The Death Bree





There was once a woman, who lived in the Camp-del-more of Strathavon,

whose cattle were seized with a murrain, or some such fell disease, which

ravaged the neighbourhood at the time, carrying off great numbers of them

daily. All the forlorn fires and hallowed waters failed of their

customary effects; and she was at length told by the wise people, whom

she consulted on the occasion, that it was evidently the effect of some

infernal agency, the power of which could not be destroyed by any other

means than the never-failing specific--the juice of a dead head from the

churchyard,--a nostrum certainly very difficult to be procured,

considering that the head must needs be abstracted from the grave at the

hour of midnight. Being, however, a woman of a stout heart and strong

faith, native feelings of delicacy towards the sanctuary of the dead had

more weight than had fear in restraining her for some time from resorting

to this desperate remedy. At length, seeing that her stock would soon be

annihilated by the destructive career of the disease, the wife of Camp-

del-more resolved to put the experiment in practice, whatever the result

might be. Accordingly, having with considerable difficulty engaged a

neighbouring woman as her companion in this hazardous expedition, they

set out a little before midnight for the parish churchyard, distant about

a mile and a half from her residence, to execute her determination. On

arriving at the churchyard her companion, whose courage was not so

notable, appalled by the gloomy prospect before her, refused to enter

among the habitations of the dead. She, however, agreed to remain at the

gate till her friend's business was accomplished. This circumstance,

however, did not stagger the wife's resolution. She, with the greatest

coolness and intrepidity, proceeded towards what she supposed an old

grave, took down her spade, and commenced her operations. After a good

deal of toil she arrived at the object of her labour. Raising the first

head, or rather skull, that came in her way, she was about to make it her

own property, when a hollow, wild, sepulchral voice exclaimed, "That is

my head; let it alone!" Not wishing to dispute the claimant's title to

this head, and supposing she could be otherwise provided, she very good-

naturedly returned it and took up another. "That is my father's head,"

bellowed the same voice. Wishing, if possible, to avoid disputes, the

wife of Camp-del-more took up another head, when the same voice instantly

started a claim to it as his grandfather's head. "Well," replied the

wife, nettled at her disappointments, "although it were your

grandmother's head, you shan't get it till I am done with it." "What do

you say, you limmer?" says the ghost, starting up in his awry

habiliments. "What do you say, you limmer?" repeated he in a great rage.

"By the great oath, you had better leave my grandfather's head." Upon

matters coming this length, the wily wife of Camp-del-more thought it

proper to assume a more conciliatory aspect. Telling the claimant the

whole particulars of the predicament in which she was placed, she

promised faithfully that if his honour would only allow her to carry off

his grandfather's skull or head in a peaceable manner, she would restore

it again when done with. Here, after some communing, they came to an

understanding; and she was allowed to take the head along with her, on

condition that she should restore it before cock-crowing, under the

heaviest penalties.



On coming out of the churchyard and looking for her companion, she had

the mortification to find her "without a mouthful of breath in her body";

for, on hearing the dispute between her friend and the guardian of the

grave, and suspecting much that she was likely to share the unpleasant

punishments with which he threatened her friend, at the bare recital of

them she fell down in a faint, from which it was no easy matter to

recover her. This proved no small inconvenience to Camp-del-more's wife,

as there were not above two hours to elapse ere she had to return the

head according to the terms of her agreement. Taking her friend upon her

back, she carried her up a steep acclivity to the nearest adjoining

house, where she left her for the night; then repaired home with the

utmost speed, made dead bree of the head ere the appointed time had

expired, restored the skull to its guardian, and placed the grave in its

former condition. It is needless to add that, as a reward for her

exemplary courage, the "bree" had its desired effect. The cattle

speedily recovered, and, so long as she retained any of it, all sorts of

diseases were of short duration.





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