Wandering Willie's Tale Summary
by Sir Walter Scott

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

While taking a break from his studies in Edinburgh, Darsie Latimer is roaming the border country in western Scotland, staying at an inn in Dumfries. There he encounters Willie Steenson and his wife walking in the same general direction, on the road toward Dumfries. Willie’s wife says that Willie is a good teller of tales, so Latimer asks him to tell one as they walk. What follows is Willie’s tale.

When Steenie Steenson, Willie’s grandfather, went to Redgauntlet Castle to pay his rent, he was taken by Dougal MacCallum to meet Sir Robert Redgauntlet, sitting alone in his oak parlor, except for his pet jackanape, Major Weir, and suffering from a painful attack of gout. Willie explains that Sir Robert was wearing a sword and pistols for protection against Whigs who might want to take vengeance on him for his part in supporting Jacobite uprisings. Steenie handed a bag of silver, his rent money, to Redgauntlet, who instructed MacCallum to give him some brandy while he counted the money and wrote out a receipt.

Just as Steenie and MacCallum left the room, however, Sir Robert yelled out, crying for water for his feet and wine for his throat. When his feet were plunged into a tub of water, the liquid boiled. Sir Robert accused MacCallum of giving him blood to drink instead of wine and threw the cup at him (the next day, the maid washed blood from the carpet). When the jackanape caused a commotion, Steenie ran from the room, forgetting both the silver and his receipt. As he fled, he heard that the laird (lord) was dead and afterward hoped that MacCallum would remember seeing his money bag and Sir Robert’s saying that he intended to write a receipt for him.

Preparation for Sir Robert’s funeral fell to MacCallum, who slept in a room next to the one in which Sir Robert lay in state. MacCallum asked Sir Robert’s servant Hutcheon to share the room, partly because he was still hearing Sir Robert’s paging whistle calling for him during the night. On the night before the funeral, the whistle sounded again, and both old serving men went toward the coffin. Hutcheon saw “the foul fiend in his ain [own] shape” sitting on Sir Robert’s coffin and lost consciousness. When he recovered, he found MacCallum lying dead.

The new estate owner, Sir Robert’s son John, came from Edinburgh and discovered that the rent payment record book had no entry for Steenie for the previous year. He therefore pressed his tenant for payment or for a receipt showing that payment had been made. Steenie protested at length that he had indeed made the payment, but both its recipient and the only other witness were now dead. He offered to produce witnesses from among those from whom he had borrowed the money for his rent, but Sir John insisted the evidence he wanted had to be a receipt from his father. When Steenie suggested someone else in the household may have seen the money, Sir John questioned all the servants but concluded that they had seen nothing.

Sir John pressed Steenie further, telling him that he must either pay or quit his land. Steenie insisted that he was an honest man, but Sir John accused him of trying to cheat him. He asked Steenie where he supposed the money to be, and Steenie, driven to desperation, said, “In hell, if you will have my thoughts of it . . . with your father, his jackanape, and his silver whistle.” Steenie then ran again, as Sir John called for law officers.

Steenie approached his chief creditor, only to be further abused by being called a thief and a beggar. He then began to ride home through Pitmurkie wood, stopping at a hostler-wife’s cottage long enough for a quick brandy. There he proposed two toasts: the first to Sir Robert’s memory that he might not rest quietly until he had set things right with his tenant; the second to “Man’s Enemy,” that he might get back the silver for him or tell him where it was. Soon a strange horseman appeared and said that although he was misunderstood in the world, he was a great one...

(The entire section is 2,161 words.)