[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
THE story of our childhood was that the roofless Church of St. Trinian, at the foot of Greeba Mountain, was never dedicated to sacred uses by the celebration of a single Mass. The Buggane (Bhug-gaane, not Bog-gahne) was set at defiance by rude workmen who, in quarrying for stone, ruthlessly invaded his retreat on the mountain-side.
The Buggane arose in his wrath and vowed that the building to which poor weak mortals had set their hands would never be completed, and that he would avenge the wanton invasion of his home.
The men said they were not to be intimidated, and pretended that they did not care for the evil threat. Did they not tell themselves that the sacred uses of their handiwork rendered them immune from the Buggane's anger ? And, fortified by strong liquors, they worked together quite fearlessly at their task by day. Nothing, however, would restrain them from making good their escape ere came the fall of night.
The Buggane, from afar off, watched their work in sullen silence; then, when the walls were up, he approached in the darkness, and at one point cast all the stones down again, leaving the workmen to begin the repair of the damage he had done on their return next morning.
But one day, by rare diligence, the men got the walls all up and the thatched roof completed, when, with the oncoming of darkness, they hastened away.
That night the rain was falling in heavy showers, and a mighty wind was whistling through the trees. Suddenly there was heard above the tumult of falling rain and whistling wind a fierce, fiendish, demoniacal laugh.
' Ha, ha, ha !'
It echoed and re-echoed along the valley, and thundered up the sides of the hills, till it was lost in the scudding clouds passing close overhead.
People rushed affrighted to their doors, and neighbour sought explanation from neighbour. Then they remembered the ugly foreboding of the Buggane.
Lo! it was true. He had fulfilled his vow. The Church of St. Trinian was roofless.
Everyone who remembered that bitter, angry laugh; everyone who saw the fragments of the thatched roof swept like chaff before the storm, across road and river, over meadow and ploughed field, went back to his home stricken with terror.
'It was foolish,' they said, ' to make the Buggane angry. It was wicked to desolate his home.'
But when daylight came the rain had ceased, and the wind was no longer howling ominously under the thatch and in the trees; then every man laughed at his wife's fears, and every boy was brave.
Who but women make silly chatter of the Buggane ?'said the men.
Who but nervous old grandmothers and little girls were afraid of the Buggane ?' said the boys proudly.
Once more the builders made their thatch. They sang gay songs to test their courage and prove their indifference. All the while they were filled with the fear that the Buggane's anger might be multiplied as they sought to repair the damage he had done. This time the ropes of straw were in double and treble strands. They bound the thatch by many knots, and they cut heavy stone pegs to make assurance doubly sure.
The Buggane looked on from his hiding in the hill. He was amused to see all these redoubled efforts to thwart his will. At night, when peace lay over the valley, he strode down to his task. The bands of straw broke like whipcord in his hands. Then, with one supreme effort, he lifted the roof bodily from its fastenings, and cast it in one confused heap on the field below.
'Ha, ha, ha !' laughed the Buggane. ` Surely they will not defy my anger once again,' he said, as he went back to his cave in the mountain-side.
That fierce laugh was known to all. Men were awakened from their rest; children were startled out of their sleep. Everybody knew what had happened ; no one sought explanation from his neighbour.
' The Buggane !'whispered the children in their cots, as they clasped each other in a fond, protecting embrace, pulling as they did so the clothes tight about the shoulder and neck.
' It is sinful to defy the Buggane,' said the mother to her spouse, thinking harm might come next to her children if the Buggane was not soon pacified.
Every man repented the evil to which he had put his hand, but when daylight came again he was ashamed to admit his repentance or confess his fear.
For a third time were the walls built up and the roof put on, and for a third time was the thatch lifted from its fastenings and cast to the ground.
Then the people took counsel together.
' Who is this Buggane,' asked one, ' that he will not let us complete the holy sanctuary ?'
Whence comes his mighty power f queried another.
' May we not kill or maim the evil one?' asked a third.
But it was easy to ask questions which have bewildered men's minds for untold ages, easy to ask when there was none to answer.
Had not the Buggane the gift of perpetual life ? Did he not live in the days of our fathers and of their fathers aforetime ? And would he not still live when our little boys would be toothless, and grey, tottering old men ? It was not given to mere mortals to kill the Buggane. Who dare hazard his life by attempting to maim a giant ?
Then up spoke Timothy the tailor, a man of great sanctity. Schemes of revenge and personal violence on the Buggane would surely fail, he said, but he knew how to keep the roof on the walls of the holy temple.
'How? How? Tell us, Timothy?' cried many voices.
Timothy was flattered by the hubbub his words had created, and way was made for him into the midst of the bewildered group.
Last night as I slept my beautiful guardian angel came and whispered in my ear; but though I knew not she had come till she was gone, I remember her words. "Go into the sanctuary, Timothy," she said, "as soon as the roof is next completed, and, seated within the chancel, make there in all haste a pair of breeches."'
A wave of impatient scorn passed over the faces of the men.
' He trifles with us,' they said.
But Timothy heeded no interruption.
' " If thou art finished thy task," said the guardian angel, " by the time the roof is lifted off, the Buggane will have lost his power of continuing this revenge for ever."'
Many were disposed to scoff at Timothy, but he held firmly to the truth of his story.
' Let the little tailor have his way,' said a crafty man, who was greatly in the tailor's debt. ' If
Timothy succeeds,' he argued with his fellows, ' we shall be happy; if he dies by the mighty hand of the Buggane, his blood be on his own head. Besides, if he dies, we may thus appease the wrath of the evil one.'
To Timothy, therefore, was assigned the task he had so bravely claimed. When the appointed time arrived, he proceeded to the church, and within the chancel squatted, tailor-like, with his legs doubled under him, with his work spread out over his knees. He had long repented his foolhardiness, yet had not dared to let one word of fear escape his lips.
Bright shafts of sunshine gave him courage, however, and he worked in hot haste till the daylight failed. Then Timothy lit his candle. To his dismay, the grease spluttered meaningly as it was reached by the flame, and gave little or no light. Timothy's fear and anxiety were redoubled. ' The candle will not burn ; surely some unholy spirit is near,' thought Timothy, as he commenced his task afresh.
Suddenly there was a violent tremor of the earth, and the candle burned low. The walls groaned and the ground heaved; the pavement floor broke open a few yards in front of him, and, to Timothy's horror, there arose out of the depths of the earth the head of a mighty giant, whom the tailor knew at once, though he had never seen so terrifying a sight.
' The Buggane !' he said to himself, never daring to let his eyes rest for a brief moment on that mighty head, nor look into those eyes of rolling fire.
' Man,' said the thunderous voice of the Buggane, do you see my great head ?'
Yes, yes !' said the quaking tailor.
My large eyes?' continued the giant, rising up by slow degrees.
' Yes, yes !' answered Timothy, but never daring to glance at the terrifying embodiment of the evil spirit before him.
And my long teeth ?' said the giant, whose head and shoulders were now clear above the ground. Yes, yes!' answered Timothy once more, bending over his task with redoubled zeal.
There was an awful pause, in which the giant figure was looming before him in steadily increasing size.
' Man,' began the Buggane once more, 'do you not see my great body, my strong arms, my large hands, and my long nails?'
' Yes, yes!' replied the tailor, in an agony of fear.
And my great limbs ?' Yes, yes!'
And my large feet?' Yes, yes!'
The mighty Buggane was now entirely risen from the ground, when the tailor, drawing the needle through the cloth for the last time, broke the thread, dropped the needle, and threw the breeches on one side. At that moment the giant made a grab at the little man, but Timothy suddenly ducked his head, raced down the nave, and escaped by the door.
The Buggane was surprised at the unexpected agility of the little tailor. Down the path, over the field, and into the curragh, Timothy fled with the incredible haste of a hunted hare, the Buggane, in great strides, following in hot pursuit.
But Timothy had jumped the river at one bound. The Buggane could not follow. No evil spirit has been known to cross water: the sea, a river, a lake, or even a few drops sprinkled on the doorstep when the dead has passed out to the fire or to interment forming an effectual barrier against the return of the ghostly presence. The giant yelled in bitter anger and disappointment. Clasping his great head between his two palms, the Buggane wrenched his head from his shoulders and threw it violently at the tailor.
The giant's head struck the stones of a wall on the opposite bank, and burst with a terrific explosion that shook the very earth.
Timothy, however, was safely over. With the pride of a great hero, he told the story of his adventure that night oft and oft again, adding a little here, and glossing a little there, but never a hint of fear did he admit.
Timothy has long since gone to his rest, but the Buggane still lives on, though none can surely point to his retreat at the foot of Greeba.
Headless? Oh yes; but old men say that two small fiery eyes have grown just where his chin used to rest on his breast. There is a silly, flat little nose, which looks so absurd on the breastplate of a giant; but the mouth of the Buggane is like a yawning cavern, while the flapping ears near the armpits make up the ridiculous figure of the headless giant.
Is the Buggane's spell broken ? Who can say, for none there be who will incur again the risk of the Buggane's anger by attempting to roof the old walls of St. Trinian's.