The Doomed Rider

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    “The Conan is as bonny a river as we hae in a’ the north country. There’s mony a sweet sunny spot on its banks, an’ mony a time an’ aft hae I waded through its shallows, whan a boy, to set my little scautling-line for the trouts an’ the eels, or to gather the big pearl-mussels that lie sae thick in the fords. But its bonny wooded banks are places for enjoying the day in—no for passing the nicht. I kenna how it is; it’s nane o’ your wild streams that wander desolate through a desert country, like the Aven, or that come rushing down in foam and thunder, ower broken rocks, like the Foyers, or that wallow in darkness, deep, deep in the bowels o’ the earth, like the fearfu’ Auldgraunt; an’ yet no ane o’ these rivers has mair or frightfuller stories connected wi’ it than the Conan. Ane can hardly saunter ower half-a-mile in its course, frae where it leaves Coutin till where it enters the sea, without passing ower the scene o’ some frightful auld legend o’ the kelpie or the waterwraith. And ane o’ the most frightful looking o’ these places is to be found among the woods of Conan House. Ye enter a swampy meadow that waves wi’ flags an’ rushes like a corn-field in harvest, an’ see a hillock covered wi’ willows rising like an island in the midst.

    There are thick mirk-woods on ilka side; the river, dark an’ awesome, an’ whirling round an’ round in mossy eddies, sweeps away behind it; an’ there is an auld burying-ground, wi’ the broken ruins o’ an auld Papist kirk, on the tap. Ane can see amang the rougher stanes the rose-wrought mullions of an arched window, an’ the trough that ance held the holy water. About twa hunder years ago—a wee mair maybe, or a wee less, for ane canna be very sure o’ the date o’ thae old stories—the building was entire; an’ a spot near it, whar the wood now grows thickest, was laid out in a corn-field. The marks o’ the furrows may still be seen amang the trees.

    “A party o’ Highlanders were busily engaged, ae day in harvest, in cutting down the corn o’ that field; an’ just aboot noon, when the sun shone brightest an’ they were busiest in the work, they heard a voice frae the river exclaim:—‘The hour but not the man has come.’ Sure enough, on looking round, there was the kelpie stan’in’ in what they ca’ a fause ford, just fornent the auld kirk. There is a deep black pool baith aboon an’ below, but i’ the ford there’s a bonny ripple, that shows, as ane might think, but little depth o’ water; an’ just i’ the middle o’ that, in a place where a horse might swim, stood the kelpie. An’ it again repeated its words:—‘The hour but not the man has come,’ an’ then flashing through the water like a drake, it disappeared in the lower pool. When the folk stood wondering what the creature might mean, they saw a man on horseback come spurring down the hill in hot haste, making straight for the fause ford. They could then understand her words at ance; an’ four o’ the stoutest o’ them sprang oot frae amang the corn to warn him o’ his danger, an’ keep him back. An’ sae they tauld him what they had seen an’ heard, an’ urged him either to turn back an’ tak’ anither road, or stay for an hour or sae where he was.

    But he just wadna hear them, for he was baith unbelieving an’ in haste, an’ wauld hae taen the ford for a’ they could say, hadna the Highlanders, determined on saving him whether he would or no, gathered round him an’ pulled him frae his horse, an’ then, to mak’ sure o’ him, locked him up in the auld kirk. Weel, when the hour had gone by—the fatal hour o’ the kelpie—they flung open the door, an’ cried to him that he might noo gang on his journey. Ah! but there was nae answer, though; an’ sae they cried a second time, an’ there was nae answer still; an’ then they went in, an’ found him lying stiff an’ cauld on the floor, wi’ his face buried in the water o’ the very stone trough that we may still see amang the ruins. His hour had come, an’ he had fallen in a fit, as ’twould seem, head-foremost amang the water o’ the trough, where he had been smothered,—an’ sae ye see, the prophecy o’ the kelpie availed naething.”

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