William Black (1841 ~ 1898) was an immensely popular nineteenth-century Glasgow-born novelist and journalist. He trained as a landscape painter before turning to journalism, and his artistic training greatly influenced his writing. Nowadays, he is little known, but in his day he was celebrated for his atmospheric, painterly descriptions of landscapes - something which is very evident in his story 'A Hallowe'en Wraith', which appeared in The Magic Ink and Other Tales in 1892. And it is that tale that I offer here, on this cold, dark night in the run up to Hallowe'en. If you'd prefer to read the pdf version, just click on the image above.
A HALLOWE’EN WRAITH
by William Black
Taken from The Magic Ink and Other Tales
Published by Sampson Low, Marston & Company, 1892
THE vast bulk of Ben Clebrig was dark in shadow, but the wide waters of Loch Naver shone a soft silver-gray in the moonlight, as Hector MacIntyre, keeper and forester in the far solitudes of Glengorm, came striding along the road toward Inver-Mudal. As he approached the little hamlet - which consists merely of the inn and its surroundings and one or two keepers’ cottages - certain small points of red told him of its whereabouts among the black trees; and as he drew still nearer he thought he would let the good people there know of his coming. Hector had brought his pipes with him, for there were to be great doings on this Hallowe’en night; and now, when he had inflated the bag and tuned the drones, there sprang into the profound silence reigning everywhere around the wild skirl of the “Hills of Glenorchy.” Surely the sound would reach, and carry its message? If not, here was “Gillie, a Drover,” played still more bravely; and again the proud strains of “The Glen’s Mine!” By which time he had got near to the inn, and was about to turn down from the highway by the semicircular drive passing the front door.
But here he suddenly encountered a fearful sight. From out of the dusk of the wall surrounding the front garden there came three luminous objects - three globes of a dull saffron hue; and on each of these appeared the features of a face - eyes, mouth, and nose - all flaming in fire. On beholding this terrible thing the tall, brown-bearded forester turned and fled; and the pipes told of his dismay; for they shrieked and groaned and made all sorts of indescribable noises, as if they too were in mortal alarm. Then Mrs. Murray’s three children, with victorious shouts of laughter, pursued the tall forester, and kept waving before them the hollowed-out turnips with the bit of candle burning within. When he had got up to the corner of the road, Hector turned and addressed the children, who had come crowding round him, holding up their flaming turnips to cause him still further consternation.
“Well, now,” said he, in the Gaelic, “that is a fearful thing to alarm any poor person with. Were you not thinking I should die of fright? And the pipes squealing as well, for they never saw anything like that before. But never mind, we are going down to the house now; and, do you know, Roland, and Isabel, and you, little Shena - do you know, I have brought you some of the fir tops that grow in Glengorm. For it is a wonderful place, Glengorm; and the fir tops that grow on the larches there are not as the fir tops that grow anywhere else. They are very small, and they are round, and some are pink, and some are blue, and some are black and white, and some others - why, they have an almond inside them! Oh, it is a wonderful place, Glengorm! - but it is not always you can get the fir tops from the larches; it is only on some great occasion like the Hallowe’en night; and let me see, now, if I put any of them in my pocket. Here, Ronald, take the pipes from me, and hold them properly on your shoulder - for one day you will be playing ‘Miss Ramsay’s Strathspey’ as well as any one - and I will search my pockets, and see if I put any of those wonderful fir tops into them.”
The children knew very well what all this preamble meant; but neither they nor their elders could have told how it was that Hector MacIntyre, ever time he came to Inver-Mudal, brought with him packages of sweetmeats, though he lived in one of the most inaccessible districts in Sutherland, Glengorm being about two-and-twenty miles away from anywhere. However, here were the precious little parcels; and when they had been distributed, Hector took his pipes again, and, escorted by his small friends, went down to the inn.
Well, Mr. Murray, the innkeeper, had also heard the distant skirl of the pipes, and here he was at the door.
“How are you, Hector?” he asked, in the Gaelic. “And what is your news?”
‘There is not much news in Glengorm,” was the answer.
“And when is your wedding to be?” Mr. Murray said. “We will make a grand day of that day, Hector. And I have been thinking I will get some of the lads to kindle a bonfire on the top of Ben Clebrig - a fire that they will see down in Ross-shire. And there’s many a pistol and many a gun will make a crack when you drive up to this door and bring your bride in. For I am one who believes in the old customs; and whether it is a wedding, or the New-Year, or Hallowe’en night, I am for the old ways, and the Free Church ministers can say what they like. Now come away in, Hector, my lad, and take a dram after your long walk; there is plenty of hard work before you this evening; for Johnnie has broken his fiddle; and the lasses have not been asked to stand up to a reel for many a day.” And then he paused, and said: “And how is Flora Campbell, Hector? Have you any news of her?”