“Sir,” said the learned Dr. Sam: Johnson to the Laird of Raasay, “he who meddles with the uncanny, meddles with danger; but none the less for that, ’tis the duty of the philosopher, diligently to enquire into the truth of these matters.”
All assented to my learned friend’s proposition, none dreaming how soon and how terribly his words were to be verified, and his intrepidity put to the test.
No premonition of events to come disturbed the pleasure with which I saw my learned companion thus complacently domesticated upon the Isle of Raasay. Our long-cherished scheam of visiting the Western Islands of Scotland was now a reality; and it was in acknowledgement of the plans of the Laird for exploring the wonders of the isle that the respectable author of the Dictionary uttered these words.
As he did so, he gazed with complacency upon his companions by the Laird’s fireside; a group of Highland gentlemen, shewing in face and bearing that superiority which consciousness of birth and learning most justifiably supplies. Of the family of MacLeod were the Laird himself, a sensible, polite, and most hospitable gentleman, and his brother, Dr. MacLeod, a civil medical man of good skill. These gentlemen shewed a strong family resemblance, being tall and strongly made, with firm ruddy countenances; genteelly apparelled in sad-coloured suits with clean ruffles.
Their companions in the ingle-nook by the glowing peat fire were two brothers, Angus and Colin MacQueen, sons of the incumbent rector of the parish of Snizoort on Skye. They resembled one another, being lean, light, and active, with bony dark faces; wearing suits of scholarly black, and their own heavy dark hair cut short.
The elder, Mr. Angus MacQueen, was a learned young man, a close observer of the natural phaenomena of the island. He filled the trusted post of tutor to Raasay’s heir. The younger son, Colin, new returned from the University, had all his elder brother’s wide and curious learning, but displayed withal an ill-regulated instability of mind and a hectick behaviour, poorly held in check by respect for Raasay and my learned companion.
Dr. Samuel Johnson’s character—nay, his figure and manner, are, I believe, more generally known than those of almost any man, yet it may not be superfluous here to attempt a sketch of him. His person was large, robust, I may say approaching to the gigantick, and grown unwieldy from corpulency. His countenance was naturally of the cast of an antient statue, but somewhat disfigured by the scars of that evil which it was formerly imagined the royal touch would cure. He was now in his sixty-fourth year, and was become a little dull of hearing. His sight had always been somewhat weak, yet so much does mind govern and even supply the deficiency of organs that his perceptions were uncommonly quick and accurate. His head and sometimes also his body shook with a kind of motion like the effect of a palsy; he appeared to be frequently disturbed by cramps or convulsive contractions, of the nature of that distemper called St. Vitus’s dance. He wore a full suit of plain brown cloathes with twisted-hair buttons of the same colour, a large bushy greyish wig, a plain shirt, black worsted stockings, and silver buckles. He had a loud voice and a slow deliberate utterance, which no doubt gave some additional weight to the sterling metal of his conversation. He had a constitutional melancholy the clouds of which darkened the brightness of his fancy and gave a gloomy cast to his whole course of thinking; yet, though grave and awful in his deportment when he thought it necessary or proper, he frequently indulged himself in pleasantry and sportive sallies. He was prone to superstition but not to credulity. Though his imagination might incline him to a belief of the marvellous, his vigorous reason examined the evidence with jealousy.
Such was my learned friend during our visit to the Western Islands; and thus it was that on this first evening of our sojourn on Raasay our talk turned on the topography, the antiquities, and especially the superstitions of the Isle of Raasay.
Dr. Johnson had professed himself eager to enquire into our Highland phaenomenon of second sight.
“Sir,” said Angus MacQueen, “I am resolved not to believe it, because it is founded on no principle.”
“Then,” said Dr. Johnson, “there are many verified facts that you will not believe. What principle is there why the lodestone attracts iron? Why an egg produces a chicken by heat? Why a tree grows upward, when the natural tendency of all things is downward? Sir, it depends on the degree of evidence you have.”
Young Angus MacQueen made no reply. Colin MacQueen rolled his wild dark eyes on the awe-inspiring figure of my friend as he asked:
“What evidence would satisfy you?”
“Whist, then, Colin,” interposed his brother, “let past things be.”
“I knew a MacKenzie,” Dr. MacLeod said cheerfully, “who would faint away, and when he revived again he had visions to tell of. He told me upon one occasion, I should meet a funeral just at the fork of the road, and the bearers people I knew, and he named them, too. Well, sir, three weeks after, I did meet a funeral on that very road, and the very bearers he named. Was not that second sight?”
“Sir,” said my friend, “what if this man lay a-dying, and your MacKenzie and the whole town knew who his friends would be to carry him to the grave? —Ay, and by the one nearest way to the graveyard?”
“What do you say then to the women of Skye,” said the honest Laird, “who stopped me on the road to say that they had heard two taisks, and one an English one—”
“What is a taisk?” I ventured to enquire. It is the part of a chronicler to omit no opportunity to clarify his record.
“A taisk, Mr. Boswell, is the voice of one about to die. Many of us in the Highlands hear taisks though we have not the second sight.”
“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “it is easy enough for the women of Skye to say what they heard. Did you hear it?”
“I have not the gift,” said the Laird of Raasay, “but returning the same road, I met two funerals, and one was of an Englishwoman.”
“Is there none in the Isle of Raasay with the second sight?” enquired my learned friend.
“There is indeed,” replied Colin MacQueen in a low voice. “There is an old wife on the other side the island with the second sight. She foresaw my brother’s murder.”
“How, sir!” exclaimed Dr. Johnson. “Murder! I had no intent to distress you.”
“I will tell you the story.” Young MacQueen’s eyes glittered in the fire-light. “Rory was younger than I, and meddled with the lasses where he had no concern. Old Kirstie comes one night to Angus and me, and falls to weeping, crying out that she has heard Rory’s taisk, and seen him lying dead with his head broke. Wasn’t it so, Angus?”
“It was so,” said the young tutor sombrely.
“And did it fall out so?” I enquired.
“So it fell out, for Angus was there and saw it,” replied young Colin, “and if ’twas a grief to us, it broke old Kirstie’s heart; for it was her own son killed him. A strapping surly ghillie he was, Black Fergus they called him, and he broke Rory’s head for him over the bouman’s lass.”
“Did the villain suffer for his crime?” enquired Dr. Johnson, profoundly struck by this tale of moral obliquity.
“He did, sir, though we have neither court nor judge upon Raasay since the troubled days of the ’45; but rather than be took he flung himself into the sea; and his mother saw him in a dream rising up out of the sea dripping wet, with his face rotted away.”
" ’Twould interest me much,” said Dr. Johnson, “if I might meet with this aged Sybil.”
“Nothing is easier,” replied Dr. MacLeod, “for tomorrow I propose to shew you the strange caves of our eastern coast, and the old woman lives hard by. You shall interrogate her to your heart’s content.”
“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “I am obliged to you. What is the nature of the caves you mention?”
“They are sea caves,” replied Dr. MacLeod, “of great age and extent. No one has ever explored all their ramifications.”
“My young friend MacQueen,” added the Laird, bowing to Angus, “who is botanist, lapidarian, and antiquary of our island, knows them better than any man; but even he has never penetrated to their depths.”
“He fears the Kelpie,” said young Colin recklessly.
“The Kelpie?” I echoed.
“A water-demon,” said Colin. “He lives in the Kelpie Pool under the Kelpie’s Window, and he eats men.”
“Such is the belief of the islanders,” assented Angus MacQueen. “In their superstition they connect this supernatural being with a certain natural orifice in the cave wall, giving upon a deep pool of the sea.”
“The pool is bottomless,” struck in Colin, “and under it sits the Kelpie and hates mankind.”
“It is impossible,” pronounced Dr. Johnson, “by its very nature, that any depression which contains water should lack a bottom.”
“This one does,” muttered Colin. “
’Tis perfectly true,” said Raasay, “that the Kelpie Pool has never been sounded.”
“Thus do we see the credulity of ill-instructed men,” cried Dr. Johnson, with a glance of fire at young Colin, “who because a thing has never been done, conclude illogically that it cannot be done.”
“Tomorrow you shall see the Kelpie Pool,” said the learned young tutor, “and judge for yourself. I can promise you also some interesting petrifications; and you shall see there a device which I have constructed to measure the rise and fall of the tides.”
“I shall be happy to be instructed,” replied Dr. Johnson civilly.
“Pray tell me,” I enquired, “is the Isle of Raasay rich in fauna?”
“We have blackcock, moor-fowl, plovers, and wild pigeons in abundance,” replied Dr. MacLeod.
Johnson: “And of the four-footed kind?”
MacQueen: “We have neither rabbits nor hares, nor was there ever any fox upon the island until recently; but now our birds are hunted, and one sees often the melancholy sight of a little heap of discarded feathers where the brute has supped.”
Boswell: “How came a fox to Raasay? By swimming the channel from the mainland?”
MacLeod: “We cannot believe so, for a fox is a bad swimmer. We can only suppose that some person brought it over out of pure malice.”
Johnson: “You must set a trap for him.”
MacQueen: “I think to do so, for the remains of his hunting betray where he runs.”
Boswell: “Now had you but horses on the island, we should give Reynard a run.”
This said, by mutual consent we all arose. Dr. Johnson and the Laird strolled off with Mr. Angus MacQueen to behold the stars of these northern latitudes. Dr. MacLeod, yawning, sought his bed; young Colin disappeared from my side like a phantom into the night; and I was left alone to the pleasing task of arranging my notes of the evening’s discourse.
The morrow dawned wet and stormy, being one of those Hebridean days of which Dr. Johnson complained that they presented all the inconveniencies of tempest without its sublimities. Our enforced confinement was made pleasant by the learned discourse of the Reverend Donald MacQueen and his no less learned son; till, the storm abating, the younger man left us near sundown, to inspect his sea-gage at the edge of the island. He parted from Dr. Johnson on terms of mutual respect, and promised to bring him some specimens of petrifications.
The night came on with many brilliant stars; and we congratulated ourselves on the prospect of a fair dawn for the promised ramble about the island.
Colin was at my bedside next morning between five and six. I sprung up, and rouzed my venerable companion. Dr. Johnson quickly equipped himself for the expedition, and seized his formidable walking-stick, without which he never stirred while in Scotland. This was a mighty oaken cudgel, knotted and gnarled; equipped with which the doughty philosopher felt himself the equal of any man.
We took a dram and a bit of bread directly. A boy of the name of Stewart was sent with us as our carrier of provisions. We were five in all: Colin MacQueen, Dr. MacLeod, the lad Stewart, Dr. Johnson, and myself.
“Pray, sir, where is Mr. Angus MacQueen?” enquired Dr. Johnson.
“Still on the prowl,” said his brother carelessly.
“Observing the stars, no doubt,” said Dr. MacLeod. “No matter, we shall surely encounter him in our peregrinations.”
We walked briskly along; but the country was very stony at first, and a great many risings and fallings lay in our way. We had a shot at a flock of plovers sitting. But mine was harmless. We came first to a pretty large lake, sunk down comparatively with the land about it. Then to another; and then we mounted up to the top of Duncaan, where we sat down, ate cold mutton and bread and cheese and drank brandy and punch. Then we had a Highland song from Colin, which Dr. Johnson set about learning, Hatyin foam foam eri We then walked over a much better country, very good pasture; saw many moorfowl, but could never get near them; descended a hill on the east side of the island; and so came to a hut by the sea. It was somewhat circular in shape, the door unfastened.
We called a blessing on the house and entered. At the far end an old woman was huddled over a peat fire. As we entered, she dropped the steaming breeks she had been drying before the glowing peat, and redded up for company by shuffling them hastily under the bedstead.
“Well, Kirstie,” Colin MacQueen greeted her, “here’s Dr. Johnson come all the way from London to ask you about your gift of the second sight.”
To our utter astonishment the wizened old creature dropped to her knees and began to keen in a dreadful voice, rocking herself to and fro and wringing her hands.
“Come, come, my good creature,” said the humane Doctor, “there’s no occasion for such a display, I’m sure,” and he benevolently insinuated half-a-crown into her clenched claw-like hand.
The aged Sybil peeped at it briefly, and stowed it away about her person; but she continued to keen softly, and presently her words became audible:
“Alas, ’tis no gift, but a curse, to have seen what I have seen, poor Rory gone, and my own son drowned, and now this very day—” The keening rose to a wail.
“We are causing too much distress by our enquiries,” muttered my friend.
But the aged crone caught him by the wrist.
“It is laid on me to tell no less than to see.”
“What have you seen today, then?” enquired Dr. MacLeod soothingly.
“Come,” said Colin roughly, “there is nothing to be gained by lingering.”
“Angus! Angus! Angus!”
“What of Angus?” asked Dr. Johnson with apprehension.
“I have heard his taisk! I have seen him lying broken and dead! He’s gone, like Rory, like my own son that’s drowned. Ai! Ai!”
“Come away,” cried Colin, and flung out at the door. My friends complied, and I followed them, but not before I had bestowed some small charity upon the pathetic aged creature.
Colin led the way, walking heedlessly and fast. My friend and I perforce dropped behind.
“This is most remarkable,” said Dr. Johnson. “If we should indeed find that
the young man has met with a misfortune—which Heaven forefend—”
“We may speak as eye-witnesses of this often-doubted phaenomenon,” said I, concluding his statement.
“Nevertheless, sir,” pronounced the learned philosopher, “man’s intellect has been given him to guard against credulity. Let us take care not to fall into an attitude of superstitious belief in the old dame’s powers. As yet her allegation is unsupported.”
By this time we were come to the cave. It lies in a section of the coast where the cliffs mount up to a threatening height, with a deep sound under, for a reef of jagged rocks some way out takes the pounding of the sea.
Dr. Johnson shewed especial curiosity about the minerals of the island. Ever solicitous for the improvement of human comfort, he enquired whether any coal were known on the island, “for,” said he, “coal is commonly to be found in mountainous country, such as we see upon Raasay.”
“See,” he continued, “this vein of black sand, where otherwise the sand is white.”
He gathered a handful; it stained his hand, and he cast it away.
“It is surely powdered coal,” concluded my learned friend, punching at the deposit with his sturdy stick.
“Sir,” I ventured, “it more nearly resembles charcoal.”
“Coal or charcoal, ’tis all one,” returned my friend. “Did I live upon Raasay, I should try whether I could find the vein, for there’s no fire like a coal fire.”
“Come, let us enter the cave,” cried Colin MacQueen impatiently.
To my surprise the ghillie who carried our provisions unconditionally refused to enter the cave, alleging it to be haunted; a circumstance which was confirmed to his untutored mind by a strange echo from within, as of footsteps walking, that seemed to sound over the breakers.
“I’ll not go in,” said the lad stubbornly, “ ’tis full of wild-fire these days, and something walks there.”
“ ’Tis your fox that walks there,” observed Dr. Johnson, poking at a pile of feathers hard by the entrance.
“Well, my lad, if you won’t come you may e’en stay here,” said Colin MacQueen impatiently. “I fear neither fox nor fox-fire, and I’m for the cave. Come, gentlemen.”
He led the way up a sloping incline and through a low entrance-way. Dr. Johnson had to stoop his great frame as he crowded through. Within, our footsteps rattled on the pebbly path. Colin carried a torch, which gleamed upon the rising roof and upon the petrifications that hung from it, formed by drops that perpetually distil therefrom. They are like little trees. I broke off some of them.
The cave widened and grew lofty as we progressed. Dr. Johnson was much struck by the absolute silence, broken only by the noise of our advance, which reechoed ahead of us.
I drew Colin’s attention to certain places on the floor, where partitions of stone appeared to be human work, shewing indeed the remains of desiccated foliage with which they had once been filled.
“In the days of the pirates,” he explained, “this cave was a place of refuge. These are what is left of the beds. Here,” he continued, “the cave divides. The left-hand arm slopes down to the sea, where a wide opening provided shelter for boats and a hiding-place for oars. Half-way down, there is a fresh spring. We take the right-hand turning, gentlemen.”
“In times past,” contributed Dr. MacLeod as we ascended the right-hand slope, “the cave sometimes served as a refuge for malefactors; but it invariably proved a trap.”
“How so, sir?” I asked, “with a fresh spring, escape by sea or land, and the unexplored fastnesses of the cave to lurk in?”
There was a puff of air, and the torch with which Colin was leading the way was suddenly extinguished. At first the blackness was pitchy.
“You may proceed without fear,” spoke Colin out of the darkness, “provided you always keep the wall of the cave at your left hand. I will endeavour to restore the light.”
“Colin knows this cave as he knows his own house,” Dr. MacLeod assured us.
We groped our way forward.
“Thus it was, in darkness on this ascent, that men waited to take or destroy the outlaw,” Dr. MacLeod took up his narrative. “Just around this bend we come into light.”
He spoke truly, for already a faint ray was diluting the darkness. As we rounded the bend we saw, ahead and close at hand, an irregular opening through which we could glimpse the sky.
“Whoever takes shelter in the innermost recesses of this cave,” said Dr. MacLeod, “must pass by that opening whenever thirst drives him down to the spring below. A marksman stationed at the bend can pick him off as he passes against the light.”
“That’s the Kelpie’s Window,” said Colin at my elbow. I started, and then in the uncertain light perceived him where he leaned in a little recess striking a light with flint and steel.
“Press on,” said Colin, “I’ll come behind with the torch.”
I own it oppressed me with gloomy thoughts to climb in the darkness this path where savage and lawless men of the past had died. My venerable companion is of more intrepid mould; he and Dr. MacLeod pressed forward undismayed.
“I was on this path not three months since,” pursued the physician, “when Black Fergus the murderer took shelter in these caves.”
“Did you take him?” enquired Dr. Johnson with interest.
“We did not,” said Dr. MacLeod. “We waited here in the dark, off and on by relays, for three days and three nights.”
“Did not he come down?”
“When he came, he came running; and before we could take aim, he had flung himself into the sea.”
I was powerfully struck by this narration. I seemed to see the hunted figure, driven by thirst to a watery grave.
We attained the top of this sinister incline, and stood in the Kelpie’s Window, a sheer 100 feet above the black waters of the Kelpie Pool. Height makes me flinch; I retreated behind a rock which jutted out beside the opening.
Dr. Johnson stood firm and viewed the craggy descent with curiosity. The cliff fell away almost perpendicular, but much gashed and broken with spires and chimneys of rock.
“From this point Black Fergus flung himself into the sea,” mused Dr. Johnson. “ ’Tis a fearful drop. His body must have been much battered by those jagged rocks below.”
“We never recovered his body,” replied Dr. MacLeod. “He had sunk before we reached the window, and he rose no more.”
Colin came behind us with the torch alight.
“He must rise to the surface in the evolution of time,” said Dr. Johnson. “—What is that at the edge of the Kelpie Pool?”
The physician stared fixedly below.
“It is certainly a body,” he pronounced.
“ ’Tis Black Fergus,” cried I, peeping in my turn.
Colin leaned boldly out to see.
“That is never Black Fergus,” he said. “—Good God! ’Tis my brother!”
He turned and plunged down the dusky slope, carrying the torch with him.
“Wait, sir!” cried Dr. Johnson.
“I fear he is right,” said Dr. MacLeod quietly, “that broad sun-hat is certainly Angus’s. I must go to him.”
He in his turn ran down the slope, following the diminishing gleam of Colin’s torch.
It was indeed the unfortunate young tutor. His grief-stricken brother drew the body gently to land, and we made shift among us to bear it to the mouth of the cave. The terrified ghillie wrung his hands and babbled about the Kelpie; but Dr. MacLeod bade him hold his tongue and run to the big house for bearers.
“Poor lad,” said Dr. MacLeod, “those petrifications have been the death of him. He must have over-balanced and fallen from the Kelpie’s Window.”
“I don’t understand it,” cried poor Colin. “Angus had no fear of height; he could climb like a cat.”
“Nevertheless, he fell from the Kelpie’s Window and drowned in the Kelpie Pool,” I said with a shudder.
“Not drowned,” said the physician, “he was dead when he hit the water. He must have struck his head as he fell; his skull is shattered.”
The bearers arriving, we carried the unfortunate young man to his patron’s house and laid him down.
This sad occurrence, as may be imagined, cast a pall over Raasay; all retired early, with solemn thoughts of the mutability of human affairs.
The night was advanced when I awoke with a start and was astounded to behold my venerable companion risen from bed and accoutered for walking in his wide brown cloth greatcoat with its bulging pockets, his Hebridean boots, and his cocked hat firmly secured by a scarf. I watched while he stole forth from the chamber, then rose in my turn and made haste to follow.
Lighted by a fine moon, the sturdy philosopher crossed the island at a brisk pace. I caught him up as we neared the opposite coast. As I came up with him he whirled suddenly and threw himself in an attitude of defence, menacing me truculently with his heavy staff.
“Sir, sir!” I expostulated.
“Is it you, you rogue!” exclaimed he, relaxing his pugnacity.
“What means this nocturnal expedition, sir?” I ventured to enquire.
“Only that I have a fancy to interrogate old Kirstie farther about the second sight,” responded he.
“You do well,” I approved, “for we have had a convincing if tragic exhibition of her powers.”
“Have not I warned you against an attitude of credulity?” said the learned Doctor severely. “I must understand more of her powers before I may say I have seen a demonstration of the second sight.”
“What more can you ask?” I replied.
By now we were within sight of old Kirstie’s hut. Without replying, Dr. Johnson astounded me by striking up an Erse song in a tuneless bellow.
“Sir, sir, this is most unseemly!” I expostulated.
“Hatyin foam foam eri.” chanted Dr. Johnson lustily, striding along vigorously.
A boat was drawn up in a cove; Dr. Johnson rapped it smartly with his stick as we passed it. Then with a final triumphant “Tullishole!” he thundered resoundingly on the door of the hut.
The little old crone opened for us without any delay, and dropped us a trepidatious curtsey. The close apartment reeked of the remains of the cocky-leeky standing at the hearth. We had interrupted breakfast, for a half-consumed bowl of the stewed leeks and joints of fowl stood on the rude table.
“So, ma’am,” said Dr. Johnson bluntly, “Angus MacQueen is dead like his brother.”
The old beldame began to wail, but Dr. Johnson most unfeelingly cut her short.
“We found him dead in the Kelpie Pool with his head broke.”
“He should never have gone in the cave!” whispered the aged Sybil. “He had
“There’s Something lives in that cave,” said Dr. Johnson solemnly.
“There’s Something wicked lives in that cave, that comes forth to kill the blackcock by night, and hides in the upper reaches by day.”
“Ay!” “Have you seen it in your visions?”
“Ay, a mortal great ghostie that eats the bones of men ... Alas! Alas!” the keening broke forth afresh.
“Then, ma’am,” said the intrepid philosopher, “I have a mind to see this ghostie.”
Hefting his heavy stick, Dr. Johnson left the hut. The woman burst forth into a clamour of warning, admonition, and entreaty, to which my friend paid little heed. Having bestowed a small gratuity, which served to intermit the old dame’s ululations, I hurried after the venerable Doctor.
I caught him up at the cove. The declining moon was bright and clear.
“That is MacQueen’s boat,” I recognized it. “Who has brought it here?”
My only answer was a touch on the arm. “Be quiet,” said my friend in my ear. “Take this—” he pressed a pistol in my hand, “and when we come to the cave—”
“You will never go into the cave at this hour!” I gasped. “You need only go as far as the fork. Watch what I do, but take care not to reveal your presence. I have a mind to conjure up the Kelpie.”
There was no gainsaying my learned friend. So it was done. I own it was rather a relief than otherwise, after the pitchy blackness of the first ascent, to come in sight of the moonlight streaming through the Kelpie’s Window. I shrank gratefully into the shelter of the shoulder of rock where Colin had stood that morning. I thought no shame to breathe a prayer for the intercession of St. Andrew, patron of Scotland.
My lion-hearted friend mounted steadily, till at last I saw him stand in bold relief against the moonlit sky in the ill-omened Kelpie’s Window. He stood foursquare without shrinking, his cocked hat tied firmly to his head, his heavy stick lost in the voluminous skirts of his greatcoat. Whatever incantation he recited I know not.
Whatever incantation the intrepid initiate recited, it served to raise the Kelpie. There was a slip and slither of stealthy footsteps in the cave above; and then he came down with a rush and a rattle of pebbles. I saw his bulk dimly in the half light, with the great club raised; then my friend wheeled nimbly into the shelter of the rock that had served me that morning. At the same time he struck down strongly with his heavy stick, and with a horrible cry the threatening figure overbalanced and tumbled headlong.
I hastened up the slope. At the top, my friend stood motionless and grave. At the foot of the cliff the fallen figure lay horribly still at the pool’s edge.
“If he appear to his mother this time,” muttered Dr. Johnson, “I’ll know that she has the second sight.”
“It mazes me,” I remarked when once more we sat together at the Laird’s fireside, “how in a record of second sight thrice confirmed, you, sir, managed to read the unsupernatural truth.”
“Man’s power of ratiocination,” returned Dr. Johnson, “is his truest second sight.”
“Doubtless,” remarked Colin MacQueen, “old Kirstie, poor thing, was just as amazed at the learned Doctor’s perceptions as we were at hers.”
“Pray explain, then, how ratiocination led you to the truth.”
“Sir, ’tis my earnest endeavour to instruct myself in your Highland phaenomenon of second sight, of whose existence I have heard so much. I repeat, I am willing to be convinced; but of each demonstration I remain a skeptick. I ask: Is second sight possible? and I reply in the affirmative. Of each separate occurrence I then ask: Is this second sight? Could not it be something else? I have yet to hear of the case that would not admit of some other explanation. Such was my frame of mind when first I heard of old Kirstie and her feats of second sight.”
“She prophesied Rory’s death,” said Colin.
Johnson: “Nay, sir, she warned you of his danger. Her reputation for second sight enabled her to do so without betraying her son. She foresaw what happened, not by second sight, but by her knowledge of her son’s murderous frame of mind.”
Boswell: “Then her story of her son rising out of the sea before her in the night was a pure invention.”
Johnson: “Nay, sir, ’twas pure truth, save for the one detail that he was alive.”
MacQueen: “How knew you that?”
Johnson: “Sir, I had concluded before I heard of this second apparition that the first one was a lie. If the second was a lie, it had one of two motives: if her son was dead, to add to her reputation for second sight; if alive, to contribute to his safety by confirming his supposed death. Thus far had ratiocination carried me when we visited her hut and heard her third prophecy. I had no faith in this third apparition, which I took, wrongly, to be a second warning.”
Boswell: “Why a warning?”
Johnson: “Because, sir, I saw in the hut that which convinced me that Black Fergus was alive and on the island.”
Johnson: “Why, sir, the great pair of breeks which we caught her drying at the fire, that she quickly hid under the bedstead. Think you that that poor wizened body had been wearing them, even were the women of Raasay given to masculine attire?”
“But with my own eyes I saw him leap into the sea and rise no more,” objected Dr. MacLeod.
“You saw him leap,” returned Dr. Johnson. “I saw when I stood in the Kelpie’s Window how a strong and intrepid swimmer could leap outward and take no harm, for the Kelpie Pool is deep and calm, and for his life a man can swim a long stretch under water. Had you looked along the cliffs instead of down into the pool, Dr. MacLeod, you might have seen his head breaking water, like a seal’s, to breathe. So it was that he came dripping to his mother out of the sea by night, and she comforted him, and hid him in the cave, and they plotted how he should reappear disguised when the nine-days’ wonder had died down.”
“Did ratiocinating on a single pair of sodden breeches tell you all this?” I rallied my learned friend.
“Not so,” replied Dr. Johnson. “I concluded only to keep a sharp eye for signs of where she had hidden him. By the cave I saw the remains of his hunting— we have scotched your fox, Dr. MacLeod—and the charcoal of his fire ground into the sand; and in the cave we saw the fern he had couched on. From Dr. MacLeod I learned of the fresh spring and the chambers above; and I saw the Kelpie’s Window and the pool below. Then we found the unfortunate young Angus, and the thing was certain. I knew at once how he had met his death.”
“Why? Why did Black Fergus wish to harm him?” burst forth Colin MacQueen bitterly.
“Your brother ventured into the cave, torch in hand, to fetch those specimens of petrifications he promised me. There he came face to face with his brother’s murderer, and knew him. So much is certain. I think he fled, and was struck down from behind.”
“How came he in the Kelpie Pool, then?”
“Ratiocination tells me,” replied Dr. Johnson, smiling slightly, “that guilt and terror obscured the man’s reason. Instead of hiding the body where it might never have been found, he endeavoured to simulate an accident, by flinging the body from the Kelpie’s Window. He then swam or waded by night to his mother’s hut and implored her to facilitate his flight. There he lay hid while the old beldame dried his garments.”
“Was he, then, in the very house when the old woman ‘prophesied’ Angus’s death?”
“Was he elsewhere, without his breeches?” countered Dr. Johnson. “When I saw Angus lying murdered, I knew who had done it, I knew what he must do next. I resolved to stop his flight.”
“Why you? Why single-handed?”
“Since the ’45, there is no law on Raasay, save what is brought from the mainland. I, an Englishman, a stranger, might most safely take justice upon myself. By night, I returned to the hut.”
“How dared you seek him out on his own ground?”
“I preferred to face him on ground I had chosen. By the ostentatiousness of my arrival I gave such warning as drove him from the hut to his hiding-place in the cave. Mr. Boswell will confess that though I am scarce fit for Italian opera, my rendition of an Erse song has a peculiar carrying power. For the same purpose I thundered, sir,—” turning to Colin, “upon your boat, which the murderer had stolen and beached, ready for his flight. Having thus assured the murderer’s presence in the cave, I entered in search of him.”
“Good heavens, sir!” cried Colin impetuously, “to venture thus into the lair of a wild beast, and hope to surprize him ere he can surprize you!”
“I had no such hope,” replied my intrepid friend. “He was sure to perceive me and attack me first. I permitted him to do so, only choosing my ground with some care.”
“The Kelpie’s Window hardly seems like favourable ground.”
“On the contrary,” replied Dr. Johnson. “If I was to bait my own trap, I had to have visibility, a quality provided in the whole cave only by the Kelpie’s Window. There also shelter is provided, as Mr. Boswell found.”
“Do you mean to say, sir,” cried Dr. MacLeod, “that you stood in that orifice, contemplating such a declivity, and permitted a desperate murderer to creep up on you in the dark?”
“I expected him; I detected his approach; I was able to evade him at the crucial moment. That he fell from the Kelpie’s Window was no part of my plan, for I had counted on taking him with my pistol.”
“Sir, sir,” I cried, “you took a grave risk thus staking your life on your hearing.”
“Nor did I so,” replied Dr. Johnson, half smiling. “You forget that Black Fergus had been supping on cocky-leeky. It takes neither ratiocination nor second sight, sir, to detect the proximity of your pervasive Scottish leek!”
“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “the manifestations of the Cock Lane Ghost were a nine-days’ wonder; and so may this be.”
He gave me the letter that he had been reading. The boy who had brought it waited stolidly by the door....