In the latter end of the autumn of 18–, I set out by myself on an excursion over the northern part of Scotland, and during that time my chief amusement was to observe the little changes of manners, language, etc., in the different districts. After having viewed on my return the principal curiosities in Buchan, I made a little ale-house, or “public,” my head-quarters for the night. Having discussed my supper in solitude, I called up mine host to enable me to discuss my bottle, and to give me a statistical account of the country around me. Seated in the “blue” end, and well supplied with the homely but satisfying luxuries which the place afforded, I was in an excellent mood for enjoying the communicativeness of my landlord; and, after speaking about the cave of Slaines, the state of the crops, and the neighbouring franklins, edged him, by degrees, to speak about the Abbey of Deer, an interesting ruin which I had examined in the course of the day, formerly the stronghold of the once powerful family of Cummin.
“It’s dootless a bonnie place about the abbey,” said he, “but naething like what it was when the great Sir James the Rose came to hide i’ the Buchan woods wi’ a’ the Grahames rampagin’ at his tail, whilk you that’s a beuk-learned man ’ill hae read o’, an’ may be ye’ll hae heard o’ the saughen bush where he forgathered wi’ his jo; or aiblins ye may have seen ’t, for it’s standing yet just at the corner o’ gaukit Jamie Jamieson’s peat-stack. Ay, ay, the abbey was a brave place once; but a’ thing, ye ken, comes till an end.” So saying, he nodded to me, and brought his glass to an end.
“This place, then, must have been famed in days of yore, my friend?”
“Ye may tak my word for that,” said he, “’Od, it was a place! Sic a sight o’ fechtin’ as they had about it! But gin ye’ll gan up the trap-stair to the laft, an’ open Jenny’s kist, ye’ll see sic a story about it, printed by ane o’ your learned Aberdeen’s fouk, Maister Keith, I think; she coft it in Aberdeen for twal’ pennies, lang ago, an’ battered it to the lid o’ her kist. But gang up the stair canny, for fear that you should wauken her, puir thing; or, bide, I’ll just wauken Jamie Fleep, an’ gar him help me down wi’t, for our stair’s no just that canny for them ’t’s no acquaint wi’t, let alane a frail man wi’ your infirmity.”
I assured him that I would neither disturb the young lady’s slumber nor Jamie Fleep’s, and begged him to give me as much information as he could about this castle.
“Weel, wishin’ your guid health again.—Our minister ance said that Solomon’s Temple was a’ in ruins, wi’ whin bushes, an’ broom and thistles growin’ ower the bonnie carved wark an’ the cedar wa’s, just like our ain abbey. Noo, I judge that the Abbey o’ Deer was just the marrow o ’t, or the minister wadna hae said that. But when it was biggit, Lord kens, for I dinna. It was just as you see it, lang afore your honour was born, an’ aiblins, as the by-word says, may be sae after ye’re hanged. But that’s neither here nor there. The Cummins o’ Buchan were a dour and surly race; and, for a fearfu’ time, nane near han’ nor far awa could ding them, an’ yet mony a ane tried it. The fouk on their ain lan’ likit them weel enough; but the Crawfords, an’ the Grahames, an’ the Mars, an’ the Lovats, were aye trying to comb them against the hair, an’ mony a weary kempin’ had they wi’ them. But some way or ither they could never ding them; an’ fouk said that they gaed and learned the black art frae the Pope o’ Room, wha, I myself heard the minister say, had aye a colleague wi’ the Auld Chiel. I dinna ken fou it was, in the tail o’ the day, the hale country raise up against them, an’ besieged them in the Abbey o’ Deer. Ye’ll see, my frien’” (by this time mine host considered me as one of his cronies), “tho’ we ca’ it the abbey, it had naething to do wi’ papistry; na, na, no sae bad as a’ that either, but just a noble’s castle, where they keepit sodgers gaun about in airn an’ scarlet, wi’ their swords an’ guns, an’ begnets, an’ sentry-boxes, like the local militia in the barracks o’ Aberdeen.
“Weel, ye see, they surrounded the castle, an’ lang did they besiege it; but there was a vast o’ meat in the castle, an’ the Buchan fouk fought like the vera deil. They took their horse through a miscellaneous passage, half a mile long, aneath the hill o’ Saplinbrae, an’ watered them in the burn o’ Pulmer. But a’ wadna do; they took the castle at last, and a terrible slaughter they made amo’ them; but they were sair disappointed in ae partic’ler, for Cummin’s fouk sank a’ their goud an’ siller in a draw-wall, an’ syne filled it up wi’ stanes. They got naething in the way of spulzie to speak o’; sae out o’ spite they dang doon the castle, an’ it’s never been biggit to this day. But the Cummins were no sae bad as the Lairds o’ Federat, after a’.”
“And who were these Federats?” I inquired.
“The Lairds o’ Federat?” said he, moistening his mouth again as a preamble to his oration. “Troth, frae their deeds ane would maist think that they had a drap o’ the deil’s blude, like the pyets. Gin a’ tales be true, they hae the warmest place at his bink this vera minute. I dinna ken vera muckle about them though, but the auldest fouk said they were just byous wi’ cruelty. Mony a good man did they hing up i’ their ha’, just for their ain sport; ye’ll see the ring to the fore yet in the roof o ’t. Did ye never hear o’ Mauns’ Stane, neebour?”
“Mauns’ what?” said I.
“Ou, Mauns’ Stane. But it’s no likely. Ye see it was just a queer clump o’ a roun’-about heathen, waghlin’ may be twa tons or thereby. It wasna like ony o’ the stanes in our countra, an’ it was as roun’ as a fit-ba’; I’m sure it wad ding Professor Couplan himsel’ to tell what way it cam’ there. Noo, fouk aye thought there was something uncanny about it, an’ some gaed the length o’ saying that the deil used to bake ginshbread upon’t; and, as sure as ye’re sitting there, frien’, there was knuckle-marks upon ’t, for my ain father has seen them as aften as I have taes an’ fingers. Aweel, ye see, Mauns Crawford, the last o’ the Lairds o’ Federat, an’ the deil had coost out (may be because the laird was just as wicked an’ as clever as he was himsel’), an’ ye perceive the evil ane wantit to play him a trick. Noo, Mauns Crawford was ae day lookin’ ower his castle wa’, and he saw a stalwart carle, in black claes, ridin’ up the loanin’. He stopped at this chuckie o’ a stane, an’ loutin’ himsel’, he took it up in his arms, and lifted it three times to his saddle-bow, an’ syne he rade awa out o’ sight, never comin’ near the castle, as Mauns thought he would hae done. ‘Noo,’ says the baron till himsel’, says he, ‘I didna think that there was ony ane in a’ the land that could hae played sic a ploy; but deil fetch me if I dinna lift it as weel as he did!’ Sae aff he gaed, for there wasna sic a man for birr in a’ the countra, an’ he kent it as weel, for he never met wi’ his match. Weel, he tried, and tugged, and better than tugged at the stane, but he coudna mudge it ava; an’ when he looked about, he saw a man at his ilbuck, a’ smeared wi’ smiddy-coom, snightern an’ laughin’ at him. The laird d—d him, an’ bade him lift it, whilk he did as gin ’t had been a little pinnin. The laird was like to burst wi’ rage at being fickled by sic a hag-ma-hush carle, and he took to the stane in a fury, and lifted it till his knee; but the weight o ’t amaist ground his banes to smash. He held the stane till his een-strings crackit, when he was as blin’ as a moudiwort. He was blin’ till the day o’ his death,—that’s to say, if ever he died, for there were queer sayings about it—vera queer! vera queer! The stane was ca’d Mauns’ Stane ever after; an’ it was no thought that canny to be near it after gloaming; for what says the Psalm—hem!—I mean the sang—
’Tween Ennetbutts an’ Mauns’ Stane
Ilka night there walks ane!
“There never was a chief of the family after; the men were scattered, an’ the castle demolished. The doo and the hoodie-craw nestle i’ their towers, and the hare mak’s her form on their grassy hearth-stane.”
“Is this stone still to be seen?”
“Ou, na. Ye see, it was just upon Johnie Forbes’s craft, an’ fouk cam’ far an’ near to leuk at it, an’ trampit down a’ the puir cottar-body’s corn; sae he houkit a hole just aside it, and tumbled it intil ’t; by that means naebody sees’t noo, but its weel kent that it’s there, for they’re livin’ yet wha’ve seen it.”
“But the well at the Abbey—did no one feel a desire to enrich himself with the gold and silver buried there?”
“Hoot, ay; mony a ane tried to find out whaur it was, and, for that matter, I’ve may be done as foolish a thing myself; but nane ever made it out. There was a scholar, like yoursel’, that gaed ae night down to the Abbey, an’, ye see, he summoned up the deil.”
“The deuce he did!” said I.
“Weel, weel, the deuce, gin ye like it better,” said he. “An’ he was gaun to question him where the treasure was, but he had eneuch to do to get him laid without deaving him wi’ questions, for a’ the deils cam’ about him, like bees biggin’ out o’ a byke. He never coured the fright he gat, but cried out, ‘Help! help!’ till his very enemy wad hae been wae to see him; and sae he cried till he died, which was no that lang after. Fouk sudna meddle wi’ sic ploys!”
“Most wonderful! And do you believe that Beelzebub actually appeared to him?”
“Believe it! What for no?” said he, consequentially tapping the lid of his snuff-horn. “Didna my ain father see the evil ane i’ the schule o’ Auld Deer?”
“Weel, I wot he did that. A wheen idle callants, when the dominie was out at his twal’-hours, read the Lord’s Prayer backlans, an’ raised him, but couldna lay him again, for he threepit ower them that he wadna gang awa unless he gat ane o’ them wi’ him. Ye may be sure this put them in an awfu’ swither. They were a’ squallin’ an’ crawlin’ and sprawlin’ amo’ the couples to get out o’ his grips. Ane o’ them gat out an’ tauld the maister about it, an’ when he cam’ down, the melted lead was runnin’ aff the roof o’ the house wi’ the heat, sae, flingin’ to the black thief a young bit kittlen o’ the schule-mistress’s, he sank through the floor wi’ an awsome roar. I mysel’ have heard the mistress misca’in her man about offering up the puir thing, baith saul and body, to Baal. But troth, I’m no clear to speak o’ the like o’ this at sic a time o’ night; sae if your honour bena for another jug, I’ll e’en wus you a gude-night, for it’s wearin’ late, an I maun awa’ to Skippyfair i’ the mornin’.”
I assented to this, and quickly lost in sleep the remembrance of all these tales of the olden times.