Tuesday Terror! Wandering Willie’s Tale by Sir Walter Scott

The road to hell…

A classic Scottish horror story this week, just in time for the spookiest night of the year! This story appears in the novel Redgauntlet, which I haven’t read, but as a complete story in its own right it’s probably one of the best known pieces of Scott’s writing. It is written in Scots and although some of the vocabulary might be unfamiliar, I think it’s mostly possible to pick up the meaning from the context…

Wandering Willie’s Tale
by Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Far and wide was Sir Robert hated and feared. Men thought he had a direct compact with Satan—that he was proof against steel—and that bullets happed aff his buff−coat like hailstanes from a hearth—that he had a mear that would turn a hare on the side of Carrifragawns —and muckle to the same purpose, of whilk mair anon. The best blessing they wared on him was, “Deil scowp wi’ Redgauntlet!”

Wandering Willie is a wandering musician, who tells the tale of his grandfather Steenie Steenson who was once a tenant of the wild-living and wicked Sir Robert Redgauntlet.

There dwelt my gudesire, Steenie Steenson, a rambling, rattling chiel he had been in his young days, and could play weel on the pipes; he was famous at “Hoopers and Girders”—a’ Cumberland couldna touch him at “Jockie Lattin”—and he had the finest finger for the backlilt between Berwick and Carlisle.

Steenie was a favourite with Sir Robert for his skill on the bagpipes, but business is business, and Steenie had fallen behind with his rent…

He got the first brash at Whitsunday put ower wi’ fair word and piping; but when Martinmas came, there was a summons from the grund−officer to come wi’ the rent on a day preceese, or else Steenie behoved to flit.

(Flit means move house – i.e., if Steenie doesn’t pay the rent, he’ll be forced out of his house.) So Steenie scrapes and borrows till he’s made up the full amount of 1000 marks and off he goes on the due day to pay the rent…

Dougal was glad to see Steenie, and brought him into the great oak parlour, and there sat the Laird his leesome lane, excepting that he had beside him a great, ill−favoured jackanape, that was a special pet of his; a cankered beast it was, and mony an ill−natured trick it played—ill to please it was, and easily angered—ran about the haill castle, chattering and yowling, and pinching, and biting folk, especially before ill−weather, or disturbances in the state.

‘The foul fiend, in his ain shape,
sitting on the laird’s coffin!’

Sir Robert isn’t well…

Sir Robert sat, or, I should say, lay, in a great armchair, wi’ his grand velvet gown, and his feet on a cradle; for he had baith gout and gravel, and his face looked as gash and ghastly as Satan’s. Major Weir [the ape] sat opposite to him, in a red laced coat, and the Laird’s wig on his head; and aye as Sir Robert girned wi’ pain, the jackanape girned too, like a sheep’s−head between a pair of tangs—an ill−faur’d, fearsome couple they were.

Steenie hands over his bag of money and the Laird says he’ll write him a receipt. But before he can…

Sir Robert gied a yelloch that garr’d the Castle rock. Back ran Dougal—in flew the livery men—yell on yell gied the Laird, ilk ane mair awfu’ than the ither. My gudesire knew not whether to stand or flee, but he ventured back into the parlour, where a’ was gaun hirdy−girdie—naebody to say “come in,” or “gae out.” Terribly the Laird roared for cauld water to his feet, and wine to cool his throat; and hell, hell, hell, and its flames, was aye the word in his mouth.

And Sir Robert dies! Now the new Laird, Sir Robert’s son, demands the rent from Steenie and refuses to believe it was paid. The only thing that will convince him is a receipt in Sir Robert’s hand. Steenie rides off, woebegone and angry, cursing the old Laird. But some miles from the castle he meets a stranger who offers him a solution…

“Now, I can tell you, that your auld Laird is disturbed in his grave by your curses, and the wailing of your family, and if ye daur venture to go to see him, he will give you the receipt.”

And, desperate, Steenie decides he must go…

Steenie demands his receipt…

* * * * *

This is a great tale if you can manage the Scots. While it’s told as a tale of the supernatural, most of the events have an alternative logical explanation so you can decide for yourself if Steenie really ventured into the realms of the after-life to try to get the receipt, or if maybe strong drink had something to do with the story. The first paragraph can be pretty off-putting as it refers to lots of Scots history and people who are pretty obscure even to Scots now, never mind non-Scots. But it’s not important to the story that follows, and once it gets properly underway the historical background becomes largely irrelevant. There’s too much humour in it for it to be truly scary, but poor Steenie goes through plenty of peril to both his body and soul as he faces the old Laird in his hellish halls, and the ape, Major Weir, adds to both the humour and the horror.

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link.

(The porpy wishes you a Spooky Hallowe’en!)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

45 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Wandering Willie’s Tale by Sir Walter Scott

    • Haha, I often end up reading Scots aloud because I actually find it easier to understand when I hear it! Despite being Scottish through and through, my Scottish accent is still rubbish, though… I blame the schools! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a good tale! I found I could read the Scots more fluently as I went on and jackanape was the only word I had to look up. It was more humour and history for me than horror, and much enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always find it takes me a few paragraphs to get into the swing of Scots and then I seem to fall into the flow of it. Definitely more humour than horror and lots of traditional superstitions and, of course, the usual religious arguments Scotland has been hung up on for centuries! Glad you enjoyed it! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this does sound like a fun story, FictionFan! And it’s interesting that it’s written so the reader can decide whether the events are supernatural or have another explanation. I respect authors who can create plots like that. And it’ll be good for me to try my hand at the Scots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a great example of Scots, I think – not as difficult as some to understand but completely authentic. Ha, I loved that he gave the rational option as well as the supernatural, and there’s a sort of a mystery in it too… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only read this in the context of the novel Redgauntlet but it’s good to know that it does work as a standalone story in its own right. I’ll have to read it again myself one day. Maybe next Halloween!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aha, it must have been you! I was trying desperately to remember whose review of Redgauntlet had put this one into my head! Yes, apart from the first paragraph which I think probably makes more sense in the context of the novel it works completely as a standalone story, and I think is far better known than the book. A good one!


  4. This sounds interesting (though I imagine I’d have some trouble with the Scots!). Porpy doesn’t seem terrorized at all by it, so it’s probably tame enough for me to read — on a sunny day, ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review! I clicked on the link and already have questions about these paragraphs: “Now you are to ken that my gudesire lived on Redgauntlet’s grund—they ca’ the place Primrose−Knowe. We
    had lived on the grund, and under the Redgauntlets, since the riding days, and lang before. It was a pleasant bit; and I think the air is callerer and fresher there than ony where else in the country.” But I know Sir Walter Scott is a great author.


    • Haha, OK, here goes…

      “Now, you must know my grandfather lived on Redgauntlet’s land – they call the place Primrose Hill. We had lived on the place, as tenants of the Redgauntlets, since the days of the Jacobite rebellions (I think), and long before. It was a pleasant spot; and I think the air is clearer and fresher there than anywhere else in the country.”

      Not sure about the “riding days” bit, but I expect it was to do with the Jacobites – almost everything in Scotland is! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It felt like my brain was doing push-ups when I tried to read this. Maybe if the text were laid out differently with a bit more white space. My eyes need that space to rest. Perhaps over the weekend when I’m getting more sleep, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Since I tend to sound out things in my mind as I read, the Scots would slow me down. (I remember all the Scandinavian names in the Dragon Tattoo books driving me crazy!!)

    I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a picture of Sir Walter Scott and he does NOT look like I expected! Porpy sure looks cute with his wee pumpkins. 😄🎃

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m the same with any kind of dialect or foreign names. I find Scots tricky to read too, so I can imagine it’s even worse for people with no connection to it!

      Haha, I’d love to see what you think he looked like! He looks quite young in that one, and a bit like a plumper Robert Burns! The porpy is looking forward to Hallowe’en – he thinks its his birthday! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the Scots here and what a perfect tale for it too! It does take me a bit of time to get used to it and I still don’t figure out all the words, but the gist of a story usually comes though. There’s a very helpful online dictionary here: https://dsl.ac.uk/

    And you’re quite right, gravel is kidney stones.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can follow the Scots pretty well if I try to “hear” it being read to me in a Scottish accent, and it does get easier as you go along. I think I might leave this one for the weekend though, when I’ve got a bit more time.

    Also, “gravel” for kidney stones is used informally among healthcare people all over the UK, so that’s one I actually knew! It must have spread from some very eminent Scottish doctor at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, that might be where I had heard it then! Although I wasn’t on the clinical side, my job regularly involved delving into patients’ notes for various statistical exercises so I came across lots of the jargon. I quite often read Scots aloud for that reason – somehow by forcing my brain to pronounce it, I understand it better, probably because it was really a spoken language much more than a written one.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well thank goodness for your translations of those quotes there, half of those words were new to me! It’s a common way out of fantastical stories to suggest that perhaps the protagonist was dreaming, but I have to say this excuse of ‘he may have just been super drunk’ is somewhat new to me. Perhaps I need to read more historical fiction hahah

    Liked by 1 person

    • I live in a little area where the houses are really only big enough for singles or couples so there are hardly any kids, so the porpy and I have to eat all the candy ourselves (before the spooks get them)! 😉 Happy Hallowe’en!

      Liked by 1 person

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