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The Haunted Ships






Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

"Though my mind's not
Hoodwinked with rustic marvels, I do think
There are more things in the grove, the air, the flood,
Yea, and the charnelled earth, than what wise man,
Who walks so proud as if his form alone
Filled the wide temple of the universe,
Will let a frail mind say. I'd write i' the creed
O' the sagest head alive, that fearful forms,
Holy or reprobate, do page men's heels;
That shapes, too horrid for our gaze, stand o'er
The murderer's dust, and for revenge glare up,
Even till the stars weep fire for very pity."

Along the sea of Solway, romantic on the Scottish side, with its
woodland, its bays, its cliffs, and headlands; and interesting on the
English side, with its many beautiful towns with their shadows on the
water, rich pastures, safe harbours, and numerous ships, there still
linger many traditional stories of a maritime nature, most of them
connected with superstitions singularly wild and unusual. To the curious
these tales afford a rich fund of entertainment, from the many
diversities of the same story; some dry and barren, and stripped of all
the embellishments of poetry; others dressed out in all the riches of a
superstitious belief and haunted imagination. In this they resemble the
inland traditions of the peasants; but many of the oral treasures of the
Galwegian or the Cumbrian coast have the stamp of the Dane and the
Norseman upon them, and claim but a remote or faint affinity with the
legitimate legends of Caledonia. Something like a rude prosaic outline
of several of the most noted of the northern ballads, the adventures and
depredations of the old ocean kings, still lends life to the evening
tale; and, among others, the story of the Haunted Ships is still popular
among the maritime peasantry.

One fine harvest evening I went on board the shallop of Richard Faulder,
of Allanbay, and, committing ourselves to the waters, we allowed a gentle
wind from the east to waft us at its pleasure towards the Scottish coast.
We passed the sharp promontory of Siddick, and, skirting the land within
a stonecast, glided along the shore till we came within sight of the
ruined Abbey of Sweetheart. The green mountain of Criffel ascended
beside us; and the bleat of the flocks from its summit, together with the
winding of the evening horn of the reapers, came softened into something
like music over land and sea. We pushed our shallop into a deep and
wooded bay, and sat silently looking on the serene beauty of the place.
The moon glimmered in her rising through the tall shafts of the pines of
Caerlaverock; and the sky, with scarce a cloud, showered down on wood and
headland and bay the twinkling beams of a thousand stars, rendering every
object visible. The tide, too, was coming with that swift and silent
swell observable when the wind is gentle; the woody curves along the land
were filling with the flood, till it touched the green branches of the
drooping trees; while in the centre current the roll and the plunge of a
thousand pellocks told to the experienced fisherman that salmon were
abundant.

As we looked, we saw an old man emerging from a path that wound to the
shore through a grove of doddered hazel; he carried a halve-net on his
back, while behind him came a girl, bearing a small harpoon, with which
the fishers are remarkably dexterous in striking their prey. The senior
seated himself on a large grey stone, which overlooked the bay, laid
aside his bonnet, and submitted his bosom and neck to the refreshing sea
breeze, and, taking his harpoon from his attendant, sat with the gravity
and composure of a spirit of the flood, with his ministering nymph behind
him. We pushed our shallop to the shore, and soon stood at their side.

"This is old Mark Macmoran the mariner, with his granddaughter Barbara,"
said Richard Faulder, in a whisper that had something of fear in it; "he
knows every creek and cavern and quicksand in Solway; has seen the
Spectre Hound that haunts the Isle of Man; has heard him bark, and at
every bark has seen a ship sink; and he has seen, too, the Haunted Ships
in full sail; and, if all tales be true, he has sailed in them
himself;--he's an awful person."

Though I perceived in the communication of my friend something of the
superstition of the sailor, I could not help thinking that common rumour
had made a happy choice in singling out old Mark to maintain her
intercourse with the invisible world. His hair, which seemed to have
refused all intercourse with the comb, hung matted upon his shoulders; a
kind of mantle, or rather blanket, pinned with a wooden skewer round his
neck, fell mid-leg down, concealing all his nether garments as far as a
pair of hose, darned with yarn of all conceivable colours, and a pair of
shoes, patched and repaired till nothing of the original structure
remained, and clasped on his feet with two massy silver buckles. If the
dress of the old man was rude and sordid, that of his granddaughter was
gay, and even rich. She wore a bodice of fine wool, wrought round the
bosom with alternate leaf and lily, and a kirtle of the same fabric,
which, almost touching her white and delicate ankle, showed her snowy
feet, so fairy-light and round that they scarcely seemed to touch the
grass where she stood. Her hair, a natural ornament which woman seeks
much to improve, was of bright glossy brown, and encumbered rather than
adorned with a snood, set thick with marine productions, among which the
small clear pearl found in the Solway was conspicuous. Nature had not
trusted to a handsome shape and a sylph-like air for young Barbara's
influence over the heart of man, but had bestowed a pair of large bright
blue eyes, swimming in liquid light, so full of love and gentleness and
joy, that all the sailors from Annanwater to far Saint Bees acknowledged
their power, and sang songs about the bonnie lass of Mark Macmoran. She
stood holding a small gaff-hook of polished steel in her hand, and seemed
not dissatisfied with the glances I bestowed on her from time to time,
and which I held more than requited by a single glance of those eyes
which retained so many capricious hearts in subjection.

The tide, though rapidly augmenting, had not yet filled the bay at our
feet. The moon now streamed fairly over the tops of Caerlaverock pines,
and showed the expanse of ocean dimpling and swelling, on which sloops
and shallops came dancing, and displaying at every turn their extent of
white sail against the beam of the moon. I looked on old Mark the
mariner, who, seated motionless on his grey stone, kept his eye fixed on
the increasing waters with a look of seriousness and sorrow, in which I
saw little of the calculating spirit of a mere fisherman. Though he
looked on the coming tide, his eyes seemed to dwell particularly on the
black and decayed hulls of two vessels, which, half immersed in the
quicksand, still addressed to every heart a tale of shipwreck and
desolation. The tide wheeled and foamed around them, and, creeping inch
by inch up the side, at last fairly threw its waters over the top, and a
long and hollow eddy showed the resistance which the liquid element
received.

The moment they were fairly buried in the water, the old man clasped his
hands together, and said: "Blessed be the tide that will break over and
bury ye for ever! Sad to mariners, and sorrowful to maids and mothers,
has the time been you have choked up this deep and bonnie bay. For evil
were you sent, and for evil have you continued. Every season finds from
you its song of sorrow and wail, its funeral processions, and its
shrouded corses. Woe to the land where the wood grew that made ye!
Cursed be the axe that hewed ye on the mountains, the hands that joined
ye together, the bay that ye first swam in, and the wind that wafted ye
here! Seven times have ye put my life in peril, three fair sons have ye
swept from my side, and two bonnie grand-bairns; and now, even now, your
waters foam and flash for my destruction, did I venture my infirm limbs
in quest of food in your deadly bay. I see by that ripple and that foam,
and hear by the sound and singing of your surge, that ye yearn for
another victim; but it shall not be me nor mine."

Even as the old mariner addressed himself to the wrecked ships, a young
man appeared at the southern extremity of the bay, holding his halve-net
in his hand, and hastening into the current. Mark rose and shouted, and
waved him back from a place which, to a person unacquainted with the
dangers of the bay, real and superstitious, seemed sufficiently perilous;
his granddaughter, too, added her voice to his, and waved her white
hands; but the more they strove, the faster advanced the peasant, till he
stood to his middle in the water, while the tide increased every moment
in depth and strength. "Andrew, Andrew," cried the young woman, in a
voice quavering with emotion, "turn, turn, I tell you! O the Ships, the
Haunted Ships!" But the appearance of a fine run of fish had more
influence with the peasant than the voice of bonnie Barbara, and forward
he dashed, net in hand. In a moment he was borne off his feet, and
mingled like foam with the water, and hurried towards the fatal eddies
which whirled and roared round the sunken ships. But he was a powerful
young man, and an expert swimmer; he seized on one of the projecting ribs
of the nearest hulk, and clinging to it with the grasp of despair,
uttered yell after yell, sustaining himself against the prodigious rush
of the current.

From a shealing of turf and straw, within the pitch of a bar from the
spot where we stood, came out an old woman bent with age, and leaning on
a crutch. "I heard the voice of that lad Andrew Lammie; can the chield
be drowning that he skirls sae uncannily?" said the old woman, seating
herself on the ground, and looking earnestly at the water. "Ou, ay," she
continued, "he's doomed, he's doomed; heart and hand can never save him;
boats, ropes, and man's strength and wit, all vain! vain!--he's doomed,

he's doomed!"

By this time I had thrown myself into the shallop, followed reluctantly
by Richard Faulder, over whose courage and kindness of heart superstition
had great power, and with one push from the shore, and some exertion in
sculling, we came within a quoitcast of the unfortunate fisherman. He
stayed not to profit by our aid; for, when he perceived us near, he
uttered a piercing shriek of joy, and bounded towards us through the
agitated element the full length of an oar. I saw him for a second on
the surface of the water, but the eddying current sucked him down; and
all I ever beheld of him again was his hand held above the flood, and
clutching in agony at some imaginary aid. I sat gazing in horror on the
vacant sea before us; but a breathing-time before, a human being, full of
youth and strength and hope, was there; his cries were still ringing in
my ears, and echoing in the woods; and now nothing was seen or heard save
the turbulent expanse of water, and the sound of its chafing on the
shores. We pushed back our shallop, and resumed our station on the cliff
beside the old mariner and his descendant.

"Wherefore sought ye to peril your own lives fruitlessly," said Mark, "in
attempting to save the doomed? Whoso touches those infernal ships never
survives to tell the tale. Woe to the man who is found nigh them at
midnight when the tide has subsided, and they arise in their former
beauty, with forecastle, and deck, and sail, and pennon, and shroud! Then
is seen the streaming of lights along the water from their cabin windows,
and then is heard the sound of mirth and the clamour of tongues, and the
infernal whoop and halloo and song, ringing far and wide. Woe to the man
who comes nigh them!"

To all this my Allanbay companion listened with a breathless attention. I
felt something touched with a superstition to which I partly believed I
had seen one victim offered up; and I inquired of the old mariner, "How
and when came these Haunted Ships there? To me they seem but the
melancholy relics of some unhappy voyagers, and much more likely to warn
people to shun destruction than entice and delude them to it."

"And so," said the old man with a smile, which had more of sorrow in it
than of mirth; "and so, young man, these black and shattered hulks seem
to the eye of the multitude. But things are not what they seem: that
water, a kind and convenient servant to the wants of man, which seems so
smooth and so dimpling and so gentle, has swallowed up a human soul even
now; and the place which it covers, so fair and so level, is a faithless
quicksand, out of which none escape. Things are otherwise than they
seem. Had you lived as long as I have had the sorrow to live; had you
seen the storms, and braved the perils, and endured the distresses which
have befallen me; had you sat gazing out on the dreary ocean at midnight
on a haunted coast; had you seen comrade after comrade, brother after
brother, and son after son, swept away by the merciless ocean from your
very side; had you seen the shapes of friends, doomed to the wave and the
quicksand, appearing to you in the dreams and visions of the night, then
would your mind have been prepared for crediting the maritime legends of
mariners; and the two haunted Danish ships would have had their terrors
for you, as they have for all who sojourn on this coast.

"Of the time and the cause of their destruction," continued the old man,
"I know nothing certain; they have stood as you have seen them for
uncounted time; and while all other ships wrecked on this unhappy coast
have gone to pieces, and rotted and sunk away in a few years, these two
haunted hulks have neither sunk in the quicksand, nor has a single spar
or board been displaced. Maritime legend says that two ships of Denmark
having had permission, for a time, to work deeds of darkness and dolor on
the deep, were at last condemned to the whirlpool and the sunken rock,
and were wrecked in this bonnie bay, as a sign to seamen to be gentle and
devout. The night when they were lost was a harvest evening of uncommon
mildness and beauty: the sun had newly set; the moon came brighter and
brighter out; and the reapers, laying their sickles at the root of the
standing corn, stood on rock and bank, looking at the increasing
magnitude of the waters, for sea and land were visible from Saint Bees to
Barnhourie. The sails of two vessels were soon seen bent for the
Scottish coast; and, with a speed outrunning the swiftest ship, they
approached the dangerous quicksands and headland of Borranpoint. On the
deck of the foremost ship not a living soul was seen, or shape, unless
something in darkness and form, resembling a human shadow could be called
a shape, which flitted from extremity to extremity of the ship, with the
appearance of trimming the sails, and directing the vessel's course. But
the decks of its companion were crowded with human shapes; the captain
and mate, and sailor and cabin-boy, all seemed there; and from them the
sound of mirth and minstrelsy echoed over land and water. The coast
which they skirted along was one of extreme danger, and the reapers
shouted to warn them to beware of sandbank and rock; but of this friendly
counsel no notice was taken, except that a large and famished dog, which
sat on the prow, answered every shout with a long, loud, and melancholy
howl. The deep sandbank of Carsethorn was expected to arrest the career
of these desperate navigators; but they passed, with the celerity of
water-fowl, over an obstruction which had wrecked many pretty ships.

"Old men shook their heads and departed, saying, 'We have seen the fiend
sailing in a bottomless ship; let us go home and pray;' but one young and
wilful man said, 'Fiend! I'll warrant it's nae fiend, but douce Janet
Withershins the witch, holding a carouse with some of her Cumberland
cummers, and mickle red wine will be spilt atween them. Dod I would
gladly have a toothfu'! I'll warrant it's nane o' your cauld sour slae-
water like a bottle of Bailie Skrinkie's port, but right
drap-o'-my-heart's-blood stuff, that would waken a body out of their last
linen. I wonder where the cummers will anchor their craft?' 'And I'll
vow,' said another rustic, 'the wine they quaff is none of your visionary
drink, such as a drouthie body has dished out to his lips in a dream; nor
is it shadowy and unsubstantial, like the vessels they sail in, which are
made out of a cockel-shell or a cast-off slipper, or the paring of a
seaman's right thumb-nail. I once got a hansel out of a witch's quaigh
myself--auld Marion Mathers, of Dustiefoot, whom they tried to bury in
the old kirkyard of Dunscore; but the cummer raise as fast as they laid
her down, and naewhere else would she lie but in the bonnie green
kirkyard of Kier, among douce and sponsible fowk. So I'll vow that the
wine of a witch's cup is as fell liquor as ever did a kindly turn to a
poor man's heart; and be they fiends, or be they witches, if they have
red wine asteer, I'll risk a drouket sark for ae glorious tout on't."

"'Silence, ye sinners,' said the minister's son of a neighbouring parish,
who united in his own person his father's lack of devotion with his
mother's love of liquor. 'Whist!--speak as if ye had the fear of
something holy before ye. Let the vessels run their own way to
destruction: who can stay the eastern wind, and the current of the Solway
sea? I can find ye Scripture warrant for that; so let them try their
strength on Blawhooly rocks, and their might on the broad quicksand.
There's a surf running there would knock the ribs together of a galley
built by the imps of the pit, and commanded by the Prince of Darkness.
Bonnily and bravely they sail away there, but before the blast blows by
they'll be wrecked; and red wine and strong brandy will be as rife as
dyke-water, and we'll drink the health of bonnie Bell Blackness out of
her left-foot slipper.'

"The speech of the young profligate was applauded by several of his
companions, and away they flew to the bay of Blawhooly, from whence they
never returned. The two vessels were observed all at once to stop in the
bosom of the bay, on the spot where their hulls now appear; the mirth and
the minstrelsy waxed louder than ever, and the forms of maidens, with
instruments of music and wine-cups in their hands, thronged the decks. A
boat was lowered; and the same shadowy pilot who conducted the ships made
it start towards the shore with the rapidity of lightning, and its head
knocked against the bank where the four young men stood who longed for
the unblest drink. They leaped in with a laugh, and with a laugh were
they welcomed on deck; wine-cups were given to each, and as they raised
them to their lips the vessels melted away beneath their feet, and one
loud shriek, mingled with laughter still louder, was heard over land and
water for many miles. Nothing more was heard or seen till the morning,
when the crowd who came to the beach saw with fear and wonder the two
Haunted Ships, such as they now seem, masts and tackle gone; nor mark,
nor sign, by which their name, country, or destination could be known,
was left remaining. Such is the tradition of the mariners; and its truth
has been attested by many families whose sons and whose fathers have been
drowned in the haunted bay of Blawhooly."

"And trow ye," said the old woman, who, attracted from her hut by the
drowning cries of the young fisherman, had remained an auditor of the
mariner's legend,--"And trow ye, Mark Macmoran, that the tale of the
Haunted Ships is done? I can say no to that. Mickle have mine ears
heard; but more mine eyes have witnessed since I came to dwell in this
humble home by the side of the deep sea. I mind the night weel; it was
on Hallowmas Eve; the nuts were cracked, and the apples were eaten, and
spell and charm were tried at my fireside; till, wearied with diving into
the dark waves of futurity, the lads and lasses fairly took to the more
visible blessings of kind words, tender clasps, and gentle courtship.
Soft words in a maiden's ear, and a kindly kiss o' her lip were old-world
matters to me, Mark Macmoran; though I mean not to say that I have been
free of the folly of daunering and daffin with a youth in my day, and
keeping tryst with him in dark and lonely places. However, as I say,
these times of enjoyment were passed and gone with me--the mair's the
pity that pleasure should fly sae fast away--and as I couldna make sport
I thought I should not mar any; so out I sauntered into the fresh cold
air, and sat down behind that old oak, and looked abroad on the wide sea.
I had my ain sad thoughts, ye may think, at the time: it was in that very
bay my blythe good-man perished, with seven more in his company; and on
that very bank where ye see the waves leaping and foaming, I saw seven
stately corses streeked, but the dearest was the eighth. It was a woful
sight to me, a widow, with four bonnie boys, with nought to support them
but these twa hands, and God's blessing, and a cow's grass. I have never
liked to live out of sight of this bay since that time; and mony's the
moonlight night I sit looking on these watery mountains and these waste
shores; it does my heart good, whatever it may do to my head. So ye see
it was Hallowmas Night, and looking on sea and land sat I; and my heart
wandering to other thoughts soon made me forget my youthful company at
hame. It might be near the howe hour of the night. The tide was making,
and its singing brought strange old-world stories with it, and I thought
on the dangers that sailors endure, the fates they meet with, and the
fearful forms they see. My own blythe goodman had seen sights that made
him grave enough at times, though he aye tried to laugh them away.

"Aweel, atween that very rock aneath us and the coming tide, I saw, or
thought I saw--for the tale is so dreamlike that the whole might pass for
a vision of the night,--I saw the form of a man; his plaid was grey, his
face was grey; and his hair, which hung low down till it nearly came to
the middle of his back, was as white as the white sea-foam. He began to
howk and dig under the bank; an' God be near me, thought I, this maun be
the unblessed spirit of auld Adam Gowdgowpin the miser, who is doomed to
dig for shipwrecked treasure, and count how many millions are hidden for
ever from man's enjoyment. The form found something which in shape and
hue seemed a left-foot slipper of brass; so down to the tide he marched,
and, placing it on the water, whirled it thrice round, and the infernal
slipper dilated at every turn, till it became a bonnie barge with its
sails bent, and on board leaped the form, and scudded swiftly away. He
came to one of the Haunted Ships, and striking it with his oar, a fair
ship, with mast and canvas and mariners, started up; he touched the other
Haunted Ship, and produced the like transformation; and away the three
spectre ships bounded, leaving a track of fire behind them on the billows
which was long unextinguished. Now wasna that a bonnie and fearful sight
to see beneath the light of the Hallowmas moon? But the tale is far frae
finished, for mariners say that once a year, on a certain night, if ye
stand on the Borran Point, ye will see the infernal shallops coming
snoring through the Solway; ye will hear the same laugh and song and
mirth and minstrelsy which our ancestors heard; see them bound over the
sandbanks and sunken rocks like sea-gulls, cast their anchor in Blawhooly
Bay, while the shadowy figure lowers down the boat, and augments their
numbers with the four unhappy mortals to whose memory a stone stands in
the kirkyard, with a sinking ship and a shoreless sea cut upon it. Then
the spectre ships vanish, and the drowning shriek of mortals and the
rejoicing laugh of fiends are heard, and the old hulls are left as a
memorial that the old spiritual kingdom has not departed from the earth.
But I maun away, and trim my little cottage fire, and make it burn and
blaze up bonnie, to warm the crickets and my cold and crazy bones that
maun soon be laid aneath the green sod in the eerie kirkyard." And away
the old dame tottered to her cottage, secured the door on the inside, and
soon the hearth-flame was seen to glimmer and gleam through the keyhole
and window.

"I'll tell ye what," said the old mariner, in a subdued tone, and with a
shrewd and suspicious glance of his eye after the old sibyl, "it's a word
that may not very well be uttered, but there are many mistakes made in
evening stories if old Moll Moray there, where she lives, knows not
mickle more than she is willing to tell of the Haunted Ships and their
unhallowed mariners. She lives cannily and quietly; no one knows how she
is fed or supported; but her dress is aye whole, her cottage ever smokes,
and her table lacks neither of wine, white and red, nor of fowl and fish,
and white bread and brown. It was a dear scoff to Jock Matheson, when he
called old Moll the uncanny carline of Blawhooly: his boat ran round and
round in the centre of the Solway--everybody said it was enchanted--and
down it went head foremost; and hadna Jock been a swimmer equal to a
sheldrake, he would have fed the fish. But I'll warrant it sobered the
lad's speech; and he never reckoned himself safe till he made old Moll
the present of a new kirtle and a stone of cheese."

"O father!" said his granddaughter Barbara, "ye surely wrong poor old
Mary Moray; what use could it be to an old woman like her, who has no
wrongs to redress, no malice to work out against mankind, and nothing to
seek of enjoyment save a canny hour and a quiet grave--what use could the
fellowship of fiends and the communion of evil spirits be to her? I know
Jenny Primrose puts rowan-tree above the door-head when she sees old Mary
coming; I know the good-wife of Kittlenaket wears rowan-berry leaves in
the headband of her blue kirtle, and all for the sake of averting the
unsonsie glance of Mary's right ee; and I know that the auld Laird of
Burntroutwater drives his seven cows to their pasture with a wand of
witch-tree, to keep Mary from milking them. But what has all that to do
with haunted shallops, visionary mariners, and bottomless boats? I have
heard myself as pleasant a tale about the Haunted Ships and their
unworldly crews as any one would wish to hear in a winter evening. It
was told me by young Benjie Macharg, one summer night, sitting on
Arbigland-bank: the lad intended a sort of love meeting; but all that he
could talk of was about smearing sheep and shearing sheep, and of the
wife which the Norway elves of the Haunted Ships made for his uncle
Sandie Macharg. And I shall tell ye the tale as the honest lad told it
to me.

"Alexander Macharg, besides being the laird of three acres of peatmoss,
two kale gardens, and the owner of seven good milch cows, a pair of
horses, and six pet sheep, was the husband of one of the handsomest women
in seven parishes. Many a lad sighed the day he was brided; and a
Nithsdale laird and two Annandale moorland farmers drank themselves to
their last linen, as well as their last shilling, through sorrow for her
loss. But married was the dame; and home she was carried, to bear rule
over her home and her husband, as an honest woman should. Now ye maun
ken that though the flesh-and-blood lovers of Alexander's bonnie wife all
ceased to love and to sue her after she became another's, there were
certain admirers who did not consider their claim at all abated, or their
hopes lessened by the kirk's famous obstacle of matrimony. Ye have heard
how the devout minister of Tinwald had a fair son carried away, and
wedded against his liking to an unchristened bride, whom the elves and
the fairies provided; ye have heard how the bonnie bride of the drunken
Laird of Soukitup was stolen by the fairies out at the back-window of the
bridal chamber, the time the bridegroom was groping his way to the
chamber door; and ye have heard--but why need I multiply cases? Such
things in the ancient days were as common as candle-light. So ye'll no
hinder certain water elves and sea fairies, who sometimes keep festival
and summer mirth in these old haunted hulks, from falling in love with
the weel-faured wife of Laird Macharg; and to their plots and
contrivances they went how they might accomplish to sunder man and wife;
and sundering such a man and such a wife was like sundering the green
leaf from the summer, or the fragrance from the flower.

"So it fell on a time that Laird Macharg took his halve-net on his back,
and his steel spear in his hand, and down to Blawhooly Bay gaed he, and
into the water he went right between the two haunted hulks, and placing
his net awaited the coming of the tide. The night, ye maun ken, was
mirk, and the wind lowne, and the singing of the increasing waters among
the shells and the peebles was heard for sundry miles. All at once light
began to glance and twinkle on board the two Haunted Ships from every
hole and seam, and presently the sound as of a hatchet employed in
squaring timber echoed far and wide. But if the toil of these unearthly
workmen amazed the laird, how much more was his amazement increased when
a sharp shrill voice called out, 'Ho, brother! what are you doing now?' A
voice still shriller responded from the other haunted ship, 'I'm making a
wife to Sandie Macharg!' And a loud quavering laugh running from ship to
ship, and from bank to bank, told the joy they expected from their
labour.

"Now the laird, besides being a devout and a God-fearing man, was shrewd
and bold; and in plot and contrivance, and skill in conducting his
designs, was fairly an overmatch for any dozen land elves; but the water
elves are far more subtle; besides their haunts and their dwellings being
in the great deep, pursuit and detection is hopeless if they succeed in
carrying their prey to the waves. But ye shall hear. Home flew the
laird, collected his family around the hearth, spoke of the signs and the
sins of the times, and talked of mortification and prayer for averting
calamity; and, finally, taking his father's Bible, brass clasps, black
print, and covered with calf-skin, from the shelf, he proceeded without
let or stint to perform domestic worship. I should have told ye that he
bolted and locked the door, shut up all inlet to the house, threw salt
into the fire, and proceeded in every way like a man skilful in guarding
against the plots of fairies and fiends. His wife looked on all this
with wonder; but she saw something in her husband's looks that hindered
her from intruding either question or advice, and a wise woman was she.

"Near the mid-hour of the night the rush of a horse's feet was heard, and
the sound of a rider leaping from its back, and a heavy knock came to the
door, accompanied by a voice, saying, 'The cummer drink's hot, and the
knave bairn is expected at Laird Laurie's to-night; sae mount, good-wife,
and come.'

"'Preserve me!' said the wife of Sandie Macharg, 'that's news indeed; who
could have thought it? The laird has been heirless for seventeen years!
Now, Sandie, my man, fetch me my skirt and hood.'

"But he laid his arm round his wife's neck, and said, 'If all the lairds
in Galloway go heirless, over this door threshold shall you not stir to-
night; and I have said, and I have sworn it; seek not to know why or
wherefore--but, Lord, send us thy blessed mornlight.' The wife looked
for a moment in her husband's eyes, and desisted from further entreaty.

"'But let us send a civil message to the gossips, Sandy; and hadna ye
better say I am sair laid with a sudden sickness? though it's sinful-like
to send the poor messenger a mile agate with a lie in his mouth without a
glass of brandy.'

"'To such a messenger, and to those who sent him, no apology is needed,'
said the austere laird; 'so let him depart.' And the clatter of a
horse's hoofs was heard, and the muttered imprecations of its rider on
the churlish treatment he had experienced.

"'Now, Sandie, my lad,' said his wife, laying an arm particularly white
and round about his neck as she spoke, 'are you not a queer man and a
stern? I have been your wedded wife now these three years; and, beside
my dower, have brought you three as bonnie bairns as ever smiled aneath a
summer sun. O man, you a douce man, and fitter to be an elder than even
Willie Greer himself, I have the minister's ain word for 't, to put on
these hard-hearted looks, and gang waving your arms that way, as if ye
said, "I winna take the counsel of sic a hempie as you;" I'm your ain
leal wife, and will and maun have an explanation.'

"To all this Sandie Macharg replied, 'It is written, "Wives, obey your
husbands"; but we have been stayed in our devotion, so let us pray;' and
down he knelt: his wife knelt also, for she was as devout as bonnie; and
beside them knelt their household, and all lights were extinguished.

"'Now this beats a',' muttered his wife to herself; 'however, I shall be
obedient for a time; but if I dinna ken what all this is for before the
morn by sunket-time, my tongue is nae langer a tongue, nor my hands worth
wearing.'

"The voice of her husband in prayer interrupted this mental soliloquy;
and ardently did he beseech to be preserved from the wiles of the fiends
and the snares of Satan; from witches, ghosts, goblins, elves, fairies,
spunkies, and water-kelpies; from the spectre shallop of Solway; from
spirits visible and invisible; from the Haunted Ships and their unearthly
tenants; from maritime spirits that plotted against godly men, and fell
in love with their wives--'

"'Nay, but His presence be near us!' said his wife, in a low tone of
dismay. 'God guide my gudeman's wits: I never heard such a prayer from
human lips before. But, Sandie, my man, Lord's sake, rise. What fearful
light is this? Barn and byre and stable maun be in a blaze; and Hawkie,
and Hurley, Doddie, and Cherrie, and Damsonplum will be smoored with
reek, and scorched with flame.'

"And a flood of light, but not so gross as a common fire, which ascended
to heaven and filled all the court before the house, amply justified the
good-wife's suspicions. But to the terrors of fire Sandie was as
immovable as he was to the imaginary groans of the barren wife of Laird
Laurie; and he held his wife, and threatened the weight of his right
hand--and it was a heavy one--to all who ventured abroad, or even
unbolted the door. The neighing and prancing of horses, and the
bellowing of cows, augmented the horrors of the night; and to any one who
only heard the din, it seemed that the whole onstead was in a blaze, and
horses and cattle perishing in the flame. All wiles, common or
extraordinary, were put in practice to entice or force the honest farmer
and his wife to open the door; and when the like success attended every
new stratagem, silence for a little while ensued, and a long, loud, and
shrilling laugh wound up the dramatic efforts of the night. In the
morning, when Laird Macharg went to the door, he found standing against
one of the pilasters a piece of black ship oak, rudely fashioned into
something like human form, and which skilful people declared would have
been clothed with seeming flesh and blood, and palmed upon him by elfin
adroitness for his wife, had he admitted his visitants. A synod of wise
men and women sat upon the woman of timber, and she was finally ordered
to be devoured by fire, and that in the open air. A fire was soon made,
and into it the elfin sculpture was tossed from the prongs of two pairs
of pitchforks. The blaze that arose was awful to behold; and hissings
and burstings and loud cracklings and strange noises were heard in the
midst of the flame; and when the whole sank into ashes, a drinking-cup of
some precious metal was found; and this cup, fashioned no doubt by elfin
skill, but rendered harmless by the purification with fire, the sons and
daughters of Sandie Macharg and his wife drink out of to this very day.
Bless all bold men, say I, and obedient wives!"





Next: The Brownie

Previous: Rory Macgillivray



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