The sound of the crash pierced the freezing cold night air.

It was November and winter’s grip had already shrouded the landscape in ice and snow.

Then came the sound of the horse. It was distressed. The animal’s neighs cracked the silence of an otherwise deathly still night.

The noise woke Adam. His wife Mary still slept as he lay listening to the cries of the horse. So he reluctantly crawled out of bed into the night air and fumbled for the lamp. He lit it with cinders from the smouldering fire that still smoked in the hearth. By now his wife had also woken.

“What is it?” she asked him.

“Dinnae ken,” he said. “There wis an awfy crash, and noo a horse sounds like it’s hurt.” His wife slid out of the bed. “I’m comin wi ye,” she said.

It was the darkest hour, close to dawn. But a slither of moon shed a sprinkle of light over the frozen land. The snow made everything seem luminous, so when Adam opened his door, he could see immediately what had happened.

They lived close to the bottom of a steep brae. Someone had been travelling in a cart and had lost control. It looked like the cart had overturned, and it was lying on its side, with one wheel broken. The roadway was frozen over, no horse would have been able to maintain its grip as it came down the brae with a laden cart pushing from behind.

But who was travelling on such a night, and at such an ungodly hour? Adam screwed his eyes as they adjusted to the strange dim light. He walked to the horse. It was still standing but remained tethered to the cart. Adam untied the reigns and the horse broke free. It threw its head back in relief and stomped in the snow for a few moments before calming down.

Then Adam looked for the occupant of the cart. With a sinking feeling he spotted a dark human-shaped silhouette in the snow next to the cart. It wasn’t moving, and as Adam moved closer he could see it was a woman. She was lying face down in the snow. Although he could not see her face, it seemed it was clearly a woman because of her clothes and hair. Her lower body was completely trapped underneath the cart.

She lay motionless.

“She’s deid,” said Adam to his wife as they both stood over her in their nightgowns.

“What we goanie dae?” asked Mary.

“Wait till the morning,” he replied.

Morning that day seemed to take its time. When the sun finally peered over the horizon, casting long eerie shadows, the scene was grimly illuminated.

The ruts and marks in the snow showed clearly where control of the cart had been lost. She had almost made it to the bottom of the brae, but unfortunately the curve just beforehand was too steep on such an icy surface. The cart must have rolled over, and thrown the woman from her seat, then crashed down on top of her, probably killing her instantly.

Soon others who lived nearby were at the scene. They decided to lever the cart onto its other side and so free the poor dead woman. Then they would be able to turn her round and find out who she was. Sweating and heaving, men lifted the cart and pushed it over.

Now the dead woman was no longer trapped. But there was reluctance to touch her.

“Dinnae touch a deid person ye dinnae ken, it’ll bring ye nae luck,” someone told Adam.

But he was curious to find out the identity of the woman. Perhaps she was local.

So Adam carefully turned the now rigid body over. He stood staring at her, his face drained of colour. He turned his head towards his wife. He said no words, but he didn’t need to. His wife understood he’d seen something shocking. Then his eyes returned to the face of the dead woman and back to his wife. Mary realised he wanted her to come and look.

Nervously she crunched through the snow. Her stare remained on her husband, and she stood with him reluctant to look down. But her gaze then followed his. She looked upon the face of the dead woman.

“It cannae be,” she said.

Adam nodded: “I ken it cannae, but it is.” They both stared again. A neighbour approached and peered over Mary’s shoulder.

She recoiled in horror: “It’s the deil’s work!” she said. All three stood for a moment, then Adam broke the silence: “We maun get the minister, he’ll ken the richt thing tae dae.” Within an hour the minister had been summonsed and he arrived with an air of authority. A crowd of people now formed a circle around the dead woman, but they made way for the minister.

When he looked down his hands immediately covered his mouth in disbelief.

Adam approached the minister and stood by him.

“Aye, richt enough,” said the minister, “that’s Effy Broon.” Both men had been at Effy’s funeral the previous day.

How could a woman who had been dead and buried be riding a cart on the night after her burial?

The news spread like an electric current, and more people from the parish arrived, despite the treacherous weather conditions. Finally, Effy’s sister Jenny arrived. She confirmed the identity of her sibling.

“We cannae leave her here,” said Jenny, appealing to the minister. He agreed, as it was becoming a freak show. There were murmurings that Effy must have been a witch, that the devil was clearly behind this. Suddenly people began to remember strange happenings the previous night. Some said they may have seen Effy on a horse, another said she saw her talking to a strange man only hours after she had been buried.

Then suspicious glances were cast at Jenny. The minister ordered that Effy’s body be taken to the morthouse of the kirk, pending an investigation.

The days of witch burning were well and truly over, for this was the beginning of the 19th century. But the superstitions that had led to the witch hunts in day gone by remained under the surface. Rumours, gossip and retrospective memories of Effy’s strange behaviour were the talk of the neighbourhood.

She lay oblivious to all this in the morthouse. She had been a good woman and a popular member of the community. She had died unexpectedly of fever in the winter of 1801. She had no surviving children and her husband had passed away before her.

Yet many people had turned out at her funeral on a bitterly cold day. Little did they know that they would see her again after she had crashed a cart on a mysterious night journey from the grave.

The horse held the secret. Effy had never owned a horse, and while it would certainly have been within the power of the devil to gift Effy a horse, the truth was this horse was not of satanic origin. It was traced to Edinburgh, and to a doctor of some fame.

And soon the truth of the tale began to unravel. Effy’s resurrection had been entirely involuntary. Her shallow frozen resting place had been robbed by students of this doctor. Such body snatching had been going on ever since Edinburgh College of Surgeons had become renowned for the teaching of anatomy.

But the fear of the resurrectionists had meant people were on their guard. Edinburgh’s kirkyards were watched, graves were protected by iron grills and mort safes and bodies were placed in heavy metal coffins.

Such measures meant the body snatchers had to look for new opportunities further afield. The kirkyards of our county therefore became victims of night raids by the Edinburgh resurrectionists. Lots of money was to be made in this lucrative business, and our kirkyards provided relatively easy pickings compared to the closely guarded dead of the Capital city.

And so poor Effy, hours after she was laid to rest, found herself pulled from her grave by two students, eager to please their famed teacher. They were new at this and nervous. Robbing the grave was the easy part in this dark secluded graveyard. But getting the body safely to the college without detection would be more difficult.

But they had a plan. They dressed Effy as if she still lived in a long dress and a lipped bonnet that hid her face. It was a dark night, and an unusual hour, and suspicions may have been raised as they entered Edinburgh. Their cart was liable to be searched. But who would search a servant woman sleeping off a hangover?

And so the body of Effy Brown sat between two students as they rode the cart back to Edinburgh, on a freezing night, lit only by a slither of the moon.

The darkness hid the steepness of the slope, and the treachery of the road surface. And as the cart tumbled over they just managed to jump free. Effy lacked the agility to jump free because she was already dead. So her lifeless body bounced from the cart and was then trapped by it as it came to rest over her.

And so she was found by Adam and his wife.

The mystery solved, poor Effy could once again be laid to rest. This time for good, one hopes.

Where exactly did this happen? It is a good question. Many kirkyards in East Lothian had such visitations. The impressive metal mortsafe grill kept safe in Bolton Kirk is evidence that this relatively remote place was fearful of visits by the body snatchers.

But where is this tale located? You will figure it out if you can think of an old walled kirkyard which lies on the edge of a small East Lothian community. There are several roads from there to Edinburgh, but one avoids most of the other villages along the way, but also has a steep brae with a slight curve at the bottom. Close by three old houses remain.

It was here Effy was saved from the surgeon’s knife by the wrong footing of a doctor’s horse.