Child's, The English And Scottish Ballads

Volume 2 of 8 from 1860 edition

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causing the dead body to speak, is, setting the door ajar, or half open. On this account, the peasants of Scot­land sedulously avoid leaving the door ajar, while a corpse lies in the house. The door must either be left wide open, or quite shut; but the first is always pre­ferred, on account of the exercise of hospitality usual on such occasions. The attendants must be likewise careful never to leave the corpse for a moment alone, or, if it is left alone, to avoid, with a degree of super­stitious horror, the first sight of it.
" The following story, which is frequently related by the peasants of Scotland, will illustrate the imaginary danger of leaving the door ajar. In former times, a man and his wife lived in a solitary cottage, on one of the extensive Border fells. One day the husband died suddenly; and his wife, who was equally afraid of staying alone by the corpse, or leaving the dead body by itself, repeatedly went to the door, and looked anx­iously over the lonely moor for the sight of some per­son approaching. In her confusion and alarm she ac­cidentally left the door ajar, when the corpse suddenly started up, and sat in the bed, frowning and grinning at her frightfully. She sat alone, crying bitterly, una­ble to avoid the fascination of the dead man's eye, and too much terrified to break the sullen silence, till a Catholic priest, passing over the wild, entered the cot­tage. He first set the door quite open, then put his little finger in his mouth, and said the paternoster back­wards ; when the horrid look of the corpse relaxed, it fell back on the bed, and behaved itself as a dead man ought to do.
" The ballad is given from tradition. I have been informed by a lady, [Miss Joanna Baillie,] of the high­est literary eminence, that she has heard a ballad on