Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories
On the evening after the stained-glass 'windie' had been set up in the
new kirk and dedicated to the memory of Saint Cuthbert, the Reverend
Alexander Macgregor and his elder, Ringan Telfer, the ancient 'herd,'
sat together in the manse's little 'sanctum' or library, enjoying a
'crack,' a glass of whisky, and a pipe of tobacco.
'It's a gey an' useful thing a ghaist,' said Ring
n meditatively. 'It
fleys folk fine an' stirs up their conscience graund. I aince thocht I
caught a keek o' "Parcy" mysel', but I wasna muckle gliffed, for though
I ken fine I'm a sinner, I've naethin' particular on my conscience.
'Mind ye, I dinna ken whether 'twas a wraith I saw or no--for I'd been
first footin', ye ken, an' maybe I had a wee drappie i' my e'e.'
'Gey an' likely,' assented the Minister, nodding his head
sympathetically, and drawing deep upon his pipe.
'Onnyway, naethin' came o't,' continued Ringan, imbibing thoughtfully
from his glass, 'but what I'm thinkin' the noo is that aiblins anither
ghaist-gliff micht do a body I ken o' a guid turn.'
'There's many a body that micht be the better of a bit "gliff," but it
disna always last, and it's a daungerous game to play at. But wha is the
body?' inquired the Minister.
'It's a lang story,' replied the other, as he extracted a document from
his pocket, 'but gey easy to understand. Weel, this document is a bit
codicil to the will of a far-off cousin o' mine, but it wasna signed, as
ye'll note, and i' the eye o' the law, as they call it, o' nae value.
Noo the testator, Mistress Wallace, was a widow wi' a bit heritable
property the whilk she'd but a life interest in, but she had a bit
siller i' the bank, an' 'twas this she was leavin' awa different frae
her will by this bit codicil.
'The siller was twa hundred pounds, an' it was lyin' at the bank, and
the bank manager got it for various advice--ceevility an' attention paid
to Mistress Wallace.
'Weel, there was anither puir widdie--a far-off cousin o' hers, that had
a bairn born till her after her man died, and the puir widdie juist
askit Mistress Wallace to be its godmither.
'Noo Mistress Wallace had nae bairns o' her ain, ye ken, an' it
pleasured her fine to be a godmither to the fatherless bairn, but bein'
verra frail i' body, she didna get the codicil signed an' witnessed
before her "stroke."
'Weel, the doctor, he kenned aal about the hail matter, an' he gied the
puir widdie the bit paper, since he was managin' her bit affairs. He
thocht aiblins if the bank manager saw it he micht "pairt"--but deevil
a bodle wull he hand ower, though the doctor saw him himsel'.'
The Minister nodded his apprehension, then taking the pipe out of his
mouth, inquired, 'Wha was the puir widdie woman?'
'Ye'll ken my sister?' replied Ringan, gazing fixedly at the fire,
'Effie that was marrit on puir Jock Ord--a fine laddie he was--verra
knowledgeable wi' sheep, wha perished in a snowstorm, mindin' his
'She was left gey ill aff, an' noo wi' a bairn to provide for, hard pit
till 't. Twa hundred punds wull provide for his upbringin', an' aiblins
turn him into a meenister at the finish.'
'Ay,' replied the Minister,' I mind Effie well, puir decent body, for
didna I marry them? An' I heard tell o' her man's death, but I hadna
seen nither since they went herdin' ower the Carter Bar. But whaur does
the "ghaist" come intil the story?' inquired the speaker in conclusion.
Ringan continued to contemplate the fire with fixed attention, then
slowly delivered himself as follows:
'I'm hearin' that the Burnside Field Club wull be comin' up the water to
hold their meetin' here shortly, an' to view the Roman Camp. I mind they
were here ten years before, an' this year the president is the bank
manager doon at the auld toon, wha has gruppit the siller I've tell't ye
aboot. Weel, ye'll ken him, an' aiblins,' here the speaker took up the
bellows and thoughtfully assisted the fire's respiration, 'aiblins it
wud be a ceevil matter to offer to gie him a night's lodgin', for it's a
gey lang way up frae the auld toon, an' the manager's gettin' gey white
aboot the pow.'
Here the speaker laid down the bellows, then took up his glass
thoughtfully, drained it off slowly, and resumed his contemplation of
The Minister also refreshed himself, then, keenly watching his companion
from the tail of his eye, admitted an acquaintanceship with the bank
'Ay, I ken him. He's a verra decent body--a bit near maybe, an' terribly
superfeecial i' antiquarian knowledge. I mind I had a bit differ wi' him
the time he was last up at the Camp.
'But supposin' I was inclined to be ceevil till him--what then?'
'Then aiblins,' replied the elder, stooping and knocking the ashes from
his pipe against the fender, 'there micht be a bit gliff, an' this bit
paper micht come in gey useful by way o' stirrin' up his conscience the
whilk, I'm thinkin', has been growin' stiff i' his auld age. If it disna
there's nae harm dune.'
The Minister thrust out his legs, and gazed up at the ceiling.
'Was it Dr. Thomson that tended Effie, an' that saw the manager?'
'Ay, 'twas him,' replied his companion.
There was a pause of silence after this response, the elder gazing
abstractedly into the fire, the Minister surveying his ceiling, yet all
the while out of the tail of his eye keeping watch on his elder.
Ultra sardonic he was, reflected the watcher affectionately, intolerant,
plus Calviniste que Calvin meme--sceptical of the world, with
up-twisted eyebrows that seemed to signify a perpetual interrogation,
yet faithful unto death to his duty and his own ideals. He minded well
assisting to dig Ringan out of a snowdrift wherein he was seated, calmly
tending a ewe and her two tiny lambs.
'Aweel,' said the Minister, breaking the silence, 'I micht--be offerin'
hospitality to Macmanus, the banker; 'twould be the ceevil thing to do,
but if he comes he's my guest, ye ken--I maunna hae ony "frightfulness";
an' the cuddy wull be locked up.'
'Ay,' responded the other, 'an' sae wull the goat be.'
'I ken naethin' aboot that,' retorted the other, bringing his gaze down
from the ceiling to rest upon the swag-bellied green bottle on the table
'It's gettin' on intil the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal,"' he added;
'ye mun hae a "deoch-an-doruis" afore startin' "aff."'
'Deed, an' I wull,' replied Ringan, as he rose up and held out his
glass, whilst wrapping his plaid about his shoulders.
Fergus Macmanus, bank manager, amateur antiquary, and President of the
Burnside Field Club, accepted the invitation from the Reverend Alexander
Macgregor, and returned with him from the Roman Camp to the manse for
the night after a successful meeting, whereat he had given an address on
Castrametation and the Roman Wall, which had abundantly satisfied
himself, if not his host.
Macmanus was a short, thick-set, well-preserved man of some seventy
years of age, with a complexion reminiscent of Harvest Festival. His
Pauline motto of 'All things to all men' was a little impeded by an
assurance of infallibility which he founded upon his 'common-sense view
of things.' Hence after supper he proceeded to demonstrate to his host
that all the theorists were wrong; that he had walked along the line of
the wall and satisfied himself that wall and vallum were not
contemporaneous, and that if Hadrian had made any use of the vallum--an
early dyke or limes--it was merely for the screening of his troops
whilst the wall was building.
'Common sense,' retorted the Minister, 'willna tak ye verra far. Common
sense assures me the world is flat, an' stands stock still in the centre
'Common sense,' echoed his companion; 'man alive! why it includes the
use of all the rational faculties. What I mean is that folk get wedded
to a theory and disregard the practical side o' things. Noo the Romans
were first and foremost a practical people, as a'body kens. They made
sure o' their conquest, an' then built their wall, sae that the popular
theory that the vallum was a protection against the south is a' stuff
'Isna the result,' queried the Minister, 'that ye haud ane theory, ither
'If a thorough excavation were carried out many secrets micht be
discovered, but noo folks prefer to travel an' dig i' the remotest
pairts o' the earth, an' no' at home.'
'Aweel,' the Minister continued, with a sudden deft twist to the
conversation, 'it's no excavation o' the earth that's interestin' me the
noo--it's the excavation o' the mind. I have been readin' o' what a
clever doctor chield has accomplished i' Edinbro' by the pooer o' mind
'Ye mean Christian Science--Faith-Healing?' queried his companion
'Na, na,' returned the Minister, 'he ca's it Psycho-therapeutics--an'
has worked miracles by it. For an instance, he actually operated wi' the
knife on a puir body withoot any chloroform, ether, or anaesthetic
whatever--an' the patient ne'er had a wink o' pain under it. His
consciousness was under control, ye ken, directed clean awa from thocht
'I'd like to see the man that could mak me believe he'd gien me security
for his overdraft when he hadna,' interrupted his companion
'I think I hae heard o' the thing haein' been accomplished, natheless,'
returned the Minister with a twinkle in his eye.
'Man!' acknowledged the banker with a smile, 'but ye're gleg.'
The two men surveyed each other silently, like fencers awaiting feint or
lunge, when suddenly a peal of thunder echoed on the air and shook the
windows of the sanctum.
'A thunderstorm,' said the banker, 'i' the distance. Well, there's ane
thing I'd be glad to hear o' frae your new doctor, an' that is no' to be
gliffed by thunner an' lightin'. I was verra nigh struck by a flash when
I was a bairn oot fishin' for troots--an' I canna get the better o't.'
''Tis a lang way off,' replied the Minister, rising and looking out o'
window; 'weel, it's bedtime, I'm thinkin'. Ye mun juist have a night-cap
Nothing loath, his guest fortified himself handsomely, and was escorted
to his bedroom by his host.
Entering his own room, which was opposite the other, the Minister
proceeded to undress, leaving the door ajar advisedly, in the event of
any strategy of Ringan's contriving.
He lay awake some while in watchful expectation, but as the
thunderstorm had passed over and no other sound was audible, he shortly
fell sound asleep.
Suddenly he was roused by the most extraordinary noise. The manse seemed
to be shaken to its foundation.
He started up in bed. Could a flash of lightning have hit the chimney?
Then he saw a light without on the landing, heard footsteps, and a voice
calling him by name.
'Minister Macgregor,' it called. 'The house has been struck wi'
lightnin', I'm certain.'
The Minister hurried out on to the landing, and seeing his guest, by the
light of the candle which he held in his shaking hand, to be much
perturbed, endeavoured to comfort him.
'It was a fearfu' noise yon; it wakened me up oot o' the sleep o' the
just,' he said. 'I thocht the chimney mun have been stricken, but if
sae, stanes wud hae come through the roof. Maist likely the auld
ash-tree by the door has been stricken. Hark!' he added, 'I think the
storm's past, for it's rainin' hard enoo.'
Somewhat reassured, his guest was induced to return to bed, and after
the Minister left him he heard the door bolted behind him.
The Minister went back to his own bed, but this time he refused to lie
down, for he felt assured that Ringan was up to some fresh cantrip or
other, and he wished to forestall him.
The rain shortly ceased, and a faint moonlight showed itself through the
window. Almost at the same time the Minister was aware of stealthy soft
footings on the stairs without. Noiselessly he approached his open door,
and there he saw by the dim skylight a tall figure moving on stockinged
feet at the stair-head. Was it a burglar? he thought fearfully. 'No, it
was Ringan. But what on earth was he carrying?
Before he could interfere the tall figure set a dark object rolling down
the stairs with infernal reverberation, then sat himself down on what
seemed a tea-tray, and shot clattering into the gloomy deep.
The Minister turned and leaped into his bed, annoyed, yet shaken with
Another moment and he heard the door opposite unbolted, and a perturbed
but angry voice rose outside his door:
'What the devil are ye up to? Are ye playing a trick on me, Minister?
What was that fearfu' noise?'
'I'm playin' nae tricks on ye,' replied the Minister, as he opened the
door and stood face to face with his guest, whose face was plainly
agitated by fear and anger. 'It's either the storm, or aiblins a ghaist,
or else some one's playin' tricks on baith o' us.'
'Did ye no place this bit paper i' my room?' inquired his guest
wrathfully, holding up a document with his hand accusingly.
'What bit paper is 't?' inquired the Minister. 'I hae pit nae bit paper
i' your room.'
'Did Dr. Thomson o' the auld toon no' send ye this bit
waste-paper--codicil he called it, or come to see ye aboot it?'
'No, he didna,' replied the Minister, 'neither he nor any ither doctor
has been i' my manse yet, an' I hope never wull.'
'On your hon----' began the other. Then catching his host's gleaming
eye, said brokenly, 'It's the ---- Well--it's the most extraordinary
thing that ever happened to me i' my life. The ghastly noise--then to
find this bit paper lyin' i' my room.'
'What is the paper?' inquired the Minister. 'Can ye no hae brocht it wi'
Macmanus looked about him stricken and unnerved, the anger had died down
in his face, and he seemed to be seeking consolation.
'I'll tell ye the hail matter,' he decided impulsively, 'and what's
mair, I'll abide by your advice.'
Thereon very briefly he set forth the tale of the codicil, justified
himself on all legal grounds, and awaited the Minister's decision.
'Aweel, Macmanus,' replied the Minister slowly but decisively, 'as ye
ask my opeenion, aal I can say is that if I was i' your shoes I'd juist
forego my legal rights an' let the puir woman hae the twa hundred
'I believe you're richt,' replied the other; 'but if that ghastly noise
happens again I'll come and spend the rest o' the night i' your
'Come your ways in noo,' responded his host, 'and I'll get ye a drop
'Aweel,' murmured the listener with pricked ears, who sat beside gong
and tea-tray at the stair-foot, 'I'm thinkin if the Meenister's
Macchiavelli, the elder's Machiavelli-er.'