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The Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Chapter VIII - The Outer Hebrides


SKYE is now the "show island" of the west coast, easily invaded by its ferries, at one being only a musket- shot's distance from the mainland. But comparatively few tourists trust themselves across the stormy Minches, Great and Little, to visit the Long Island, more foreign to thriving Scotland than Jersey to England. One used to be told that the Minch was La Manche, the Highland Channel, as the Kyles so frequent here called cousins with straits of Calais; but a pundit of the Oxford Dictionary shakes his head at these as at most popular interpretations of place-names. The 120-mile chain of islands making a breakwater for north-western Scotland, with the Sunday name of the Outer Hebrides, is commonly spoken of as the Long Island, that once indeed formed one stretch of land, and still at some parts is cut only by fords passable at low tide. The name Long Island should perhaps be restricted to the northern mass of Lewis and Harris, below which, across the Sound of Harris, the smaller separate isles taper out southwards like the tail of a kite, tipped by the lighthouse on Bernera shining thirty miles across the Atlantic, the Beersheba of this archipelago whose Dan is the Butt of Lewis.

Stones of Callenish

It is no wonder if tourists do not often get so far, when till our own day the law had to make a long arm to reach the Hebrides, and the Protestant Reformation only begins to set foot on some of those remote strongholds of old ways and thoughts. Nine tourists out of ten, indeed, would find little to repay them for the tossing of the Minch. The archeologist may wander his difficult way among monuments of the past, standing stones, "doons," "tullochs," "Picts' houses," crosses, and shrines whose site is often marked only by a gathering of lonely graves, for even of the chapels and hermitages recorded in print but a small proportion can now be traced in the Western Islands. The rich stranger encloses these poor islands for his deer, narrowing and debasing the hard life of the people. Here and there snug inns invite anglers to sport such as Izaak Walton never dreamt of. Some parts, as Harris, show oases of real Highland scenery. But more often the Outer Hebrides present a bleak and monotonous aspect of rock, water, sand, and bog, where "the sea is all islands, and the land is all lakes." Their common features on half the days of the week are thus described by Robert Buchanan, who was no bookworm to be afraid of a wet jacket. 'A dreary sky, a dreary fall of rain. Long low flats covered with their own damp breath, through which the miserable cattle loomed like shadows. Everywhere lakes and pools, as thickly sown among the land as islands amid the Pacific waters. Huts wretched and chilly, scarcely distinguishable from the rock-strewn marshes surrounding them. To the east the Minch rolling dismal waters towards the far-off heads of Skye; to the west the ocean, foaming at the lips and stretching barren and desolate into the rain-charged clouds."

The Long Island has cheerfuller prospects in its blinks of sunshine, and moments of loveliness caught by William Black, who is its Turner in words, while he seems to have a little distorted the human figures he sets against such effective backgrounds. One who has his eye for the scenery of sea and sky will not call these shores dismal. Another Scottish novelist tells us of the barest southern heath

Yet shall your ragged moor receive
The incomparable pomp of eve,
And the cold glories of the dawn
Behind your shivering trees be drawn.

But on windy Hebrides there is hardly a tree to shiver, where docken, broom, or thistle may be the best substitute for a switch, and every drifting log or plank of shipwreck washed up from the Atlantic is treasured to make the rafters of a human nest. A woman brought to the mainland had no conception for trees but giant cabbages; and when a basket of tomatoes came on shore an old Highlander was excited to see "apples" for once in his life. The wild carrot is the finest fruit that grows here naturally among the scent of the heather. Spring coming so "slowly up this way," some writers have said in their haste that flowers are rare in the Hebrides; but more patient observers like Miss Gordon Cumming and Miss Goodrich Freer give a long list of humble blooms spangling the ground in their season, among them the sort of convolvulus found only on Eriskay, said to have been planted by Charles Edward, who on that rocky islet made his first landing, lodged in a house that stood till the other day. The damp hollows nurse luxuriant ferns; the rushy lochans show often dappled with water-lilies and fringed with gay weeds. The Western Isles are better off for curling-ponds than for ice. The winter climate is chilly and damp rather than cold ; and the rainfall of course varies with the height of the islands, the flat marshy moors being spared by overcast skies that burst more freely on mountainous shores.

The cliffs and the waters—salt, fresh, and brackish —are haunts of innumerable wild-fowl and sea-birds. The cheery solo of lark or lapwing may be drowned by noisy concerts in which MacCulloch could distinguish "the short shrill treble of the Puffins and Auks, the melodious and varied notes of the different Gulls, the tenors of the Divers and Guillemots, and the croaking basses of the Cormorants." On the west coast a frequent feature is dunes of white sand piled up by the Atlantic waves, pleasing to the eye but destructive as those of the Gascon Landes, for if not anchored down by bent grass or other hardy vegetation they are apt to drift over the interior, devastating whole districts like the Culbin sand fringe of fertile Moray, said to have been let loose through the poor people stripping off such weak fetters for fuel.
Passionately as the islanders love their homes, they owe little to a thankless soil. The bulk of them are half croft-farmers, half fishers, the petty agricultural labours falling chiefly to the women's share, while the men alternate between spells of nautical adventure and lazy weather-watching. The wives and daughters have the worst of it, who in their hard daily tasks soon grow haggard, their bright eyes bleared by the smoke of the beehive huts in which they literally gather round the fire, amid furniture and utensils that often would not seem fit for a gipsy camp. In these hovels, hardly to be distinguished from the peat-stacks that shelter them, may still be found the crooked spade, the quern mill, the cruisie lamp, and other time-honoured implements and in some parts rough home-made pottery is but slowly displaced. The condition of such dwellings is deplorable from a sanitarian's point of view. In spite of the fresh air in which alone they are rich, whole families are often swept away by consumption. Their food is mainly potatoes and oatmeal, fish and unfermented bread, with milk and eggs as luxuries. Meat they know only in the windfall of "braxy," unless a sheep be killed for a rare treat at Christmas or New Year. What did they do before potatoes were planted in the islands, much against the people's will; and what do they do in seasons when both the potatoes and the fishing fail them, as happens now and then ? No wonder that they are pitied or abused as indolent, languid, listless, shiftless, downcast. In other climes, when well fed, they may be found working hard enough and speaking their minds only too hotly; but the lotus-eating of these mild-eyed, melancholy islanders does not put much heart into them. Peat is their only fuel, dug from the shallow mines that chequer their moors; and even for that they may have to reckon closely with the landlord.

In Tiree—which indeed does not belong to the Outer Hebrides, lying close to Johnson's Coll—peat fails as well as wood, so coal has to be expensively imported; but there, as compensation, the flat ground is less poor, and the people can take livelier joy in their toil. This island makes a contrast with South Uist, described as the most miserable of all by Miss Goodrich Freer, the latest and not the least sympathetic explorer of the Isles, who on Tiree found hopefuller colouring of life on a soil lying so low that it has been threatened with inundation by the waves as well as by the sand.

The very existence of the island of South Uist is itself a tragedy which shames our civilisation. Nowhere in our proud Empire is there a spot more desolate, grim, hopelessly poverty- stricken, it is a wilderness of rocks and of standing water, on which, in the summer, golden lichen and spreading water-lilies mock the ghastly secrets of starvation and disease that they conceal. The water is constantly utterly unfit for drinking purposes. There is not a tree on the island, and one wonders how the miserable cattle and sheep contrive to live on the scant grey herbage. The land of the poor is not enclosed; and to preserve the tiny crops from the hungry wandering cows and horses they have to be continually watched, and as half an acre of here may be distributed over five acres of bog and rock, the waste of human labour is considerable. The potatoes often rot in the wet ground, and I have seen the grain and hay lying out as late as October from the impossibility of getting it dried. Excellent and abundant freshwater trout there is, but that is not for the poor; nor the rabbits, nor the game; and even the sea-wrack, formerly a means of living, is now hardly worth the getting. Neverthe- less, when the "tangle" comes on the beach—provided the factor gives them leave to get it at all, which by no means necessarily follows—men, women, and children crowd down with earliest daylight, and work on by moonlight or starlight, with the hideous intensity of starvation. The houses of the poor, especially of the cottars, are inconceivably wretched. They are of undressed stone, piled together without mortar, and thatched with turf. Often they have no chimney, sometimes no window; the floor is a bog, and a few boxes, with a plank supported by stones for a seat, is all the furniture except the unwholesome shut-in beds. Cleanliness is impossible, with soot coating the roof overhead, wet mud for floor, and, except in the very rare fine days, chickens, and perhaps a sick sheep or even a cow or horse, for fellow-occupants. To the old Boisdale and Clanranald chiefs with all their faults the people were ready to forgive much; but the Highlander, at best conservative, exclusive, distrustful of strangers, becomes when oppressed, starving, terror-stricken, unreasonable in prejudice, intolerant of change, perverse it may be in refusing to do his part in establishing mutual understanding. Only those who have sojourned among them, not in the cosy fishing hotel at Loch Boisdale far away from the villages, but who have established personal relations with the people in their own homes, can even guess at the utter hopeless dreariness of their lives. The chronic dyspepsia which accompanies the ever-present teapot, the wan anremic faces of women and children, the continual absence from the island of all able-bodied men, make the human element almost as depressing as the flat, grey, glimmering, wet landscape.

A Hebridean Crofter's House

The seaweeds, that here make submarine gardens reminding Miss Gordon Cumming of her wanderings among islands of coral and palm, count not a little among the harvests of the Hebrides. Several kinds eke out the people's food, and are freely given as fodder or medicine to starveling cattle, which have to be fed up on richer pastures before coming into Lowland markets. This crop of the sea goes to manure the thin soil, for which purpose also are used fish bones, and the smoke-soaked thatch of the houses; and even the drifting sands in the long run, like far.-blighting lava, may help to fresh fertility through the lime of powdered shells. Seaweed is the abundant raw material of an industry that for a time brought money and population to the West Highlands, the manufacture of kelp, chief supply of soda till Le Blanc's chemical process showed how it could be made out of salt; then Free Trade opened our markets to a ruinous competition of barilla and other foreign supplies, so that in the first generation of last century the price of kelp had fallen from £22 to £2 a ton. Again its value was enhanced through the making of iodine used in aniline dyes; but again chemistry and foreign competition conspired to beat down the Highland product, in spite of the gallant struggle of a Sassenach, Mr. E. C. Stanford, who for a generation laboured to show what various benefits might be won from the "flowers of the sea." On Tiree and elsewhere another attempt is being made to revive this once thriving industry, too often represented by deserted kelp kilns along the shore, which future antiquaries may associate with the worship of a pagan deity whose mysterious symbols were £ s. d. I leave to such puzzled scholars the excursus on the Fiscal Question suggested at this point.

Donald does not take kindly to handicrafts. The only manufacture of the Hebrides now is the so-called Harris tweedings and stockings, made all over these islands, both for home use and for a sale much fostered of late by aristocratic patronage. The genuine article is imitated by machine-woven cloth of inferior texture and aniline dyes too much come into use in place of those cunningly extracted from roots, bark, heather, and seaweed. But in humble homes wool is still spun, woven, and dressed with songs and ceremonies handed down through many generations. Miss Goodrich Freer gives a pretty picture of a fulling "bee," where some ten women handle the web to the accelerated rhythm of the same choruses as an older traveller heard rising in excitement "till you would imagine a troop of female demoniacs to have been assembled," a scene that again has suggested the Fates weaving their strands of human destiny. The house is crammed with spectators ; and in the reek of peat, paraffin, and tobacco smoke the cloth takes on fresh odours to overcome the original perfume of fish oil, tallow, and other dressings. But the London doctors who would frighten us with the bogey of microbes from these distant homes might be glad to inoculate their patients with the bloom of some ill-fed Highland lasses. The composition of wedding cake, it is said, should not be examined into too curiously; and perhaps we can wear the waterproof tweed of the Isles more at ease for not having been present at its preparation.

The trade of the islanders is fishing, to which most of them are bound from boyhood, many wandering into far seas like their Viking forefathers ; and the girls, too, make long excursions to serve as fish gutters and curers for the season in eastern ports, even as far as Norfolk Yarmouth. Ling, cod, and lobsters yield a valuable harvest ; mussels and cockles are sent to metropolitan markets as relishes, on which the island folk will sometimes be reduced to live. Prince Charlie's first meal on Scottish ground was off such vulgar shellfish. He was to fare worse before all was done; and perhaps he might agree with one of his chroniclers "Give me nettles and shell-fish in the North before fried fish (and too little of that) in the New Cut."

Shelling Mussels, Cromarty

The chief game of their seas is of course, the herring, which appear off the Hebridean coasts early in the season; and there may be an aftermath in autumn, the more enterprising fishers in summer following the shoals round to the east coast. I have played the amateur herring-fisher on the warmer west side; then I no longer wondered why these men armour themselves in such thick clothing that once overboard they would have little chance of escaping Davy Jones, even had they learned to swim. That, I fancy, is an art not much cultivated in the Hebrides. Once a crony of mine and I got ourselves rowed off an island shore for a dive into deep water; and over forty years I remember how the boatman's boy stared at our throwing off jackets and kilts, and the excited cry with which he jumped up, exclaiming in Gaelic, "They will be drowned!" To youngsters a night in a fishing-boat makes a pleasing taste of adventure, if the waves leave them appetite for coffee sweetened by treacle, and mackerel caught and cooked off-hand to be eaten with the hard biscuits that serve also for plates ; but the close air of the "den" may be a trying experience for unseasoned landlubbers. Then it is a fine sight in the chill dawn, when the phosphorescent glow of floats and cordage pales before the sheen of the fish hauled up in wave after wave of silver ; and one can catch the melancholy cheep of herrings as they flop out of the meshes of the net to swell a glittering, wriggling pile among which the men move like mermaids, their legs and arms encrusted with a gleam of scales. MacCulloch noted the phosphorescence of summer nights in these seas, offering splendid phenomena to eyes more often keen for their profits than their wonders :-

A stream of fire ran off on each side from the bows, and the ripple of the wake was spangled with the glow-worms of the deep. Every oar dropped diamonds, every fishing line was a line of light, the iron cable went down a torrent of flame, and the plunge of the anchor resembled an explosion of lightning. When it blew a gale the appearance was sometimes terrific, and the whole atmosphere was illuminated, as if the moon had been at the full. in calms, nothing could exceed the loveliness of the night, thus enlightened by thousands of lamps, which, as they sailed slowly by, twinkled and were again extinguished at intervals, on the glassy and silent surface of the water.

Miss Goodrich Freer gives a picturesque scene of Roman Catholic islanders gathering at their little chapel to consecrate the going forth from which some of them may never return. Protestant fishermen will be not less earnest in their prayers; but their services want the sense of intimate relation between heaven and earth that adorns a more childlike faith. Religion is with them too apt to take the form of bitter bigotry on the score of the Sabbatarian observance which they have turned into a sacrament, though on some coasts of Scotland ministers have still to wink at the time-honoured notion that Sunday is a lucky day for setting sail. Miss Gordon Cumming tells the story of an angry gathering of West Highlanders at Strome Ferry to hinder east coast fishermen from despatching a glut of herring by special Sunday train, when a couple of hundred policemen had to be brought from all parts of Scotland to protect the Sabbath-breaking railway against the Sabbath-breaking rioters. But if she mean to point a moral of Highland orthodoxy, I can remember a similar display of violence at an east coast harbour about the same time. A profane boat having broken the Sabbath by salting her Saturday catch within sacred hours, she was assaulted and wrecked at the quay in the light of day, before the eyes of half the town. The ringleaders being brought to trial, the authorities were in some quandary as to what might follow their punishment; but this anxiety proved quite superfluous, for on the clearest evidence, the facts being of public fame and the criminals as notable as the provost and bailies, a pious or prudent jury brought in a verdict of not guilty.

Early summer is the busy time of the Long Island, when Stornoway, Loch Boisdale, the Castle Bay of Barra, and other havens make rendezvous for hundreds of boats of various rigs, and the population is increased by dealers from foreign shores, with many thousands of fish curers and gutters, who, encamped in huts and bothies, are the followers of this fleet, attended also by mobs of greedy sea-gulls, where the waters will for once be smoothed by a scum of oily fish refuse. The shoals of herring are preyed on by hateful dog-fish and other shark-like creatures; also by whales, which sometimes fall a fat prize to the fishermen. Indeed, there has lately been an attempt to carry on a regular whale fishery from Harris, causing a stench vigorously assailed as a nuisance; and at a former time it appears that whales bulked largely in Long Island fare.

The cream of the herring fishing goes to trawlers and other well-found craft from richer shores of our islands. The fish-curing business, too, like everything that needs capital, is much in the hands of strangers, the export being largely to the Baltic. The Hebridean boatmen live from hand to mouth, setting draughts of luck against blank days and weeks for which their competitors are better provided. The worst of it is, if all observers may be trusted, that being brought into touch with these rivals has a demoralising effect on the Celt, even as the trousers or houses of civilisation are apt to spread dirt and disease among African savages. The native Highland virtues seem to flourish best in spots secluded from contact with the prosperous Sassenach, whose wholesale commercialism sets a copy for retail cheatery, when the islander who would share his last crust with a neighbour learns to look on gain won, quocumque modo, from the masterful intruder as nought but "retribution due."

Smaller satellites left out of account, the southernmost of the Outer Isles is Barra, whose seven miles' length of rocky shore opens into the harbour of Castle Bay. Here, covering an islet, stand the sturdy ruins of Kisimul Castle, pronounced by Miss Gordon Cumming the most picturesque thing in the Hebrides, that recalls Chillon by the way it rises out of the water against a hilly background. This was an old fastness of the M'Neills, supplanted by other lords who have never been able to wean the people from their clannishness, nor from their Roman Catholic faith, though they have long ceased to play the pirate and the wrecker. The spoil of wrecking, here once as welcome as in the Orkneys, was lost when the Hebrides came to be studded with lighthouses, like that on Barra Head, which is a separate islet, alias Bernera, and that upon the perilous reef of Skerryvore towards Tiree, the masterpiece of Alan Stevenson, uncle to a writer whose name would shine far out into the world.

The larger South Uist shares also the poverty and the faith of Barra, its most prosperous spot being the fishing station of Loch Boisdale in the south-east corner. The east coast is cut by other deep inlets, over which Ben More and Hekia rise to a height of about 2000 feet, names making monuments of the rival races of Gael and Norseman. Among these wild Highlands, the early home of Flora Macdonald, Prince Charlie found one of his cave refuges, still hard to seek out; and Miss Goodrich Freer reports a lonely loch in Glen Uisnish as rivalling the now famous Coruisk of Skye.

A link between North and South Uist, accessible from either at low water, is the island of Benbecula, "Hill of the Ford," divided between Protestants and Catholics. North Uist is Protestant, and travellers who lean to the picturesque view of religion have to admit that it looks rather more prosperous than its Catholic neighbour. The chief place here is Loch Maddy, a commodious harbour on which stands the hamlet capital of the island. Its chief interest seems the extraordinary reticulation of the inlets, Loch Maddy, a sheet of ten square miles, being said to have a coastline of 300 miles; but its bens are only benjies, no higher than some hills in sight of Plymouth Sound. Its shores are much broken into peninsulas and satellite islets that might be let out to would-be Robinson Crusoes.

Across the strait of Harris is reached the Long Island proper, commonly conceived as two islands, Harris and Lewis—the Lews in the vernacular—but the smaller southern projection is joined on to the main mass by a narrow Tarbert. This isthmus does not quite mark the bounds of Harris, which like the other islands belongs to Inverness-shire, while Lewis makes part of Ross. Nature has set another distinction, the south part being boldly and barely mountainous, a forest of granite and gneiss peaks, amid which shy deer enjoy the beauties of this Hebridean Switzerland, while the north rather shows brown flats of moorland, rimmed with cliffs, streaked with green, dotted with patches of struggling culture and pitted with lochans. All round, the shores are deeply cut by fords, the largest being Loch Seaforth on the east side, and on the west island-choked Loch Roag, home of that "Princess of Thule" whose begetter takes a more highly coloured view of this scenery than is revealed to most observers. Mr. John Sinclair is another writer who has an artistic good word to say for the Lewis.

The shores are everywhere rugged and rocky, save where, at wide intervals, they are interrupted by broad bays or narrow sea lochs, which terminate in green glens among the hills. The middle and northern districts are for the most part great stretches of flat or undulating moorland, dotted all over with hundreds of little lochs and tarns, into which no burns tumble and out of which no rivers flow. Yet how pretty these flat saucers of rain-water are—scores and scores of them glistening in the sunshine like silver ornaments laid Out to view upon a russet ground. In the south and south-west the mountains are thickly studded and lofty, but long twisting arms of the sea boldly creep in between them and almost meet from opposite sides of the island. Many of these inlets taper away to narrow points, which are hidden in deep valleys eight or ten miles from the open sea. So many are the fresh-water lochs and the insinuating arms of the ocean, that in bird's-eye view the whole island must resemble a diamond window with its countless raindrops darting one into another at the begin- fling of a shower. The hill tops are singularly wild and bare, scarcely a tinge of green relieving the yellow masses of rock and stone, but in the valleys there are many choice spots of sweet verdure and beauty.

On the neck of an eastern peninsula of Lewis stands Stornoway, which to the islanders appears a capital of dazzling luxury, and even strangers are struck by the gardens nursed into exotic luxuriance about its castle, home of a family who have sown a fortune in improving their poor lordship without reaping much gratitude in return. In Harris the most notable spot is Rodill at the south end, where the restoration of a cruciform church best represents the many monastic and eremitic shrines once dotting these isles "set far among the melancholy main." Still less can one enumerate the traces of more hoary antiquity, over which Mr. David MacRitchie exclaims, "It is enough to break the heart of an antiquary to wander about the Hebrides and see again and again the site of what once were doons now represented by a tumbled heap of stones, and sometimes not even by that."

On the west side of Lewis, near the fishing inn of Garrynahine, stands the most celebrated and the least destructible of ancient monuments, the Stones of Callernish, which used to pass for a Druid temple, when there was as much reason for entitling them a Druid theatre, town-hall, or house of parliament, if not the tomb of some once towering hero long gone to Valhalla. The figure of a cross has been traced in their position, on which account they have been credited to St. Columba, the truth being that their origin is as mysterious as that of Stonehenge. Not far off are the ruins of the Doon of Carloway, one of the best specimens of this kind of fortification, often dubbed a Pictish tower. Then, towards the Butt of Lewis, in the wildest and most primitive part of the island, the "Troosel Stone," tallest monolith in Scotland, may from its name be a record of obscene rites, though it also is claimed as an heroic tombstone.

The Herring Fleet in Stornaway Bay

At this north end the features of the people, Gaelic-speaking as they are, most clearly betray the Norse settlement, indicated throughout by many of the place-names, as the recurring Fladdas, Berneras, and Scalpas. The Macleods, once predominant here, till the Mackenzies overlaid them in the Lewis as the Macdonalds in Skye, are believed to have been of this foreign origin. At the end of the sixteenth century an attempt was made to introduce another stock, when a number of Lowland gentlemen, chiefly from Fife, formed themselves into a Chartered Company of the period, to which the savage Lewis was granted by James VI. as area for such a "plantation" as Elizabeth charily patronised in Virginia. These "Adventurers" or "Undertakers" enlisted a little army, armed with tools as well as weapons ; but three attempts at settlement disastrously failed, and the work of civilisation was left to be carried out by nearer neighbours.

Lewis and Harris have in our day been conquered by the Free Church, that puts its ban on the old customs and revels and would weed out the old superstitions, though still kirk-goers will fear to jest of the water-horse mounted by mortal men to their swift destruction, or the water-bull that haunts lonely lochs to snap at bathing boys, or swallow up sheep whose owner brought back from market a head not clear for counting. Such uncanny beasts can be shot only with silver: perhaps the origin of "Bang went sixpence.

Of late years the bitterness of controversy between the United Free and the "Wee Free" divisions of their Church has set congregations by the ears, while the decision of the Lords should breathe a new sentiment of imperial loyalty into the triumphant party, hitherto disposed to Home Rule heresies. Out of Stornoway, there is not a licensed public-house on the Lewis, a fact that makes for peace. Crime is hardly known here, but for a land league agitation that has prompted incendiary fires and brutal mutilation of cattle as well as refusal to pay rent, along with a general sore-headedness that was poulticed for a time by the Crofters' Commission, but may show signs of breaking out again when freshly recurring arrears come to be demanded.

Over the island can be traced broken fold-dykes and patches of rig and furrow lost among the heather, which are taken as signs of a once more extended cultivation of this poor soil, reported by Martin, two centuries ago, as fruitful in corn up till a then recent period. However this may be, a century ago the Rev. James Hall declared that the "scallags" (labouring class) of the Hebrides were practically slaves, treated by their masters worse than negroes. But at that time they seem to have been more patient, not yet having found out how they were ill off. They can hardly expect to be over well off, when, in spite of emigration, a century has raised the population of Lewis from about 9000 to 29,000, an increase unparalleled in the Highlands. Yet what with one help and another, the people of this congested area seem not so poverty- stricken as on islands that have been more depleted of their natural increase.

Forty miles above the Butt of Lewis, on an ocean- washed rock one of the old hermit saints built his chapel. Then far out to the west, beyond the uninhabited Flannan Isles or Seven Hunters, lies—

Utmost Kilda's shore, whose lonely race
Resign the setting sun to Indian worlds.

This remote isle, its celebrity depending on its insignificance, is about three miles by two, a jagged mass of steep crags, which on one side are said to present the loftiest sea-face in Britain, about 1300 feet. The climate is mild and damp, muggy and windy, the clouds of the Atlantic being caught on those tall crags, less familiar with snow than with a white coating of countless sea-fowl, which, with their eggs, make the chief fare of the inhabitants. Before the days of steam St. Kilda was cut off from intercourse with the world, except through supply expeditions sent from Skye by its Macleod landlords, or through chance visits, when the rare stranger would be warmly welcomed and attended by all the male population, as MacCulloch was, like "a Jack Pudding at a country fair followed by a mob of boys." Nature, it is said, serves them as a leisurely postman, when a letter sealed in a bottle will drift on to the mainland in time; but the winds and waves can seldom bring an answer by return. The story goes that the islanders heard nothing of Prince Charlie's enterprise till it was all over, nor of Waterloo and the Hundred Days, and that William the Fourth was prayed for three years after his death, as is by no means according to Presbyterian orthodoxy. Even now, long dark winter months may pass without news whether Scotland stands as it did. But Miss Goodrich Freer laments that only too many tourists reach this remote isle in summer to corrupt a primitive community which, with scant aid from books and teachers, has evolved a high standard of morals and mutual helpfulness, if not of that virtue that proverbially comes next to godliness.

Two centuries ago St. Kilda even came near to adopt a religion of its own through the doctrine of an illiterate youth named Roderick, who, professing to have received a revelation from John the Baptist, imposed fasts, penances, sacrifices, and forms of prayer upon the superstitious islanders, mixing "the laudable customs of the Church with his own diabolical inventions." For years he played his prophetic part, till it became manifest that St. John's oracle had a very human side, when Csar, in the person of Macleod's steward, persecuted him into silence ; and an orthodox minister came over to exorcise his heresies. In those days the people seem to have been little better than pagans with a varnish of Catholicism ; but now they have a Free Church, whose pastor was once the only inhabitant that could speak English, as all the school children can do now.

The population numbers some few score, Gaelic speaking, though they make no show of tartan, and, except in English pictures, kilts were never adapted to their amphibious and crag-scrambling industries. The oft-told tale of a severe cold breaking out among them on the arrival of a stranger seems to relate to the sharp wind which brought a ship, with its invisible freight of alien microbes, to their slippery landing- place. Nature has placed them in quarantine from many ills flesh is heir to on the mainland, yet once an infection of smallpox had nearly exterminated the islanders; and if former statistics be accurate, their numbers have decreased within a century or so. There is a very high death-rate among newly born children and the old people are apt to be crippled by rheumatism; but in middle life they thrive on what should be a dyspeptic diet of oily sea-birds; and consumption is unknown in this natural Nordrach sanitorium. They have fields of oats and potatoes, also cattle and sheep, from which they can clothe themselves. Their landlord has provided them with a street of good stone houses, far superior to the ordinary crofter's home; and their old haystack hovels are chiefly used as stores or outhouses but their zinc roofs cover true Highland untidiness. "Milk dishes, ropes, tarry nets, wool, cooking pots, and fishing tackle are strewn haphazard over the broken earthen floors; from the smoke-blackened rafters hang a winter store of dried sea-fowl, fish, and bladders containing oil for use in the long winter nights." And everywhere are in evidence the feathers that make St. Kilda's best merchandise, as birds are its chief stock, from the great northern diver to the so called St. Kilda wren, lately protected by law against extermination. "The air is full of feathered animals, the sea is covered with them, the houses are ornamented by them, the ground is speckled by them like a flowery meadow in May. The town is paved with feathers; the very dunghills are made of feathers; the ploughed land seems as if it had been sown with feathers ; and the inhabitants look as if they had been all tarred and feathered, for their hair is full of feathers, and their clothes are covered with feathers."

A romance of St. Kilda is the mysterious story of Lady Grange, imprisoned here under circumstances which have not been made very clear. She was the daughter of a gentleman who shot the Lord President for deciding a suit against him, so that she might seem to have hereditarily forfeited a right to the protection of law. Married to Erskine of Grange, a brother of the Jacobite Earl of Mar, after a quarter of a century's wedded life she became such a peril or a nuisance to her husband that, himself a judge of the Court of Session, he planned or abetted a scheme for keeping her in life-long confinement as a madwoman. One story is that she knew of traitorous dealings on his part with the king over the water. Kidnapped from her lodging in Edinburgh by a party of Highlanders, she was violently dragged across Scotland on byways and highways, apparently without any interference at her successive places of detention, the journeys usually being made by night, and the poor lady gagged when she would have cried out for rescue. From Glengarry's country she was shipped into the western islands, and in time to St. Kilda, where she spent some eight years, in vain trying to communicate with her friends, if she had any friends disposed to serve her, as her own sons and her kinsfolk appear not to have stirred in the matter. She is said to have been taken over to Sutherland, then to Skye, where she died after years of illegal durance. Her story seems almost incredible; but even in the nineteenth century an ex- army officer, no doubt not very strong in his wits, was kept imprisoned upon one of the Shetlands for twenty years or so, till quite romantically rescued by the agency of a female missionary.


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