“A hijious thing, Peter, a hijious thing!”
I must have slept for an hour, or nearer two (for the room was dark, save for a few glowing embers on the hearth, and the faint light of the stars at the window), when I suddenly sat bolt upright, with every tingling nerve straining as if to catch something which had, but that very moment, eluded me. I was yet wondering what this could be, when, from somewhere close outside the cottage, there rose a sudden cry—hideous and appalling—a long-drawn-out, bubbling scream (no other words can describe it), that died slowly down to a wail only to rise again higher and higher, till it seemed to pierce my very brain. Then all at once it was gone, and silence rushed in upon me—a silence fraught with fear and horror unimaginable.
I lay rigid, the blood in my veins jumping with every throb of my heart till it seemed to shake me from head to foot. And then the cry began again, deep and hoarse at first, but rising, rising until the air thrilled with a scream such as no earthly lips could utter.
Now the light at the window grew stronger and stronger, and, all at once, a feeble shaft of moonlight crept across the floor. I was watching this most welcome beam when it was again obscured by a something, indefinable at first, but which I gradually made out to be very like a human head peering in at me; but, if this was so, it seemed a head hideously misshapen—and there, sure enough, rising from the brow, was a long, pointed horn.
As I lay motionless, staring at this thing, my hand, by some most fortunate chance, encountered the pistol in my pocket; and, from the very depths of my soul, I poured benedictions upon the honest head of Simon the Innkeeper, for its very contact seemed to restore my benumbed faculties. With a single bound I was upon my feet, and had the weapon levelled at the window.
“Speak!” said I, “speak, or I’ll shoot.” There was a moment of tingling suspense, and then:
“Oh, man, dinna do that!” said a voice.
“Then come in and show yourself!”
Herewith the head incontinently disappeared, there was the sound of a heavy step, and a tall figure loomed in the doorway.
“Wait!” said I, as, fumbling about, I presently found tinder-box and candle, having lighted which I turned and beheld a man—an exceedingly tall man—clad in the full habit of a Scottish Highlander. By his side hung a long, straight, basket-hilted sword, beneath one arm he carried a bagpipe, while upon his head was—not a horn—but a Scot’s bonnet with a long eagle’s feather.
“Oh, man,” said he, eyeing me with a somewhat wry smile, “I’m juist thinkin’ ye’re no’ afeared o’ bogles, whateffer!”
THE HIGHLAND PIPER
“Who are you?” said I, in no very gentle tone.
“Donal’s my name, sir, an’ if ye had an e’e for the tartan, ye’d ken I was a Stuart.”