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Book of Scottish Story
The Miller and the Freebooter


In Glenquoich, in Aberdeenshire, in the early part of last century, there was a corn-mill erected for the use of the neighbourhood, and as the construction and management of such machines were ill understood in that part of Scotland at the time, a miller was brought from the low country to superintend it. In this neighbourhood there lived at that lime a certain Donald Mackenzie, a hero remarkable for his haughty and imperious manner, and known by the appellation of "Donald Unasach," or Donald the Proud. Being a native of Glenquoich, he knew as little of the English language as the miller did of Gaelic. He was an outlaw, addicted to freebooting, and of so fierce and unruly a temper, that the whole country stood in awe of him. One circumstance regarding him struck everyone with superstitious awe, and created much conjecture and speculation among those around him: he was never known to be without abundance of meal, and yet he was never known to carry any corn to the mill.

But the sagacious miller of Glenquoich soon discovered that, in order to bilk him of his proper mill-dues, the caitiff was in the habit of bringing his grain to the mill in the night, and grinding it, and carrying it off before morning. To charge him directly with this fraud, was too dangerous an attempt. But the miller ventured to ask him now and then, quietly, how he did for meal, as he never brought any corn to the mill; to which the freebooter never returned any other answer than one in Gaelic, signifying that "strong is the hand of God!"

Provoked at last, the miller determined to take his own way of curing the evil; and, having some previous notion of the next nocturnal visit of his unwelcome customer, he took care, before leaving the mill in the evening, to remove the bush, or that piece of wood which is driven into the eye of the nethermillstone, for the purpose of keeping the spindle steady in passing through the upper stone. He also stopped up the spout through which the meal discharged itself; and as the mill was one of those old-fashioned machines, where the water-wheel moved horizontally, and directly under the stones, it follows that, by this arrangement of things, the corn would fall into the stream. Having made these preparations, the miller locked his house door, and went to bed.

About midnight, Donald arrived with his people, and some sacks of dry corn, and finding everything, as he thought, in good order in the mill, he filled the hopper, and let on the water. The machinery revolved with more than ordinary rapidity ; the grain sank fast in the hopper; but not a particle of it came out at the place where he was wont to receive it into his bag as meal. Donald the Proud and his "gillies" were all aghast. Frantic with rage, he and they ran up and down; and, in their hurry to do everything, they succeeded in doing nothing. At length Donald perceived, what even the obscurity of the night could not hide, a long white line of fair provender flowing down the middle of the stream, that left not a doubt as to where his corn was discharging itself. But he could neither guess how this strange phenomenon was produced, nor how the evil was to be cured. After much perplexity, he thought of turning off the water. But here the wily miller had also been prepared for him, having so contrived matters, that the pole, or handle connecting the sluice with the inside of the mill, had fallen off as soon as the water was let on the wheel. Baffled at all points, Donald was compelled at last to run to the miller's house. Finding the door locked, he knocked and bawled loudly at the window; and, on the miller demanding to know who was there, he did his best to explain, in broken English, the whole circumstances of the case. The miller heard him to an end ; and turning himself in his bed, he coolly replied, "strong is the hand of God!" Donald Unasach gnashed his teeth, tried the door again, returned to the window, and, humbled by the circumstances, repeated his explanation and entreaties for help. "Te meal town te purn to te teil! hoigh, hoigh!" "I thought ye had been ower weel practeesed in the business to let ony sic mischanter come ower ye, Donald," replied the imperturbable lowlander; "but, you know, 'strong is the hand of God!'" The mountaineer now lost all patience. Drawing his dirk, and driving it through the window, he began to strike it so violently against the stones on the outside of the wall, that he illuminated the house with a shower of fire, that showed the terrified inmates the ferocious countenance of him who wielded the weapon. "Te meal to te mill, te mutter to te mailler," sputtered out Donald, in the midst of his wrath, meaning to imply, that if the miller would only come and help him, he should have all his dues in future. Partly moved by this promise, but still more by his well-grounded fears, the miller arose at last, put the mill to rights, and ground the rest of the corn. And tradition tells us that after this the mill-dues were regularly paid, and the greatest harmony subsisted between Donald Unasach and the miller of Glenquoich.


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