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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 12. Grannie's Ghost Story
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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 12. Grannie's Ghost Story Post by :AdrianMansilla Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :860

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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 12. Grannie's Ghost Story

CHAPTER XII. GRANNIE'S GHOST STORY

Things went on very quietly. The glorious days of harvest came and went, and left the fields bare for the wintry revelling of great blasts. The potatoes were all dug up, and again buried--deeper than before, in pits, with sheets of straw and blankets of earth to protect them from the biting of the frost. Their stalks and many weeds with them were burned, and their ashes scattered. Some of the land was ploughed, and some left till the spring. Before the autumn rains the stock of peats was brought from the hill, where they had been drying through the hot weather, and a splendid stack they made. Coal was carted from the nearest sea-port, though not in such quantity as the laird would have liked, for money was as scarce as ever, and that is to put its lack pretty strongly. Everything available for firewood was collected, and, if of any size, put under saw and axe, then stored in the house. Good preparation was thus made for the siege of the winter.

In their poverty, partly no doubt from consideration, they seemed to be much forgotten. The family was like an old thistle-head, withering on its wintry stalk, alone in a wind-swept field. All the summer through not a single visitor, friend or stranger, had slept in the house. A fresh face was more of a wonder to Cosmo than to desert-haunting Abraham. The human heart, like the human body, can live without much variety to feed on, but its house is built on a lordly scale for hospitality, and is capable of welcoming every new face as a new revelation. Steadily Cosmo went to his day's work with the master, steadily returned to his home; saw nothing new, yet learned day by day, as he went and came, to love yet more, not the faces of the men and women only, but the aspects of the country in which he was born, to read the lines and shades of its varying beauty: if it was not luxuriant enough to satisfy his ideal, it had yet endless loveliness to disclose to him who already loved enough to care to understand it. When the autumn came, it made him sad, for it was not in harmony with the forward look of his young life, which, though not ambitious, was vaguely expectant. But when the hoar frosts appeared, when the clouds gathered, when the winds began to wail, and the snows to fall, then his spirits rose to meet the invading death. The old castle grew grayer and grayer outside, but ruddier and merrier within. Oh, that awful gray and white Scottish winter--dear to my heart as I sit and write with window wide open to the blue skies of Italy's December!

Cosmo kept up his morning bath in "the pot" as long as he could, but when sleet and rain came, and he could no longer dry himself by running about, he did not care for it longer, but waited for the snow to come in plenty, which was a sure thing, for then he had a substitute. It came of the ambition of hardy endurance, and will scarcely seem credible to some of my readers. In the depth of the winter, when the cold was at its strongest, provided only the snow lay pretty deep, he would jump from his warm bed with the first glimmer of the morning, and running out, in a light gray with the grayness of what is frozen, to a hollow on the hillside a few yards from the house, there pull off his night-garment, and roll in the snow, kneading handfuls of it, and rubbing himself with it all over. Thus he believed he strengthened himself to stand the cold of the day; and happily he was strong enough to stand the strengthening, and so increased his hardihood: what would have been death to many was to him invigoration. He knew nothing of boxing, or rowing, or billiards, but he could run and jump well, and ride very fairly, and, above all, he could endure. In the last harvest he had for the first time wielded a scythe, and had held his own with the rest, though, it must be allowed, with a fierce struggle. The next spring--I may mention it here--he not only held the plough, but by patient persistence and fearless compulsion trained two young bulls to go in it, saving many weeks' labour of a pair of horses. It filled his father with pride, and hope for his boy's coming fight with the world. Even the eyes of his grandmother would after that brighten at mention of him; she began to feel proud that she had a share in the existence of the lad: if he did so well when a hobbledehoy, he might be something by the time he was a man! But one thing troubled her: he was no sportsman; he never went out to hunt the otter, or to shoot hares or rabbits or grouse or partridges! and that was unnatural! The fact was, ever since that talk with the master about Linty, he could not bear to kill anything, and was now and then haunted by the dying eyes of the pigeon he shot the first time he handled a gun. The grandmother thought it a defect in his manhood that he did not like shooting; but, woman, and old woman as she was, his heart was larger and tenderer than hers, and got in the way of the killing.

His father had never troubled his young life with details concerning the family affairs; he had only let him know that, for many years, through extravagance and carelessness in those who preceded his father, things had been going from bad to worse. But this was enough to wake in the boy the desire, and it grew in him as he grew, to rescue what was left of the estate from its burdens, and restore it to independence and so to honour. He said nothing of it, however, to his father, feeling the presumption of proposing to himself what his father had been unable to effect.

He went oftener to the village this winter than before, and rarely without going to see Mistress Forsyth, whom he, like the rest, always called Grannie. She suffered much from rheumatism, which she described as a sorrow in her bones. But she never lost her patience, and so got the good of a trouble which would seem specially sent as the concluding discipline of old people for this world, that they may start well in the next. Before the winter set in, the laird had seen that she was provided with peats--that much he could do, because it cost him nothing but labour; and indeed each of the several cart-loads Cosmo himself had taken, with mare Linty between the shafts. But no amount of fire could keep the frost out of the old woman's body, or the sorrow out of her bones. Hence she had to be a good deal in bed, and needed her great-grandchild, Agnes, to help her to bear her burden. When the bitter weather came, soon after Christmas, Agnes had to be with her almost constantly. She had grown a little graver, but was always cheerful, and, except for anxiety lest her mother should be overworked, or her father take cold, seemed as happy with her grandmother as at home.

One afternoon, when the clouds were rising, and the wind blew keen from the north, Cosmo left Glenwarlock to go to the village--mainly to see Grannie. He tramped the two miles and a half in all the joy of youthful conflict with wind and weather, and reached the old woman's cottage radiant. The snow lay deep and powdery with frost, and the struggle with space from a bad footing on the world had brought the blood to his cheeks and the sparkle to his eyes. He found Grannie sitting up in bed, and Aggie getting her tea--to which Cosmo contributed a bottle of milk he had carried her--an article rare enough in the winter when there was so little grass for the cows. Aggie drew the old woman's chair to the fire for him, and he sat down and ate barley-meal scons, and drank tea with them. Grannie was a little better than usual, for every disease has its inconsistencies, and pain will abate before an access; and so, with storm at hand, threaded with fiery flying serpents for her bones, she was talking more than for days previous. Her voice came feebly from the bed to Cosmo's ears, while he leaned back in her great chair, and Aggie was removing the tea-things.

"Did ye ever dream ony mair aboot the auld captain, Cosmo?" she asked: from her tone he could not tell whether she spoke seriously, or was amusing herself with the idea.

"No ance," he answered. "What gars ye speir, Grannie?"

She said nothing for a few minutes, and Cosmo thought she had dismissed the subject. Aggie had returned to her seat, and he was talking with her about Euclid, when she began again; and this time her voice revealed that she was quite in earnest.

"Ye're weel nigh a man noo, Cosmo," she said. "A body may daur speyk to ye aboot things a body wadna be wullin' to say till a bairn for fear o' frichtin' o' 'im mair nor the bit hert o' 'm cud stan'. Whan a lad can warstle wi' a pair o' bills, an' get the upper han' o' them, an' gar them du his biddin', he wadna need to tak fricht at--" There she paused.

This preamble was enough in itself--not exactly to bring Cosmo's heart into his mouth, but to send a little more of his blood from his brain to his heart than was altogether welcome there. His imagination, however, was more eager than apprehensive, and his desire to hear far greater than his dread of the possible disclosure. Neither would he have turned his back on any terror, though he knew well enough what fear was. He looked at Aggie as much as to say, "What can be coming?" and she stared at him in turn with dilated pupils, as if something dreadful were about to be evoked by the threatened narrative. Neither spoke a word, but their souls got into their ears, and there sat listening. The hearing was likely to be frightful when so prefaced by Grannie.

"There's no guid ever cam' o' ca'in' things oot o' their ain names," she began, "an" it's my min' 'at gien ever ae man was a willain, an' gien ever ae man had rizzon no to lie quaiet whan he was doon, that man was your father's uncle--his gran' uncle, that is, the auld captain, as we ca'd him. Fowk said he saul' his sowl to the ill ane: hoo that may be, I wadna care to be able to tell; but sure I am 'at his was a sowl ill at ease,--baith here an' herefter. Them 'at sleepit aneth me, for there was twa men-servan's aboot the hoose that time--an' troth there was need o' them an' mair, sic war the gangin's on! an' they sleepit whaur I'm tauld ye sleep noo, Cosmo--them 'at sleepit there tellt me 'at never a nicht passed 'at they h'ardna soons 'aneth them 'at there was no mainner o' accoontin' for nor explainin', as fowks sae set upo' duin' nooadays wi' a'thing. That explainin' I canna bide: it's jist a love o' leasin', an' taks the bluid oot o' a'thing, lea'in' life as wersh an' fusionless as kail wantin' saut. Them 'at h'ard it tellt me 'at there was NO accoontin', as I tell you, for the reemish they baith h'ard--whiles douf-like dunts, an' whiles speech o' mou', beggin' an' groanin' as gien the enemy war bodily present to the puir sinner."

"He micht hae been but jabberin' in's sleep," Cosmo, with his love of truth, ventured to suggest: Aggie gave him a nudge of warning.

"Ay micht it," returned the old woman with calm scorn; "an' it micht nae doobt hae been snorin', or a cat speykin' wi' man's tongue, or ony ane o' mony things 'cep' the trowth 'at ye're no wullin' to hear."

"I AM wullin'--to hear the warst trowth ye daur tell me, Grannie," cried Cosmo, terrified lest he had choked the fountain. He was more afraid of losing the story than of hearing the worst tale that could be told even about the room he slept in last night, and must go back to sleep in again to-night.

Grannie was mollified, and went on.

"As I was sayin', he micht weel be ill at ease, the auld captain, gien ae half was true 'at was said o' 'im; but I 'maist think yer father coontit it priven 'at he had led a deevilich life amo' the pirates. Only, gien he did, whaur was the wauges o' his ineequity? Nae doobt he got the wauges 'at the apostle speyks o', whilk is, as ye well ken, deith--'the wauges o' sin is deith.' But, maistly, sic-like sinners get first wauges o' anither speckle frae the maister o' them. For troth! he has no need to be near in's dealin's wi' them, seein' there's nae buyin' nor sellin' whaur he is, an' a' the gowd he has doon yon'er i' the booels o' the yird, wad jist lie there duin' naething, gien he sent na 't up abune, whaur maist pairt it works his wull. Na, he seldom scrimps 't to them 'at follows his biddin'. But i' this case, whaur, I say, was the wauges? Natheless, he aye carriet himsel' like ane 'at cud lay doon the law o' this warl', an cleemt no sma' consideration; yet was there never sign or mark o' the proper fundation for sic assumption o' the richt to respec'.

"It turnt oot, or cam to be said,'at the Englishman 'at fowk believed to hae killt him, was far-awa' sib to the faimily, an' the twa had come thegither afore, somewhaur i' foreign pairts. But that's naither here nor there, nor what for he killed him, or wha's faut was that same: aboot a' that, naething was ever kent for certain.

"Weel, it was an awfu' like thing, ye may be sure, to quaiet fowk, sic as we was a'--'cep' for the drinkin' an' sic like, sin' ever the auld captain cam, wi' his reprobat w'ys--it was a sair thing, I'm sayin', to hae a deid man a' at ance upo' oor han's; for, lat the men du 'at they like, the warst o' 't aye comes upo' the women. Lat a bairn come to mischance, or the guidman turn ower the kettle, an' it's aye,'Rin for Jean this, or Bauby that,' to set richt what they hae set wrang. Even whan a man kills a body, it's the women hae to mak the best o' 't, an' the corp luik dacent. An' there's some o' them no that easy to mak luik dacent! Troth, there's mony ane luiks bonnier deid nor alive, but that wasna the case wi' the auld captain, for he luikit as gien he had dee'd cursin', as he bude to du, gien he dee'd as he lived. His moo' was drawn fearfu', as gien his last aith had chokit him. Nae doobt they said 'at wad hae't they kent,'at hoo that's the w'y wi' deith frae slayin' wi' the swoord; but I wadna hear o' 't; I kenned better. An' whether he had fair play or no, the deith he dee'd was a just ane; for them 'at draws the swoord maun periss by the swoord. Whan they faun' 'im, the richt ban' o' the corp was streekit oot, as gien he was cryin' to somebody rinnin' awa' to bide an' tak 'im wi' 'im. But there was anither at han' to tak 'im wi' 'im. Only, gien he tuik 'im that same nicht, he cudna hae carried him far.'Deed, maybe, the auld sinner was ower muckle aven for HIM.

"They brocht him hame, an' laid the corp o' him upo' his ain bed, whaur, I reckon, up til this nicht, he had tried mair nor he had sleepit. An' that verra nicht, wha sud I see--but I'm jist gaein' to tell ye a' aboot it, an' hoo it was, an' syne ye can say yersel's. Sin' my ain auld mither dee'd, I haena opent my moo' to mortal upo' the subjec'."

The eyes of the two listeners were fixed upon the narrator in the acme of expectation. A real ghost-story, from the lips of one they knew, and must believe in, was a thing of dread delight. Like ghosts themselves, they were all-unconscious of body, rapt in listening.

"Ye may weel believe," resumed the old woman after a short pause, "at nane o' 's was ower wullin' to sit wi' the corp oor lane, for, as I say, he wasna a comely corp to be a body's lane wi'. Sae auld auntie Jean an' mysel', we agreed 'at we wad tak the thing upo' oorsel's, for, huz twa, we cud lippen til ane anither no to be ower feart to min' 'at there was twa o' 's. There hadna been time yet for the corp to be laid intil the coffin, though, i' the quaiet o' the mirk, we thoucht, as we sat, we cud hear the tap-tappin' as they cawed the braiss nails intil't, awa' ower in Geordie Lumsden's chop, at the Muir o' Warlock, a twa mile, it wad be. We war sittin', auntie Jean an' mysel', i' the mids o' the room, no wi' oor backs til the bed, nor yet wi' oor faces, for we daurna turn aither o' them til't. I' the ae case, wha cud tell what we micht see, an' i' the ither, wha cud tell what micht be luikin' at hiz! We war sittin', I say, wi' oor faces to the door o' the room, an' auntie was noddin' a wee, for she was turnin' gey an' auld, but _I was as wide waukin' an ony baudrins by a moose-hole, whan suddent there came a kin' o' a dirlin' at the sneck,'at sent the verra sowl o' me up intil the garret o' my heid; an' afore I had time to ken hoo sair frichtit I was, the door begud to open; an', glower as I wad, no believin' my ain e'en, open that door did, langsome, langsome, quaiet, quaiet, jist as my auld Grannie used to tell o' the deid man comin' doon the lum, bit an' bit, an' jinin' thegither upo' the flure. I was turnt to stane, like,'at I didna believe I cud hae fa'en frae the cheir gien I had swarfed clean awa'. An' eh but it tuik a time to open that door! But at last, as sure as ye sit there, you twa, an' no anither,--"--At the word, Cosmo's heart came swelling up into his throat, but he dared not look round to assure himself that they were indeed two sitting there and not another--"in cam the auld captain, ae fit efter anither! Speir gien I was sure o' 'im! Didna I ken him as weel as my ain father--as weel's my ain minister--as weel as my ain man? He cam in, I say, the auld captain himsel'--an' eh, sic an evil luik!--the verra luik deith--frozen upo' the face o' the corp! The live bluid turned to dubs i' my inside. He cam on an' on, but no straucht for whaur we sat, or I dinna think the sma' rizzon I had left wad hae bidden wi' me, but as gien he war haudin' for 's bed. To tell God's trowth, for I daurna lee, for fear o' haein' to luik upo' 's like again, my auld auntie declaret efterhin 'at she saw naething. She bude til hae been asleep, an' a mercifu' thing it was for her, puir body! but she didna live lang efter. He made straucht for the bed, as I thoucht.' The Lord preserve's!' thoucht I,' is he gaein to lie doon wi' 's ain corp?' but he turnt awa', an' roon' the fit o' the bed to the ither side o' 't, an' I saw nae mair; an' for a while, auntie Jean sat her lane wi' the deid, for I lay upo' the flure, an' naither h'ard nor saw. But whan I came to mysel', wasna I thankfu' 'at I wasna deid, for he micht hae gotten me than, an' there was nae sayin' what he micht hae dune til me! But, think ye, wad auntie Jean believe 'at I had seen him, or that it was onything but a dream 'at had come ower me, atween waukin' an' sleepin'! Na, no she! for she had sleepit throu' 't hersel'!"

For some time silence reigned, as befitted the close of such a story. Nothing but the solemn tick of the tall clock was to be heard. On and on it went, as steady as before. Ghosts were nothing special to the clock: it had to measure out the time both for ghosts and unghosts.

"But what cud the ghaist hae been wantin'? No the corp, for he turnt awa', ye tell me, frae hit," Cosmo ventured at length to remark.

"Wha can say what ghaists may be efter, laddie! But, troth to tell, whan ye see live fowk sae gien ower to the boady,'at they're never happy but whan they're aitin' or drinkin' or sic like--an' the auld captain was seldom throu' wi' his glaiss,'at he wasna cryin' for the whisky or the het watter for the neist--whan the boady's the best half o' them, like, an' they maun aye be duin' something wi' 't, ye needna won'er 'at the ghaist o' ane sic like sud fin' himsel' geyan eerie an' lonesome like, wantin' his seck to fill, an' sae try to win back to hae a luik hoo it was weirin'."

"But he gaed na to the corp," Cosmo insisted.

"'Cause he wasna alloot," said Grannie. "He wad hae been intil't again in a moment, ye may be certain, gien it had been in his pooer. But the deevils cudna gang intil the swine wantin' leave."

"Ay, I see," said Cosmo.

"But jist ye speir at yer new maister," Grannie went on, "what he thinks aboot it, for I ance h'ard him speyk richt wise words to my gudeson, James Gracie, anent sic things. I min' weel 'at he said the only thing 'at made agen the viouw I tiuk--though I spakna o' the partic'lar occasion--was,'at naebody ever h'ard tell o' the ghaist o' an alderman, wha they say's some grit Lon'on man, sair gien to the fillin' o' the seck."

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