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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter III


Royal Visitors to 'The Glen'—Jeems Mitchell and the Queen's 'Powney'—The Queen and the Herd Laddie—Jeems and the Duke of Edinburgh—Craig-ma-skeldie—The Loch and its Surroundings—Peat-reek—Char-fishing—The Falls of Unich —Dr. Guthrie and Auld Jannie—A Shepherd's Biblical Criticism—An Anecdote of Dr. Guthrie's.

We sometimes had distinguished visitors to 'our glen'. Balmoral, the royal residence, lay just over the dividing range which separated the Esk waters from the beauties of Deeside.

Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen used occasionally to make a more distant excursion than usual; and in the early happy days of her married life she, with her beloved consort, Albert the Good, honoured our glen with a visit. They came across the hills to Glenesk, in fact, several times, and a beautiful granite monument has been erected in Glenmark, over a clear, cool, mountain spring, bubbling up fresh from the primeval granite, now known as 'The Queen's Well' beside which the royal party used to rest and have their simple luncheon.

It may serve somewhat to indicate the primitive character of ' oor ain folk' in the Glen if I repeat a story of one of these visits, of which old Jeems Mitchell was the hero. Jeems was head keeper and deerstalker-in-chief to Lord Panmure, whose splendid shooting-lodge at Invermark is now one of the most beautiful and well-appointed of many such modern mansions in the Highlands. Jeems was the most unconventional of men, and a splendid specimen of the typical Highlander. He was perhaps more familiar with each feature of the trackless wilderness of heather and moss, which stretched for miles around great Lochnagar, than any man living. To honest Jeems, therefore, had been entrusted the highly honourable and onerous task, on one of these occasions, of guiding the royal company down the devious and steep descent from Mount Keen to Glen-mark.

One or two pleasant halts to view the scenery had been made by the way, and Jeems, nothing loath indeed, had imbibed several stiff refreshers that had been pressed upon him by various members of the Queen's party. The pony Her Majesty happened to be riding had not been a judicious selection. It was constantly stopping short, and had stumbled slightly once or twice, much to Jeems's annoyance, filling him with nervous apprehensions for the safety of its royal burden. At length his Celtic irritability, increased, no doubt, by the liberal supplies of whisky he had quaffed, could no longer be restrained. The whisky and his annoyance combined rose quite superior to his awe of the royal presence, and at length, with an impetuous outburst, he exclaimed to the astonished monarch: 'That's a d-------d fitterin' brute o' a powney o' yours, Mistress Queen!' to the outward apparent horror, but to the inward delight, of most of the attendants. What answer Her Majesty vouchsafed is not recorded.

Stories about the Queen and her kindly, homely intercourse with the cottagers about Balmoral are 'legion,' as every one knows; but I may be pardoned for reproducing the following, which is one of the best I have heard.

One day when Her Majesty was standing on the public road near Balmoral, sketching the castle from a particular point, a flock of sheep approached. Her Majesty, being intent on her work, took little notice of the flock, and merely moved a little nearer to the side of the road. A boy in charge of the sheep shouted at the top of a stentorian voice: 'Stan' oot o' the road, 'oman, and lat the sheep gae by!' Her Majesty not moving out of the way quite so fast as the shepherd wished, he again shouted: 'Fat are ye stan'in' there for? Gang oot o' that and lat the sheep pass!' One of Her Majesty's attendants, who had been at a distance, on hearing his royal mistress thus rudely assailed, went up to the shepherd, and thus addressed him: 'Do you know who it is you have been speaking so rudely to, boy?' 'Na—I neither ken nor care; but, be she fa' she likes, she sudna be i' the sheep's road.' 'That's the Queen,' said the official. The boy looked astonished, and, after recovering his senses, said, with great simplicity: 'The Queen! Od, fat way disna she pit on claes that fouk can ken her?'

On another occasion, when the Duke of Edinburgh was on a visit to the Earl of Dalhousie at Invermark Lodge, he happened to be out on the hill one day after the deer, and had as a gillie the same old Jeems Mitchell of Inchgrundle. The Duke possibly was not as good an executant with the rifle as with the fiddle-bow. It seems, at any rate, that after one or two misses, he fired very widely at a small herd of deer some distance away. Poor old Jeems, inly disgusted, but wishing to be complimentary, observed, with a quaint confusion of ideas as to the right title of His Royal Highness: 'Ay, yer Richteousness! but ye've pallached the snoots o' thae yins.'

For many years the genial and eloquent Dr. Guthrie —whose noble work in connection with the Ragged School movement and whose marvellous pulpit oratory made his name a household word all over Scotland in the days of my youth, and whose memory even now is kept green among the hills and glens where his stalwart figure was so often a conspicuous object—used to spend part of his summer holidays 'up the Glen.' He generally took up his head-quarters with Jeems and his good wife Betty.

Jeems's house and farm-steading lay in a snug corner under the sheltering shade of the beetling cliff which was known locally as The Craig-ma-skeldie. Amid the almost inaccessible craggy fissures the golden eagle had his eyrie, and sometimes the cragsmen would be let down the face of the cliff to do battle with the royal bird, when the young eaglets or the rare eggs had become objects of desire to some of the sportsmen who used to partake of Panmure's hospitality at the shooting-lodge of Invermark across the loch. In front of the farmhouse, known as 'Inchgrundle' stretched the lovely loch. Its waters lay clear and cool, shadowed by mighty hills on all sides, reflecting in the still, sheltered coves and calm reaches along the shores, great crags of lichened granite and masses of crimson heather. At the southern extremity of the loch was a ruined chapel, which local tradition dated back to the time of the Culdees. A ruinous wall of red sandstone slabs, gray with moss and perforated with driving storms, ran irregularly round the desolate and deserted graveyard, where 'the rude forefathers of the hamlet' slept. In places the dashing wavelets of the loch had undermined the wall, and had eaten their way into the sacred enclosure, so that on the sandy, shingly strand, stone slabs, pieces of rude mortuary sculpture, and even at times, after a stormy winter, bits of ancient oak coffins and still more ghastly emblems of departed mortality might be seen by the angler, as he cast his line from the top of the crumbling wall. The water here was br-own and deep, almost black in places, and as it was close to where the North Esk took its first leap outward from the parent loch, it was a favourite place for the salmon and the big brown trout that made the loch their chosen haunt.

A number of great gnarled pine-trees stretched their gaunt arms over the buildings of Inchgrundle. They dropped resinous tears upon the roofs, and from the wide chimneys arose the pungent and aromatic peat-reek, day and night throughout the year. The fires never went out on the Glen hearths. There was always 'a gathering peat' slowly smouldering, even in the hot drowsy days of summer. The rafters were black, and glistened with the omnipresent reek. The blankets and bed-clothes were redolent with the peculiar penetrating odour; even the very meal and whisky partook of the all-prevailing peaty flavour. In the calmest days there would be a strange, weird sound stirring through every needle-like leaf of these old pines—a low susurration, as if the ghosts of long bygone storms were holding mysterious converse with the trembling branches, recalling memories of the vanished past, when the young sap pulsed through the green boughs before the trees had become gnarled and twisted, surly with age, and seared by exposure to successive winter blasts. A brawling burn roared and tumbled over granite boulders at the end of the house, and if you followed its noisy waters up the height, they would conduct you to one of the loveliest little mountain lochs—not much bigger than a tarn, in fact—nestling in a nook of the Craig, and noted for its teeming stock of the delicate and dainty char. This little lake was known as Easter Carlochie—a corruption, doubtless, of Char Loch. Its neighbour, Wester Carlochie, lay in a corresponding nook of the mountains some miles to the north-west. There are only, I believe, some five places in the United Kingdom where the beautiful char are to be found. It is a shy fish, preferring generally to remain close to the bottom, and but rarely rising to the fly, though amenable to the seductions of a judicious bait, as I have often proved. Its back is of a dull, earthy-looking tint, but the under side of the fins and the belly are of a brilliant ruddy hue, almost carmine-coloured; and when one has hooked his char, it is a beauteous sight to see the struggling fish darting hither and thither, like a ray of imprisoned sunshine, through the brown peaty waters of the secluded loch. The char gives splendid sport, as he fights lustily, and demands a full exercise of all the arts of the angler to land him safely, without damage to rod and tackle.

Farther up the Glen, after rounding a salient buttress of the mighty Craig-ma-skeldie, the valley opens out, and here the lush grass grows thick over the little enclosures of what were once cultivated fields, and where, even now, wild rasp, and 'grossart,' and currant bushes are the mute and mournful evidences of the depopulating policy of the rich landholders, who prefer deer and moor-fowl to a hardy peasantry. Where the range of girdling mountains rears its ramparts across the valley, there is a cleft in the great rocky barrier ; and through this cleft the waters of the upland bogs find their way downwards, to fill the great hollow that forms Loch Lee, and is the cradle of the winding Esk.

The burn here exhibits itself as a very fine waterfall. The tawny waters bound clear over the precipice in a sheer leap of full one hundred feet; and when the burn is in spate, the thunderous roar of the angry linn makes the hillsides reverberate with ringing resonance, and can be heard miles away re-echoing through the lonely glens. So that when this sullen, booming roar is heard the shepherds or gamekeepers whisper to themselves: 'Save's a', sirrs, but the Unich's in an angry mood the day.' This splendid sight is but little known, even now, so secluded is the place; but the Falls of Unich are worth going many a mile to see.

Amid these scenes it was the delight of the good Doctor Guthrie to drink in fresh inspiration, and gather renewed health and strength for his arduous work among the dens and slums of Edinburgh. He was a man of stalwart frame, had a rugged but kindly countenance, and was possessed by a most insatiable curiosity. One good story of this trait of his character has already seen its way into print; but my father used to tell it with great glee, and it may bear repetition, as I have never seen it told as he could tell it.

One day, in the course of his peregrinations, the worthy doctor, who was known all through the glens as 'Lang Tarn Guthrie' found himself in the vicinity of a lowly 'theek hoosie' inhabited by a humble old 'cottar wifiy' named Janet Trotter. 'Jannie' was preparing her repast, and a rather savoury smell came from the bubbling pot, which indeed set the salivary glands of the stalwart divine in action. His curiosity at once prompted him to ask what was in the pot. 'Jannie', removing the short, black, greasy pipe from her toothless 'charts/ mumbled out the information that she was 'makkin' broth/ This did not satisfy the Doctor however, who pursued his inquiries, and would take no denial till he had found out from poor old 'Jannie' every constituent in the savoury mess—from the bit 'braxy mutton' down to the 'syboes/ and 'leeks/ and 'taties' and 'kail' not even forgetting the 'pepper and saut.' 'Jannie' was not famed for the best of tempers; but the white necktie and air of distinction of the tall visitor had the effect of rendering her wonderfully civil and communicative.

Shortly afterwards my father, in the course of his usual visitations, called on 'Jannie' and in the course of conversation the visit of the tall, inquisitive stranger was alluded to, and all the circumstances detailed. 'Oh!' said my father, 'that wad jist be "lang Tarn Guthrie" — the famous preacher; ye ken he's bidin' at Inchgrundle.' 'Od sake!' said the old wife; 'so that wis the famous Doctor Guthrie, was it?' 'No other' said my father. 'An' what think ye o' the great Doctor now that ye hiv seen him, Jannie?'

'Dod, sir' said the old body, with a gleam of humour in her eye, 'he's no a bad sort o' a chiel, but he's a most michty catecheezer. As fac's am leevin', he wad speir the vera guts oot o' a wheelbarrow.' The worthy doctor enjoyed this rough criticism on his questionable character as heartily as my father, who of course took an early opportunity of telling him what Jannie had thought of him.

Dr. Guthrie very frequently preached open-air sermons to the Glen folk and any visitors who might chance to be in the neighbourhood; and his fame as an orator was always certain to ensure a large congregation even in that sequestered parish. One of these deeply interesting gatherings forms the subject of a fine picture by Maclise, I think it was, and which must be familiar to many who read this book, by the engravings which were very popular and widespread in my younger days.

I do not know if the worthy Doctor, in any of his preachings on the hillside, had such an experience as one of his clerical brethren in the Highlands had on a similar occasion. I think the story has been told by the dear old Dean. The worthy minister had mounted a sod wall to address the reverently-expectant crowd of plaided hearers ranged on the heather in front of him. Unwittingly to himself he had taken his stand on an ants' or emmets' nest, and in the fervour of his exhortation he disturbed the serenity of the busy little colony of black biting ' beasties ' underneath his feet. Out they sallied in an angry swarm, and rapidly began to attack the intruder, running up his legs and swarming inside his pantaloons. The poor minister, not comprehending the situation, but keenly conscious of the hostile activity of the enraged colony, grew pale and red by turns, and no longer able to maintain his equanimity, blurted out to the amazed congregation:—

'My dear brethren, I may hae the word o' God in ma mooth, but I believe the vera deil himsel's gotten intill ma breeks.'

He had to beat an ignominious retreat and leave the dyke in full possession of the emmets.

This calls to mind a good shepherd story in which rather an original piece of Bible criticism occurred. The shepherd was a quiet old character, named Sandy Murray, and he dearly loved to engage in a long philosophical or theological discussion with his lenient master, who patiently humoured his little weaknesses. One day old Murray opened the conversation by saying:—

'Ye'll mind, sir, thon story o' the ninety-and-nine sheep in the wilderness.'

'Ay! fato't?'

'Shepherdin' maun hae been gey different in thae days.'

'Yes?'

'I've often thoucht that the man that gaed efter the yae lost sheep, maun hae haen a fine dowg tae get back the sheep tae the flock efter he'd fand him. An' then the wilderness, I tak' it, that jist meant the hillside?'

'Oh, no doubt.'

'Humph! What sort o' a scatter wad he find fin he cam' back for the ninety-and-nine, eh?'

Doctor Guthrie used to tell a story of a hypochondriac minister, who became a perfect nuisance to his brethren by perpetually wailing and moaning about his approaching demise. Stirling happened to be his native town, and he was always talking about going home to die. At length it so happened that he had occasion to visit the ancient city of his birth, and having made a good breakfast, he proceeded to call on a clerical brother—an old friend, who knew his weakness well. From pure custom the hypochondriac took up his usual plaint, and began to expatiate on his ailments till he fairly 'scunnert' his patient auditor. 'Ah!' he querulously piped, 'you know what a sufferer I am. You know I am dying. I have just come to Stirling to lay down my bones,' The other's patience being fairly exhausted, he snapped out:—

'Oh man! you're in a frien's hoose; jist use yer liberty! Dee an' be dune wi't!'


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