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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XIV

“Around swells mony a grassy heap,
Stan’s mony a sculptured stane;
An’ yet in a’ this peopled field
No being thinks but ana”—Anon.

The rains of the old chapel of St. Regulus occupy the edge of a narrow projecting angle, in which the burying-ground terminates towards the east. Accident and decay seem to have wrought their worst upon them. The greater part of the front wall has been swallowed up piecemeal by the ravine, which, from the continual action of the stream, and the rains, and snows, of so many winters, has been gradually widening and deepening, until it was at length reached the site of the building, and is now scooping out what was once the floor. The other walls have found enemies nearly as potent as the stream and the seasons, in the little urchins of the town, who, for the last two centuries, have been amusing themselves, generation after generation, in tearing out the stones, and rolling them down the sides of the eminence. What is now, however, only a broken-edged ruin, and a few shapeless mounds, was, three hundred years ago, a picturesque-looking, high-gabled house, of one story, perforated by a range of narrow, slit-like windows, and roofed with ponderous grey slate. A rude stone cross surmounted the eastern gable. Attached to the gable which fronted the west, there was a building roofed over like the chapel, but much superior to it in its style of masonry. It was the tomb of the Urquharts. A single tier of hewn ashlar, with a sloping basement, and surmounted by a Gothic moulding, are now almost its only remains ; but from the line of the foundation, which we can still trace on the sward, we see that it was laid out in the form of a square, with a double buttress rising at each of the angles. The area within is occupied by a mouldy half-dilapidated vault, partially filled with bones and the rubbish of the chapel.

A few yards farther away, and nearly level with the grass, there is an uncouth imitation of the human figure with the hands folded on the breast. It bears the name of the “ burnt cookand from time immemorial the children of the place spit on it as they pass. But though tradition bears evidence to the antiquity of the practice, it gives no account of its origin, or what perhaps might prove the same thing, of the character of the poor cook ; which we may infer, however, from the nature of the observance, to have been a bad one. I find it stated by Mr. Brady in his Clavis Galendaria, that as late as the last century it was customary, in some places of England, for people to spit every time they named the devil.

Viewed from the ruins, the tombstones of the burying-ground seem clustered together beneath the fence of trees which overtops the eminence on the west. I have compared them, in some of my imaginative moods, to a covey of waterfowl sleeping beside the long rank grass and rushes of a lake. They are mostly all fashioned in that heavy grotesque style of sculpture, which, after the Reformation had pulled down both the patterns and patrons of the stone-cutter, succeeded, in this part of the country, to the lighter and more elegant style of the time of the Jameses. The centres of the stones are occupied by the rude semblances of skulls and cross-bones, dead-bells and sandglasses, shovels and sceptres, coffins and armorial bearings; * while the inscriptions, rude and uncouth as the figures, run in continuous lines round the margins. They tell us, though with as little variety as elegance of phrase, that there is nothing certain in life except its termination ; and, taken collectively, read us a striking lesson on the vicissitudes of human affairs. For we learn from them that we have before us the burial-place of no fewer than seven landed proprietors, none of b whose families now inherit their estates. One of the inscriptions, and but only-one, has some little merit as a composition. It is simple and modest; and may be regarded, besides, as a specimen of the language and orthography of Cromarty in the reign of Charles II. It runs thus—

IANET • IONS™* • 1679 *

On the northern side of the burying-ground there is a low stone, sculptured like most of the others, but broken by some accident into three pieces. A few stinted shrubs of broom spread their tiny branches and bright blossoms over the figures; they are obscured, besides, by rank tufts of moss and patches of lichens ; but, despite of neglect and accident, enough of the inscription remains legible to tell us that we stand on the burial-place of one John Macleod, a merchant of Cromarty. He kept, besides, the principal inn of the place. He had an only son, a tall, and very powerful man, who was engaged, as he himself had been in his earlier days, in the free trade, and who, for a series of years, had set the officers of the revenue at defiance. Some time late in the reign of Queen Anne, he had succeeded in landing part of a cargo among the rocks of the hill of Cromarty, and in transporting it, night after night, from the cavern in which he had first secreted it, to a vault in his father’s house, which opened into the cellar. After concealing the entrance, he had seated himself beside the old man at the kitchen fire, when two revenue-officers entered the apartment, and taking their places "beside a table, called for liquor. Macleod drew his bonnet hastily over his brow, and edging away from the small iron lamp which lighted the kitchen, muffled himself up in the folds of his dreadnought greatcoat. His father supplied the officers. “Where is Walter, your son ?” inquired the better-dressed of the two, a tall, thin man, equipped in a three-cornered hat, and a blue coat seamed with gold lace; “I trust he does not still sail the Swacker.” “Maybe no,” said the old man dryly. “For I have just had intelligence,” continued the officer, “ that she was captured this morning by Captain Manton, after firing on her Majesty’s flag; and it will go pretty hard, I can tell you, with some of the crew.” A third revenue-officer now entered the kitchen, and going up to the table whispered something to the others. “ Please, Mr. Macleod,” said the former speaker to the innkeeper, “bring us a light, and the key of your cellar.” “And wherefore that?” inquired the old man; “show me your warrant. What would ye do wi’ the key?” “Nay, sir, no trifling; you brought here last night three cart-loads of Geneva, and stored them up in a vault below your cellar ; the key and a light.” There was no sign, however, of procuring either. “Away!” he continued, turning to the officer who had last entered; “away for a candle and a sledge-hammer!” He was just quitting the room when the younger Macleod rose from his seat, and took his stand right between him and the door. “Look ye, gentlemen,” he said in a tone of portentous coolness, “I shall take it upon me to settle this affair; you and I have met before now, and are a little acquainted. The man who first moves out of this place in the direction of the cellar, shall never move afterwards in any direction at all.” He thrust his hand, as he spoke, beneath the folds of his greatcoat, and seemed extricating some weapon from his belt. “In upon him, lads!” shouted out the tall officer, “devil though he be, he is but one; the rest are all captured.” In a moment, two of the officers had thrown themselves upon him; the third laid hold of his father. A tremendous struggle ensued;—the lamp was overturned and extinguished. The smuggler, with a Herculean effort, shook off both his assailants, and as they rushed in again to close with him, he dealt one of them so terrible a blow that he rolled, stunned and senseless, on the floor. The elder Macleod, a hale old man, had extricated himself at the same moment, and mistaking, in the imperfect light, his son for one of the officers, and the fallen officer for his son, he seized on the kitchen poker, and just as the champion had succeeded in mastering his other opponent, he struck at him from behind, and felled him in an instant. In less than half an hour after he was dead. The unfortunate old man did not long survive him; for after enduring, for a few days, the horrors of mingled grief and remorse, his anguish of mind terminated in insanity, and he died in the course of the month.

For some time after, the house he had inhabited lay without a tenant, and stories were circulated among the town’s-folks of it being haunted. One David Hood, a tailor of the place, was frightened almost out of his wits in passing it on a coarse winter night, when neither fire nor candle in the whole range of houses on either side, showed him that there was anybody awake in town but himself. A fearful noise seemed to proceed from one of the lower rooms, as if a party of men were engaged in some desperate struggle;—he could hear the dashing of furniture against the floor, and the blows of the assailants ; and after a dull hollow sound twice repeated, there was a fearful shriek, and a mournful exclamation in the voice of the deceased shopkeeper, “I have murdered my son ! I have murdered my son !” The house was occupied, notwithstanding, some years after, though little to the comfort of the tenants. Often were they awakened at midnight, it is said, by noises, as if every piece of furniture in the apartment was huddled into the middle of the floor, though in the morning not a chair or table would be found displaced; at times, too, it would seem as if some person heavily booted was traversing the rooms overhead; and some of the inmates, as they lay a-bed, have seen clenched fists shaken at them from outside the windows, and pale, threatening faces looking in upon them through half-open doors. There is one of the stories which, but for a single circumstance, I should deem more authentic, not merely than any of the others, but than most of the class to which it belongs. It was communicated to me by a sensible and honest man—a man, too, of very general information. He saw, he said, what he seriously believed to be the apparition of the younger Macleod; but as he was a child of only six years at the time, his testimony may, perhaps, be more rationally regarded as curiously illustrative of the force of imagination at a very early age, than as furnishing any legitimate proof of the reality of such appearances. He had a sister, a few years older than himself, who attended some of the younger members of the family, which tenanted, about sixty years ago, the house once occupied by the shopkeeper. One Sunday forenoon, when all the inmates had gone to church except the girl and her charge, he stole in to see her, and then amused himself in wandering from room to room, gazing at the furniture and the pictures. He at length reached one of the garrets, and was turning over a heap of old magazines in quest of the prints, when he observed something darken the door, and looking up, found himself in the presence of what seemed to be a very tall, broad-shouldered man, with a pale, ghastly countenance, and wrapt up in a brown dreadnought greatcoat. A good deal surprised, but not at all alarmed, for he had no thought at the time that the appearance was other than natural, he stepped down stairs and told his sister that there was a “muckle big man!’ the top of the house.” She immediately called in a party of the neighbours, who, emboldened by the daylight, explored every room and closet from the garrets to the cellar, but they saw neither the tall man nor the dreadnought greatcoat The old enclosure of the burying-ground, which seems originally to have been an earthen wall, has now sunk into a grassy mound, and on the southern and western sides some of the largest trees of the fence—a fine stately ash, fluted like a Grecian column, a huge elm roughened over with immense wens, and a low bushy larch with a bent twisted trunk, and weeping branches—spring directly out of it. At one place we see a flat tombstone lying a few yards outside the mound. The trees which shoot up on every side fling so deep a gloom over it during the summer and autumn months, that we can scarcely decipher the epitaph; and in winter it is not unfrequently buried under a wreath of withered leaves. By dint of some little" pains, however, we come to learn from the darkened and halfdilapidated inscription, that the tenant below was one Alexander Wood, a native of Cromarty, who died in the year 1690; and that he was interred in this place at his own especial desire. His wife and some of his children have taken up their places beside him; thus lying apart like a family of hermits; while his story—which, almost too wild for tradition itself, is yet as authentic as most pieces of written history—affords a curious explanation of the circumstance which directed their choice.

Wood was a man of strong passions, sparingly gifted with common sense, and exceedingly superstitious. No one could be kinder to one’s friends or relatives, or more hospitable to a stranger; but when once offended, he was implacable. He had but little in his power either as a friend or an enemy— his course through the world lying barely beyond the bleak edge of poverty. If a neighbour, however, dropped in by accident at meal-time, he would not be suffered to quit his house until he had shared with him his simple fare. There was benevolence in the very grasp of his hand and the twinkle of his eye, and in the little set speech, still preserved by tradition, in which he used to address his wife every time an old or mutilated beggar came to the door :—“Alms, gudewife,” he would say; “alms to the cripple, and the blind, and the broken-down.”

When injured or insulted, however, and certainly no one could do either without being very much in the wrong, there was a toad-like malignity in his nature, that would come leaping out like the reptile from its hole, and no power on earth could shut it up again. He would sit hatching his venom for days and weeks together with a slow, tedious, unoperative kind of perseverance, that achieved nothing. He was full of anecdote ; and, in all his stories, human nature was exhibited in only its brightest lights and its deepest shadows, without the slightest mixture of that medium tint which gives colour to its working, everyday suit. Whatever was bad in the better class, he transferred to the worse, and vice versa; and thus not even his narratives of the supernatural were less true to nature and fact than his narratives of mere men and women. And he dealt with the two classes of *stories after one fashion—lending the same firm belief to both alike.

In the house adjoining the one in which he resided, there lived a stout little man, a shoemaker, famous in the village for his great wit and his very considerable knavery. His jokes were mostly practical, and some of the best of them exceedingly akin to felonies. Poor Wood could not understand his wit, but, in his simplicity of heart, he deemed him honest, and would fain have prevailed on the neighbours to think so too. He knew it, he said, by his very look. Their gardens, like their houses, lay contiguous, and were separated from each other, not by a fence, but by four undressed stones laid in a line. Year after year was the garden of Wood becoming less productive; and he had a strange misgiving, but the thing was too absurd to be spoken of, that it was growing smaller every season by the breadth of a whole row of cabbages. On the one side, however, were the back walls of his own and his neighbour’s tenements; the four large stones stretched along the other; and nothing, surely, could be less likely than that either the stones or the houses should take it into their heads to rob him of his property. But the more he strove to exclude the idea the more it pressed upon him. He measured and remeasured to convince himself that it was a false one, and found that he had fallen on just the means of establishing its truth. The garden was actually growing smaller. But how1? Just because it was bewitched! It was shrinking into itself under the force of some potent enchantment, like a piece of plaiding in the fulling-mill. No hypothesis could be more congenial; and he would have held by it, perhaps, until his dying day, had it not been struck down by one of those chance discoveries which destroy so many beautiful systems and spoil so much ingenious philosophy, quite in the way that Newton’s apple struck down the vortices of Descartes.

He was lying a-bed one morning in spring, about day-break, when his attention was excited by a strange noise which seemed to proceed from the garden. Had he heard it two hours earlier, he would have wrapped up his head in the bedclothes and lain still; but now that the cock had crown, it could not, he concluded, be other than natural. Hastily throwing on part of his clothes, he stole warily to a back window, and saw, between him and the faint light that was beginning to peep out in the east, the figure of a man, armed with a lever, tugging at the stones. Two had already been shifted a full yard nearer the houses, and the figure was straining over a third. Wood crept stealthily out at the window, crawled on all fours to the intruder, and, tripping up his heels, laid him across his lever. It was his knavish neighbour the shoemaker. A scene of noisy contention ensued; groups of half-dressed town’s-folk, looming horrible in their shirts and nightcaps through the grey of morning, came issuing through the lanes and the closes; and the combatants were dragged asunder. And well was it for the shoemaker that it happened so; for-Wood, though in his sixtieth year, was strong enough, and more than angry enough, to have torn him to pieces. Now, however, that the warfare had to be carried on by words, the case was quite reversed.

“Neebours,” said the shoemaker, who had the double advantage of being exceedingly plausible, and decidedly in the wrong, “I’m desperately ill-used this morning—desperately ill-used•;— he would baith rob and murder me. I lang jaloused, ye see, that my wee bit o’ a yard was growing littler and littler ilka season; and, though no very ready to suspect folk, I just thought I would keep watch, and see wha was shifting the mark-stanes. Weel, and I did;—late and early did I watch for mair now than a fortnight; and wha did I see this morning through the back winnock but auld Sandy Wood there in his verra sark—Oh, it’s no him that has ony thought o’ his end!—poking the stones wi’ a lang kebar, intil the very heart o’ my gran’ h See,” said he, pointing to the one that had not yet been moved, “ see if he hasna shifted it a lang ell; and only notice the craft o’ the bodie in tirring up the yird about the lave, as if they had been a’ moved frae my side. Weel, I came out and challenged him, as wha widna?—says I, Sawney my man, that’s no honest; ril no bear that; and nae mair had I time to say, when up he flew at me like a wull-cat, and if it wasna for yoursels I daresay he would hae throttled me. Look how I am bleedin’;— and only look till him—look till the cankart deceitful bodie, if he has one word to put in for himsel’.”

There was truth in, at least, this last assertion; for poor Wood, mute with rage and astonishment, stood listening, in utter helplessness, to the astounding charge of the shoemaker, —almost the very charge he himself had to prefer. Twice did he spring forward to grapple with him, but the neighbours held him back, and every time he essayed to speak, his words —massed and tangled together, like wreaths of sea-weed in a hurricane—stuck in his throat. He continued to rage for three days after, and when the eruption had at length subsided, all his former resentments were found to be swallowed up, like the lesser craters of a volcano, in the gulf of one immense hatred.

His house, as has been said, lay contiguous to the house of the shoemaker, and he could not avoid seeing him, every time he went out and came in—a circumstance which he at first deemed rather gratifying than otherwise. It prevented his hatred from becoming vapid by setting it a-working at least ten times a day, as a musket would a barrel of ale if discharged into the bunghole. Its frequency, however, at length sickened him, and he had employed a mason to build a stone wall, which, by stretching from side to side of the close, was to shut up the view, when he sickened in right- earnest, and at the end of a few days found himself a-dying. Still, however, he was possessed by his one engrossing resentment. It mingled with all his thoughts of the past and the future ; and not only was he to carry it with him to the world to which he was going, but also to leave it behind him as a legacy to his children. Among his many other beliefs, there was a superstition, handed down from the times of the monks, that at the day of final doom all the people of the sheriffdom were to be judged on the moor of Navity; and both the judgment and the scene of it he had indissolubly associated with the shoemaker and the four stones. Experience had taught him the importance of securing a first hearing for his story; for was his neighbour, he concluded, to be beforehand with him, he would have as slight a chance of being righted at Navity as in his own garden. After brooding over the matter for a whole day, he called his friends and children round his bed, and raised himself on his elbow to address them.

“I’m wearing awa, bairns and neebours,” he said, “and it vexes me sair that that wretched bodie should see me going afore him. Mind, Jock, that ye’ll build the dike, and make it heigh, heigh, and stobbie on the top; and oh! keep him out o’ my lykewake, for should he but step in at the door, I’ll rise, Jock, frae the verra straiking-board, and do murder! Dinna let him so muckle as look on my coffin. I have been pondering a’ this day about the meeting at Navity, and the march-stanes; and I’ll tell you, Jock, how we’ll match him. Bury me ayont the saint’s dike on the Navity side, and dinna lay me deep. Ye ken the bonny green hillock, spreckled o’er wi’ gowans and puddock-flowers—bury me there, Jock; and yoursel’, and the auld wife, may just, when your hour comes, tak up your places beside me. We’ll a’ get up at the first tout—the ane helping the other; and I’se wad a’ I’m worth i’ the warld, we’ll be half-way up at Navity afore the shochlan, short-legged bodie wins o’er the dike.” Such was the dying injunction of Sandy Wood: and his tombstone still remains to testify that it was religiously attended to. An Englishman who came to reside in the parish, nearly an age after, and to whom the story must have been imparted in a rather imperfect manner, was shocked by what he deemed his unfair policy. The litigants, he said, should start together; he was certain it would be so in England where a fair field was all that would be given to St. Dunstan himself though he fought with the devil. And that it might be so here, he buried the tombstone of Wood in an immense heap of clay and gravel. It would keep him down, he said, until the little fellow would have clambered over the wall. The town’s-folk, however, who were better acquainted with the merits of the case, shovelled the heap aside; and it now forms two little hillocks which overtop the stone, and which, from the nature of the soil, are still more scantily covered with verdure than any part of the surrounding bank.

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