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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter I


Our Glen: its physical Features—My Grandfather as described in The Land of the Lindsays — My Grandmother — Private Stills—Geordie White and the Gauger—Donal' and the Bees— Sandie Ohristison and the Bapteezin' o' the Bairn.


Scottish Croft

I think our glen must have been one of the loveliest in all 'braid Scotland.'

By the poor hard-worked operatives in the lowland towns—weavers of Brechin or Forfar—a jaunt up i The Glen' was looked forward to as one of the richest treats in the year; but in the old times, of which this chapter mostly treats, when my grandfather was, next to the Laird, the paramount authority in the parish, the Glen was but little known, and its beauties were seldom seen by any outsider. Nestling amid the shadows of surrounding hills, covered in the summertime with crimson heather to their very summits, the Glen lay like an oasis of beauty, and nurtured in its various straths and valleys the hardy race of sturdy, independent, whole-souled peasantry, among whom some of the finest types of quaint old Scottish character were ever to be met.

The North Esk runs its brawling course through the whole length of the Glen, thus originating the name 'Glenesk,' from which circumstance the natives were proud to call themselves 'Gleneskers'; but the polite name for the locality, in the mouths of outsiders, was and is 'Lochlee,' from the beautiful lake of that name in the northern part of the Glen in which the winding Esk finds its main source. Here the Glen sends its roots far away into the recesses of the Grampians, mighty spurs of which divide the main glen into numerous little nooks and lesser glens, all of which have special charms of their own. Some of them are remarkable for the weird grandeur and ruggedness of their mountain and crag scenery. In its lower reaches the river winds through fertile little straths, with every here and there snug farmhouses or cottar-shielings, and the stream is bordered by charming belts of the delicate pendulous birch, and the more sombre hazel and pine. The plash of falling water makes the air tremulous with melody on every side. The heather hills constitute a veritable sportsman's paradise, and away up on the mighty flanks of Mount Keen and Lochnagar the lordly stag may often be seen standing, clear-cut against the distant horizon, on some jutting spur.

The chief attraction to the antiquarian is the fine old feudal ruin of 'Invermark Castle,' its square keep frowning over the Esk where that river emerges from the lake. Almost in the shadow of the weather-worn old fortalice nestle the snug manse and quaint little church, in which my grandfather ministered for well-nigh half a century; and perhaps I cannot do better than quote the following description of his character, taken from The Land.of the Lindsays. [The Land of the Lindsays, by the late Andrew Jervise, F.S.A. Scotland. Published by David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1882.] At page 89, Mr. Jervise says: "Perhaps no minister ever approached closer than the late Mr. Inglis to the beautiful description that Goldsmith has left of his father in "The Deserted Village"; and although he enjoyed in reality more than "forty pounds a year," it is questionable, when his many charities are taken into account, whether he had much more to defray the expenses of a large family. But like the village preacher in that inimitable poem—

Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Nor e'er had changed, nor wished to change, his place.
Unpractised he to fawn, or seek for power,
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour:
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More skilled to raise the wretched, than to rise.

Nor was it alone the homeless wanderer or "ruined spendthrift," that had his claims so often and so liberally allowed by the good man, whose kindness was so great that his manse has been likened more to an inn than to a private residence—but there the stranger, whether in search of health or pleasure, also found a ready and comfortable asylum. An amusing story is told of a gentleman who came over the hill one day on horseback when several pleasure parties were in the Glen. Their vehicles were, as usual, ensconced around the manse, and the minister was amusing himself alone in the garden. Believing it to be a bond fide inn, and Mr. Inglis the landlord, the traveller leapt from his nag and called on his reverence to stable it up. No sooner said than done. Mr. Inglis, who was as fond of a joke as he was generous of heart, led the animal to the stable; and the rider, having seen his horse "all right," entered the house and called for a dram. The minister, still acting as "mine host," brought "the glass and big-bellied bottle," and good - humouredly supplied the demand; nor was it until the hour of his departure, when the bill was asked for, that the stranger discovered his mistake. 'Many similar traits' continues the author, 'are told of the hospitality of Mr. Inglis; but he died in January 1837, and, in the emphatic language of many of his parishioners, "the Glen has never been like the same place since."'

Many quaint stories are told of the old minister.

My grandmother belonged to a good old middle-class family, her maiden name being 'Collier' and one of her brothers was a famous factor of one of the great county magnates, and was a well-known character in his day.

I can well remember the gentle old granny, with her stiff gown of watered-silk brocade, her knitted Shetland shawl, black silk mitts, and spotless, high, starched cap, under which her silvered hair gleamed like a streak of driven snow. She had all the gentle manners of the courtly old regime, and must have been a very beautiful woman in her young days. The cares of a large family, however, dependent on the very moderate income of a Highland minister in those days, had told their tale upon the once lithe and supple frame, and when I remember her, the dear old face was seamed with countless wrinkles like the skin of a withered apple,—to which, indeed, it bore no slight resemblance,—and her breath was just as sweet as the aroma of the fruit. She always had her pockets—and what capacious pockets they were—full of dainties for the better-behaved and more-favoured of her grandchildren. I regret to say that while I may have been of the latter, I cannot claim to have belonged to the former category.

I never saw my grandfather; he had long 'gone to his rest' before I appeared upon this troubled scene; but to this day stories are current among the glens of his quaint humour and kindly ways, which show that he must have possessed, in no ordinary degree, the affections of the dwellers of these secluded valleys. They were keen critics too, and possessed of wonderful shrewdness, and one who could thus impress his individuality upon them must have been a man of no mean attainments. All the stories I have heard of him seem to bear this out. Of course the times were rude. Many of the old customs have happily long since died out. It was before the era of large farms and great deer forests. The modern shooting-lodge was an unknown institution, and wire fencing was a thing not then invented.

The distilling of illicit spirits was a flourishing industry in nearly every glen, and many a fierce fight took place between the vendors of that toothsome commodity known as 'Peat-reek' whisky, and the custodians of His Majesty's Excise. On one occasion a famous old smuggler named 'Geordie White' rather cleverly evaded the minion of the law, who, acting upon information received, had ridden up the Glen, full of high hope that he was about to make an important capture.

Geordie had been long suspected; but his precautions had always been so well taken, that no overt act had ever been proved against him. Indeed the authorities more than half suspected that under the influence of a judicious, occasional 'tip' the resident gauger saw fit to wink at some of Geordie's ongoings, and that he might have succeeded, had he done his duty, in bringing the smuggler within the punitive provisions of the act.

It had accordingly been deemed advisable that a change should be made, and a new exciseman, burning with zeal and full of officiousness, had but lately come to the Glen. He was anxious to distinguish himself, and determined if possible to capture the redoubtable Geordie White, the leader of the gang of illicit distillers, whose operations had for years been on a large scale, and who indeed supplied nearly every household with potent usquebaugh for many miles around.

The new gauger had received what he considered reliable and trustworthy information from a hereditary enemy of the White faction that, were he to proceed by a certain route so as to take Geordie's house in flank, on a certain day, he would detect him in his illegal occupation, and find conclusive proof sufficient to ensure a conviction. As a matter of fact the information was correct, and at the time when the gauger set out on his mission, Geordie's still was in full operation, and he and his son were busily engaged in distilling as pretty a sample of whisky as ever had perfumed the caller air of the Glen. It happened to be the beginning of winter, and the hoary frost had bound every placid reach of water in its iron embrace. To get to Geordie's house the gauger had to cross a small ford, but when he came to it he found it frozen over; and the black, thin ice did not look very inviting, especially as he did not know the depth of the water beneath. Knowing the treacherous nature of these mountain streams, but quite unaware that this was a perfectly safe crossing-place, he did not like to trust himself and horse to the dangerous-looking ice, though, from the signs he saw, he felt convinced that he had come at an opportune moment so far as his quest was concerned. He was not, however, brave enough to trust himself to the mercy of unknown depths, and so raising his voice he hailed the shieling.

Young Geordie had in the meantime apprised his father of the advent of this unwelcome visitor, and they were both desperately engaged in trying to hide the evidences of their illegal pursuit. The grain and worts had hardly been concealed, and while the young fellow sought to carry away the still and other appurtenances to a favourite hiding-place, auld Geordie sallied forth in his shirt-sleeves, and with a long hayfork in his hand.

The gauger hailed him: 'What is the depth of the water, my man?'

Geordie's keen and ready wit immediately jumped to a solution of the difficulty, and putting on an air of the utmost innocence—though inly cursing the treachery of the informer who as he now divined had set the myrmidon of the law upon his track—he sauntered down to the edge of the stream, and said: 'Hoots, man! ye have ta'en the wrang road; the ford is fower miles up the watter.'

'Why, I was told this was the ford/ said the gauger, looking at the black inkiness in front of him, which was rendered all the more dangerous-looking by the thin sheet of ice which hid the real character of the stream. 'Let me see the depth, man' he said again.

'Ay, sir! there is nae boddom here ava,' said Geordie, and with that, going to the edge, he made believe to crack a hole with his heel, and then putting in his long fork-handle, he slanted it away in under the ice, stooping down as it disappeared, until at length both fork and arm had been hidden, and then withdrawing them he called out to the dumbfoundered exciseman: 'You see there is nae boddom here; you will hae to gang up the watter to the ford'.

You can imagine the look of disgust on the gauger's face, but being more of a simpleton than the comrade whose place he had taken, he was obliged to make a merit of necessity and cantered off, thus giving time to Geordie and his son to remove all traces of the still.

This was a favourite story of my grandfather's, and if all reports speak true, many a greybeard of good whisky reached the manse upon which the king's tribute never had been paid.

Having a large family of daughters besides his two sons, of whom more anon, the old minister had to eke out his scanty income, and find the means for his profuse hospitality, by the exercise of much ingenious industry.

He was an excellent farmer, and introduced for the first time into the Glen many applications of science to agriculture, which at the time were much in advance of the rather slovenly ideas of the primitive race of farmers amongst whom he ministered. Amongst other minor industries he kept a famous breed of bees, and the sale of hives and honey formed no inconsiderable portion of the manse income.

On one occasion, it seems, he had sent off his man to Edzell market to dispose of a 'skep' of bees; the seductions of the village fair, however, proved too much for Donal', and under the twin temptations of whisky-toddy and congenial company Donal's honesty and fidelity went by the board, and he deposited the proceeds of the skep of bees in the village alehouse, with the result that he arrived home nearly ' blin' fou' and almost unintelligible.

My grandfather, in spite of his queries, could get nothing out of Donal', but a long, rambling rigmarole of the most imaginative character about the lost siller. Seeing clearly, however, what had happened, the old minister in great irritation cut him short with the following outburst of broadest vernacular: ' Hoots ! ye leein' sumph, ye've drucken the haill hypothec; I can hear the vera bees bizzin i' yer wame!'

I may give another of his favourite anecdotes, and one which is characteristic of the rude outspokenness of the time:—

A kindly old minister in the neighbouring parish had taken to himself a second wife, his first having died. Being a delicate little lady but very amiable, she had won the affections of all the rude shepherds in the Glen. Now in these times, as all readers of Scottish reminiscences are aware, the sheep dogs formed a most important element in the life of a Highland parish, and indeed were as regular attendants at ' the ordinances' of divine worship as their pastoral owners. Sluts were not so frequently used for shepherding purposes as dogs, being less tractable. The local name for a slut was 'hick'

Now a brawny shepherd of the name of 'Sandie Christison,' whose ailing wife had been attended in her sickness with much patient gentleness by the minister's wife, happened to have just had an addition to her already large family, and after a conjugal parliament had sat, it had been determined that the wean should be named after their beloved benefactress. Accordingly one evening, after fauldin' the sheep, Sandie trudged away down the Glen, through the thick-falling snow and gathering mists, to have an interview with the minister, and arrange the important preliminaries of the meditated christening.

Arriving at the manse door, he gave a vigorous summons with his trusty staff, and the lassock having answered the ' chap/ proceeded to acquaint the minister in his study of the arrival of this late visitor.

'If ye please, sir, Sandie Christison's come doon the Glen to see ye.'

'Send him in, Isie; send him in'.

'Come awa' in bye,' cried the minister, as the towering bulk of Sandie, his tawny yellow locks glistening with half-melted snow, appeared in the doorway of the snug sanctum.

'It's a gey coorse nicht I'm thinking oot theroot.'

'Deed ay, it is a' that, sir, and I'm thinkin' it'll be thicker afore I'm back hame.'

'Aweel, aweel, come awa' in and tell me what I can do for ye,' said the minister; (and, Isie, jist bring in a wee bit drappie to slocken Sandie, for I've nae doot he's some drouthie efter sic a lang walk.'

Msie' was not long in reappearing with the 'materials'; and after these had been in due course sampled, Sandie came to the object of his visit.

'Ye see, meenister,' he said, a little diffidently, ' Kirsty's jist haen anither ane.'

' Bless me,' said the minister, 'anither ane? Is't a laddie or a lassie this time?'

'Oh 'deed, sir, it's a lassie! an' a bonnie black-ee'd bit teddie she is, na!'

'Ay, ay, an' so ye'll be wantin' to arrange for the christenin' nae doot?'

''Deed that's jist fat brocht me doon the Glen this nicht' quoth Sandie.

'Weel, weel,' said the kind-hearted minister, seeing Sandie was still a little blate, ' jist tak' an " eik" [An 'eik,' an additional quantity.] Sandie, it'll no hurt ye.'

'Eh, sirss! but it's jist prime,' said Sandie, wanting no second invitation. And then arrangements were made that on 'Feursday nicht,' after the prayer meeting up the Glen, the baby would be baptized. A pleasant chat ensued, and the shepherd made for the door. He had not got it half opened, however, before the minister recalled him, and said—

'By the bye, Sandie, ye've no tell't me what ye're to ca' the bit lassock,'

'Hoots' said Sandie, 'I clean forgot that. Ye see, sir,' he continued, 'my wife has ta'en sic a fancy tae your wife, that naething 'll setisfee her but she maun gi'e your wife a present o' the name.'

This was Sandie's way of saying that the child was to be called after the minister's wife, and the genial, reverend, old soul made due acknowledgments of the delicate compliment thus implied.

Again Sandie made for the door, but, as a sudden thought struck him, he returned to the table; and, as if in pure absent-mindedness, he filled out another dram which he slowly quaffed, and then said—

'Od, meenister, what wi' yer crack, an' yer fine auld whisky, I had near clean forgot the maist principal pairt o' the haill errant.'

'Ay, an' what micht that be, Sandie?'

'Weel, it's jist this, sir. Fat is yer wife's name?' 'Oh, it's Fanny.'

'Fanny!' said Sandie, with an air of intense disgust, his whole shepherd instincts rising in revolt at such a cognomen. 'Fanny! Feech! that's a bick's name. I'll no ha'e that!'

What the minister said or thought is not recorded, but 'the bick's' name was not bestowed on the child.


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