DONALD MACPHERSON,

SMUGGLER.

HIS ADVENTURES IN AND AROUND DUFFTOWN.

CHAPTER II
DONALD’S ADVENTURES WITH THE WATER KELPIE.

Some days after the events recorded in the preceding chapter Donald had a visit from a party who kept a shebeen at Maggieknockater, a hamlet on the north side of the Fiddich near Ben Aigen, and who wished to be supplied with a small cask of his brewing for immediate consumption. Donald informed him that he would bring it on the pony the same evening as soon as the shaded of night rendered it safe to perform the journey.

Punctually as night closed in he might have been seen astride the pony moving slowly along towards the ford on the Fiddich some distance below Balvenie Castle. In front of him on the pony’s back was a large parcel wrapped up in an old sack, of which he seemed to be especially careful. This contained the whisky, and from the way it was rolled up in straw and heather it bore not the faintest resemblance to a cask. The ford which Donald approached, and which he crossed safely, was used chiefly by those living on the north and south of the Fiddich on their visits to the neighbouring farm houses on the opposite side, and saved a detour of a couple of miles, as otherwise they would require to cross by the toll bridge near Parkmore, a long distance up the stream.

Donald and the pony had ascended the steep hill in the direction of Maggieknockater just as the rising moon peeped over the mountain to the eastward. “Weel’: he muttered as he reached the top and halted to rest the pony after the ascent, “I’m sure I deserve a dram when I get to the end of my journey after this trauchle. It’s a wonder thae – o’ gaugers are not knocking aboot. I suppose they’ll rest satisfied for a while after the fine seizure they made o’ the meal. I’ll hae to hurry an’ get a sack o’ maut frae Auchindoun as lang as its fresh in their minds, so that if I meet them they’ll no’ think o’ searching me. I’m thinkin’ that if I’m carefu’ I can manage a few mair sacks under that same order.

Soliloquising in this manner he jogged along leisurely, and at length arrived at his destination, where he delivered the whisky and sat down to “hae a crack” as he termed it while the pony was having a feed of oats. Of course the cask was broached, and the fiery liquid circulated freely among a number of worthies who had collected at the shebeen in anticipation of Donald’s visit. With this company Donald was at once at home; stories went round, and as is usual on such occasions each had its central figure a ghost, hobgoblin, or some other supernatural personage.

One story, however, impressed Donald rather disagreeable, and for a time made him very uncomfortable. This was a description of a water kelpie (fairy horse) which was supposed to haunt the ford that he had to cross on his homeward journey. It was pictured in glowing colours by an old storyteller who stoutly averred that he actually saw it, and would in all probability have mastered it had his foot not slipped on a stone, and when he had recovered his balance it had disappeared. To this story Donald listened in open-mouthed wonderment, not unmixed with a due proportion of fear.

However, “nae man can tether time or tide,” and Donald suddenly recollected that it was getting dangerously near “that hour o’ night’s black aron the keystone,” so drinking about half a tumberful of whisky to infuse a proper amount of that valour a Dutchman is supposed to possess, he prepared to depart. The pony having been brought to the door, he was surprised at the difficulty he experienced in mounting; whether owing to the pony’s restlessness or the difficulty in keeping his own equilibrium is not recorded, but certain it is that as he left Maggieknockater his horseman appeared anything but graceful.

He was now as bold as a lion (or two lions for that matter). What cared he for a whole regiment of water kelpies? He would face them – Ay, and soon make them clear out of his way.

“Wi’ tippenny we fear nae evil,
Wi’ usquebaugh we’ll face the devil.”

Yes, Donald was in proper mood for vanquishing anything supernatural that might cross his path, and in order to let anything uncanny that might be lurking about understand this he broke forth into a Bacchanalian song as he descended the hill towards the ford.

He had now gained the brink of the stream, and was preparing to urge Meg forwards when –

“Eh, what’s that?” he muttered, gazing across at the opposite bank, “a horse, as I live? Can it be, but na, na. On ye go, Meg!” and he dug his heels into the pony’s sides, at the same time tugging with both hands at the rein in order to head her up the stream.

Now, whether it was that Meg did not share Donald’s feelings, or whether she wanted to cultivate a further acquaintance with the supposed horse, it is impossible to say, but instead of obeying the rein and heading up stream she started directly across it.

“Meg! Meg! Whaur are ye gaun?” cried Donald in terrified accents, “can ye no stop? Stop, I say,” and he again tugged at the rein with both hands.

Meg, however, suddenly turned her head, thereby easing the tension on the rein, a proceeding for which Donald was unprepared, so, with a yell, he overbalanced and fell headforemost into the bed of the stream, still clutching the rein with a grip of despair. Meg, thus relieved from the pressure on her back, suddenly lowered her head, and the bridle, being much too large, having been mistaken for her own at the stable at Maggieknockater, easily slipped over her ears, and with a couple of plunges she reached the opposite bank, leaving Donald and the bridle in the water, where he floundered about for some time, eventually landing within a yard of a large bush which his drunken imagination had conjured into the likeness of a horse – the usual shape assumed by the much dreaded water kelpie.

Rendered desperate by fear he was unable to move from the spot, and to his muddled brain the kelpie now assumed gigantic proportions, and appeared as if about to spring upon him, while its eyes appeared like coals of living fire. As the most timid creature under similar circumstances will show fight, Donald prepared to receive the enemy by hurling the bridal at it, following this up by striking out right and left with the courage of desperation. In this manner he pounded away, heedless of his scratched and bleeding hands, until at last he sank to the ground exhausted.

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