Traditional Tales of the English and Scottish Peasantry/Ezra Peden

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I sat and watched while all men slept, and lo!
Between the green earth and the deep green sea
I saw bright spirits pass, pure as the touch
Of May's first finger on the eastern hill.
Behind them followed fast a little cloud;
And from the cloud an evil spirit came—
A damnéd shape—one who in the dark pit
Held sovereign sway; and power to him was given
To chase the blessed spirits from the earth,
And rule it for a season.
Soon he shed
His hellish slough, and many a subtle wile
Was his to seem a heavenly spirit to man.
First he a hermit, sore subdued in flesh,
O'er a cold cruse of water and a crust,
Poured out meek prayers abundant. Then he changed
Into a maid when she first dreams of man,
And from beneath two silken eyelids sent
The sidelong light of two such wondrous eyes,
That all the saints grew sinners. He subdued
Those wanton smiles, and grew a reverend dame,
With wintry ringlets, and grave lips, which dropt
Proverbial honey in her grandson's ear.
Then a professor of God's word he seemed,
And o'er a multitude of upturned eyes
Showered blessed dews, and made the pitchy path,
Down which howl damnéd spirits, seem the bright
Thrice hallowed way to Heaven. Yet grimly through
The glorious veil of those seducing shapes
Frowned out the fearful Spirit.

The religious legend which supplies my story with the motto affords me no farther assistance in arranging and interpreting the varying traditional remembrances of the colloquies between one of the chiefs of the ancient Presbyterian Kirk and one of the inferior spirits of darkness. It is seldom that tradition requires any illustration; its voice is clear, and its language simple—it seeks to conceal nothing: what it can explain it explains, and scorns, in the homely accuracy of its protracted details, all mystery and reservation. But in the present story there is much which the popular spirit of research would dread to have revealed; a something too mystical and hallowed to be sought into by a devout people. Often as I have listened to it, I never heard it repeated without mutual awe in the teller and the auditor. The most intrepid peasant becomes graver and graver as he proceeds, stops before the natural termination of the story, and hesitates to pry into the supernatural darkness of the tradition. It would be unwise therefore to seek to expound or embellish the legend—it shall be told as it was told to me: I am but as an humble priest responding from the traditionary oracles, and the words of other years pass without change from between my lips.

Ezra Peden was one of the shepherds of the early Presbyterian flock, and distinguished himself as an austere and enthusiastic pastor; fearless in his ministration, delighting in wholesome discipline, and guiding in the way of grace the peer as well as the peasant. He grappled boldly with the infirmities and sins of the times; he spared not the rod in the way of his ministry; and if in the time of peril he laid his hand on the sword, in the time of peace his delight was to place it on the horns of the altar. He spared no vice, he compounded with no sin, and he discussed men's claims to immortal happiness with a freedom which made them tremble. Amid the fervour of his eloquence, he aspired, like some of his fellow-professors of that period, to the prophetic mantle. Plain and simple in his own apparel, he counted the mitred glory and exterior magnificence of the hierarchy a sin and an abomination, and preferred preaching on a wild hill or in a lonesome glen to the most splendid edifice.

Wherever he sojourned, dance and song fled: the former he accounted a devoting of limbs, which God made, to the worship of Satan; the latter he believed to be a sinful meting out of wanton words to a heathen measure. Satan, he said, leaped and danced, and warbled and sung, when he came to woo to perdition the giddy sons and daughters of men. He dictated the colour and the cut of men's clothes—it was seemly for those who sought salvation to seek it in a sober suit—and the ladies of his parish were obliged to humble their finery, and sober down their pride, before his sarcastic sermons on female paintings, and plumings, and perfumings, and the unloveliness of lovelocks. He sought to make a modest and sedate grace abound among women; courtship was schooled and sermoned into church controversy, and love into mystical professions; the common civilities between the sexes were doled out with a suspicious hand and a jealous charity, and the primrose path through the groves of dalliance to the sober vale of marriage was planted with thorns and sown with briars.

He had other endowments not uncommon among the primitive teachers of the Word. In his day, the empire of the Prince of Darkness was more manifest among men than now, and his ministry was distinguished, like the reign of King Saul, by the persecution of witches, and elves, and evil spirits. He made himself the terror of all those who dealt in divinations, or consulted the stars, or sought to avert witchcraft by sinful spell and charm, instead of overcoming it by sorrowings and spiritual watchings. The midnight times of planetary power he held as the prime moments of Satan's glory on earth, and he punished Hallowmass revellers as chief priests in the infernal rites. He consigned to church censure and the chastening of rods a wrinkled dame who sold a full sea and a fair wind to mariners, and who insulted the Apostles, and made a mystical appeal to the twelve signs of Heaven in setting a brood goose with a dozen eggs. His wrath, too, was observed to burn against all those who compounded with witches, and people who carried evil influence in their eyes—this was giving tribute to the Fiend, and bribing the bottomless pit.

He rebuked a venerable dame, during three successive Sundays, for placing a cream bowl and new-baked cake in the paths of the nocturnal elves, who, she imagined, had plotted to steal her grandson from the mother's bosom. He turned loose many Scripture threatenings against those diminutive and capricious beings, the fairies, and sought to preach them from the land. He prayed on every green hill, and held communings in every green valley. He wandered forth at night, as a spiritual champion, to give battle to the enemies of the light. The fairies resigned the contest with a foe equipped from such an armoury, and came no more among the sons and daughters of men. The sound of their minstrelsy ceased on the hill; their equestrian processions were seen no more sweeping past at midnight beneath the beam of the half-veiled moon; and only a solitary and sullen elf or two remained to lament the loss of their immemorial haunts. With the spirits of evil men and the lesser angels of darkness he waged a fierce and a dubious war; he evoked an ancient ghost from a ruined tower, which it had shared for generations with the owl; and he laid or tranquillized a fierce and troubled spirit which haunted the abode of a miser in a neighbouring churchyard, and seemed to gibber and mumble over his bones. All these places were purified by prayer, and hallowed by the blessing of the gifted pastor, Ezra Peden.

The place of his ministry seemed fitted by nature, and largely endowed by history, for the reception and entertainment of all singular and personified beliefs. Part was maritime and part mountainous, uniting the aërial creeds of the shepherds with the stern and more imposing beliefs of the husbandman, and the wild and characteristic superstitions of the sailors. It often happened, when he had marched against and vanquished a sin or a superstition of native growth, he was summoned to wage war with a new foe; to contend with a legion of errors and a strange race of spirits from the haunted coasts of Norway and Sweden. All around him on every side were records of the mouldering influence of the enemies of faith and charity. On the hill, where the heathen Odin had appeared to his worshippers in the circle of granite, the pillars of his Runic temple promised to be immortal; but the god was gone, and his worship was extinct. The sword, the spear, and the banner had found sanctuary from fields of blood on several lofty promontories; but shattered towers and dismantled castles told that for a time hatred, oppression, and revenge had ceased to triumph over religion. Persecution, now passed and gone, a demon exorcised by the sword, had hallowed three wild hills and sanctified two little green valleys with the blood of martyrs. Their gravestones, bedded among heather or long grass, cried up to Heaven against their oppressors in verses which could not surely fail to elude the punishment awarded by the Kirk against poesy. Storms, and quicksands, and unskilful mariners, or, as common belief said, the evil spirits of the deep, had given to the dangerous coast the wrecks of three stately vessels; and there they made their mansions, and raised whirlwinds, and spread quicksands, and made sandbanks, with a wicked diligence which neither prayer nor preaching could abate. The forms under which these restless spirits performed their pranks have unfortunately been left undefined by a curious and a poetical peasantry.

It happened one winter, during the fifteenth year of the ministry of Ezra Peden, and in the year of grace 1705, that he sat by his fire pondering deep among the treasures of the ancient Presbyterian worthies, and listening occasionally to the chafing of the coming tide against cliff and bank, and the fitful sweep of heavy gusts of wind over the roof of his manse. During the day he had seemed more thoughtful than usual; he had consulted Scripture with an anxious care, and fortified his own interpretation of the sacred text by the wisdom of some of the chiefs and masters of the calling. A Bible, too, bound in black oak, and clasped with silver, from the page of which sin had received many a rebuke, and the abominations of witchcraft and sorcery had been cleansed from the land, was brought from its velvet sanctuary, and placed beside him. Thus armed and prepared, he sat like a watcher of old on the towers of Judah; like one who girds up his loins and makes bare his right arm for some fierce and dubious contest.

All this stir and preparation passed not unnoticed of an old man—his predecessor's coeval, and prime minister of the household; a person thin, religious, and faithful, whose gifts in prayer were reckoned by some old people nearly equal to those of the anointed pastor. To such a distinction Josiah never thought of aspiring; he contented himself with swelling the psalm into something like melody on Sunday, visiting the sick as a forerunner of his master's approach, and pouring forth prayers and graces at burials and banquetings as long and dreary as a hill sermon. He looked on the minister as something superior to man, a being possessed by a divine spirit; and he shook his head with all its silver hairs, and uttered a gentle groan or two, during some of the more rapt and glowing passages of Ezra's sermons.

This faithful personage stood at the door of his master's chamber, unwilling to go in, and yet loth to depart. "Josiah, thou art called, Josiah," said Ezra in a grave tone; "so come hither. The soul of an evil man, a worker of iniquity, is about to depart; one who drank the blood of saints, and made himself fat with the inheritance of the righteous. It hath been revealed to me that his body is sorely troubled; but I say unto you he will not go from the body without the strong compulsion of prayer, and therefore am I summoned to war with the enemy; so I shall arm me to the task."

Josiah was tardy in speech, and before he could reply, the clatter of a horse's hoofs was heard at the gate: the rider leaped down, and, splashed with mire and sprinkled with sleet, he stood in an instant before the minister. "Ah! sir," said the unceremonious messenger, "haste—snatch up the looms of redemption, and bide not the muttering of prayer, else auld Mahoun will haurl his friend Bonshaw to his cauldrons, body and saul, if he has nae him half-way hame already. God-sake, sir, start and fly, for he cannot shoot owre another hour!—he talks of perdition, and speaks about a broad road and a great fire, and friends who have travelled the way before him. He's no his lane, however, that's one comfort; for I left him conversing with an old cronie, whom no one saw but himself—ane whose bones are ripe and rotten; and mickle they talked of a place called Tophet, a hot enough region, if one can credit them; but I aye doubt the accounts of such travellers—they are like the spies of the land of promise——"

"Silence thy unreverent tongue, and think of thy latter end with fear and trembling," said Ezra, in a stern voice. "Mount thy horse, and follow me to the evil man, thy master; brief's the time, and black's the account, and stern and inexorable will the summoning angel be." And, leaping on their horses, they passed from the manse, and sought out the bank of a little busy stream, which, augmented by a fall of sleet, lifted up a voice amid its rocky and desolate glen equal to the clamour of a mightier brook. The glen or dell was rough with sharp and projecting crags, which, hanging forward at times from opposite sides, seemed to shut out all farther way; while from between their dark grey masses the rivulet leaped out in many divided streams. The brook again gathered together its waters, and subsided into several clear deep pools, on which the moon, escaping for a moment from the edge of a cloud of snow, threw a cold and wavering gleam. Along the sweeps of the stream a rough way, shaped more by nature than by the hands of man, winded among the rocks, and along this path proceeded Ezra, pondering on the vicissitudes of human life.

At length he came where the glen expanded, and the sides became steep and woody: amid a grove of decaying trees the mansion of Bonshaw rose, square and grey. Its walls of rough granite were high and massive; the roof, ascending steep and sharp, carried a covering of red sandstone flags; around the whole the rivulet poured its scanty waters in a deep moat, while a low-browed door, guarded by loopholes, gave it the character of a place of refuge and defence. Though decayed and war-worn now, it had in former times been a fair and a courtly spot. A sylvan nook or arbour, scooped out of the everlasting rock, was wreathed about with honeysuckles; a little pool, with a margin studded with the earliest primroses, lay at its entrance; and a garden, redeemed by the labour of man from the sterile upland, had its summer roses and its beds of lilies, all bearing token of some gentle and departed inhabitant.

As he approached the house a candle glimmered in a small square window, and threw a line or two of straggling light along the path. At the foot of the decayed porch he observed the figure of a man kneeling, and presently he heard a voice chanting what sounded like a psalm or a lyke-wake hymn. Ezra alighted, and approached: the form seemed insensible of his presence, but stretched his hands towards the tower; and while the feathery snow descended on his grey hair, he poured his song forth in a slow and melancholy manner. "I protest," said the messenger, "here kneels old William Cameron, the Covenanter. Hearken, he pours out some odd old-world malison against Bonshaw. I have heard that the laird hunted him long and sore in his youth, slew his sons, burned his house, threw his two bonnie daughters desolate—that was nae gentle deed, however—and brake the old mother's heart with downright sorrow. Sae I canna much blame the dour old carle for remembering it even now, though the candles of Bonshaw are burning in the socket, and his light will be extinguished for ever. Let us hearken his psalm or his song; it is no every winter night we have minstrelsy at Bonshaw gate, I can tell ye that." The following are the verses, which have been preserved under the title of "Ane godly exultation of William Cameron, a chosen vessel, over Bonshaw, the persecutor." I have adopted a plainer but a less descriptive title.


The wind is cold, the snow falls fast,
The night is dark and late,
As I lift aloud my voice and cry
By the oppressor's gate.
There is a voice in every hill,
A tongue in every stone;
The greenwood sings a song of joy,
Since thou art dead and gone;
A poet's voice is in each mouth,
And songs of triumph swell,
Glad songs that tell the gladsome earth
The downfall of Dalzell.

As I raised up my voice to sing
I heard the green earth say,
Sweet am I now to beast and bird,
Since thou art passed away:
I hear no more the battle-shout,
The martyrs' dying moans;
My cottages and cities sing
From their foundation-stones;
The carbine and the culverin's mute—
The deathshot and the yell
Are turned into a hymn of joy,
For thy downfall, Dalzell.

I've trod thy banner in the dust,
And caused the raven call
From thy bride-chamber to the owl
Hatched on thy castle wall;
I've made thy minstrels' music dumb,
And silent now to fame
Art thou, save when the orphan casts
His curses on thy name.
Now thou mayst say to good men's prayers
A long and last farewell:
There's hope for every sin save thine—
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

The grim pit opes for thee her gates,
Where punished spirits wail,
And ghastly death throws wide her door,
And hails thee with a Hail!
Deep from the grave there comes a voice,
A voice with hollow tones,
Such as a spirit's tongue would have
That spoke through hollow bones:
"Arise, ye martyred men, and shout
From earth to howling hell;
He comes, the persecutor comes!
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"

O'er an old battlefield there rushed
A wind, and with a moan
The severed limbs all rustling rose,
Even fellow-bone to bone.
"Lo! there he goes," I heard them cry,
"Like babe in swathing-band,
Who shook the temples of the Lord,
And passed them 'neath his brand.
Cursed be the spot where he was born,
There let the adders dwell,
And from his father's hearthstone hiss:
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"

I saw thee growing like a tree—
Thy green head touched the sky—
But birds far from thy branches built,
The wild deer passed thee by;
No golden dew dropt on thy bough,
Glad summer scorned to grace
Thee with her flowers, nor shepherds wooed
Beside thy dwelling-place:
The axe has come and hewn thee down,
Nor left one shoot to tell
Where all thy stately glory grew:
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

An ancient man stands by thy gate,
His head like thine is grey;
Grey with the woes of many years,
Years fourscore and a day.
Five brave and stately sons were his;
Two daughters, sweet and rare;
An old dame, dearer than them all,
And lands both broad and fair:
Two broke their hearts when two were slain,
And three in battle fell —
An old man's curse shall cling to thee:
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

And yet I sigh to think of thee,
A warrior tried and true
As ever spurred a steed, when thick
The splintering lances flew.
I saw thee in thy stirrups stand,
And hew thy foes down fast,
When Grierson fled, and Maxwell failed,
And Gordon stood aghast,
And Graeme, saved by thy sword, raged fierce
As one redeemed from hell.
I came to curse thee—and I weep:
So go in peace, Dalzell!

When this wild and unusual rhyme concluded, the Cameronian arose and departed, and Ezra and his conductor entered the chamber of the dying man.

He found him stretched on a couch of state, more like a warrior cut in marble than a breathing being. He had still a stern and a martial look, and his tall and stalwart frame retained something of that ancient exterior beauty for which his youth was renowned. His helmet, spoiled by time of its plumage, was placed on his head; a rusty corslet was on his bosom; in his arms, like a bride, lay his broad and famous sword; and as he looked at it, the battles of his youth passed in array before him. Armour and arms hung grouped along the walls, and banners, covered with many a quaint and devotional device, waved in their places as the domestic closed the door on Ezra and the dying warrior in the chamber of presence.

The devout man stood and regarded his ancient parishioner with a meek and sorrowful look; but nothing visible or present employed Bonshaw's reflections or moved his spirit—his thoughts had wandered back to earlier years, and to scenes of peril and blood. He imagined himself at the head of his horsemen in the hottest period of the persecution, chasing the people from rock to rock, and from glen to cavern. His imagination had presented to his eye the destruction of the children of William Cameron: he addressed their mother in a tone of ironical supplication: "Woman, where is thy devout husband, and thy five holy sons? Are they busied in interminable prayers or everlasting sermons? Whisper it in mine ear, woman—thou hast made that reservation doubtless in thy promise of concealment. Come, else I will wrench the truth out of thee with these gentle catechists, the thumscrew and the bootikin. Serving the Lord, sayest thou, woman? Why, that is rebelling against the king. Come, come, a better answer, else I'll make thee a bride for a saint on a bloody bed of heather." Here he paused and waved his hand like a warrior at the head of armed men, and thus he continued: "Come, uncock thy carbine, and harm not the woman till she hear the good tidings. Sister, saint, how many bairns have ye? I bless God, saith she, five—Reuben, Simon, Levi, Praisegod, and Patrick. A bonny generation, woman. Here, soldier, remove the bandages from the faces of those two young men before ye shoot them. There stands Patrick, and that other is Simon: dost thou see the youngest of thy affections? The other three are in Sarah's bosom—thyself shall go to Abraham's. The woman looks as if she doubted me: here, toss to her those three heads—often have they lain in her lap, and mickle have they prayed in their time. Out, thou simpleton! Canst thou not endure the sight of the heads of thine own fair-haired sons, the smell of powder, and the flash of a couple of carbines?"

The re-acting of that ancient tragedy seemed to exhaust for a little while the old persecutor: he next imagined himself receiving the secret instructions of the Council. "What, what! my lord, must all this pleasant work fall to me? A reeking house and a crowing cock shall be scarce things in Nithsdale. Weepings and wailings shall be rife—the grief of mothers, and the moaning of fatherless babes. There shall be smoking ruins, and roofless kirks, and prayers uttered in secret, and sermons preached at a venture and a hazard on the high and solitary places. Where is General Turner?—gone where the wine is good? And where is Grierson?—has he begun to talk of repentance? Gordon thinks of the unquenchable fire which the martyred Cameronian raved about; and gentle Graeme vows he will cut no more throats unless they wear laced cravats. Awell, my lords, I am the king's servant and not Christ's, and shall boune me to the task."

His fancy flew over a large extent of time, and what he uttered now may be supposed to be addressed to some invisible monitor; he seemed not aware of the presence of the minister. "Auld, say you, and grey-headed, and the one foot in the grave; it is time to repent, and spice and perfume over my rottenness, and prepare for Heaven? I'll tell ye, but ye must not speak on't—I tried to pray late yestreen—I knelt down and I held up my hands to Heaven—and what think ye I beheld? A widow woman and her five fair sons standing between me and the Most High, and calling out 'Woe, woe on Bonshaw!' I threw myself with my face to the earth, and what got I between my hands? A gravestone which covered five martyrs, and cried out against me for blood which I had wantonly shed. I heard voices from the dust whispering around me; and the angel which watched of old over the glory of my house hid his face with his hands, and I beheld the evil spirits arise with power to punish me for a season. I'll tell ye what I will do—among the children of those I have slain shall my inheritance be divided; so sit down, holy sir, and sit down, most learned man, and hearken to my bequest. To the children of three men slain on Irongrey Moor; to the children of two slain on Closeburn Hill; to—no, no, all that crowd, that multitude, cannot be the descendants of those whom I doomed to perish by the rope, and the pistol, and the sword. Away, I say, ye congregation of zealots and psalm-singers! Disperse, I say, else I shall trample ye down beneath my horse's hoofs! Peace, thou white-headed stirrer of sedition, else I shall cleave thee to the collar! Wilt thou preach still?"

Here the departing persecutor uttered a wild imprecation, clenched his teeth, leaped to his feet, waved his sword, and stood for several moments, his eyes flashing from them a fierce light, and his whole strength gathered into a blow which he aimed at his imaginary adversary. But he stiffened as he stood—a brief shudder passed over his frame, and he was dead before he fell on the floor, and made the hall re-echo. The minister raised him in his arms: a smile of military joy still dilated his stern face, and his hand grasped the sword-hilt so firmly that it required some strength to wrench it from his hold. Sore, sore the good pastor lamented that he had no death-bed communings with the departing chief, and he expressed this so frequently that the peasantry said, on the day of his burial, that it would bring back his spirit to earth and vex mankind, and that Ezra would find him particularly intractable and bold. Of these whisperings he took little heed, but he became somewhat more grave and austere than usual.

It happened on an evening about the close of the following spring, when the oat beard was flourishing, and the barley shot its sharp green spikes above the clod, carrying the dew on the third morning, that Ezra Peden was returning from a wedding at Buckletiller. When he left the bridal chamber it was about ten o'clock. His presence had suppressed for a time the natural ardour for dancing and mirth which characterizes the Scotch; but no sooner was he mounted, and the dilatory and departing clatter of his horse's hoofs heard, than musicians and musical instruments appeared from their hiding-places. The floor was disencumbered of the bridal dinner-tables, the maids bound up their long hair, and the hinds threw aside their mantles, and taking their places and their partners, the restrained mirth broke out like a whirlwind. Old men looked on with a sigh, and uttered a feeble and faint remonstrance, which they were not unwilling should be drowned in the abounding and augmenting merriment.

The pastor had reached the entrance of a little wild and seldom-frequented glen, along which a grassy and scarce visible road winded to an ancient burial-ground. Here the graceless and ungodly merriment first reached his ears, and made the woody hollow ring and resound. Horse and rider seemed possessed of the same spirit: the former made a full halt when he heard the fiddle note; while the latter, uttering a very audible groan, and laying his bridle on his horse's neck, pondered on the wisest and most effectual way of repressing this unseemly merriment—of cleansing the parish of this ancient abomination. It was a beautiful night: the unrisen moon had yet a full hour of travel before she could reach the tops of the eastern hills; the wind was mute, and no sound was abroad save the chafing of a small runnel, and the bridal mirth.

While Ezra sat casting in his own mind a long and a dubious contest with this growing and unseemly sin, something like the shadowy outline of a horse and rider appeared in the path. The night was neither light nor dark, and the way, grassy and soft, lay broad and uninterrupted between two hazel and holly groves. As the pastor lifted up his eyes, he beheld a dark rider reining up a dark horse side by side with his own, nor did he seem to want any accoutrement necessary for ruling a fine and intractable steed. As he gazed, the figure became more distinct—it seemed a tall martial form, with a slouched hat and feather, and a dark and ample mantle, which was muffled up to his eyes. From the waist downward all was indistinct, and horse and rider seemed to melt into one dark mass visible in the outline alone. Ezra was too troubled in spirit to court the intrusion of a stranger upon his meditations; he bent on him a look particularly forbidding and stern, and having made up his mind to permit the demon of mirth and minstrelsy to triumph for the present, rode slowly down the glen.

But side by side with Ezra, and step by step, even as shadow follows substance, moved the mute and intrusive stranger. The minister looked at his companion, and stirred his steed onward; with corresponding speed moved the other, till they came where the road branched off to a ruined castle. Up this way, with the wish to avoid his new friend, Ezra turned his horse—the other did the same: the former seemed suddenly to change his mind, and returned to the path that led to the old burial-ground; the latter was instantly at his side, his face still hidden in the folds of his mantle.

Now Ezra was stern and unaccommodating in kirk controversy, and the meek and gentle spirit of religion, and a sense of spiritual interest, had enough to do to appease and sober down a temper naturally bold and even warlike. Exasperated at this intruding stranger, his natural triumphed over his acquired spirit, and lifting his riding-stick, and starting up in his stirrups, he aimed a blow equal to the unhorsing of any ordinary mortal. But the weapon met with no obstruction—it seemed to descend through air alone. The minister gazed with dread on this invulnerable being; the stranger gazed on him; and both made a halt like men preparing for a mortal affray. Ezra, who felt his horse shuddering beneath him, began to suspect that his companion pertained to a more dubious state of existence than his own, and his grim look and sable exterior induced him to rank him at once among those infamous and evil spirits which are sometimes permitted to trouble the earth, and to be a torment to the worthy and the devout.

He muttered a brief and pithy prayer, and then said: "Evil shape, who art thou, and wherefore comest thou unto me? If thou comest for good, speak; if for my confusion and my harm, even do thine errand; I shall not fly from thee." "I come more for mine own good than for thy harm," responded the figure. "Far have I ridden and much have I endured, that I might visit thee and this land again." "Do you suffer in the flesh, or are you tortured in the spirit?" said the pastor, desirous to know something certain of his unwelcome companion. "In both," replied the form: "I have dwelt in the vale of fire, in the den of punishment, hollow, and vast, and dreadful; I have ridden through the region of snow and the land of hail; I have swam through the liquid wilderness of burning lava; passed an illimitable sea; and all for the love of one hour on this fair green earth, with its fresh airs and its new-sprung corn."

Ezra looked on the figure with a steady and a penetrating eye; the stranger endured the scrutiny. "I must know of a truth to whom and what I speak; I must see you face to face. Thou mayest be the grand artificer of deceit come to practise upon my immortal soul. Unmantle thee, I pray, that I may behold if thou art a poor and an afflicted spirit, punished for a time, or that fierce and restless fiend who bears the visible stamp of eternal reprobation." "I may not withstand thy wish," uttered the form in a tone of melancholy; and dropping his mantle, and turning round on the pastor, said, "Hast thou forgotten me?" "How can I forget thee?" said Ezra, receding as he spoke; "the stern and the haughty look of Bonshaw has been humbled indeed. Unhappy one, thou art sorely changed since I beheld thee on earth with the helmet plume fanning thy hot and bloody brow as thy right hand smote down the blessed ones of the earth. The Almighty doom, the evil and the tormenting place, the vile companions, have each in their turn done the work of retribution upon thee: thou art indeed more stern and more terrible, but thou art not changed beyond the knowledge of one whom thou hast hunted and hounded, and sought to slay utterly."

The shape or spirit of Bonshaw dilated with anger, and in a quicker and a fiercer tone said: "Be charitable; flesh and blood, be charitable—doom not to hell-fire and grim companions one whose sins thou canst not weigh but in the balance of thine own prejudices. I tell thee, man of God, the uncharitableness of the sect to which thou pertainest has thronged the land of punishment as much as those who headed, and hanged, and stabbed, and shot, and tortured. I may be punished for a time, and not wholly reprobate." "Punished in part, or doomed in whole, thou needs must be," answered the pastor, who seemed now as much at his ease as if this singular colloquy had happened with a neighbouring divine. "A holy and a blessed spirit would have appeared in a brighter shape. I like not thy dubious words, thou half-punished and half-pardoned spirit. Away, vanish! Shall I speak the sacred words which make the fiends howl, or wilt thou depart in peace?" "In peace I come to thee," said the spirit, "and in peace let me be gone: hadst thou come sooner when I summoned thee, and not loitered away the precious death-bed moments, hearkening the wild and fanciful song of one whom I have deeply wronged, this journey might have been spared—a journey of pain to me and peril to thyself." "Peril to me!" said the pastor: "be it even as thou sayest. Shall I fly for one cast down, over whose prostrate form the purging fire has passed? Wicked was thy course on earth—many and full of evil were thy days; and now thou art loose again, thou fierce and persecut ing spirit—a woe, and a woe to poor Scotland." "They are loose who were never bound," answered the spirit of Bonshaw, darkening in anger and expanding in form, "and that I could soon show thee. But, behold, I am not permitted; there is a watcher—a holy one, come nigh, prepared to resist and to smite; I shall do thee no harm, holy man, I vow by the pains of punishment and the conscience pang, now the watcher has departed."

"Of whom speakest thou?" inquired Ezra; "have we ministering spirits who guard the good from the plots of the wicked ones? Have we evil spirits, who tempt and torment men, and teach the maidens ensnaring songs, and lighten their feet and their heads for the wanton dance?" "Stay, I pray thee," said the spirit; "there are spirits of evil men and of good men made perfect who are permitted to visit the earth, and power is given them for a time to work their will with men. I behold one of the latter even now, a bold one and a noble; but he sees I mean not to harm thee, so we shall not war together."

At this asssurance of protection, the pastor inclined his shuddering steed closer to his companion, and thus he proceeded: "You have said that my sect—my meek, and lowly, and broken, and long-persecuted remnant—have helped to people the profound hell: am I to credit thy words? " "Credit them or no as thou wilt," said the spirit: "whoso spilleth blood by the sword, by the word, and by the pen, is there—the false witness—the misinterpreter of the gospel—the profane poet—the profane and presumptuous preacher—the slayer and the slain—the persecutor and the persecuted—he who died at the stake, and he who piled the faggot—all are there, enduring hard weird and penal fire for a time reckoned and days numbered. They are there whom thou wottest not of," said the confiding spirit, drawing near as he spoke, and whispering the names of some of the worthies of the Kirk, and the noble, and the far-descended.

"I well believe thee," said the pastor; "but I beseech thee to be more particular in thy information: give me the names which some of the chief ministers of woe in the nether world were known by in this—I shall hear of those who built cathedrals and strongholds, and filled thrones spiritual and temporal." "Ay, that thou wilt," said the spirit, "and the names of some of the mantled professors of God's humble Presbyterian Kirk also; those who preached a burning fire and a devouring hell to their dissenting brethren, and who called out, with a loud voice, perdition to the sons and daughters of men; 'draw the sword; slay and smite utterly.'" "Thou art a false spirit assuredly," said the pastor; "yet tell me one thing. Thy steed and thou seem to be as one, to move as one, and I observed thee even now conversing with thy brute part; dost thou ride on a punished spirit, and is there injustice in hell as well as on earth?" The spirit laughed. "Knowest thou not this patient and obedient spirit on whom I ride—what wouldest thou say if I named a name renowned at the holy altar?—the name of one who loosed the sword on the bodies of men, because they believed in a humble Saviour, and he believed in a lofty. I have bestrode that mitred personage before now—he is the hack to all the Presbyterians in the pit, but he cannot be spared on a journey so distant as this." "So thou wilt not tell me the name of thy steed?" said Ezra; "well, even as thou wilt." "Nay," said the spirit, "I shall not deny so good a man so small a matter. Knowest thou not George Johnstone, the captain of my troop, as bold a hand as ever bore a sword and used it among fanatics?—we lived together in life, and in death we are not divided." "In persecution and in punishment, thou mightest have said, thou scoffing spirit," said the pastor; "but tell me, do men lord it in perdition as they did on earth; is there no retributive justice among the condemned spirits?" "I have condescended on that already," said the spirit, "and I will tell thee further: there is thy old acquaintance and mine, George Gordon, punished and condemned though he be, he is the scourge, and the whip, and the rod of fire to all those brave and valiant men who served those equitable and charitable princes, Charles Stuart, and James his brother." "I suspect why those honourable cavaliers are tasting the cup of punishment," said the pastor; "but what crime has sedate and holy George done that his lot is cast with the wicked?" "Canst thou not guess it, holy Ezra?" said the spirit; "his crime was so contemptible and mean that I scorn to name it. Hast thou any further questions?"

"You spoke of Charles Stuart, and James his brother," said the pastor: "when sawest thou the princes for whom thou delugedst thy country with blood, and periledst thine own soul?" "Ah! thou cunning querist," said the spirit with a laugh, "canst thou not ask a plain question? Thou askest questions plain and pointed enough of the backsliding damsels of thy congregation; why shouldst thou put thy sanctified tricks on me, a plain and a straightforward spirit as ever uttered response to the godly? Nevertheless, I will tell thee. I saw them not an hour ago: Charles saddled me my steed; wot ye who held my stirrup?—even James his brother. I asked them if they had any message to the devout people of their ancient kingdom of Scotland. The former laughed, and bade me bring him the Kirk repentance-stool for a throne. The latter looked grave, and muttered over his fingers like a priest counting his beads; and hell echoed far and wide with laughter at the two princes." "Ay, ay!" said the pastor, "so I find you have mirth among you: have you dance and song also?" "Ay, truly," answered the spirit, "we have hymns and hallelujahs from the lips of that holy and patriotic band who banished their native princes, and sold their country to an alien, and the alien himself rules and reigns among them; and when they are weary with the work of praise, certain inferior and officious spirits moisten their lips with cupfuls of a curious and a cooling liquid, and then hymn and thanksgiving recommence again." "Ah, thou dissembler," said the pastor; "and yet I see little cause why they should be redeemed, when so many lofty minds must wallow with the sinful for a season. But, tell me, it is long since I heard of Claud Hamilton; have you seen him among you? He was the friend and follower of the alien—a mocker of the mighty minds of his native land—a scoffer of that gifted and immortal spirit which pours the glory of Scotland to the uttermost ends of the earth: tell me of him, I pray." Loud laughed the spirit, and replied in scorn: "We take no note of things so mean and unworthy as he; he may be in some hole in perdition, for aught I know or care; but stay, I will answer thee truly. He has not passed to our kingdom yet; he is condemned to the punishment of a long and useless life on earth; and even now you will find him gnawing his flesh in agony to hear the name he has sought to cast down renowned over all the earth!"

The spirit now seemed impatient to be gone: they had emerged from the glen, and vale and lea, brightened by the moon and sown thick with evening dew, sparkled far and wide. "If thou wouldest question me farther," said the frank and communicative spirit of Bonshaw, "and learn more of the dead, meet me in the old burial-ground an hour before moonrise on Sunday night: tarry at home if thou wilt; but I have more to tell thee than thou knowest to ask about, and hair of thy head shall not be harmed." Even as he spoke the shape of horse and rider underwent a sudden transformation—the spirit sank into the shape of a steed, the steed rose into the form of the rider, and wrapping his visionary mantle about him, and speaking to his unearthly horse, away he started, casting as he flew a sudden and fiery glance on the astonished pastor, who muttered as he concluded a brief prayer: "There goes Captain George Johnstone, riding on his fierce old master."

The old burial-ground, the spirit's trysting-place, was a fair but a lonely spot. All around lay scenes renowned in tradition for blood, and broil, and secret violence. The parish was formerly a land of warriors' towers and of houses for penance, and vigil, and mortification. But the Reformation came, and sacked and crushed down the houses of devotion; while the peace between the two kingdoms curbed the courage and extinguished for ever the military and predatory glory of those old Galwegian chieftains. It was in a burial-ground pertaining to one of those ancient churches, and where the peasants still loved to have their dust laid, that Ezra trusted to meet again the shadowy representative of the fierce old laird of Bonshaw.

The moon, he computed, had a full hour to travel before her beams would be shed on the place of conference, and to that eerie and deserted spot Ezra was observed to walk, like one consecrating an evening hour to solitary musing on the rivulet side. No house stood within half a mile; and when he reached the little knoll on which the chapel formerly stood, he sat down on the summit to ponder over the way to manage this singular conference. A firm spirit and a pure heart, he hoped, would confound and keep at bay the enemy of man's salvation; and he summed up, in a short historical way, the names of those who had met and triumphed over the machinations of fiends. Thus strengthened and reassured, he rose and looked around, but he saw no approaching shape. The road along which he expected the steed and rider to come was empty, and he walked towards the broken gate, to cast himself in the way, and show with what confidence he abode his coming.

Over the wall of the churchyard, repaired with broken and carved stones from the tombs and altar of the chapel, he now looked, and it was with surprise that he saw a new-made widow, kneeling over her husband's grave, and about to pour out her spirit in lamentation and sorrow. He knew her form and face, and the deepest sorrow came upon him. She was the daughter of an old and a faithful elder: she had married a seafaring youth, and borne him one fair child. Her husband was returning from a distant voyage, had entered the sea of Solway—his native hills, his own home rose to his view, and he saw the light streaming from the little chamber window where his wife and his sweet child, sat awaiting his return. But it was not written that they were to meet again in life. She heard the sweep of a whirlwind, and she heard a shriek, and, going to her chamber door, she saw the ship sinking, and her husband struggling in the agitated water. It is needless to lengthen a sorrowful story: she now threw herself weeping over his grave, and poured out the following wail:

"He was the fairest among men, yet the sea swept him away: he was the kindest-hearted, yet he was not to remain. What were all other men compared to him—his long curling hair, and his sweet hazel eyes, and his kind and gladsome tongue? He loved me long, and he won me from many rivals; for who could see his face and not love him?—who could listen to his speech, and refuse him aught? When he danced, maids stood round, and thought his feet made richer music than the instruments. When he sang, the maids and matrons blessed him; and high-born dames loved the song of my frank and gentle sailor. But there is no mercy in the ocean for the sons of men, and there is nought but sorrow for their daughters. Men go grey-headed to the grave, who, had they trusted the unstable deeps, would have perished in their prime, and left fatherless babes and sorrowing widows. Alas, alas! in lonely night on this eerie spot, on thy low and early grave, I pour forth my heart! Who now shall speak peace to my mind, and open the latch of my little lonely home with thy kind and anxious hand? Who now shall dandle my sweet babe on his knee, or love to go with me to kirk and to preaching—to talk over our old tales of love and courtship—of the secret tryst and the bridal joy?" And, concluding her melancholy chant, she looked sorrowfully and steadfastly at the grave, and recommenced anew her wailing and her tears.

The widow's grief endured so long that the moon began to make her approach manifest by shooting up a long and a broad stream of thin, lucid, and trembling light over the eastern ridge of the Cumberland hills. She rose from her knees, shed back her moist and disordered locks, showing a face pale but lovely, while the watery light of two large dark eyes of liquid and roving blue was cast mournfully on the way homewards, down which she now turned her steps to be gone. Of what passed in the pastor's mind at this moment, tradition, which sometimes mocks and at other times deifies the feelings of men, gives a very unsatisfactory account. He saw the hour of appointment with his shadowy messenger from the other world arrive and pass without his appearance; and he was perhaps persuaded that the pure, and pious, and overflowing grief of the fair young widow had prevented the intrusion of a form so ungracious and unholy. As she advanced from the burial-ground the pastor of her parish stood mute and sorrowful before her. She passed him as one not wishing to be noticed, and glided along the path with a slow step and a downcast eye.

She had reached the side of a little lonely stream, which glided, half-seen, half-hid, underneath its banks of broom and honeysuckle, sprinkled at that hour with wild daisies and spotted with primroses, when the voice of Ezra reached her ears. She made a full stop, like one who hears something astounding, and turned round on the servant of the altar a face radiant with tears, to which her tale of woe and the wild and lonely place added an interest and a beauty. "Young woman," he began, "it is unseemly in thee to bewail thy loss at this lonely hour and in this dreary spot: the youth was given to thee, and ye became vain. I remarked the pride of thy looks, and the gaudiness of thine apparel, even in the house of holiness: he is taken from thee, perhaps, to punish thy pride. There is less meekness in thy sorrow than there was reason in thy joy; but be ye not discomforted." Here the weeping lady turned the sidelong glance of her swimming eyes on Ezra, shed back the locks which usurped a white brow and snowy temples, and folding her hands over a bosom the throbbings of which made the cambric that concealed it undulate like water, stood still, and drank in his words of comfort and condolence.

Tradition always conducts Ezra and the mariner's widow to this seldom-frequented place: a hundred and a hundred times have I mused over the scene in sunlight and moonlight; a hundred and a hundred times have I hearkened to the wild and variable accounts of the peasantry, and sought to make bank, and bush, and stream, and tree assist in unravelling the mystery which must still hang over the singular and tragic catastrophe. Standing in this romantic place, a pious man, not overstricken in years, conversing with a rosy young widow, a vain and a fair creature, a bank of blossomed flowers beside them, and the new-risen moon scattering her slant and ineffectual beams on the thick budded branches above them—such is the picture which tradition ever and invariably draws, while imagination endeavours to take up the tender thread of the story, and imagination must have this licence still. Truth contents herself with the summary of a few and unsatisfactory particulars. The dawn of morning came, says Truth, and Ezra had not returned to his manse. Something evil hath happened, said Imagination, scattering as she spoke a thousand tales of a thousand hues, many of which still find credence among the pious people of Galloway.

Josiah, the old and faithful servant of Ezra, arrived in search of his master at the lonely burial-ground about the dawn of the morning. He had become alarmed at his long absence, and his alarm was not abated by the unholy voices which at midnight sailed round the manse and kirk, singing, as he imagined, a wild and infernal hymn of joy and thanksgiving. He traced his steps down the footpath by the rivulet side till he came to the little primrose bank, and found it trodden upon and pressed as if two persons had been seated among the flowers. Here all further traces ceased, and Josiah stood pondering on the power of evil spirits, and the danger of holding tryst with Beelzebub or any of the lesser spirits of darkness.

He was soon joined by an old shepherd, who told a tale which pious men refuse to believe, though they always listen to it. The bright moonlight had made him imagine it was morning, and he arose and walked forth to look at his lambs on the distant hill: the moon had been up for nearly an hour. His way lay near the little lonely primrose bank, and as he walked along he heard the whispering of tongues: he deemed it some idle piece of love-making, and he approached to see who they might be. He saw what ought not to be seen, even the reverend Ezra seated on the bank and conversing with a buxom young dame and a strange one. They were talking wondrous kindly. He observed them for a little space: the young dame was in widow's weeds; the mariner's widow wore the only weeds, praise be blest, in the parish; but she was a raven to a swan compared to the quean who conversed with the minister. She was indeed passing fair, and the longer he looked on her she became the lovelier—owre lovely for mere flesh and blood. His dog shrunk back and whimpered, and an owl that chased a bird in the grove uttered a scream of terror as it beheld her, and forsook its prey. At length she turned the light of her eyes on himself; Will wi' the Wisp was but a proverb to them: they had a glance he should never get the better of, and he hardly thought his legs carried him home, he flew with such supernatural speed.

"But, indeed," added the cautious peasant, "I have some doubts that the whole was a fiction of the Auld Enemy, to make me think ill of the douce man and the godly; and if he be spared to come home, so shall I tell him. But if Ezra, pious man, is heard of nae mair, I shall be free to believe that what I heard I heard, and what I saw I saw. And Josiah, man, I may as weel give ye the benefit of my own opinion. I'll amaist aver on my Bible, that the minister, a daring man and a courageous—owre courageous, I doubt—has been dared out to the lonely place by some he- or maybe she-fiend—the latter maist likely; and there he has been overcome by might or temptation, and now Satan may come atween the stilts of the Gospel plough, for the right hand of Ezra will hold it no longer; or I should nae wonder," said the peasant, "but that the old dour persecutor Bonshaw has carried him away on his fiend steed Geordie Johnstone—conscience, nought more likely—and I'll warrant even now they are ducking him in the dub of perdition, or picking his banes ahint the hallan o' hell."

The whole of this rustic prediction was not fulfilled. In a little deep wild dell, at the distance of a gunshot, they found Ezra Peden lying on the ground, uttering words which will be pardoned, since they were the words of a delirious tongue. He was carried home amid the sympathy and sorrow of his parishioners: he answered no question nor seemed to observe a single face, though the face of many a friend stood round him. He only raved out words of tenderness and affection, addressed to some imaginary person at his side; and concluded by starting up, and raising such an outcry of horror and amazement, as if the object of his regard had become a demon: seven strong men could hardly hold him. He died on the third day, after making a brief disclosure, which may be readily divined from this hasty and imperfect narrative.