Sally, Sally, stop this beast an’ set me on my own two feet. That’s a fine lady ye are.
My bones dig into the poor animal’s back so, an’ it must pain him as much as I.
I can see the shrine from here an’ want to walk the last few strides, aye.
Catch me around my waist an’ under my good arm. There … no … that’s right, dear.
What a darlin’ ye are.
Wait, wait, I must rest against ye. This jiggly beastie will have me over if I lean on him.
Now these cloths from my feet.
I’ve walked this road more times than ye have seen seasons. Aye an’ many more than that beside.
Yes, from off my feet. Barefoot I’ve been all my life. A bit of frost is no hardship.
See those feet an’ ankles? Like glutted leeches that’ve sucked my body to thin twigs.
Aye, I can lift them one by one so far as needed. I’ll no’ be using them where I go after that.
I could have spat that far as a wee bairn. Now it all looks uphill though it’s as flat as anywhere.
Ye’re a muckle strong lass with a strong arm. Good on ye.
Oh … oh… Let me breathe a while. See the mist in the gloaming? It’s alike that very night.
I saw him but I’d seen him afore. I hugged my daddy’s legs an’ screamed at the man.
Yes, lass, he was – was the man they called Black Jack. When I thought he would…
Aye, I ran at him, an’ me wee a bairn of five winters. He didn’t hit me nor shot daddy.
No, he left us. Laughing at daddy for having been saved by a bairn, an’ a girl at that.
He took Daddy’s purse is all. I wonder how many purses he took on this road?
How many? How many widows an’ orphans did that felon make?
He had the devil inside him an’ no mistake.
Wait, wait. Light a pipe for me. Ah, this ground is fierce cold. See our breath floating?
That’s how it was when I saw him again. The fog was thick in the fields aye, but I saw him clear.
On a horse he was that time, but still holding a muckle gun. He was a black shade in the fog.
The only white was his very breath, the lace at his breast an’ sleeves, an’ the horse’s forelock.
I was here, right here. This very spot an’ all. He was almost out of sight.
But I could hear him. I was glad to be near the shrine. I touched it an’ trembled.
Shook like I’d never done afore or since. Fair faint an’ ready to drop was I.
Ye see, he’d been hanged two months afore.
Here. I must rest. Sit me down on the stone an’ I can lean my back on it.
Oh, oh, that’s harder than the poor beast. Still, the stone will come to no harm.
I’m the weight of a fly so I am. Aye, there he was near yon arch of branches.
Fey was he with a voice coming frae far away an’ o’er the moors like.
‘Lady,’ said he, ‘I have waited these many empty days for thee.’
Aye an’ so he went on. The devil had his soul but made him wait.
Wait to see me. For Black Jack thought I of pure spirit – an’ fire at that.
The devil wanted him to see me so to endure more torment in hell.
Black Jack’s words, like whispers of sorrow, cut my heart an’ warmed my blood.
Saying he was glad to suffer more for he saw my soul as pure as he remembered.
He’d carry the memory as hope for others if no’ for him.
As he turned to go so I found my voice, though barely a whisper was it too.
‘Bless ye, Black Jack, for thinking me fine. No man has ever said that. No’ to me.’
He paused though his horse it went from side to side making him turn again and more to face me.
I said, ‘Bless ye again, Jack for sparing my daddy.’
Oh, Sally, Sally, I knew not what I had done but found out soon enough.
Those cloths my feet were in. They would make a lovely pillow, for my head is heavy.
Thank ye. Now don’t ye be all a-tearful. This is how I want it to be.
I came this way again an’ again. It was no’ as ye see it now, such a road.
I led pilgrims for I knew every tree, rock an’ brae. Never were they waylaid – no’ when they were with me. Others, aye, but none when I was there.
There were other robbers, other violent men who would shoot a man for nothing.
They moved to other glens after a while. They called this one haunted.
Aye, so it was. A horseman in black froze their blood, unmanned them, sent them screaming away.
An’ we know that was Jack’s wraith.
A woman told me, oh, so long ago, the grandmammy on High Cairn Farm, ye would no’ know of her.
She said I had blessed a shade twice an’ the devil himself would curse me for it.
I grow cold, child. Ha! but it’s for the last time.
Leave me the oatcakes, whiskey an’ pipe only.
Ye must go. I need but to say one prayer.
It’s no’ long. Ye may listen if ye wish. His good self will no’ mind if ye do.
Aye, God yourself. Ye saw how damned an’ evil Black Jack was did ye no’?
Well, he’s done more good in his death than any man or woman I know in a whole life.
Pilgrims, wayfarers, families turned out of their homes in the clearances an’ many more.
All those I led this way an’ the way back were safe. Not one touched, robbed or threatened.
Hark me now, God.
Black Jack, for all the good you did, I bless thee a third time an’ may our fates fall together whatever they be.
I will follow wherever such a heart goes.
©Gary Bonn, 2018