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Another incident in connection with St Orland's Stone, occurred a short time afterwards.
Helen Lindsay, the younger daughter of a well-to-do crofter in the immediate neighbourhood of Cossins, was as pretty a brunette, as Mary Armstrong had been a beautiful and fascinating blonde. There was this difference in their character and feelings, however, that, whereas the latter was volatile and changeable, the former was unswerving and constant in her love. Yet with all this fixity and steadiness of purpose, strange to say in one remarkable instance she proved herself at fault.
Amongst her numerous admirers in the Strath, the most prominent by common consent were the young carpenter of the village, and the elder son of the aged farmer of Drumgley. Either, irrespective of their excellent character, and good looks, would in point of social position have been a most suitable and eligible match for the rich crofter's daughter. It so happened, however, that the young maiden's heart was equally divided between the two lovers. This uroward state of her feelings she frankly and unequivocally parended to both, affirming at the same time that she would The te happy and contented with either of them.
What was to be done? A busy cleansing out of old horsepistols, and an anxious furbishing up of rusty claymores of course. Nothing of the kind. The mill-wright and the farmer were men of common sense, with cool heads, and unexciteable feelings withal. At a mutual and amicable conference it was solemnly agreed that the choice of the maiden should be referred simpliciter to the Oracle of St Orland's Stone. A certain night was accordingly fixed when Helen and her two lovers were to appear in company at the shrine of the Oracle, whose decision was to be received as final. The only other condition attached to the compact was, as it turned out to be, a very necessary and important one. The proviso was this:-In the event of either of the lovers not putting in appearance at the time appointed, the compact to be held as irrevocably dissolved, and the one who fulfilled his promise, to be declared the accepted suitor of Mary Armstrong.
It so happened that the honest millwright received intelligence on the following day of the sudden death of an old friend, and an invitation to attend his funeral. The day of the interment was the same as that on the evening of which it had been agreed to meet at St Orland's Stone. Not in the least doubting but that he would be quite able to keep both appointments, especially as the interment was to take place at Glamis, and anxiously desirous to pay his last respects to the remains of his friend, he started early for the Murroes, where his friend had died, to attend his funeral.
It was the universal custom then, as I know from experience it still is, that the friends and acquaintances of the deceased who attended these country funerals came from great distances, and necessarily required, as they liberally received, a bountiful supply of all kinds of substantial viands and native liquors. It is just possible that sometimes there may have been an excess of the latter over the former. Be that as it may, the funeral procession started at last on its road to Glamis. There being no hearse in the parish, the
remains of the deceased were put into a cart, and the coffin carefully covered over with the ancient and well-worn mortcloth. Amidst the sobs and tears of sorrowing women, and heart-felt sighs of aged, grey-haired men, the lowly, unpretending funeral car proceeded slowly on its rugged and circuitous route.
As the irregular and highly characteristic procession moved on by the dark woods of Ballumbie, the attendants gradually dropped off until at Powrie Brae, where the road joins the Forfar highway, the number had been gradually reduced to about a dozen of the stronger and younger men— including, of course, our good friend the millwright. On and on, amidst the sweltering heat, they slowly toiled, until they had reached the well-known divergence of the road at Tealing-that to the left leading to Glamis by Lumleyden, and that to the right to Forfar by Fotheringhame. The weather being excessively warm, and feeling fatigued by their long journey, they unanimously agreed to adjourn to the then way-side inn for refreshment, leaving the cart with the corpse in a recess a little way off from the junction of
the three roads.
Bicker followed bicker, and stoup followed stoup, until the extent of their potations began gradually, yet visibly, to tell both upon their physical and mental condition. One thing was quite certain-it was now far on in the afternoon, and that they took no note of time, whatever reckoning they kept of their cups. All at once, like a flash of lightning, the startling remembrance of the important meeting that evening at St Orland's Stone, which was to decide irrevocably his future destiny, penetrated the half-muddled, alarmed brain of the conscience-stricken millwright, who, rising in a moment from his seat, declared he would drink no more, and firmly insisted that they should immediately proceed to the place of interment.
From the authoritative and determined manner of the speaker, his companions saw at once the futility of resistance;
so, submitting with the best grace they could, they, in a somewhat unbecomingly irregular manner, proceeded to the spot where they had left the cart with the corpse.
What was their unutterable surprise and amazement when neither cart, nor horse, nor corpse was to be seen! In vain they eagerly searched every cranny, shed, and outhouse-the cart, with its precious contents, was nowhere to be found!
In their present plight of dreamy half-unconsciousness, it would have been certainly unexpectedly remarkable if they had satisfactorily solved the mysterious enigma. So, without attempting any rational or logical solution-feeling, doubtless, their utter incapacity for so doing-they jumped at once to the conclusion, that as their dead friend was "no very canny" while he lived, the Devil had taken the body to himself when he died.
"But the De'il, if he had wished to tak' him to himsel'," said one of the most thoughtful of the group, "could hae dune that without plaguing us takin' him a' this length."
"Besides," said another, "he needna ta'en the cart and the horse, although he micht hae ta'en the corp. He's nae use for the cart, and as for the bit beastie, it never did him ony harm, I'm sure."
These acute and sensible remarks might, if followed up, have led to some feasible, if not satisfactory solution of the circumstance; but the general opinion decidedly being that no explanation could by any possibility prevail other than that already given, and not being otherwise in the mood for weighing seeming probabilities and drawing logical deductions, they turned their faces homewards.
What was the poor millwright to do? To go on to Glamis and meet the company invited there, without the body of the deceased, would, he reasoned, be simply a mockery. His safest course, he concluded, would be to follow the multitude, whether to good or evil. Accordingly he joined issue with his fellow mourners, and moodily proceeded with them on the road he had come, not knowing what might betide them
on the way, or what would be the result at their journey's end.
As may be supposed, their heads became somewhat clearer as they proceeded. Still no other feasible explanation presented itself to their minds than that the Evil One was the dreaded cause of the dire catastrophe, and the millwright, fully as superstitious as themselves, not being able either to solve the mystery or propound any rational interpretation, the matter became a settled point without any further contro
They at last reached the point from whence they had started. Judge of their amazement when on entering the courtyard of the farm they stumbled upon the veritable cart and horse of their dead friend, with the coffin and mortcloth untouched where they had been so solemnly laid in the morning! The simple fact was, that while they cared for their own creature comforts, they had forgotten to provide any provender for the horse, and the poor beastie, after waiting a reasonable time, and doubtless feeling aggrieved by their neglect, quietly turned its head homewards in search of more hospitable quarters!
It is easy to haloo when one is out of the wood, and to become courageous when the danger is past; and so in this case it ludicrously turned out.
"The horse and cart, with the coffin," 'twas naively said, 66 were left where three roads met. The horse could not have been expected to take either the one to Forfar or that to Glamis, for the simple reason that the beastie had never been there at all."
"Of course not," chimed in, interruptedly, another wiseacre of the group, "and therefore the sensible animal took the road homewards, which it knew."
The whole affair having been thus satisfactorily settled to their own entire satisfaction, and having arranged for the interrupted funeral to take place on the morrow, they adjourned in a body to the farmhouse, to join the female