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Thrawn Janet

THE Reverend Murdoch Soulis was long minister of the moorland
parish of Balweary, in the vale of Dule. A severe, bleak-faced old
man, dreadful to his hearers, he dwelt in the last years of his
life, without relative or servant or any human company, in the
small and lonely manse under the Hanging Shaw. In spite of the
iron composure of his features, his eye was wild, scared, and
uncertain; and when he dwelt, in private admonitions, on the future
of the impenitent, it seemed as if his eye pierced through the
storms of time to the terrors of eternity. Many young persons,
coming to prepare themselves against the season of the Holy
Communion, were dreadfully affected by his talk. He had a sermon
on lst Peter, v. and 8th, 'The devil as a roaring lion,' on the
Sunday after every seventeenth of August, and he was accustomed to
surpass himself upon that text both by the appalling nature of the
matter and the terror of his bearing in the pulpit. The children
were frightened into fits, and the old looked more than usually
oracular, and were, all that day, full of those hints that Hamlet
deprecated. The manse itself, where it stood by the water of Dule
among some thick trees, with the Shaw overhanging it on the one
side, and on the other many cold, moorish hilltops rising towards
the sky, had begun, at a very early period of Mr. Soulis's
ministry, to be avoided in the dusk hours by all who valued
themselves upon their prudence; and guidmen sitting at the clachan
alehouse shook their heads together at the thought of passing late
by that uncanny neighbourhood. There was one spot, to be more
particular, which was regarded with especial awe. The manse stood
between the high road and the water of Dule, with a gable to each;
its back was towards the kirk-town of Balweary, nearly half a mile
away; in front of it, a bare garden, hedged with thorn, occupied
the land between the river and the road. The house was two stories
high, with two large rooms on each. It opened not directly on the
garden, but on a causewayed path, or passage, giving on the road on
the one hand, and closed on the other by the tall willows and
elders that bordered on the stream. And it was this strip of
causeway that enjoyed among the young parishioners of Balweary so
infamous a reputation. The minister walked there often after dark,
sometimes groaning aloud in the instancy of his unspoken prayers;
and when he was from home, and the manse door was locked, the more
daring schoolboys ventured, with beating hearts, to 'follow my
leader' across that legendary spot.

This atmosphere of terror, surrounding, as it did, a man of God of
spotless character and orthodoxy, was a common cause of wonder and
subject of inquiry among the few strangers who were led by chance
or business into that unknown, outlying country. But many even of
the people of the parish were ignorant of the strange events which
had marked the first year of Mr. Soulis's ministrations; and among
those who were better informed, some were naturally reticent, and
others shy of that particular topic. Now and again, only, one of
the older folk would warm into courage over his third tumbler, and
recount the cause of the minister's strange looks and solitary
life.


Fifty years syne, when Mr. Soulis cam first into Ba'weary, he was
still a young man - a callant, the folk said - fu' o' book learnin'
and grand at the exposition, but, as was natural in sae young a
man, wi' nae leevin' experience in religion. The younger sort were
greatly taken wi' his gifts and his gab; but auld, concerned,
serious men and women were moved even to prayer for the young man,
whom they took to be a self-deceiver, and the parish that was like
to be sae ill-supplied. It was before the days o' the moderates -
weary fa' them; but ill things are like guid - they baith come bit
by bit, a pickle at a time; and there were folk even then that said
the Lord had left the college professors to their ain devices, an'
the lads that went to study wi' them wad hae done mair and better
sittin' in a peat-bog, like their forbears of the persecution, wi'
a Bible under their oxter and a speerit o' prayer in their heart.
There was nae doubt, onyway, but that Mr. Soulis had been ower lang
at the college. He was careful and troubled for mony things
besides the ae thing needful. He had a feck o' books wi' him -
mair than had ever been seen before in a' that presbytery; and a
sair wark the carrier had wi' them, for they were a' like to have
smoored in the Deil's Hag between this and Kilmackerlie. They were
books o' divinity, to be sure, or so they ca'd them; but the
serious were o' opinion there was little service for sae mony, when
the hail o' God's Word would gang in the neuk of a plaid. Then he
wad sit half the day and half the nicht forbye, which was scant
decent - writin', nae less; and first, they were feared he wad read
his sermons; and syne it proved he was writin' a book himsel',
which was surely no fittin' for ane of his years an' sma'
experience.

Onyway it behoved him to get an auld, decent wife to keep the manse
for him an' see to his bit denners; and he was recommended to an
auld limmer - Janet M'Clour, they ca'd her - and sae far left to
himsel' as to be ower persuaded. There was mony advised him to the
contrar, for Janet was mair than suspeckit by the best folk in
Ba'weary. Lang or that, she had had a wean to a dragoon; she
hadnae come forrit (4) for maybe thretty year; and bairns had seen
her mumblin' to hersel' up on Key's Loan in the gloamin', whilk was
an unco time an' place for a God-fearin' woman. Howsoever, it was
the laird himsel' that had first tauld the minister o' Janet; and
in thae days he wad have gane a far gate to pleesure the laird.
When folk tauld him that Janet was sib to the deil, it was a'
superstition by his way of it; an' when they cast up the Bible to
him an' the witch of Endor, he wad threep it doun their thrapples
that thir days were a' gane by, and the deil was mercifully
restrained.

Weel, when it got about the clachan that Janet M'Clour was to be
servant at the manse, the folk were fair mad wi' her an' him
thegether; and some o' the guidwives had nae better to dae than get
round her door cheeks and chairge her wi' a' that was ken't again
her, frae the sodger's bairn to John Tamson's twa kye. She was nae
great speaker; folk usually let her gang her ain gate, an' she let
them gang theirs, wi', neither Fair-guid-een nor Fair-guid-day; but
when she buckled to, she had a tongue to deave the miller. Up she
got, an' there wasnae an auld story in Ba'weary but she gart
somebody lowp for it that day; they couldnae say ae thing but she
could say twa to it; till, at the hinder end, the guidwives up and
claught haud of her, and clawed the coats aff her back, and pu'd
her doun the clachan to the water o' Dule, to see if she were a
witch or no, soum or droun. The carline skirled till ye could hear
her at the Hangin' Shaw, and she focht like ten; there was mony a
guidwife bure the mark of her neist day an' mony a lang day after;
and just in the hettest o' the collieshangie, wha suld come up (for
his sins) but the new minister.

'Women,' said he (and he had a grand voice), 'I charge you in the
Lord's name to let her go.'

Janet ran to him - she was fair wud wi' terror - an' clang to him,
an' prayed him, for Christ's sake, save her frae the cummers; an'
they, for their pairt, tauld him a' that was ken't, and maybe mair.

'Woman,' says he to Janet, 'is this true?'

'As the Lord sees me,' says she, 'as the Lord made me, no a word
o't. Forbye the bairn,' says she, 'I've been a decent woman a' my
days.'

'Will you,' says Mr. Soulis, 'in the name of God, and before me,
His unworthy minister, renounce the devil and his works?'

Weel, it wad appear that when he askit that, she gave a girn that
fairly frichtit them that saw her, an' they could hear her teeth
play dirl thegether in her chafts; but there was naething for it
but the ae way or the ither; an' Janet lifted up her hand and
renounced the deil before them a'.

'And now,' says Mr. Soulis to the guidwives, 'home with ye, one and
all, and pray to God for His forgiveness.'

And he gied Janet his arm, though she had little on her but a sark,
and took her up the clachan to her ain door like a leddy of the
land; an' her scrieghin' and laughin' as was a scandal to be heard.

There were mony grave folk lang ower their prayers that nicht; but
when the morn cam' there was sic a fear fell upon a' Ba'weary that
the bairns hid theirsels, and even the men folk stood and keekit
frae their doors. For there was Janet comin' doun the clachan -
her or her likeness, nane could tell - wi' her neck thrawn, and her
heid on ae side, like a body that has been hangit, and a girn on
her face like an unstreakit corp. By an' by they got used wi' it,
and even speered at her to ken what was wrang; but frae that day
forth she couldnae speak like a Christian woman, but slavered and
played click wi' her teeth like a pair o' shears; and frae that day
forth the name o' God cam never on her lips. Whiles she wad try to
say it, but it michtnae be. Them that kenned best said least; but
they never gied that Thing the name o' Janet M'Clour; for the auld
Janet, by their way o't, was in muckle hell that day. But the
minister was neither to haud nor to bind; he preached about
naething but the folk's cruelty that had gi'en her a stroke of the
palsy; he skelpt the bairns that meddled her; and he had her up to
the manse that same nicht, and dwalled there a' his lane wi' her
under the Hangin' Shaw.

Weel, time gaed by: and the idler sort commenced to think mair
lichtly o' that black business. The minister was weel thocht o';
he was aye late at the writing, folk wad see his can'le doon by the
Dule water after twal' at e'en; and he seemed pleased wi' himsel'
and upsitten as at first, though a' body could see that he was
dwining. As for Janet she cam an' she gaed; if she didnae speak
muckle afore, it was reason she should speak less then; she meddled
naebody; but she was an eldritch thing to see, an' nane wad hae
mistrysted wi' her for Ba'weary glebe.

About the end o' July there cam' a spell o' weather, the like o't
never was in that country side; it was lown an' het an' heartless;
the herds couldnae win up the Black Hill, the bairns were ower
weariet to play; an' yet it was gousty too, wi' claps o' het wund
that rumm'led in the glens, and bits o' shouers that slockened
naething. We aye thocht it but to thun'er on the morn; but the
morn cam, an' the morn's morning, and it was aye the same uncanny
weather, sair on folks and bestial. Of a' that were the waur, nane
suffered like Mr. Soulis; he could neither sleep nor eat, he tauld
his elders; an' when he wasnae writin' at his weary book, he wad be
stravaguin' ower a' the countryside like a man possessed, when a'
body else was blythe to keep caller ben the house.

Abune Hangin' Shaw, in the bield o' the Black Hill, there's a bit
enclosed grund wi' an iron yett; and it seems, in the auld days,
that was the kirkyaird o' Ba'weary, and consecrated by the Papists
before the blessed licht shone upon the kingdom. It was a great
howff o' Mr. Soulis's, onyway; there he would sit an' consider his
sermons; and indeed it's a bieldy bit. Weel, as he cam ower the
wast end o' the Black Hill, ae day, he saw first twa, an syne
fower, an' syne seeven corbie craws fleein' round an' round abune
the auld kirkyaird. They flew laigh and heavy, an' squawked to
ither as they gaed; and it was clear to Mr. Soulis that something
had put them frae their ordinar. He wasnae easy fleyed, an' gaed
straucht up to the wa's; an' what suld he find there but a man, or
the appearance of a man, sittin' in the inside upon a grave. He
was of a great stature, an' black as hell, and his e'en were
singular to see. (5) Mr. Soulis had heard tell o' black men,
mony's the time; but there was something unco about this black man
that daunted him. Het as he was, he took a kind o' cauld grue in
the marrow o' his banes; but up he spak for a' that; an' says he:
'My friend, are you a stranger in this place?' The black man
answered never a word; he got upon his feet, an' begude to hirsle
to the wa' on the far side; but he aye lookit at the minister; an'
the minister stood an' lookit back; till a' in a meenute the black
man was ower the wa' an' rinnin' for the bield o' the trees. Mr.
Soulis, he hardly kenned why, ran after him; but he was sair
forjaskit wi' his walk an' the het, unhalesome weather; and rin as
he likit, he got nae mair than a glisk o' the black man amang the
birks, till he won doun to the foot o' the hill-side, an' there he
saw him ance mair, gaun, hap, step, an' lowp, ower Dule water to
the manse.

Mr. Soulis wasnae weel pleased that this fearsome gangrel suld mak'
sae free wi' Ba'weary manse; an' he ran the harder, an', wet shoon,
ower the burn, an' up the walk; but the deil a black man was there
to see. He stepped out upon the road, but there was naebody there;
he gaed a' ower the gairden, but na, nae black man. At the hinder
end, and a bit feared as was but natural, he lifted the hasp and
into the manse; and there was Janet M'Clour before his een, wi' her
thrawn craig, and nane sae pleased to see him. And he aye minded
sinsyne, when first he set his een upon her, he had the same cauld
and deidly grue.

'Janet,' says he, 'have you seen a black man?'

'A black man?' quo' she. 'Save us a'! Ye're no wise, minister.
There's nae black man in a Ba'weary.'

But she didnae speak plain, ye maun understand; but yam-yammered,
like a powney wi' the bit in its moo.

'Weel,' says he, 'Janet, if there was nae black man, I have spoken
with the Accuser of the Brethren.'

And he sat down like ane wi' a fever, an' his teeth chittered in
his heid.

'Hoots,' says she, 'think shame to yoursel', minister;' an' gied
him a drap brandy that she keept aye by her.

Syne Mr. Soulis gaed into his study amang a' his books. It's a
lang, laigh, mirk chalmer, perishin' cauld in winter, an' no very
dry even in the tap o' the simmer, for the manse stands near the
burn. Sae doun he sat, and thocht of a' that had come an' gane
since he was in Ba'weary, an' his hame, an' the days when he was a
bairn an' ran daffin' on the braes; and that black man aye ran in
his heid like the ower-come of a sang. Aye the mair he thocht, the
mair he thocht o' the black man. He tried the prayer, an' the
words wouldnae come to him; an' he tried, they say, to write at his
book, but he could nae mak' nae mair o' that. There was whiles he
thocht the black man was at his oxter, an' the swat stood upon him
cauld as well-water; and there was other whiles, when he cam to
himsel' like a christened bairn and minded naething.

The upshot was that he gaed to the window an' stood glowrin' at
Dule water. The trees are unco thick, an' the water lies deep an'
black under the manse; an' there was Janct washin' the cla'es wi'
her coats kilted. She had her back to the minister, an' he, for
his pairt, hardly kenned what he was lookin' at. Syne she turned
round, an' shawed her face; Mr. Soulis had the same cauld grue as
twice that day afore, an' it was borne in upon him what folk said,
that Janet was deid lang syne, an' this was a bogle in her clay-
cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly.
She was tramp-trampin' in the cla'es, croonin' to hersel'; and eh!
Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face. Whiles she sang louder,
but there was nae man born o' woman that could tell the words o'
her sang; an' whiles she lookit side-lang doun, but there was
naething there for her to look at. There gaed a scunner through
the flesh upon his banes; and that was Heeven's advertisement. But
Mr. Soulis just blamed himsel', he said, to think sae ill of a
puir, auld afflicted wife that hadnae a freend forbye himsel'; an'
he put up a bit prayer for him and her, an' drank a little caller
water - for his heart rose again the meat - an' gaed up to his
naked bed in the gloaming.

That was a nicht that has never been forgotten in Ba'weary, the
nicht o' the seeventeenth of August, seventeen hun'er' an twal'.
It had been het afore, as I hae said, but that nicht it was hetter
than ever. The sun gaed doun amang unco-lookin' clouds; it fell as
mirk as the pit; no a star, no a breath o' wund; ye couldnae see
your han' afore your face, and even the auld folk cuist the covers
frae their beds and lay pechin' for their breath. Wi' a' that he
had upon his mind, it was gey and unlikely Mr. Soulis wad get
muckle sleep. He lay an' he tummled; the gude, caller bed that he
got into brunt his very banes; whiles he slept, and whiles he
waukened; whiles he heard the time o' nicht, and whiles a tyke
yowlin' up the muir, as if somebody was deid; whiles he thocht he
heard bogles claverin' in his lug, an' whiles he saw spunkies in
the room. He behoved, he judged, to be sick; an' sick he was -
little he jaloosed the sickness.

At the hinder end, he got a clearness in his mind, sat up in his
sark on the bed-side, and fell thinkin' ance mair o' the black man
an' Janet. He couldnae weel tell how - maybe it was the cauld to
his feet - but it cam' in upon him wi' a spate that there was some
connection between thir twa, an' that either or baith o' them were
bogles. And just at that moment, in Janet's room, which was neist
to his, there cam' a stramp o' feet as if men were wars'lin', an'
then a loud bang; an' then a wund gaed reishling round the fower
quarters of the house; an' then a' was aince mair as seelent as the
grave.

Mr. Soulis was feared for neither man nor deevil. He got his
tinder-box, an' lit a can'le, an' made three steps o't ower to
Janet's door. It was on the hasp, an' he pushed it open, an'
keeked bauldly in. It was a big room, as big as the minister's
ain, an' plenished wi' grand, auld, solid gear, for he had naething
else. There was a fower-posted bed wi' auld tapestry; and a braw
cabinet of aik, that was fu' o' the minister's divinity books, an'
put there to be out o' the gate; an' a wheen duds o' Janet's lying
here and there about the floor. But nae Janet could Mr. Soulis
see; nor ony sign of a contention. In he gaed (an' there's few
that wad ha'e followed him) an' lookit a' round, an' listened. But
there was naethin' to be heard, neither inside the manse nor in a'
Ba'weary parish, an' naethin' to be seen but the muckle shadows
turnin' round the can'le. An' then a' at aince, the minister's
heart played dunt an' stood stock-still; an' a cauld wund blew
amang the hairs o' his heid. Whaten a weary sicht was that for the
puir man's een! For there was Janat hangin' frae a nail beside the
auld aik cabinet: her heid aye lay on her shoother, her een were
steeked, the tongue projekit frae her mouth, and her heels were twa
feet clear abune the floor.

'God forgive us all!' thocht Mr. Soulis; 'poor Janet's dead.'

He cam' a step nearer to the corp; an' then his heart fair whammled
in his inside. For by what cantrip it wad ill-beseem a man to
judge, she was hingin' frae a single nail an' by a single wursted
thread for darnin' hose.

It's an awfu' thing to be your lane at nicht wi' siccan prodigies
o' darkness; but Mr. Soulis was strong in the Lord. He turned an'
gaed his ways oot o' that room, and lockit the door ahint him; and
step by step, doon the stairs, as heavy as leed; and set doon the
can'le on the table at the stairfoot. He couldnae pray, he
couldnae think, he was dreepin' wi' caul' swat, an' naething could
he hear but the dunt-dunt-duntin' o' his ain heart. He micht maybe
have stood there an hour, or maybe twa, he minded sae little; when
a' o' a sudden, he heard a laigh, uncanny steer upstairs; a foot
gaed to an' fro in the cha'mer whaur the corp was hingin'; syne the
door was opened, though he minded weel that he had lockit it; an'
syne there was a step upon the landin', an' it seemed to him as if
the corp was lookin' ower the rail and doun upon him whaur he
stood.

He took up the can'le again (for he couldnae want the licht), and
as saftly as ever he could, gaed straucht out o' the manse an' to
the far end o' the causeway. It was aye pit-mirk; the flame o' the
can'le, when he set it on the grund, brunt steedy and clear as in a
room; naething moved, but the Dule water seepin' and sabbin' doon
the glen, an' yon unhaly footstep that cam' ploddin doun the stairs
inside the manse. He kenned the foot over weel, for it was
Janet's; and at ilka step that cam' a wee thing nearer, the cauld
got deeper in his vitals. He commanded his soul to Him that made
an' keepit him; 'and O Lord,' said he, 'give me strength this night
to war against the powers of evil.'

By this time the foot was comin' through the passage for the door;
he could hear a hand skirt alang the wa', as if the fearsome thing
was feelin' for its way. The saughs tossed an' maned thegether, a
lang sigh cam' ower the hills, the flame o' the can'le was blawn
aboot; an' there stood the corp of Thrawn Janet, wi' her grogram
goun an' her black mutch, wi' the heid aye upon the shouther, an'
the girn still upon the face o't - leevin', ye wad hae said - deid,
as Mr. Soulis weel kenned - upon the threshold o' the manse.

It's a strange thing that the saul of man should be that thirled
into his perishable body; but the minister saw that, an' his heart
didnae break.

She didnae stand there lang; she began to move again an' cam'
slowly towards Mr. Soulis whaur he stood under the saughs. A' the
life o' his body, a' the strength o' his speerit, were glowerin'
frae his een. It seemed she was gaun to speak, but wanted words,
an' made a sign wi' the left hand. There cam' a clap o' wund, like
a cat's fuff; oot gaed the can'le, the saughs skrieghed like folk;
an' Mr. Soulis kenned that, live or die, this was the end o't.

'Witch, beldame, devil!' he cried, 'I charge you, by the power of
God, begone - if you be dead, to the grave - if you be damned, to
hell.'

An' at that moment the Lord's ain hand out o' the Heevens struck
the Horror whaur it stood; the auld, deid, desecrated corp o' the
witch-wife, sae lang keepit frae the grave and hirsled round by
deils, lowed up like a brunstane spunk and fell in ashes to the
grund; the thunder followed, peal on dirling peal, the rairing rain
upon the back o' that; and Mr. Soulis lowped through the garden
hedge, and ran, wi' skelloch upon skelloch, for the clachan.

That same mornin', John Christie saw the Black Man pass the Muckle
Cairn as it was chappin' six; before eicht, he gaed by the change-
house at Knockdow; an' no lang after, Sandy M'Lellan saw him gaun
linkin' doun the braes frae Kilmackerlie. There's little doubt but
it was him that dwalled sae lang in Janet's body; but he was awa'
at last; and sinsyne the deil has never fashed us in Ba'weary.

But it was a sair dispensation for the minister; lang, lang he lay
ravin' in his bed; and frae that hour to this, he was the man ye
ken the day.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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