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CHAPTER XVI.

THE WARNING.

“ The night has been unruly ; where we lay,

Our chimneys were blown down; and as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible,
Of dire combustion and confused events,
New hatch'd to the woeful time."

MACBETH. The dwellers in the Howe, like the generality of their countrymen, were, at the time of which I write, not only firm believers in the existence of brownies, fairies, spunkies, and waterkelpies, but also in the prophetic surroundings of dreams, mysterious noises, death-lights, warnings, &c., which exercised no inconsiderable influence on their lives and destinies. I shall confine myself in the present chapter, however, to the influence mysterious sounds, heard in certain circumstances, had upon the minds, generally, of those who heard them.

I have in “ Village Scenes” attempted to draw the portraiture, and record the many virtues of a revered and beloved parent, whose name is still honoured and venerated in the district of the Howe where he lived. With a wellcultured mind, he was of a courteous and benevolent disposition, although prudent and cautious withal. Though strictly formal, in every way, so that each thing about the farm and mill stood in its proper place, and each performed his or her allotted duty within the specified time, his sway, from his God-fearing nature, was felt to be neither irksome nor severe. Everything did he so nicely and strictly poise, that no rude bustle or unseemly noise was ever seen or heard about the farm; and nothing that could be done at once, was left to be accomplished on the morrow. The consequence was that the Sabbath was a day of holy and peaceful rest ; not a day of gloomy austerity, but of cheerful, religious repose.

O softly on the breeze was borne
The incense sweet of Sabbath morn;
And in the evening's peaceful calm,
How sweet arose the holy psalm,
The thrilling, heartfelt, solemn prayer,
Which he, with patriarchal air,
Did at the throne on bended knee,
Present with deep humility !
No venal song to him I bring,
Nor hollow praise unfeeling sing,
Nor an ideal shadow forth,
While I pay tribute to his worth.
Ah, no! see here the mountain stream,
By which in childhood's sunny dream,
The good man wandered with his boy,
In blissful, sweet, untroubled joy ;
And there, the flowery braes so fair,
On which did he his gambols share,
And here the wood, and there the mill,
The fondly-cherished murmuring rill;
And there—beside the spreading thorn,
Sweet stands the house where I was born.

Village Scenes. It was the evening of a sweet autumnal Sabbath day. My father, servants, and all the household of Airniefoul, had been to the church of Glamis, and listened with deep reverence to the stirring expositions of Scripture, and solemn devotional exercises of the venerable Dr. Lyon, then in the full zenith of his well-earned reputation as a faithful and zealous parochial minister. As was then the custom in Strathmore, all were assembled in the kitchen for family worship. Besides the mombers of our own household, there was, in addition, the tailor of the district, whose form and bearing did not, certainly, belie his profession. This important functionary was quite an institution in the parish.

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When there was sufficient work for him to do, he sometimes abode at the different farms for days, and even weeks together. He was always well lodged, and well fed, as became his station. Generally well informed of all domestic matters amongst his neighbours, he might, very appropriately have been termed gossip-general of the Strath.

And so well did he maintain his reputation, that it was generally reported of him that he knew the public and private affairs of all in the Howe and the Glen, very much better than they did themselves.

As the tailor here alluded to, is, undoubtedly, the pivot around which the incidents to be described in this chapter will naturally turn, it may be interesting, as well as necessary, that I should rapidly sketch the outlines of the corporeal tabernacle of the man on whose shoulders such momentous events and their consequences have been thrown.

Sandy Alison, the tailor-in-chief of the Howe, was a dapper, priggish, little active body. His age might be fiftyfive or sixty, less or more; his height somewhere between five feet five, and five feet seven. His figure was slim and somewhat bent, his features small and sharp, his complexion sallow, and his twinkling grey eyes of that restless mischievous description which boded no good to any body to whom he had taken a dislike.

When he sat with his legs twisted beneath him on the workboard, he looked a very insignificant specimen of humanity indeed. When he walked, his legs carried him along at such a rate, that it seemed as if they had run off with him, like the man with the new cork leg, who could not unwind its springs to stop its never-ending velocity. His voice, always pitched in a high key, was sharp, harsh, and disagreeable to the ear. He seldom laughed, but his chuckle was fiendish-like and ominously malicious. The chief delight of his being seemed to be to riot in the woes and misfortunes of others, and darkly to prophesy from the apparently mysterious incidents occurring around him, those bitter trials and bereavements, whose dark shadow generally precedes the reality itself. Sandy, be it further observed, was of a very sensitive nature, and extremely superstitious withal. A firm believer in warnings in particular, he had studied the subject with all the ardour of an enthusiast, and had become the admitted Oracle of the Howe to unravel their weird-like mystic meaning. When I add that his dress consisted of white corduroy knee breeches, bright red plush waistcoat, long swallow-tailed blue coat, with brass buttons, and party-coloured neckerchief; that his hair was brackish grey, and that when at work he wore, very far down on the nose, a pair of large pinchbeck, round globed spectacles, you will have a pretty accurate idea of Sandy Alison, the village tailor.

"Let us worship God," solemnly said my father; and reverently opening the Ha' bible, he read in measured tones, first a chapter from the Old Testament, and afterwards a chapter from the New. Closing the bible, he was in the act of turning over the leaves of the venerated psalm book, for the purpose of selecting a suitable psalm to be sung by the worshippers, when a strange, unearthly noise, proceeding from the “Ben-house," at once startled us all, striking terror and dismay into every

heart. The sound resembled a muffled thud, as if some heavy body had fallen with violence on the oaken floor.

My father, the least superstitious of any one I ever knew, dropped the book instinctively on the table, and appeared the very personification of amazement and fear. All seemed terror-struck, as if some ominous summons had come to them from the unseen world. The tailor was the first to break the oppressive silence.

"A warnin'," gudeman, to prepare for some great change, trial, or misfortune;"--and lowering his voice to a hissing, husky whisper, he savagely added—“ In the coorse o' the neist week, three things will happen tae this hoose which it had better been without."

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A long and painful silence succeeded this fatal, unexpected prophecy.

At last my father with great presence of mind, rose from his seat, took a candle from the table, and slowly walked towards the parlour to ascertain, if possible, the cause of the alarming noise which had so much distressed us. Cautiously entering the room, he looked enquiringly and anxiously around, but could not see or hear anything which might explain the mystery. There was no disarrangement of the furniture, no appearance of any one having been in the room, everything remained the same as they had been during the day. The search was given up in despair !

There was no resumption of the family worship, and all retired ostensibly to rest, but in reality to muse on the ominous warning, and the three events which had been so solemnly predicted to happen during the ensuing fatal week.

Monday and Tuesday passed over pretty much as usual, with this difference, that a settled gloom seemed to have overshadowed the farm and all its surroundings; and while the indoor and field work were assiduously performed, there was less life exhibited by the workers than was their wont, their thoughts being apparently occupied otherwise. Even in the mill, where generally the utmost hilarity prevailed, the work of the day was gone about in comparative silence; not a lilt was sung by the lasses, not a joke was cracked by the millers. The only lively person about the farm was the itinerant tailor, who exhibited all that anxious feverishness, and nervous excitement characteristic of those who impatiently await the fulfilment of their malicious predictions.

My elder brother, David, who had just received the appointment of Land Steward to the Earl of De Vesci in Queen's County, Ireland, had invited some young friends to a day's shooting in the glen, previous to his departure. The time appointed being Wednesday, the little party assembled at Airniefoul farm on the early morning of that day, and soon

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