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Chapter 15

BLACK ANDIE'S TALE OF TOD LAPRAIK


I have yet said little of the Highlanders. They were all three of the
followers of James More, which bound the accusation very tight about
their master's neck. All understood a word or two of English; but Neil
was the only one who judged he had enough of it for general converse, in
which (when once he got embarked) his company was often tempted to the
contrary opinion. They were tractable, simple creatures; showed much
more courtesy than might have been expected from their raggedness and
their uncouth appearance, and fell spontaneously to be like three
servants for Andie and myself.

Dwelling in that isolated place, in the old falling ruins of a prison,
and among endless strange sounds of the sea and the sea-birds, I thought
I perceived in them early the effects of superstitious fear. When there
was nothing doing they would either lie and sleep, for which their
appetite appeared insatiable, or Neil would entertain the others with
stories which seemed always of a terrifying strain. If neither of these
delights were within reach--if perhaps two were sleeping and the third
could find no means to follow their example--I would see him sit and
listen and look about him in a progression of uneasiness, starting, his
face blenching, his hands clutched, a man strung like a bow. The nature
of these fears I had never an occasion to find out, but the sight of
them was catching, and the nature of the place that we were in
favourable to alarms. I can find no word for it in the English, but
Andie had an expression for it in the Scots from which he never varied.

"Ay," he would say, "_it's an unco place, the Bass_." It is so I always
think of it. It was an unco place by night, unco by day; and these were
unco sounds, of the calling of the solans, and the plash of the sea and
the rock echoes, that hung continually in our ears. It was chiefly so in
moderate weather. When the waves were anyway great they roared about the
rock like thunder and the drums of armies, dreadful but merry to hear;
and it was in the calm days that a man could daunt himself with
listening--not a Highlandman only, as I several times experimented on
myself, so many still, hollow noises haunted and reverberated in the
porches of the rock.

This brings me to a story I heard, and a scene I took part in, which
quite changed our terms of living, and had a great effect on my
departure. It chanced one night I fell in a muse beside the fire and
(that little air of Alan's coming back to my memory) began to whistle. A
hand was laid upon my arm, and the voice of Neil bade me to stop, for it
was not "canny musics."

"Not canny?" I asked. "How can that be?"

"Na," said he; "it will be made by a bogle and her wanting ta heid upon
his body."[13]

"Well," said I, "there can be no bogles here, Neil; for it's not likely
they would fash themselves to frighten solan geese."

"Ay?" says Andie, "is that what ye think of it? But I'll can tell ye
there's been waur nor bogles here."

"What's waur than bogles, Andie?" said I.

"Warlocks," said he. "Or a warlock at the least of it. And that's a
queer tale, too," he added. "And if ye would like, I'll tell it ye."

To be sure we were all of the one mind, and even the Highlander that had
the least English of the three set himself to listen with all his might.


THE TALE OF TOD LAPRAIK

My faither, Tam Dale, peace to his banes, was a wild, sploring lad in
his young days, wi' little wisdom and less grace. He was fond of a lass
and fond of a glass, and fond of a ran-dan; but I could never hear tell
that he was muckle use for honest employment. Frae ae thing to anither,
he listed at last for a sodger and was in the garrison of this fort,
which was the first way that ony of the Dales cam to set foot upon the
Bass. Sorrow upon that service! The governor brewed his ain ale; it
seems it was the warst conceivable. The rock was proveesioned frae the
shore with vivers, the thing was ill-guided, and there were whiles when
they but to fish and shoot solans for their diet. To crown a', thir was
the Days of the Persecution. The perishin' cauld chalmers were all
occupeed wi' sants and martyrs, the saut of the yearth, of which it
wasnae worthy. And though Tam Dale carried a firelock there, a single
sodger, and liked a lass and a glass, as I was sayin', the mind of the
man was mair just than set with his position. He had glints of the glory
of the kirk; there were whiles when his dander rase to see the Lord's
sants misguided, and shame covered him that he should be haulding a
can'le (or carrying a firelock) in so black a business. There were
nights of it when he was here on sentry, the place a' wheesht, the
frosts o' winter maybe riving in the wa's, and he would hear are o' the
prisoners strike up a psalm, and the rest join in, and the blessed
sounds rising from the different chalmers--or dungeons, I would raither
say--so that this auld craig in the sea was like a pairt of Heev'n.
Black shame was on his saul; his sins hove up before him muckle as the
Bass, and above a', that chief sin, that he should have a hand in
hagging and hashing at Christ's Kirk. But the truth is that he resisted
the spirit. Day cam, there were the rousing companions, and his guid
resolves depairtit.

In thir days, dwalled upon the Bass a man of God, Peden the Prophet was
his name. Ye'll have heard tell of Prophet Peden. There was never the
wale of him sinsyne, and it's a question wi' mony if there ever was his
like afore. He was wild 's a peat-hag, fearsome to look at, fearsome to
hear, his face like the day of judgment. The voice of him was like a
solan's and dinnle'd in folks' lugs, and the words of him like coals of
fire.

Now there was a lass on the rock, and I think she had little to do, for
it was nae place far dacent weemen; but it seems she was bonny, and her
and Tam Dale were very well agreed. It befell that Peden was in the
gairden his lane at the praying when Tam and the lass cam by; and what
should the lassie do but mock with laughter at the sant's devotions? He
rose and lookit at the twa o' them, and Tam's knees knoitered thegether
at the look of him. But whan he spak, it was mair in sorrow than in
anger. "Poor thing, poor thing!" says he, and it was the lass he lookit
at. "I hear you skirl and laugh," he says, "but the Lord has a deid shot
prepared for you, and at that surprising judgment ye shall skirl but the
ae time!" Shortly thereafter she was daundering on the craigs wi'
twa-three sodgers, and it was a blawy day. There cam a gowst of wind,
claught her by the coats, and awa' wi' her bag and baggage. And it was
remarked by the sodgers that she gied but the ae skirl.

Nae doubt this judgment had some weicht upon Tam Dale; but it passed
again and him none the better. Ae day he was flyting wi' anither
sodger-lad. "Deil hae me!" quo' Tam, for he was a profane swearer. And
there was Peden glowering at him, gash an' waefu'; Peden wi' his lang
chafts an' luntin' een, the maud happed about his kist, and the hand of
him held out wi' the black nails upon the finger-nebs--for he had nae
care of the body. "Fy, fy, poor man!" cries he, "the poor fool man!
_Deil hae me_, quo' he; an' I see the deil at his oxter." The conviction
of guilt and grace cam in on Tam like the deep sea; he flang doun the
pike that was in his hands--"I will nae mair lift arms against the cause
o' Christ!" says he, and was as gude's word. There was a sair fyke in
the beginning, but the governor, seeing him resolved, gied him his
dischairge, and he went and dwallt and merried in North Berwick, and had
aye a gude name with honest folk frae that day on.

It was in the year seeventeen hunner and sax that the Bass cam in the
hands o' the Da'rymples, and there was twa men soucht the chairge of it.
Baith were weel qualified, for they had baith been sodgers in the
garrison, and kent the gate to handle solans, and the seasons and values
of them. Forby that they were baith--or they baith seemed--earnest
professors and men of comely conversation. The first of them was just
Tam Dale, my faither. The second was ane Lapraik, whom the folk ca'd Tod
Lapraik maistly, but whether for his name or his nature I could never
hear tell. Weel, Tam gaed to see Lapraik upon this business, and took
me, that was a toddlin' laddie, by the hand. Tod had his dwallin' in the
lang loan benorth the kirkyaird. It's a dark uncanny loan, forby that
the kirk has aye had an ill name since the days o' James the Saxt and
the deevil's cantrips played therein when the Queen was on the seas; and
as for Tod's house, it was in the mirkest end, and was little liked by
some that kenned the best. The door was on the sneck that day, and me
and my faither gaed straucht in. Tod was a wabster to his trade; his
loom stood in the but. There he sat, a muckle fat, white hash of a man
like creish, wi' a kind of a holy smile that gart me scunner. The hand
of him aye cawed the shuttle, but his een was steeked. We cried to him
by his name, we skirled in the deid lug of him, we shook him by the
shou'ther. Nae mainner o' service! There he sat on his dowp, an' cawed
the shuttle and smiled like creish.

"God be guid to us," says Tam Dale, "this is no canny!"

He had jimp said the word, when Tod Lapraik cam to himsel'.

"Is this you, Tam?" says he. "Haith, man! I'm blythe to see ye. I whiles
fa' into a bit dwam like this," he says; "it's frae the stamach."

Weel, they began to crack about the Bass and which of them twa was to
get the warding o't, and by little and little cam to very ill words, and
twined in anger. I mind weel, that as my faither and me gaed hame again,
he cam ower and ower the same expression, how little he likit Tod
Lapraik and his dwams.

"Dwam!" says he. "I think folk hae brunt far dwams like yon."

Aweel, my faither got the Bass and Tod had to go wantin'. It was
remembered sinsyne what way he had ta'en the thing. "Tam," says he, "ye
hae gotten the better o'me aince mair, and I hope," says he, "ye'll find
at least a' that ye expeckit at the Bass." Which have since been thought
remarkable expressions. At last the time came for Tam Dale to take young
solans. This was a business he was weel used wi', he had been a
craigsman frae a laddie, and trustit nane but himsel'. So there was he
hingin' by a line an' speldering on the craig face, whaur it's hieest
and steighest. Fower tenty lads were on the tap, hauldin' the line and
mindin' for his signals. But whaur Tam hung there was naething but the
craig, and the sea belaw, and the solans skirling and flying. It was a
braw spring morn, and Tam whustled as he claught in the young geese.
Mony's the time I heard him tell of this experience, and aye the swat
ran upon the man.

It chanced, ye see, that Tam keeked up, and he was awaur of a muckle
solan, and the solan pyking at the line. He thocht this by-ordinar and
outside the creature's habits. He minded that ropes was unco saft
things, and the solan's neb and the Bass Rock unco hard, and that twa
hunner feet were raither mair than he would care to fa'.

"Shoo!" says Tam. "Awa', bird! Shoo, awa' wi' ye!" says he.

The solan keekit doun into Tam's face, and there was something unco in
the creature's ee. Just the ae keek it gied, and back to the rope. But
now it wroucht and warstl't like a thing dementit. There never was the
solan made that wroucht as that solan wroucht; and it seemed to
understand it's employ brawly, birzing the saft rope between the neb of
it and a crunkled jag o' stane.

There gaed a cauld stend o' fear into Tam's heart. "This thing is nae
bird," thinks he. His een turnt backward in his heid and the day gaed
black about him. "If I get a dwam here," he thoucht, "it's by wi' Tam
Dale." And he signalled for the lads to pu' him up.

And it seemed the solan understood about signals. For nae sooner was the
signal made than he let be the rope, spried his wings, squawked out
loud, took a turn flying, and dashed straucht at Tam Dale's een. Tam had
a knife, he gart the cauld steel glitter. And it seemed the solan
understood about knives, for nae suner did the steel glint in the sun
than he gied the ae squawk, but laigher, like a body disappointit, and
flegged aff about the roundness of the craig, and Tam saw him nae mair.
And as sune as that thing was gane, Tam's held drapt upon his shouther,
and they pu'd him up like a deid corp, dadding on the craig.

A dram of brandy (which he went never without) broucht him to his mind,
or what was left of it. Up he sat.

"Rin, Geordie, rin to the boat, mak' sure of the boat, man--rin!" he
cries, "or yon solan 'll have it awa'," says he.

The fower lads stared at ither, an' tried to whilly-wha him to be quiet.
But naething, would satisfy Tam Dale, till ane o' them had startit on
aheid to stand sentry on the boat. The ithers askit if he was for down
again.

"Na," says he, "and niether you nor me," says he, "and as sune as I can
win to stand on my twa feet we'll be aff frae this craig o' Sawtan."

Sure eneuch, nae time was lost, and that was ower muckle; for before
they won to North Berwick Tam was in a crying fever. He lay a' the
simmer; and wha was sae kind as come speiring for him, but Tod Lapraik!
Folk thocht afterwards that ilka time Tod cam near the house the fever
had worsened. I kenna for that; but what I ken the best, that was the
end of it.

It was about this time o' the year; my grandfaither was out at the white
fishing; and like a bairn, I but to gang wi' him. We had a grand take, I
mind, and the way that the fish lay broucht us near in by the Bass,
whaur we forgaithered wi' anither boat that belanged to a man Sandie
Fletcher in Castleton. He's no lang deid niether, or ye could spier at
himsel'. Weel, Sandie hailed.

"What's yon on the Bass?" says he.

"On the Bass?" says grandfaither.

"Ay," says Sandie, "on the green side o't."

"Whatten kind of a thing?" says grandfaither. "There cannae be naething
on the Bass but just the sheep."

"It looks unco like a body," quo' Sandie, who was nearer in.

"A body!" says we, and we nane of us likit that. For there was nae boat
that could have broucht a man, and the key o' the prison yett hung ower
my faither's held at hame in the press bed.

We keept the twa boats closs for company, and crap in nearer hand.
Grandfaither had a gless, for he had been a sailor, and the captain of a
smack, and had lost her on the sands of Tay. And when we took the gless
to it, sure eneuch there was a man. He was in a crunkle o' green brae, a
wee below the chaipel, a' by his lee lane, and lowped and flang and
danced like a daft quean at a waddin'.

"It's Tod," says grandfaither, and passed the gless to Sandie.

"Ay, it's him," says Sandie.

"Or ane in the likeness o' him,'' says grandfaither.

"Sma' is the differ," quo' Sandie. "De'il or warlock, I'll try the gun
at him," quo' he, and broucht up a fowling-piece that he aye carried,
for Sandie was a notable famous shot in all that country.

"Haud your hand, Sandie," says grandfaither; "we maun see clearer
first," says he, "or this may be a dear day's wark to the baith of us."

"Hout!" says Sandie, "this is the Lord's judgments surely, and be damned
to it!" says he.

"Maybe ay, and maybe no," says my grandfaither, worthy man! "But have
you a mind of the Procurator Fiscal, that I think ye'll have
forgaithered wi' before," says he.

This was ower true, and Sandie was a wee thing set ajee. "Aweel, Edie,"
says he, "and what would be your way of it?"

"Ou, just this," says grandfaither. "Let me that has the fastest boat
gang back to North Berwick, and let you bide here and keep an eye on
Thon. If I cannae find Lapraik, I'll join ye and the twa of us'll have a
crack wi' him. But if Lapraik's at hame, I'll rin up the flag at the
harbour, and ye can try Thon Thing wi' the gun."

Aweel, so it was agreed between them twa. I was just a bairn, an' clum
in Sandie's boat, whaur I thoucht I would see the best of the employ. My
grandsire gied Sandie a siller tester to pit in his gun wi' the leid
draps, bein' mair deidly again bogles. And then the ae boat set aff for
North Berwick, an' the tither lay whaur it was and watched the wanchancy
thing on the braeside.

A' the time we lay there it lowped and flang and capered and span like a
teetotum, and whiles we could hear it skelloch as it span. I hae seen
lassies, the daft queans, that would lowp and dance a winter's nicht,
and still be lowping and dancing when the winter's day cam in. But there
would be folk there to hauld them company, and the lads to egg them on;
and this thing was its lee-lane. And there would be a fiddler diddling
his elbock in the chimney-side; and this thing had nae music but the
skirling of the solans. And the lassies were bits o' young things wi'
the reid life dinnling and stending in their members; and this was a
muckle, fat, crieshy man, and him fa'n in the vale o' years. Say what ye
like, I maun say what I believe. It was joy was in the creature's heart;
the joy o' hell, I daursay: joy whatever. Mony a time I have askit
mysel', why witches and warlocks should sell their sauls (whilk are
their maist dear possessions) and be auld, duddy, wrunkl't wives or
auld, feckless, doddered men; and then I mind upon Tod Lapraik dancing
a' they hours by his lane in the black glory of his heart. Nae doubt
they burn for it in muckle hell, but they have a grand time here of it,
whatever!--and the Lord forgie us!

Weel, at the hinder end, we saw the wee flag yirk up to the mast-held
upon the harbour rocks. That was a' Sandie waited for. He up wi' the
gun, took a deleeberate aim, an' pu'd the trigger. There cam' a bang and
then ae waefu' skirl frae the Bass. And there were we rubbin' our een
and lookin' at ither like daft folk. For wi' the bang and the skirl the
thing had clean disappeared. The sun glintit, the wund blew, and there
was the bare yaird whaur the Wonder had been lowping and flinging but ae
second syne.

The hale way hame I roared and grat wi' the terror of that dispensation.
The grawn folk were nane sae muckle better; there was little said in
Sandie's boat but just the name of God; and when we won in by the pier,
the harbour rocks were fair black wi' the folk waitin' us. It seems they
had fund Lapraik in ane of his dwams, cawing the shuttle and smiling. Ae
lad they sent to hoist the flag, and the rest abode there in the
wabster's house. You may be sure they liked it little; but it was a
means of grace to severals that stood there praying in to themsel's (for
nane cared to pray out loud) and looking on thon awesome thing as it
cawed the shuttle. Syne, upon a suddenty, and wi' the ae driedfu'
skelloch, Tod sprang up frae his hinderlands and fell forrit on the wab,
a bluidy corp.

When the corp was examined the leid draps hadnae played buff upon the
warlock's body; sorrow a leid drap was to be fund; but there was
grandfather's siller tester in the puddock's heart of him.

* * * * *

Andie had scarce done when there befell a mighty silly affair that had
its consequence. Neil, as I have said, was himself a great narrator. I
have heard since that he knew all the stories in the Highlands; and
thought much of himself, and was thought much of by others, on the
strength of it. Now Andie's tale reminded him of one he had already
heard.

"She would ken that story afore," he said. "She was the story of Uistean
More M'Gillie Phadrig and the Gavar Vore."

"It is no sic a thing," cried Andie. "It is the story of my faither (now
wi' God) and Tod Lapraik. And the same in your beard," says he; "and
keep the tongue of ye inside your Hielant chafts!"

In dealing with Highlanders it will be found, and has been shown in
history, how well it goes with Lowland gentlefolk; but the thing appears
scarce feasible for Lowland commons. I had already remarked that Andie
was continually on the point of quarrelling with our three Macgregors,
and now, sure enough, it was to come.

"Thir will be no words to use to shentlemans," says Neil.

"Shentlemans!" cries Andie. "Shentlemans, ye hielant stot! If God would
give ye the grace to see yoursel' the way that ithers see ye, ye would
throw your denner up."

There came some kind of a Gaelic oath from Neil, and the black knife was
in his hand that moment.

There was no time to think; and I caught the Highlander by the leg, and
had him down, and his armed hand pinned out, before I knew what I was
doing. His comrades sprang to rescue him, Andie and I were without
weapons, the Gregara three to two. It seemed we were beyond salvation,
when Neil screamed in his own tongue, ordering the others back, and made
his submission to myself in a manner the most abject, even giving me up
his knife which (upon a repetition of his promises) I returned to him on
the morrow.

Two things I saw plain: the first, that I must not build too high on
Andie, who had shrunk against the wall and stood there, as pale as
death, till the affair was over; the second, the strength of my own
position with the Highlanders, who must have received extraordinary
charges to be tender of my safety. But if I thought Andie came not very
well out in courage, I had no fault to find with him upon the account of
gratitude. It was not so much that he troubled me with thanks, as that
his whole mind and manner appeared changed; and as he preserved ever
after a great timidity of our companions, he and I were yet more
constantly together.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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