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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter VI


Boyish Recollections of the Disruption Sufferings—Our Village— Willie Carr—The 'Feeing' or 'Term' Market: its Sights and Sounds ; its Evil Features—The Minister and the Drover — A Forced Declaration — Encounter with 'Dubrach' at Ballater Fair — My Father's Athletic Prowess — Dared by Geordie to 'Haud the Ploo'—The Result—How he cowed the Captain — Instances of his Strength — His Emotional Nature—An Honest Man!

It was not often that my father could be brought to speak of the sufferings he endured during these troublous years. My mother indeed would sometimes inveigh with vehement bitterness against those who, in her quaint vernacular, she would say 'took sides with the Philistines.' But I have many a time and oft heard most graphic accounts from the villagers who were the attached adherents of the 'auld minister' as they loved to call my father; and from these and other sources I have got a very lively idea of most of the main circumstances of this trying time. In fact, one of my earliest infant recollections, which comes back to me through the dim haze of years as the faintest of shadowy reminiscences, is the noisy, yet measured pat, pat, pat of Willie Carr's industrious hammer, keeping up its useful clatter on the 'lapstane.' Our rooms were immediately over Willie's shop, with only a thin ceiling intervening, and to this day—by what subtle link of memory I know not—I am strangely moved by the smell of leather, and the homely sounds issuing from the workshop where the 'pawkie souter' plies his hammer on the homely lapstone.

The principal village inn just faced our makeshift dwelling, and visitors were often amused to see the minister's dinner being brought from the humble thatched outhouse some forty or fifty yards away, where it had been prepared and cooked. It was in fact a byre, which had been converted into a kitchen by the faithful and loyal souter, Willie Carr — all honour to his name!

Close by, the village commonage—spoken of by the villagers as the 'Market Muir'—stretched away for nearly half a mile, running down on the one side to the haughs bordering the North Esk, and on the other to the whinny expanse of stony pasture-land, which at the time was deemed almost worthless for cultivation, although rented by my father, who there conducted many valuable experiments in agriculture.

Between the inn and our temporary abode lay the broad main street of the village, and here it was that, two or three times a year, the rural fairs were held which attracted the restless spirits of the county, and which indeed, in those days, were the chief available markets for the exchange of cattle-beasts, and country produce generally. 'Cattle-beasts' was the generic name for all sorts of live stock; and to these fairs great flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, droves of swine, and long strings of horses, might have been seen converging from all points, in charge of their respective drovers and attendants, for several days before the actual date of the fair. At stated periods too, uncouth hordes of farm labourers found their way to the 'feeing market' as they called it, to negotiate with a fresh master or mistress, for the hire of their services for the ensuing term. Hardy, hulking, bothy hands, with heavy hob-nailed boots, corduroy trousers, rough woollen coats, and not unfrequently a rather flash calfskin waistcoat, would perambulate the fair in noisy gangs, or, ranging themselves in line against the long blank northern wall of the inn, wait there for the farmers to enter into negotiations with them. The clamour of confused sounds was perfectly bewildering. The plaintive bleating of sheep in the crowded pens, or where, in still larger numbers, they were kept circling madly round by the eager, barking collie dogs, rose high in the startled air, and formed a dominant note, which was ever and anon broken in upon by the deep, prolonged, bovine bellow from some frightened or angry herd of Highland horned cattle, and at intervals by the shrill note of the neighing horses, the grunting of discontented pigs, and the shouts and oaths of eager buyers or anxious attendants. The shrill exclamations of excited spectators, or the cries of keen pedlars vaunting their wares, mingled in sharp staccato notes with the all-pervading hum of a vast assemblage of busy, agitated, human beings, culminating in a medley of sound such as could be equalled nowhere else in the world but at a 'term market' of the olden time. Doubtless, these gatherings were in some respects a great convenience, and to a large extent they must in the pre-railway days have been a necessity; but as the scene lingers in my boyish recollection, they had outlived their usefulness, and very often degenerated into an orgie pure and simple, where unbridled passions held full sway, and where many a sad evidence of the depravity of human nature was manifested in its naked ugliness. No doubt it was picturesque to see the lines of snowy tents rising in the early morning on the dewy grass, almost beneath the shadow of the tall steeple of the venerable old parish church. The columns of steam from the bright burnished tin or brass cauldrons, in which great savoury joints and whole hecatombs of cabbages and potatoes were boiled for the refection of the lusty ploughmen and farm labourers, were certainly suggestive of military camp life, as the blue smoke from the fires curled peacefully into the still morning air, before the struggling mass of bewildered animalism had become maddened with thirst, or driven desperate by the shouts of the men and the barking of dogs. The 'sweetie stands' too, and toy booths, looked very pretty in the morning, in the freshness and glamour of their bizarre and meretricious display. The sugar-tablets and long candy-sticks, piles of gingerbread and coloured-paper 'pockies of sweetie'/ outrageously 'loud' in their glaring colours; the flaunting ribbands and long streaming, dyed cravats, were of such dazzling hues that one might have been pardoned for thinking that some comet had come in contact with a regiment of rainbows, and the result had been piled up on the 'sweetie stands' at our village fair. By the afternoon the ugly, repulsive features came more into prominence. The erstwhile glistening boilers were now hideously smeared with scum and grease and smoke. The snowy whiteness of the canvas tents had shared the same fate; for the tents were draggled and denied. The all-pervading odour of stale tobacco and the dead fumes of sodden whisky seemed to hang about the booths like a subtle opiate. Sounds of quarrelling and drunken revellings, fierce oaths and maudlin cries, penetrated the thick atmosphere, mingling with the depressing din of the weary beasts that all around made plaintive protest against the inhumanity that had kept them foodless and waterless all the long, hot, dusty day.

Women with flushed faces and dishevelled finery waited anxiously about, wondering when their husbands, brothers, sweethearts, or neighbours would think it time to leave ' the market' and take the road home. All the pride of the little purchases made at the ' sweetie stand' had long since faded; and, to tell the honest truth, 'a feeing market' of the olden time, divested of all the glamour of romance and the poetry of kindly national reminiscence, oft-times became simply an ugly, sordid, and in many respects brutal and degrading exhibition of downright savage debauchery and unbridled, lascivious drunkenness.

My father was much in advance of his time in his earnest efforts to cope with the abuses of the market system; and he frequently endeavoured, by preaching at the booths, by organising rational counter-amusements in the shape of pleasant picnic outings to 'the old castle/ or some other celebrated picnic ground in the vicinity, or by earnest and kindly admonitions to the more turbulent spirits, to lessen the lawlessness and stem the evil practices that formed such prominent features in these periodic gatherings.

On these occasions his splendid physique no doubt stood him in good stead. He was utterly devoid of personal fear, unflinching and determined in the discharge of any duty, and yet withal had such a ready tact and kindly humour that when the scanty police were utterly powerless to quell any chance tumult, a hasty summons has come down for 'the minister'; and he sometimes, single-handed, tackled the most troublesome disturbers of the peace, and has many a time done feats of praiseworthy valour which to this day form the theme of many a racy village tradition. For instance, a story is told of how a truculent blackguard of a drover, named 'Handy Walker' maddened by drink and evil passions, was on one occasion regularly 'running a muck' through the fair. He was a great powerful bully of a man, with a dangerous iron hook inserted in an artificial socket, in place of one hand, which he had lost by some mischance. Being a powerful and expert fighting man, he was accustomed to terrorise all his opponents by a dexterous use of this dangerous weapon. With it he would tear the flesh or terribly mutilate the face of any antagonist bold enough to stand up to him, and on this particular occasion, having completely discomfited the three policemen who alone represented the majesty of the law, the riotous scoundrel had taken possession of the whole market, as it were, and with a band of drunken ruffians, his instigators and abettors, he was creating havoc and depredation among all and sundry. One poor battered policeman, accompanied by some village folks, came to my father, beseeching him to interfere in the interests of life and property. My father responded to the call of duty at once, and seeking not even the defence of a walking-stick, he, unarmed and fearless, sallied out to confront the passion-inflamed desperado. It must have afforded a strange contrast to see the tall, quiet, self-contained minister of the Gospel suddenly confronting the drunken cursing ruffian. For a moment the fellow was cowed by the quiet, incisive, penetrating speech of the minister; but then, some 'lewd fellows of the baser sort' chafing at the moral restraint thus put upon them, began to hoot on the outskirts of the gathering crowd that was now attracted by curiosity, and began to hem in the two chief actors in this strange scene. My father, as I have said, was a practised athlete and a powerful man. Perhaps I had better allow the old villager who told me this tale to continue in his own words :—'Yer faither began to see that he would hae tae dae mair than admonish. Some of the Hielant drovers were crying oot tae "Handy" tae "Kip him up! Gie him yer cleek, man!" Some of us in the background were ready wi' oor sticks to defend the minister if the drovers suld mak' a rush upon him. Handy raised his cleek, and was jist aboot tae claw the minister doon the face, whin, jist as quick as lichtnin', and as soople as a ram, yer faither bowed himsel' doon, and ran in wi' his heid atween Handy's legs; syne wi' his hands upon his thighs, he strauchened his great back, and sent the great muckle loonderin' scoondrel owre his heid jist like a ball fae a gun. Losh, Jeems, ye never saw sic a sicht as the poor wratch wis when they pickit him up. There wis nae mair fechtin, that day, 'deed no!' and then the Homeric recital wound up with the exclamation, 'Losh, sirss, but he wis a swack man the minister!'

On another occasion, my brother George writes me, in one of his perambulations through the market, endeavouring to give a kindly word of counsel as he went, my father spied a nice-looking decent servant lass, who seemed in great distress, and was being rather roughly pulled about by two rustic admirers, who, inflamed with jealousy and whisky, were fighting with each other in their rude attempts to secure the honour of being the damsel's escort home. They were both decent enough fellows in their way, except at such a carnival season as the market time, and both were well known to my father.

With the practical good sense which was one of his marked characteristics, he at once saw that if the girl could only get one away from the other her natural good influence would assert itself, and the angry passions be stilled. He had a shrewd suspicion that very possibly the result of his interference would bring about a happy matrimonial denouement; and so, to the girl's intense relief, but to the bewildered astonishment of the two amorous rustic swains, they suddenly found themselves in the strong nervous grip of a veritable six-foot theologian. He twisted them about as easily as if they had been wisps of straw, and bringing their two heads smartly together with a sounding thwack—which spoke a good deal as to the hollowness and toughness of their crania—he held them apart and said, 'Noo, lassie, whilk would ye like to see ye hame?' The poor girl, thus forced to make her choice, at once pointed to the more favoured swain of the two, and he, receiving a kindly impulse from the minister, was taken in tow by the pleased servant lassie, my father saying, 'Awa' w' him, then, and I'll haud this yin till ye get a fair start.'

You may depend upon it that the prisoner of war received some wholesome fatherly advice during the next quarter of an hour, which, it is to be hoped, did him lasting good. The sequel, I believe, was after the most approved pattern, as Jock and Tibby became man and wife, and as the story books say, 'lived happy ever afterwards.'

While on this subject, I may as well detail a few more of the instances that are on record among my letters of exhibitions of strength and athletic prowess on the part of 'the minister.' He was fond of all manly games and athletic exercises, but had an instinctive horror of gambling, and looked on that as degrading to all true sport.

During his college days, on one occasion while coming home from Aberdeen, he and his brother David had to pass through Ballater where one of these fairs was in full swing. They were accompanied by a class-fellow named Keith Gordon, who was a splendid specimen of the stalwart proportions for which his clan has always been famous. While idly strolling through the fair they were accosted by an elderly man, one William Grant, who, as was customary, went by the name of his farm, and was therefore always known as 'Dubrach.' They saw 'Dubrach' steering his unsteady way towards them. He was, under certain circumstances, rather a quarrelsome man, and sometimes brought no little trouble on his friends by his boastful vauntings and vapourings. My father, knowing his character, hastily arranged a plan with his companions by which they might stave off the threatened infliction. The plan was to affect the utmost cordiality, but each was to put forth all his strength in shaking hands with the unsuspicious object of their conspiracy. Up swaggered 'Dubrach,' his unkempt hair flaunting in tawny locks over his broad shoulders, leaving behind him a fragrant flavour of pure Highland whisky, which exhaled from every pore of his skin. He boisterously hailed my father, holding out his hand, and loudly proclaiming his satisfaction at meeting with an acquaintance. The three young fellows knew that if they allowed him to join their party he would probably first of all insist upon their drinking more than was good for them; then he would proceed to vaunt his own prowess; next he would dare' them to some feat of endurance or strength, and their encounter would wind up with a challenge to mortal combat, culminating, in all probability, in a vulgar market brawl.

Poor 'Dubrach' spoke with a beautiful Highland accent; so, coming up with hand extended, and a rather vacuous smile on his fiery countenance, he cried out, 'Weel, Maister Inglis, fu aare you, an' fu aare you aaa?' My father, putting forth all his strength into a responsive grip, nearly brought the blood oozing from below the finger-nails of his victim as he said, 'Oh! I'm fine, I thank ye! Fu are ye yersel'? ' Dubrach's' fingers were almost sticking together from the terrific squeeze: but the claims of Highland hospitality must be respected, and so, turning to my uncle David, he repeated his salutation, and was rewarded with another squeeze, given this time with both hands, my uncle standing on tiptoe on account of his lesser stature, so as to put all his pith into it.

Again 'Dubrach's' mouth twisted up with an agonized contortion; but still not comprehending the situation, he, with rather a sickly smile, turned to Keith Gordon, and proffered him his tingling digits, no doubt inwardly wishing that he had left the young students alone.

Keith looked a perfect son of Anak ; moreover, he had a grip like a blacksmith's vice, and actually, as my father used to express it when telling the story, 'girning his teeth,' he gave poor 'Dubrach' a grip that almost reduced his bones to a jelly, and left his hand limp and lifeless; then, with a pleased smile they left the old toper to recover his equanimity. Certainly for that occasion they had taken all the usual pugnacity out of him.

Our neighbour, next to the manse, was a Mrs. Low —a dear kindly old body, whose husband, when I was a boy, was a fine substantial farmer up Lethnot way, and always went by the name of his farm, i Margie.' Mrs. Low, talking to my brother Tom, gives another illustration of my father's prowess in these words:

'One market day,' she said, 'a drucken ruffian was gaein up the street cursin' and swearin', and using the foulest langwitch imaginable. Your faither happened to be passing, and rebuked him, but jist got a volley of "back chat" for his pains; so he jist gaed and grippit the man by the back o' the neck wi' yae hand and clappit his ither hand on the man's mou', and shook him jist as a doug wid a rabbit. I can tell ye/ the dear old lady continued, 'he shut up the chield most effectually.'

At another time, as William Kidd, the village tailor, narrates, all the young fellows in the village were practising for the annual Highland games on the market muir. My father had been out visiting, and happened to pass the gathering of young athletes. He looked on for some time with kindly interest at their trials of prowess, and then, in a spirit of genial emulation, he asked the lads if he might have a try; and 'without taking off his coat' as the tailor said, 'he beat the best fellows in the crowd at everything they liked to mention/ and left them amid their appreciative cheers, humorously deprecating the suggestion made, that he should enter for all the events at the approaching games.

Alick Carr, the village blacksmith, as honest and loyal a soul as ever lived, tells this story:—One time Geordie Ferrier (our faithful servant for over thirty years) was taking in some moorland with a four-horse plough. I should explain that 'taking in' in the dialect of the Mearns means really 'breaking up' moorland for the first time—in fact bringing it into tillage. Of course such land is encumbered with stumps and stones and all sorts of natural impediments to cultivation. It is necessary, therefore, that it should be broken up with the most powerful plough that can be procured; and so, when a four-horse plough is mentioned, the reader can easily imagine that it must be a very heavy and cumbrous implement In fact, amongst the ploughmen, to be able to work a four-horse plough is supposed to be such a test of strength as can only be safely sustained by the most powerful thews and sinews. Now Geordie was a bit of a wag, a splendid specimen of his class, and a very powerful fellow; and being accustomed to all the freedom with his employer that long service in the kindly old Scottish way tended to beget, he thought he would try a bit of a practical joke upon 'the minister.' My father had come up to see how the work was progressing. Geordie was staggering along in the furrows, with the perspiration streaming from his knitted brows, the muscles of his arms standing out like cords, and his wrists trembling under the nervous strain put upon them by the shocks and impediments met with by the great gleaming cumbrous ploughshare. With an attempt at rustic pleasantry he dared my father to 'haud the ploo for a rigg.' My father, nothing loath, cast off his coat and took hold of the stilts, and, somewhat to Geordie's discomfiture, he turned a better furrow than Geordie himself had been doing. As they neared the end of the "rigg" Geordie thought that he would play the minister a trick. Of course with such a heavy plough, a very wide circle has to be made at the end of the furrow, to enable the great unwieldy implement to be swung round, without putting too great a strain on the endurance of the ploughman. To turn the horses quickly, therefore, would simply bury the ploughshare in the soil, and very likely jerk a weak or unprepared ploughman clean off his feet. The blacksmith, when telling the story, used always to remark with a grin, 'But feth, lads, yer faither was mair than a match for Geordie. Geordie klinkit the horses roond geyan shairp; but yer faither liftit the ploo clean oot, and whuppit it roond, and then he said, " Come noo, Geordie, dinna ye try to tak' occasion o' the minister. See if ye can get anither man in a' the pairis that could dae that. Ye see, my man, I can do your wark, but I sair doot ye cudna dae mine!" '

Another old parishioner says: 'Eh, sirss! yer faither was a gallant powerf u', wyselike man. Sic a grip o' the hand he gied ye. It was jist a pairfec treat tae shak' haunds wi' him.'

At one time we had staying with us at the manse a certain Captain H. He was a fine-looking young fellow of good family, and had held a commission in a crack regiment. He had, however, become a victim to the drink habit, and his friends had put him under my father's kindly care to see if a reformation could be effected.

The Captain was a man of great natural gifts, with a most social disposition, but morally weak. He had an intense affection for my father, whose influence over him was of the most beneficial character. For many months Captain H. had been living a happy and contented life in the manse; but at length in an evil hour he got seduced from sobriety by a rollicking banker in the village and some of his set, whose heads were harder, and whose consciences were probably tougher, than the poor Captain's. One night he fairly burst all decent bounds, stayed out late, and came home very tipsy and defiant. Some of the servants must have let him in, and from them he demanded more drink. They, however, good-naturedly tried to persuade him to retire quietly to his room, but he insisted with drunken obstinacy that they should comply with his demands. The fracas soon brought my father on the scene. The servants fled to their room, and H., by this time worked up into a most defiant state, began to bully and bluster, and in response to my father's pained reproaches, he point-blank refused to go to bed, saying with an oath, 'I will do what I please, sir!' My brothers, Jack and Tom, had crept out of bed in their night clothes, and were listening at the top of the stairs, boy-like enjoying what I have no doubt they thought was a piece of excitement especially got up for their benefit. Tom writes me that the Captain's drunken obstinacy seemed to rouse my father. All at once he thundered out, ' You shall not do what you please in this house, sir. I am master here!' and picking up the gallant Captain as if he were a mere baby, he flung him over his shoulder, carried him upstairs, threw him on the bed, undressed him like a helpless child, and nearly cowed the life out of him. 'Next morning' continues Tom, 'poor H. said to me,' "By Gad! thy father is a fine man, laddie!"'

Another feat of strength, says Tom, was the following:—'One day some of us boys had been playing with a ball, throwing it up to the roof of the manse and catching it as it fell. At last, however, it stuck in the guttering, and we went in (as we usually did with all our boyish troubles) to put the case before my father. He got the longest ladder procurable in the village and sent me up. I must have weighed about ten stones at the time. I could not quite reach the place, so he lifted me, ladder and all, up to the required height.'

I remember going up to Edinburgh on one occasion with him. We travelled second class. A great drunken navvy, a powerful-looking sort of chap, came up and insisted on getting into the carriage, which contained two or three women and children besides ourselves. My father, stepping out, told him that there was no room, but he, with an oath, insisted on trying to force his way into the carriage. The minister, however, at once swung him right round like a 'peerie' and said, 'You shall not come in here, you drunken brute; you should be in a cattle truck.'

I hope I am not wearying my readers with these details of what, to us boys, was a great source of pride; but, with all his strength and bodily activity, my father was no less famed all over the country-side for his peculiar gentleness and tenderness to all who were in any distress. He had a most affectionate, compassionate disposition, and was keenly alive to every call made upon the emotional side of his nature; and in all circumstances of affliction or sickness he was ever, from his quick sympathy and warm-heartedness, 'a very refuge in time of trouble' to all who had need of his ministrations. Nothing I could say can, I think, give a better idea of his character than his own unstudied words, spoken at the great Convocation in Edinburgh, 1842. I make a quotation from that well-known book, Annals of the Disruption, vol. i. p. 57. It is as follows:—

'The remark of another country minister, the Rev. R. Inglis of Edzell, attracted notice at the time. "Some of my brethren," he said, "have a difficulty in pledging themselves to go out because of their numerous families. I merely wish to say that that is one of my reasons for resolving to make the sacrifice. I am the father of a young family. I shall have little to leave them, more especially if we are forced to give up our livings. But I want at least to leave them a good name. I wish all my children, when I am gone, to be able to say that they are the children of an honest man."'


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