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Book of Scottish Story
The Ghost with the Golden Casket

By Allan Cunningham.


“Is my soul tamed
And baby-rid with the thought that flood or field
Can render back, to scare men and the moon,
The airy shapes of the corses they enwomb?
And what if 'tis so-shall I lose the crown
Of my most golden hope, ’cause its fair circle
Is haunted by a shadow?”

From the coast of Cumberland the beautiful old castle of Caerlaverock is seen standing on the point of a fine green promontory, bounded by the river Nith on one side, by the deep sea on another, by the almost impassable morass of Solway on a third; while, far beyond, you observe the three spires of Dumfries, and the high green hills of Dalswinton and Keir. It was formerly the residence of the almost princely names of Douglas, Seaton, Kirkpatrick, and Maxwell: it is now the dwelling-place of the hawk and the owl; its courts are a lair for cattle, and its walls afford a midnight shelter to the passing smuggler, or, like those of the city doomed in Scripture, are places for the fishermen to dry their nets. Between this fine old ruin and the banks of the Nith, at the foot of a grove of pines, and within a stone-cast of tide-mark, the remains of a rude cottage are yet visible to the curious eye; the bramble and the wild plum have in vain tried to triumph over the huge gray granite blocks, which composed the foundations of its walls. The vestiges of a small garden may still be traced, more particularly in summer, when roses and lilies, and other relics of its former beauty, begin to open their bloom, clinging, amid the neglect and desolation of the place, with something like human affection, to the soil. This rustic ruin presents no attractions to the eye of the profound antiquary, compared to those of its more stately companion, Caerlaverock Castle; but with this rude cottage and its garden, tradition connects a tale so wild and so moving, as to elevate it, in the contemplation of the peasantry, above all the princely feasts and feudal atrocities of its neighbour.

It is now some fifty years since I visited the parish of Caerlaverock ; but the memory of its people, its scenery, and the story of the Ghost with the Golden Casket, are as fresh with me as matters of yesterday. I had walked out to the river bank one sweet afternoon of July, when the fishermen were hastening to dip their nets in the coming tide, and the broad waters of the Solway sea were swelling and leaping against bank and cliff, as far as the eye could reach. It was studded over with boats, and its more unfrequented bays were white with water-fowl. I sat down on a small grassy mound between the cottage ruins and the old garden plot, and gazed, with all the hitherto untasted pleasure of a stranger, on the beautiful scene before me. On the right, and beyond the river, the mouldering relics of the ancient religion of Scotland ascended, in unassimilating beauty, above the humble kirk of New Abbey and its squalid village; farther to the south rose the white sharp cliffs of Barnhourie; while on the left stood the ancient Keeps of Cumlongan and Torthorald, and the Castle of Caerlaverock. Over the whole looked the stately green mountain of Criffel, confronting its more stately but less beautiful neighbour, Skiddaw; while between them flowed the deep wide sea of Solway, hemmed with cliff, and castle, and town.

As I sat looking on the increasing multitudes of waters, and watching the success of the fishermen, I became aware of the approach of an old man, leading, as one will conduct a dog in a string, a fine young milch cow, in a halter of twisted hair, which, passing through the ends of two pieces of flat wood, fitted to the animal’s cheek-bones, pressed her nose, and gave her great pain whenever she became disobedient. The cow seemed willing to enjoy the luxury of a browse on the rich pasture which surrounded the little ruined cottage ; but in this humble wish she was not to be indulged; for the aged owner, coiling up the tether, and seizing her closely by the head, conducted her past the tempting herbage towards a small and close-cropt hillock, a good stone-cast distant. In this piece of self-denial the animal seemed reluctant to sympathise—she snuffed the fresh green pasture, and plunged, and startled, and nearly broke away. What the old man’s strength seemed nearly unequal to was accomplished by speech :—

"Bonnie leddy, bonnie leddy," said he, in a soothing tone, "it canna be, it maunna be; hinnie! hinnie! what would become of my three-bonnie grandbairns, made fatherless and mitherless by that false flood afore us, if they supped milk, and tasted butter, that came from the greensward of this doomed and unblessed spot?"

The animal appeared to comprehend something in her own way from the speech of her owner: she abated her resistance ; and, indulging only in a passing glance at the rich deep herbage, passed on to her destined pasture.

I had often heard of the singular superstitions of the Scottish peasantry, and that every hillock had its song, every hill its ballad, and every valley its tale. I followed with my eye the old man and his cow : he went but a little way, till, seating himself on the ground, retaining still the tether in his hand, he said,—

"Now, bonnie leddy, feast thy till on this good greensward ; it is halesome and holy, compared to the sward at the doomed cottage of auld Gibbie Gyrape— leave that to smugglers nags: Willie o’ Brandyburn and roaring jock o’ Kemp stane will ca’ the Haunted Ha’ a hained ' bit—they are godless fearnoughts.”

I looked at the person of the peasant. He was a stout hale old man, with a weathenbeaten face, furrowed something by time, and perhaps by sorrow. ` Though summer was at its warmest, he wore a broad chequered mantle, fastened at the bosom with a skewer not steel; a broad bonnet, from beneath the circumference of which straggled a few thin locks, as white as driven snow, shining like amber, and softer than the finest flax ; while his legs were warmly cased in blue-ribbed boot-hose. Having laid his charge to the grass, he looked leisurely around him, and espying me,—a stranger, and dressed above the manner of the peasantry,—he acknowledged my presence by touching his bonnet; and, as if willing to communicate something of importance, he struck the tethered stake in the ground and came to the old garden fence.

Wishing to know the peasant’s reason for avoiding the ruins, I thus addressed him :—

"This is a pretty spot, my aged friend, and the herbage looks so fresh and abundant, that I would advise thee to bring thy charge hither; and while she continues to browse, I would gladly listen to the history of thy white locks, for they seem to have been bleached in many tempests.”

"Ay, ay," said the peasant, shaking his white head with a grave smile; “they have braved sundry tempests between sixteen and sixty; but touching this pasture, sir, I know of none who would like their cows to crop it: the aged cattle shun the place ;—the bushes bloom, but bear no fruit,—the birds never build in the branches, — the children never come near to play,—and the aged never choose it for a resting-place; but, pointing it out as they pass to the young, tell them the story of its desolation. Sae ye see, sir, having nae gude-will to such a spot of earth myself, I like little to see a stranger sitting in such an unblessed place; and I would as good as advise ye to come ower wi’ me to the cowslip knoll—there are reasons mony that an honest man shouldna sit there. ”

I arose at once, and seating myself beside the peasant on the cowslip knoll, desired to know something of the history of the spot from which he had just warned me. The old man looked on me with an air of embarrassment.

"I am just thinking," said he, " that, as ye are an Englishman, I shouldna acquaint ye wi’ such a story. Ye’ll mak it, I’m doubting, a matter of reproach and vaunt when ye gae hame, how Willie Borlan o’ Caerlaverock told ye a tale of Scottish iniquity, that cowed a’ the stories in southern book or history.”

This unexpected obstacle was soon removed.

"My sage and considerate friend,” I said, "I have the blood in my bosom that will keep me from revealing such a tale to the scoffer and the scorner. I am something of a Caerlaverock man—the grandson of Marion Stobie of Dookdub.”

The peasant seized my hand--- "Marion Stobie! bonnie Marion Stobie o’ Dookdub—whom I wooed sae sair, and loved sae lang !— Man, I love ye for her sake ; and well was it for her braw English bridegroom that William Borlan—frail and faded now, but strong and in manhood then—was a thousand miles from Caerlaverock, rolling on the salt sea, when she was brided. Ye have the glance of her ee, —I could ken it yet amang ten thousand, gray as my head is. I will tell the grandson of bonnie Marion Stobie ony tale he likes to ask for; and the story of the Ghost and the Gowd Casket shall be foremost."

"You may imagine then,” said the old Caerlaverock peasant, rising at once with the commencement of his story from his native dialect into very passable English — " you may imagine these ruined walls raised again in their beauty,—whitened, and covered with a coating of green broom; that garden, now desolate, filled with herbs in their season, and with flowers, hemmed round with a fence of cherry and plum trees; and the whole possessed by a young fisherman, who won a fair subsistence for his wife and children from the waters of the Solway sea : you may imagine it, too, as far from the present time as fifty years. There are only two persons living now, who remember when the Bonne Homme Richard—the first ship ever Richard Faulder commanded—was wrecked on the Pelock sands: one of these persons now addresses you, the other is the fisherman who once owned that cottage,—whose name ought never to be named, and whose life seems lengthened as a warning to the earth, how fierce God’s judgments are. Life changes — all breathing things have their time and their season; but the Solway flows in the same beauty--- Criffel rises in the same majesty—the‘light of morning comes, and the full moon arises now, as they did then ;—but this moralizing matters little. It was about the middle of harvest—I remember the day well; it had been sultry and suffocating, accompanied by rushings of wind, sudden convulsions of the water, and cloudings of the sun :—I heard my father sigh and say, ‘ Dool, dool to them found on the deep sea to-night ; there will happen strong storm and fearful tempest ! ’

"The day closed, and the moon came over Skiddaw: all was perfectly clear and still; frequent dashings and whirling agitations of the sea were soon heard mingling with the hasty clang of the water-fowls’ wings, as they forsook the waves, and sought shelter among the hollows of the rocks. The storm was nigh. The sky darkened down at once ; clap after clap of thunder followed ; and lightning flashed so vividly, and so frequent, that the wide and agitated expanse of Solway was visible from side to side—from St Bees to Barnhourie. A very heavy rain, mingled with hail, succeeded ; and a wind accompanied it, so fierce, and so high, that the white foam of the sea was showered as thick as snow on the summit of Caerlaverock Castle.

"Through this perilous sea, and amid this darkness and tempest, a bark was observed coming swiftly down the middle of the sea ; her sails rent, and her decks crowded with people. The ‘carry,’ as it is called, of the tempest was direct from St Bees to Caerlaverock ; and experienced men could see that the bark would be driven full on the fatal shoals of the Scottish side; but the lightning was so fierce that few dared venture to look on the approaching vessel, or take measures for endeavouring to preserve the lives of the unfortunate mariners. My father stood on the threshold of his door, and beheld all that passed in the bosom of the sea. The bark approached fast, her canvas rent to shreds, her masts nearly levelled with the deck, and the sea foaming over her so deep, and so strong, as to threaten to sweep the remains of her crew from the little refuge the broken masts and splintered beams still afforded them. She now seemed within half a mile of the shore, when a strong flash of lightning, that appeared to hang over the bark for a moment, showed the figure of a lady richly dressed, clinging to a youth who was pressing her to his bosom.

"My father exclaimed, ‘ Saddle me my black horse, and saddle me my gray, and bring them down to the Dead-man’s bank, ’—and, swift in action as he was in resolve, he hastened to the shore, his servants following with his horses. The shore of Solway presented then, as it does now, the same varying line of coast ; and the house of my father stood in the bosom of a little bay, nearly a mile distant from where we sit. The remains of an old forest interposed between the bay at Dead-man’s bank, and the bay at our feet; and mariners had learned to wish, that if it were their doom to be wrecked, it might be in the bay of douce William Borlan, rather than that of Gilbert Gyrape, the proprietor of that ruined cottage. But human wishes are vanities, wished either by sea or land. I have heard my father say, he could never forget the cries of the mariners, as the bark smote on the Pellock bank, and the flood rushed through the chasms made by the concussion ; but he could far less forget the agony of a lady—the loveliest that could be looked upon, and the calm and affectionate courage of the young man who supported her, and endeavoured to save her from destruction. Richard Faulder, the only man who survived, has often sat at my fireside, and sung me a very rude, but a very moving ballad, which he made on this young and unhappy pair ; and the old mariner assured me he had only added rhymes, and a descriptive line or two, to the language in which Sir William Musgrave endeavoured to soothe and support his wife." .

It seemed a thing truly singular, that at this very moment two young fishermen, who sat on the margin of the sea below us, watching their halve-nets, should sing, and with much sweetness, the very song the old man had described. They warbled verse and verse alternately; and rock and bay seemed to retain and then release the sound. Nothing is so sweet as a song by the seaside on a tranquil evening.


First Fisherman:-

"O lady, lady, why do you weep?
Tho’ the wind be loosed on the raging deep,
Tho’ the heaven be mirker than mirk may be,
And our frail bark ships a fearful sea,—
Yet thou art safe—as on that sweet night
When our bridal candles gleamed far and bright."—
There came a shriek, and there came a sound,
And the Solway roared, and the ship spun round.

Second Fisherman:-

“O lady, lady, why do you cry'?
Though the waves be flashing top-mast high,
Though our frail bark yields to the dashing brine,
And heaven and earth show no saving sign,
'There is One who comes in the time of need,
' And curbs the waves as we curb a steed.”—
The lightning came, with the whirlwind blast,
And cleaved the prow, and smote down the mast.

First Fisherman:-

" O lady, lady, weep not nor wail,
Though the sea runs howe as Dalswinton vale,
Then flashes high as Barnhourie brave,
And yawns for thee, like the yearning grave --
Tho’ twixt thee and the ravening flood
There is but my arm and this splintering wood,
The fell quicksand, or the famished brine,
Can ne’er harm a face so fair as thine.”


“ O lady, lady, be bold and brave,
Spread thy white breast to the fearful wave,
And cling to me with that white right hand,
And I’ll set thee safe on the good dry land.”
A lightning flash on the shallop strook,
The Solway roared, and Caerlaverock shook ;
From the sinking ship there were shriekings cast,
That were heard above the tempest’s blast.


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