in its moo.
"Weel," says he, "Janet, if there was nae black man, I have spoken
with the Accuser of the Brethren."
And he sat down like ane wi' a fever, an' his teeth chittered in his
"Hoots!" says she, "think shame to yoursel', minister," an' gied him a
drap brandy that she keept aye by her.
Syne Mr. Soulis gaed into his study amang a' his books. It's a lang,
laigh, mirk chalmer, perishin' cauld in winter, an' no very dry even
in the top o' the simmer, for the manse stands near the burn. Sae doun
he sat, and thocht of a' that had come an' gane since he was in
Ba'weary, an' his hame, an' the days when he was a bairn an' ran
daffin' on the braes; and that black man aye ran in his heid like the
owercome of a sang. Aye the mair he thocht, the mair he thocht o' the
black man. He tried the prayer, an' the words wouldnae come to him;
an' he tried, they say, to write at his book, but he couldnae mak' nae
mair o' that. There was whiles he thocht the black man was at his
oxter, an' the swat stood upon him cauld as well-water; and there was
other whiles when he cam' to himsel' like a christened bairn and
The upshot was that he gaed to the window an' stood glowrin' at Dule
Water. The trees are unco thick, an' the water lies deep an' black
under the manse; and there was Janet washing' the cla'es wi' her coats
kilted. She had her back to the minister, an' he for his pairt, hardly
kenned what he was lookin' at. Syne she turned round, an' shawed her
face; Mr. Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an'
it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang
syne, an' this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a
pickle and he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin' in the
cla'es, croonin' to hersel'; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a
fearsome face. Whiles she sang louder, but there was nae man born o'
woman that could tell the words o' her sang; an' whiles she lookit
sidelang doun, but there was naething there for her to look at. There
gaed a scunner through the flesh upon his banes; and that was Heeven's
advertisement. But Mr. Soulis just blamed himsel', he said, to think
sae ill of a puir auld afflicted wife that hadnae a freend forby
himsel'; an' he put up a bit prayer for him an' her, an' drank a
little caller water,--for his heart rose again' the meat,--an' gaed up
to his naked bed in the gloaming.
That was a nicht that has never been forgotten in Ba'weary, the nicht
o' the seeventeenth of August, seventeen hun'er' an' twal'. It had
been het afore, as I hae said, but that nicht it was hetter than ever.
The sun gaed doun amang unco-lookin' clouds; it fell as mirk as the
pit; no a star, no a breath o' wund; ye couldnae see your han' afore
your face, and even the auld folk cuist the covers frae their beds and
lay pechin' for their breath. Wi' a' that he had upon his mind, it was
gey and unlikely Mr. Soulis wad get muckle sleep. He lay an' he
tummled; the gude, caller bed that he got into brunt his very banes;
whiles he slept, and whiles he waukened; whiles he heard the time o'
nicht, and whiles a tike yowlin' up the muir, as if somebody was deid;
whiles he thocht he heard bogles claverin' in his lug, an' whiles he
saw spunkies in the room. He behooved, he judged, to be sick; an' sick
he was--little he jaloosed the sickness.
At the hinder end, he got a clearness in his mind, sat up in his sark
on the bedside, and fell thinkin' ance mair o' the black man an'
Janet. He couldnae weel tell how,--maybe it was the cauld to his feet,
--but it cam' in upon him wi' a spate that there was some connection
between thir twa, an' that either or baith o' them were bogles. And
just at that moment, in Janet's room, which was neist to his, there
cam' a stamp o' feet as if men were wars'lin', an' then a loud bang;
an' then a wund gaed reishling round the fower quarters of the house;
an' then a' was ance mair as seelent as the grave.
Mr. Soulis was feard for neither man nor deevil. He got his tinder-
box, an' lit a can'le, an' made three steps o' 't ower to Janet's
door. It was on the hasp, an' he pushed it open, an' keeked bauldly
in. It was a big room, as big as the minister's ain, an' plenished wi'
grand, auld, solid gear, for he had naething else. There was a fower-
posted bed wi' auld tapestry; and a braw cabinet of aik, that was fu'
o' the minister's divinity books, an' put there to be out o' the gate;
an' a wheen duds o' Janet's lying here and there about the floor. But
nae Janet could Mr. Soulis see, nor ony sign of a contention. In he
gaed (an' there's few that wad hae followed him), an' lookit a' round,
an' listened. But there was naethin' to be heard neither inside the
manse nor in a' Ba'weary parish, an' naethin' to be seen but the
muckle shadows turnin' round the can'le. An' then a' at aince the
minister's heart played dunt an' stood stock-still, an' a cauld wund
blew amang the hairs o' his heid. Whaten a weary sicht was that for
the puir man's een! For there was Janet hangin' frae a nail beside the
auld aik cabinet; her heid aye lay on her shouther, her een were
steeked, the tongue projecket frae her mouth, and her heels were twa
feet clear abune the floor.
"God forgive us all!" thocht Mr. Soulis, "poor Janet's dead."
He cam' a step nearer to the corp; an' then his heart fair whammled in
his inside. For--by what cantrip it wad ill beseem a man to judge--she
was hingin' frae a single nail an' by a single wursted thread for
It's an awfu' thing to be your lane at nicht wi' siccan prodigies o'
darkness; but Mr. Soulis was strong in the Lord. He turned an' gaed
his ways oot o' that room, and locket the door ahint him; and step by
step doon the stairs, as heavy as leed; and set doon the can'le on the
table at the stair-foot. He couldnae pray, he couldnae think, he was
dreepin' wi' caul' swat, an' naething could he hear but the dunt-dunt-
duntin' o' his ain heart. He micht maybe have stood there an hour, or
maybe twa, he minded sae little; when a' o' a sudden he heard a laigh,
uncanny steer upstairs; a foot gaed to an' fro in the cham'er whair
the corp was hingin'; syne the door was opened, though he minded weel
that he had lockit it; an' syne there was a step upon the landin', an'
it seemed to him as if the corp was lookin' ower the tail and doun
upon him whaur he stood.
He took up the can'le again (for he couldnae want the licht), and, as
saftly as ever he could, gaed straucht out o' the manse an' to the far
end o' the causeway. It was aye pit-mirk; the flame o' the can'le,
when he set it on the grund, brunt steedy and clear as in a room;
naething moved, but the Dule Water seepin' and sabbin' doon the glen,
an' yon unhaly footstep that cam' plodding' doun the stairs inside the
manse. He kenned the foot ower-weel, for it was Janet's; and at ilka
step that cam' a wee thing nearer, the cauld got deeper in his vitals.
He commended his soul to Him that made an' keepit him; "and, O Lord,"
said he, "give me strength this night to war against the powers of
By this time the foot was comin' through the passage for the door; he
could hear a hand skirt alang the wa', as if the fearsome thing was
feelin' for its way. The saughs tossed an' maned thegether, a long
sigh cam' ower the hills, the flame o' the can'le was blawn aboot; an'
there stood the corp of Thrawn Janet, wi' her grogram goun an' her
black mutch, wi' the heid aye upon the shouther, an' the girn still
upon the face o' 't,--leevin', ye wad hae said--deid, as Mr. Soulis
weel kenned,--upon the threshold o' the manse.
It's a strange thing that the saul of man should be thirled into his
perishable body; but the minister saw that, an' his heart didnae
She didnae stand there lang; she began to move again, an' cam' slowly
toward Mr. Soulis whaur he stood under the saughs. A' the life o' his
body, a' the strength o' his speerit, were glowerin' frae his een. It
seemed she was gaun to speak, but wanted words, an' made a sign wi'
the left hand. There cam' a clap o' wund, like a cat's fuff; oot gaed
the can'le, the saughs skrieghed like folk' an' Mr. Soulis kenned
that, live or die, this was the end o' 't.
"Witch, beldam, devil!" he cried, "I charge you, by the power of God,
begone--if you be dead, to the grave; if you be damned, to hell."
An' at that moment the Lord's ain hand out o' the heevens struck the
Horror whaur it stood; the auld, deid, desecrated corp o' the witch-
wife, sae lang keepit frae the grave and hirselled round by deils,
lowed up like a brunstane spunk and fell in ashes to the grund; the
thunder followed, peal on dirling peal, the rairing rain upon the back
o' that; and Mr. Soulis lowped through the garden hedge, and ran, wi'
skelloch upon skelloch, for the clachan.
That same mornin' John Christie saw the black man pass the Muckle
Cairn as it was chappin' six; before eicht, he gaed by the change-
house at Knockdow; an' no lang after, Sandy M'Lellan saw him gaun
linkin' doun the braes frae Kilmackerlie. There's little doubt but it
was him that dwalled sae lang in Janet's body; but he was awa' at
last; and sinsyne the deil has never fashed us in Ba'weary.
But it was a sair dispensation for the minister; lang, lang he lay
ravin' in his bed; and frae that hour to this, he was the man ye ken
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