« VorigeDoorgaan »
precipice, from one tree to another, till I found myself standing on a green and sunny mound or promontory, half way between the vale and the moor. The river had here accomplished its first fearful leap, and was preparing for another of less depth, but of equal beauty. I advanced along the green sward mound, which bore evident marks of recent cultivation. A few flowers and shrubs, not native to the soil, remained clinging to the spot in stunted and neglected beauty, and a fruit tree or two, long past their prime, had submitted to the blast, and bowed down to the earth, leaned over the rapid current, till their branches glistened with moisture. On the limit of this mound, I stood and gazed on a scene equally singular and unexpected. At the bottom of this upper promontory, another still more beautiful and broad, and edged with rock, to resist the perpetual chafing of the stream, seemed projecting like a fairy table from the face of the cliff, and a time-worn and humble cottage occupied its abrupt extremity. The mound might be a good pennystone cast in breadth, and twice as much in length. The earth seemed once to have owed much to cultivation. At present it was a level and smooth green sward, and owned neither flower nor bush, except a natural enclosure of wild plum-trees, on which the ripe fruit hung in thick and black powdry clusters. This hedge-row surrounded the cottage, and completely hemmed in the mound, and rendered it one of the loveliest spots I ever looked upon. The station from which I looked was elevated about fifteen feet above its neighbour mound, and the wild plum trees, ascending to the level of the upper ground, came with their dark clustering fruit to my very feet. I stooped to pluck and taste the productions of this fairy region, when lo! to my utter fear and astonishment, I observed seated on a large squared block of sandstone, an old and feeble, and withered WOMAN. She wore a lappeted mutch over her gray hairs, a kind of cloth cap surmounted this, and around her shoulders was a lowland maud, or plaid, 27 ATHENEUM VOL. 7.
fastened by a broach of massy silver, She sat basking herself in the beams of the new risen sun, and spread out her wrinkled and palsied hands, to the genial warmth of the luminary. I could not look, without emotion, on this ancient and solitary being, and it was evident she felt sensible of the presence of some stranger, for she glanced her large gray eyes sharply and suspiciously around, but screened by the thick and leafy hedge, I continued concealed from her eye, though I was certainly present to her other senses. While I was considering of some suitable mode of introducing myself to the ancient dame, I observed her stoop and lift a roke or distaff, from which thread, black as the back of a raven, depended, and a small fleece of the same ominous colour lay at her feet. This primitive instrument she soon put in motion, and while she whirled it round, to give consistency and twirl to her thread, she began to chant a song addressed to her ROKE, which disclosed something of her history, her calling, and the merits of this gifted implement of industry.
THE WITCH OF AE'S SONG.
• Turn round, thou bit of the rarest timmer
I' the mirkest nook o' the haunted Dryfe;
When the stars fell sick, and the moon grew dull,
Thou ae best friend i' my starkest need,
That keeps me cozie, and brings to me,
The bird frae the busb, an' the fruit fine the tree;
That reaps me riggs I never plowed,
3. 'Gainst the flight o' the sun, as I spin thee about, A thousand lights i' the earth gae outAs I turn thee around wi' the warld, I win
A thousand lives to this land o' sin.
To unbaptized brows, and the cruel Turk;
A bonnic ship o'er the Solway went,
An' snored through the brine wi' her white sails bent,
I turned my timmer, the shriek frue the sea
Came far up Criffets' green mountain to me
I turned it back, with a moistened wing,
There was dool to win-there was dool to pu",
thou abide till the hooded craws fill their crapins frae atween thy bosombanes! honest looking woman, my certy!' The terror of her words-the anger of her looks-and the eagerness with which I gazed on her fearful and antique face, made me forget myself; and, having stood too close to the border of the mound, the green turf suddenly gave way, and down I plunged headlong into the beldame's garden, crushing down an entire plumb-tree, and leaving a gap in her fruit-tree fence wide enough for the passage of a loaded car. Up I started, more alarmed at my intrusion than injured by my fall, and confronted the owner of the garden holding a broken branch loaded with ripe plums in one hand, and a green turf in the other, tokens of my involuntary descent, and the pains I had taken to avert it or render it easy. On me looked the old woman for a minute's space, more in commiseration than anger, down she laid her roke, seized an old staff, the head of which still retained marks of having worn a covering of precious metal, said, lift the roke, Mark Macrabin, and follow-I have wark for thee!' and away she halted into her cottage, with slow steps, and efforts that cost her pain. I lifted her roke, not with my bared hand, but, passing part of the plum-tree branch beneath it, I bore it after her as a timid schoolboy carries a live eel, and internally blessing myself; for it seemed a perilous undertaking. Into the cottage, the door of which, from the rudeness of its architecture and lowness of its lintle, resembled a cavern more than an entrance to a human abode, I followed her. The passage required me to stoop, and I soon found myself in a kind of chamber, filled with that thick and bitter smoke which arises from burning green wood. Living thing I could not discern, till on advancing I saw like a dim hearth fire, struggling for existence, amidst the very cloud it had produced— the form of a human being seated on one side, and a similar form seated on the other. I stood stone-still, and gazed on these guardians of the hearth, neither of whom uttered a word, nor did I attempt to break the silence, but
"During the chanting of this infernal lyric, I felt all those terrors which - tradition says men feel when some spell or charm freezes up their spirit, and roots them to the earth as motionless as a stone or tree. With every turn of the roke, a new verse succeeded, and the mysterious woman looked around with the light of satisfaction glimmering in her eyes-pleased to think of the success of her evil hymn. Such sorcery did these verses, and the person that uttered them, exercise over my faculties, that I could not help repeating them in a kind of unconsenting mutter after her, and the peculiar emphasis with which she announced dool to the unwelcome foot, rung in my ear like a psalm sung on a scaffold. At last she arose, and, turning slowly to the west, and bowing her charmed roke thrice, she exclaimed, in a tone rivalling is harmony the note of the raven when the schoolboy climbs to her young, "Woe and dool to the secret foot-stranger come forth." Whether the charm she employed compelled me to obey her, or that it was predestined I should be waiting-man to all the curious dames in the district, I stept involuntarily forward to the projecting pinnacle of the promontory, and, bowing to the beldame, said,Honest looking woman, I have no mind to molest ye, can you show me the way to John Macmuckle's?' O, honest looking woman,' reiterated the dame of Ae Glen, turaing her withered and brown visage full on me, displaying a large black mole that shaded the whole of her left eye-brow, and a variety of teeth which unsparing time had mutilated into short and rusty fangs, and wherefore no honest woman, ye unsonsy callan-mint another sic 'y word, and on that cliff shalt
stood looking on the one and looking on the other, with the witch's roke in my right hand, and wiping the tears which the bitter smoke brought abundantly from my eyes with the left. The old woman, my conductress, pitied me, and pulling a pair of fall-boards' belonging to a window, instantly opened, and through the apertures the smoke escaped in volumes. She held out her hand-snatched her roke, and beginning to spin, said, not to her companion nor to me, but evidently to herself, though she spoke in her usual audible tone' Sackless callant! sackless callant! louping on the green tap of Lagghill wi' a gang of raving gomerals,-then snooling amang rags and ram horns, with a horde of deaving gypsies. Its a sad and sair pity to behold youthfu' blood gaun a gate sae gray. Janet Morison,
"I had now leisure and resolution also to turn my eye on the silent figure beside me. The thick smoke that shrouded her before was now passed away, but a dark mantle thrown over her head, and reaching down to the floor like a shroud, wrapped her all round-I never beheld any shape that awakened my curiosity so much, but my desire to know more of this mysterious figure was soon redoubled
thing out o' this sackless callant.' And
ye maun e'en try to make a saut some-Nannie, my sweet and lost lass,' said the beldame, in a tone far sweeter than her common speech-lang looked for's come at last-the thing that maun be maun be-and sic is the wierd of a human flesh-I maun e'en set a stout heart to the darke-sair, sair hae I pled that the ripe ear might drop to the sickle, and the green ear remain unshorn-but it wasnae to be !-The voice called once, and the voice called twice-wi' the third call auld Janet Morison maun buckle and gang.' As the old woman spoke, the agitation of the mantled figure became extreme at first something of an involuntary shuddering came over her, and the folds of the mantle shook and undulated over her bosom, like ripening grain moving in the windthe shudderings ceased, and sighs audible and deep were heard, and through the folds of the mantle-held with both hands to her eyes, the tears seemed to come-drop succeeding drop. My heart, that had turned from the old woman and her whole establishment at the first interview, began now to take a deep interest in her fate, which all that I heard and saw induced me to conclude was involved in some strange mystery-above all, I longed to take the mantled figure by the hand, and say, in the tender language of the Scripture, alas, why art thou disquieted!"
was wreathed around with a century's soot. All that the apartment contained was three square blocks of freestone, placed as seats round the hearth fire, on two of which sat my conductress and her companion. The third stood unoccupied for me, and into this uncomfortable resting-place was I speedily_motioned by the yellow hand of Janet Morison,the cannie cummer of Ae Glen.
The old woman guessed, or knew what
her face alone was bare-and a face
Ainid this streaming luxuriance of locks the black blood raven and the hood
ed gore-crow sang amang yere branches when I first pou'd the witch-gowan and the hollow hemlock. Sair, sair altered are we since we first became acquaint-leafless is the tane and lockless is the tither-my hooded craws and my poor ravens have alane remained-and the young lord-black and bloody will be his cast-shot the tane on the top of the auld tree, three mornings syneand its lyart marrow has flown away far, far, and will never see cummer who fed her so kindly again.'
me-I have weeded ye away one by one-thou alone remain'st-and may remain for me—I might as well shoot at the blessed sun with the hope of mar ring its shining.' And curse the evil' be ng that shot my bonny black raven and her bonny brood,' said Janet Morrison, shaking her withered hand at the object of her wrath For this, and for sins deep and dark-that winna do to be named in sunshine-have thy days been numbered-listen the amount -the last of three simmer suns shall see the limit of thy life-a brief space for a face so young-nor shall it be spent-wi' filling the grave with the ruins of thy last-woes me !—but in sorrow that knows no mirth-in tears many and bitter-not tears of repentance.' The person this remarkable' woman addressed was the last child of a far descended and renowned race-of noble blood and lordly inheritances-but early left to his own will, he surrendered himself to the indulgence of guilty passions, and ere his twentieth year, he fled to a foreign land-leaving ruined maids and weeping mothers in his native country-whose cries were not heard in vain. Towards the old woman he gazed with a look, not of scorn or contempt, but of terror and affright— he stept several paces back, like one afraid to be seen or heard, and dropping his carbine, held both hands before his face, as if to screen his eyes from some sudden and offensive light. Saints and souls of men,' he muttered in a voice choking with emotion,' It is HER! It is HER! I shall trust the kirk-yard turf no longer-hell and heaven fail to hold what we give them it is HER, as sure as light itself.'-He seemed willing to fly-his feet refused to move-his knees were shaking with agony, and the colour was chased from his cheek by some fearful sight, which it was not my fortune to behold. At this moment the wounded raven, that had soared wholly out of sight, fell at the foot of the old woman, its head stretched out, its wings expanded, and all its feathers agitated with the shiver
"Even as old Janet lamented, the rustling of wings was heard, and presently up the deep gorge of the glensailing slowly along on the bosom of the water, came a large raven-The crown of its head was bald from extreme age-its back was as hoary as if it had been sprinkled with meal-its bosom and wings alone retained their original hue. When this faithful old bird came beneath the mound where we stood, it arose perpendicularly into the air, and seating itself on the topmost stem of a withered oak, turned its head to the cottage, and gave one low croak of recognizance. And yere there, my black and my bonny bird,' said the old woman-' come marrowless back to your leafless tree and your sorrowing mistress. While she uttered these words, a hunter emerged at once from the bowers of holly, and, presenting his carbine as he appeared, fired at the old and solitary raven. The raven uttered, as the shot struck it—not a croak, but something between a croak and a moan, and spreading its wings, away it soared perpendicularly into the sky-lessening to the eye every moment of its rapid flight. The hunter stept to the summit of a little hillock, and stood gazing upwards at the wounded bird, unconscious of our presence. He was a tall, handsome, and rather slender, youth, with bold martial features, and a careless and gay and dissipated air. He wore a bonnet with a black feather, and a lowland mantle of the finest texture, fastened on his left shoulder by a broach of pure gold. Curse the evil bird,' exclaimed the youth-much good pow-ings of death.
der thee and thy blasted brood has cost "I lifted the poor bird, and it was