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Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter VIII


Lowland farmers ; Darlings of Priestlaw. Sheep-farmers. Hall Pringle of Hatton. Farm-servants. Ayrshire milk-maids. The consequences of salting. Poachers. ‘Cauld sowens out o’ a pewter plate.’ Farm life in the Highlands. A Skye eviction. Clearances in Raasay. Summer Shielings of former times. Fat Boy of Soay. A West Highlander’s first visit to Glasgow. Crofters in Skye. Highland ideas of women’s work. Highland repugnance to handicrafts.

The vicissitudes of agriculture have told on the farmers and farm-labourers of Scotland, as they have done everywhere else in the British Islands. To a large extent the small farms have been swallowed up in enlarged holdinors. It is much less common now than it used to be to find one of them worked by a single family, where the husband, wife, sons and daughters all take their respective shares of the labour. The extensive adoption of agricultural machinery, and the replacement of" corn crops by pasture have reduced the number of labourers needed in a farm, while the attractions of town life have still further tended to deplete the rural population. These important changes could not take place without affecting the position and characteristics of the farming class. It is for the most part only in the remoter districts of the country that one can now meet here and there with a specimen of the type that was prevalent a generation or two ago.

Forty years since there lived at Priestlaw, in the heart of the Lammermuir Hills, a family of farmers, Darling by name, who were perhaps the most excellent examples of that type I have ever encountered. The farm had been tenanted by their forebears for several generations, and the occupants were now two brothers and a sister, all unmarried. Active, intelligent, kindly and honourable, they were universally respected and esteemed throughout Lammermuir far and near. One of the brothers was once riding home from a fair when he was attacked by one of the navvies who were engaged in draining a neighbouring farm. The ruffian had pinned the old man to the grassy bank by the side of the road, and was dealing him some heavy blows, when a group of farmers returning from the same fair came in sight and rushed forward to save life. When they saw who the victim proved to be, their indignation rose to such a height that, but for the intervention of the policeman who happened to come up with another large contingent of pedestrians, they would have executed summary justice themselves. Some of the party conveyed the injured farmer to Priestlaw, while the great majority of the company marched their prisoner off to Haddington, a distance of some twelve miles, and never relaxed their hold of him until they saw him locked up within the police-cell.

The brothers were delightful men to converse with. The sister, besides the family charm, had a keen interest in natural history, and in all the, legends and traditions of the hills. I had come to the district to carry on the Geological Survey there, and on making Miss Darling’s acquaintance, found from her that when a girl she had accompanied Sir James Hall and Professor Playfair in their excursions up the Fassney Water. She had seen no geologist since then, she said, some sixty years before, and she would fain hear something of what was thought and said about the history of the earth now. We exchanged wallets,. I giving her such information as I had been able to gather regarding the rocks around her home, and she, on the other hand, retailing to me a most interesting series of traditions that clung to particular spots visible to us as we sat in her garden, looking over to the Whitadder and across into the heathy uplands. One of her tales has always seemed to me to carry a strong appeal in favour of the trustworthiness of persistent local tradition. Ever since the time of the Battle of Dunbar, she said, it had been handed down that Cromwell, finding his way barred by Leslie and the Covenanters, sought to discover some route through the hills practicable for his army, and sent out scouts for that purpose. Two of these men, disguised as peasants, had made their way down the valley of the Whitadder, as far as the mouth of a little dell or cleugh, when a gust of wind from the hollow blew their cloaks aside, and showed their military garb to some of Leslie’s emissaries who were on the outlook. They were promptly shot and buried, and tradition had always pointed to a low mound with some gorse bushes, as marking the site of their grave. Miss Darling sought and received permission from the proprietor who, I think, was the Marquess of Tweeddale, to open a trench at the place with the view of seeing whether any corroboration of the tradition could be obtained. To her great delight she found, among some decayed bones, a few buttons and a coin or two of the reign of Charles I.

It was arranged that after I had taken a few weeks of holiday, I should return to Priestlaw, where she was to have a collection of stones brought up from the river, that I might discourse to her from them, while she on her part promised to continue her stories and legends. But when I came back to the Lammermuirs, Miss Darling and one of her brothers had been already laid in their graves. The farm-house of Priestlaw stands not far from one of the old tracks or drove-roads through the hills, which, though now comparatively little used, serves as the chief thoroughfare for pedestrians from East Lothian into the Merse of Berwickshire. It appeared that one day a tramp had halted at the door of Priestlaw, from which, as was widely known, no needy beggar was ever turned away empty. The man looked ill, and when Miss Darling saw him she would not let him trudge any further on his way, but had a shake-down of straw made for him in one of the outhouses. She would not allow any of her servants to attend on him, lest he should have some infectious complaint, but took charge of him herself. It proved to be a case of scarlet-fever. The man ultimately recovered, but she and one of her brothers caught the infection and died. With this most excellent woman, I fear, much of the unwritten history of Lammermuir perished. She had from girlhood collected and treasured in a tenacious memory every tradition of the district. She had watched every excavation, whether for draining or building, and had gathered every relic of antiquity on which she could lay hands. The past was a living reality to her, and she found a keen pleasure in recounting it to any one of like tastes and sympathies. Of her, unhappily, it may be truly said that she is among those ‘which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had never been, and are become as though they had never been born. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.’ Among the Scottish farmers, though the general type is actively intelligent and progressive, examples may be found, in the remoter upland districts, of men—

Who scorn a lad should teach his father skill,
And having once been wrong, will be so still,

Thus a small farmer in Cunningham in descanting upon the changes he had himself witnessed in the agriculture and general conditions of his own neighbourhood had ruefully to make the confession—‘When I was young I used to think my faither hadna muckle sense, but my sons look on mysel' as a born eediot.’

A sheep farmer in the Cheviot hills had been told that it was useful to have a barometer in the house, for it would let him know when the weather would be good or bad. He was accordingly persuaded to procure a mercurial instrument with a large round dial, which he hung up in his lobby, and duly consulted every day without much edification. At last there came a spell of rainy weather, while the barometer marked ‘set fair.’ The rain continued to fall heavily, and still the hand on the dial made no sign of truth. At last he took the instrument from its nail, and marched with it to the bottom of the garden where a burn, swollen with the drainage of the higher slopes, was rushing along, brown and muddy. He then thrust the glass into the water, exclaiming,

‘Will you believe your ain een noo, then?’

Another farmer who had also procured a barometer had greater faith in its predictions. The ploughing on his farm had been stopped on account of the rain, but he noticed at last that the glass had begun to rise, whereupon he sent his daughter to get the ploughing begun again. ‘Ye’re to gang on wi’ the plooin’ noo, John, for faither says the glass is risin’.’ ‘Deil may care, the rain’s aye fa’in,’ was the gruff response.

The hill farmer has been the subject of a good many stories not much to the credit of his intelligence. One of these men, whose holding was 011 the hills to the north of Strathmore, had laid in at Perth his stock of matches for the winter. On his wife opening the first box she found that she could not get the matches to strike upon it. The husband also tried unsuccessfully. The next time he had to revisit Perth he took the pile of match-boxes with him, and going to the shopkeeper from whom he had bought them, threw them indignantly down on the counter, with the ejaculation, ‘They wunna licht.’

‘Wunna licht,’ exclaimed the shopkeeper in amazement, as he opened a box. Taking out a match, he drew it smartly across the side of his trousers and brought it up, alight. He repeated the same action with a second, and a third, each of which burst into flame as before.

‘What do you mean,’ asked the aggrieved shopkeeper, ‘by sayin’ that thae matches wunna licht?’

‘Ay,’ answered the farmer, ‘and div you think I can come doon a’ the way to Perth, to hae a rub o’ your breeks every time I want a licht?’

Hall Pringle was in my boyhood the tenant of a farm near Largo in Fife, and belonged to an antique type of farmer. He still wore knee-breeches, and when dressed for church, or for a visit to Edinburgh, used to mount a blue tail-coat with brass or gilt buttons, a broad-brimmed beaver-hat and a formidable walking-stick. He was tall and broadshouldered, walked with a swinging pace, and when he appeared on the pavement of Princes Street, he cleared a way for himself and attracted universal attention. He was a great friend of John Goodsir, the anatomist, for they were both Largo men, and when in Edinburgh he usually stayed with the professor, who in return used from time to time to pay him visits at Hatton. On the occasion of one of these visits, Pringle was full of indignation over the post-mistress of the village, who he maintained was in the habit of opening his letters. He declared to Goodsir that he would not rest until he got her removed from her situation. The professor wagered him a new coat that he would fail in his endeavour. The task proved more difficult than he supposed, but in the end, with the assistance of the postoffice officials at head quarters, he succeeded in gathering such unquestionable proofs of the delinquencies of the post-mistress, that she was dismissed. In due time the bet, with the existence of which the village was well acquainted, was paid, and the new coat duly arrived at Hatton. On the first Sunday thereafter Hall came to church wearing the garment, and as he passed the pew of the postmistress, he was observed to give the tails of his coat a triumphant flourish.

I was once seated on the top of a stagecoach in the Lothians with a Peeblesshire farmer next to me, who had a sarcastic remark to make upon most of the farms as we passed along. I remember one place in particular where the owner had built a new house, and had taken infinite pains to lay out his garden, which he had stocked well with fruit-trees, herbaceous plants, and annuals. I had often admired the taste with which the whole had been planned and carried out, and turned to my neighbour to ask if he had not a good word to say for at least that little property. ‘Ou ay,’ was his remark, ‘its a bonny bit place. The only thing it wants is soil.’

The farm-servant changes more slowly than his master. When resident in Ayrshire I frequently entered into talk with the ‘hinds,’ as they are called, and found among them some intelligent men. The young women who attend to the cows are often admirable specimens of their sex, comely, well-grown, and strong, with a frankness and good humour delightful to meet with. I was once walking up a hilly road on the south side of the valley of the Girvan water, and overtook one of these girls, who was trundling a heavy wheelbarrow in which lay a large cheese and other supplies for the farm. She had already come a distance of some miles, and was evidently a little tired with her exertions. I volunteered to take the wheelbarrow for a little—an offer which she willingly t-ccepted, and she walked alongside, giving me an account of her farm, her master, his family, the farm-servants, the cows, the dairy, and so forth. I soon found that to arms unaccustomed to the task it was much harder to push a heavy wheelbarrow up a hill than might have been supposed. The girl’s bare arms were muscular, and seemed fit for any amount of hard work. As we drew near her farm we could see the master and some of the servants at work in the field below the road, which now wound round the side of the hill. She named each of them, and laughed aloud when she saw them looking up at our little cavalcade, evidently puzzled to make out who the stranger could be that Jean had got hold of. ‘ O, look at Tam Glen,’ she burst forth. ‘See how he’s glowerin’!’ I presumed that Tam had a special interest in her, so not to give him cause for jealousy, I dropped the wheelbarrow at the corner of the steading and went on my way, with the good wishes of the milkmaid, who assured me that if ever I passed that way she would see that I got a good big glass of milk.

It is interesting to hear these young women calling to their cows ‘proo, proo, proochiemoo,’ a cry which the animals understand and obey. The words are said to be a corruption of approchez moi, and to date from the time, three hundred years ago, when French ways and French servants were widely in vogue throughout Scotland.

A farm-servant. in service among the hills above Dingwall changed to another farm a long distance off. He was found there by some acquaintances, who enquired why he left his former situation.

‘Well, you see,’ said he, ‘I wass not very fond of saalt.’

‘Saalt!' But what had saalt to do wi’ your shifting?’

‘Well, I’ll tell you all aboot it. The maister wass a very prudent man, and when a cow died he wad be saaltin’ the'beast, and we wad be eatin’ her. Then by and by there wass a great mortaality among the cocks and hens, and they died faster than we could be eatin’ them ; and the master, he saalted- the cocks and the hens, and we wad be eatin’ them too. Well, ye see, it wass cornin’ on for Martinmas, and the weather wass mortial cowld, and at last the ould man, the maister’s faither, he died. The maister, he cam’ to me the next mornin’, and said he, “ Donald, I see we’re rinnin short o’ saalt, so I’m thinkin’ you’ll need to be goin’ doon to Dingwall for some more.” Well, you see, I went down to Dingwall, whatefer, but I wass never going back to Auchengreean at all, at all.’

Occasionally a farm labourer becomes a dexterous poacher, and shows by the ingenuity of his methods how well he would have succeeded had fortune opened a way for him in an honest calling that would have given scope for his abilities. The experienced poacher is not infrequently a successful competitor in games where skill as well as strength is required. In curling, for instance, which, even more than golf, brings together men of all ranks in the social scale, the Sheriff may sometimes be seen playing in the same game with men on whom he has had to pass sentence. There is a story of one of these associations, wherein a notorious poacher, who had often been imprisoned, shouted out to the Sheriff who had tried him, ‘Now, Shirra, drive the stane in; gie her sax months’; six months’ imprisonment being an extreme display of the Sheriffs legal power with which the speaker had made practical acquaintance.

A former minister of the parish of Kirkmichael, in Ayrshire, was resting in his study one Saturday afternoon after having finished.

Another version of this story changes the father into the grandmother the preparation of his sermon for next day, when he was startled with sounds of violent quarrelling in his own house. He jumped up from his easy chair, opened the door, and heard the angry voice of his own ‘ man ’ shouting in the kitchen, ‘ Na, noo ye limmer, tho’ I chase ye to Jericho I’ll catch ye.’ T he minister rushed off to save life, burst into the kitchen, and found there, to his great surprise, nobody but the man himself who worked on the glebe, and who was now seated at a table taking his supper. ‘John, John, what’s the meaning o’ this? What were ye swearing at? Wha were ye fechtin’ wi’?’ 'Me, minister,’ said the astonished John, ‘I’m no fcchtin, I’m no swearin’ at onybody, I’m only suppin’ thae cauld sowens oot o’ a pewter plate wi’ this thick horn-spoon, and they’re gey an’ fickle to catch.’ Let me now turn to some recollections of farm and crofter-life in the Highlands, as they presented themselves to me in the year 1854 and thence onwards. The house which for some happy weeks in that year, and at intervals for forty years afterwards, became my home in Skye, was Kilbride, to which I have already made reference as the residence of my friend the minister of Strath. Besides his ministerial duties, Mr. Mackinnon had a large farm, most of which was rough pasture for sheep and cattle, but with some arable land in the valley bottom, where crops of oats and potatoes were grown.

Farming in the neighbourhood of a deer forest entailed in those days some serious trials, besides what arose from scanty soil, tempestuous seasons, uncertain crops, and late harvests. And with these trials I soon came actively to sympathise at Kilbride. The farm lay at the west end of the valley of Strath, immediately at the foot of the range of the Red Hills. These heights formed part of Lord Macdonald’s deer-forest, and though the deer were not numerous, the fields of oats or green crops at Kilbride and the neighbouring hamlet of Torrin offered a tempting pasturage to them, as a change from their sterile granite corries above. Barbed wire, or indeed wire of any kind, had not made its way to these parts, as a help towards the enclosing of land. The fields were only fenced in with low dry-stone dykes, which offered no protection against inroads even from stray sheep. Hence it was needful to watch all night and to make noise enough to frighten away the deer. I can remember sometimes awaking before daylight, and hearing the thumping of trays, blowing of horns, and shouting of the watchmen. And yet with all this labour and some occasional depredation and loss, when the deer contrived to elude detection, one seldom heard any complaints, and I never in those days knew of a deer being shot or injured either by the farm-servants or by the crofters around.

Another source of vexation in the farming operations at Kilbride arose from a very different cause. Although the arable fields were more or less enclosed, it had not been found possible to enclose the farm as a whole, much of the ground being rough hill-pasture. Sheep and cattle were thus liable to stray elsewhere unless watched. Through the lower ground, where, the herbage being best, the animals chiefly grazed, ran the only road from Strathaird to the east coast. To prevent the flocks from escaping along this thoroughfare into other pastures, a rude fence had been constructed there for some distance on either side of the road, across which a gate had been placed. Except the scattered crofters, who gave no trouble, as they performed their journey on foot and willingly closed the gate when they had passed through, Kilbride had no near neighbours. On the west side, however, some six miles off, there lived an eccentric and somewhat quarrelsome laird. He received inebriates in his remote dwelling with a view to their cure by distance from temptation. If all tales we heard were true, he was by no means a teetotaller himself. It was even reported that he allowed strong drink to be placed on the dinner-table, and partook of it himself, but required his patients to pass the bottle round without helping themselves. We did not wonder that under such a regime some of them, like Lucio, ‘had as lief have the foppery of freedom as the morality of imprisonment,’ and that we now and then met those who had escaped, and who were walking all the way to Broad-ford, some nine miles off, and back again in order that they might once more have a glass or two of whisky.

Between the laird and the Kilbride family there was no love lost. As the public road passed through the heart of the minister’s farm, it was necessary to have a gate across it at the farm boundary-wall, otherwise the cattle and sheep would have escaped. But this gate was a dire offence to the laird. For a while, every time he drove that way, he would lift the gate off its hinges and fling it into the loch at Kilchrist. At last the consequences of this conduct became too serious to be tolerated, and the minister was preparing to take legal steps to protect himself, when two of his giant sons quietly resolved to take the law into their own hands. Ascertaining when the laird would pass along the road, they concealed themselves among some copse on the hillside immediately above the gate, and waited for their man. In due time he arrived, and finding the gate closed as usual, he jumped from his dogcart, wrenched it off its fastenings, and threw it, with an angry imprecation, into the lake. In an instant he was seized by the two young men, and, after receiving a sound horse whipping, was sent on his journey. As the result of this escapade, the assaulters were summoned before the Sheriff and fined, but they let it be widely known that they would willingly pay the fine ten times over for the pleasure of thrashing the laird once more, if he ever ventured to remove the gate again. He never did remove it, but he always left it wide open thereafter, and some lad had to be employed to see that it was duly shut after he had passed.

At the head of the sea-inlet of Loch Slapin lies an alluvial plain, through which a broad stream brings down the drainage of the valley of Strath More. On this plain the water has gathered into a lake—a favourite haunt of sea-trout, which the minister had the right of dragging with the net. The days set apart for this employment were red-letter days at Kilbride. We sometimes hauled ashore large numbers of fine fish, which in various forms—fresh, dried, and pickled—supplied the commissariat for some time thereafter.

During my earlier visits to Skye I saw much of the crofters. On distant excursions I used to find quarters for the night in their cottages, being franked on to them by some minister or other friend who knew them well. In those days the political agitator had not appeared on the scene, and though the people had grievances, they had never taken steps to agitate or to oppose themselves to their landlords or the law. On the whole, they seemed to me a peaceable and contented population, where they had no factors or trustees to raise their rents or to turn them out of their holdings. In a later chapter, which will contain some reminiscences of my wanderings as a geologist among the Western Isles, I shall give some particulars of my intercourse with the crofters of Skye.

One of the most vivid recollections which I retain of Kilbride is that of the eviction or clearance of the crofts of Suishnish. The corner of Strath between the two sea-inlets of Loch Slapin and Loch Eishort had been for ages occupied by a community that cultivated the lower ground where their huts formed a kind of scattered village. The land belonged to the wide domain of Lord Macdonald, whose affairs were in such a state that he had to place himself in the hands of trustees. These men had little local knowledge of the estate, and though they doubtless administered it to the best of their ability, their main object was to make as much money as possible out of the rents, so as on the one hand, to satisfy the creditors, and on the other, to hasten the time when the proprietor might be able to resume possession. The interests of the crofters formed a very secondary consideration. With these aims, the trustees determined to clear out the whole population of Suishnish and convert the ground into one large sheep-farm, to be placed in the hands of a responsible grazier, if possible, from the south country.

I had heard some rumours of these intentions, but did not realise that they were in process of being carried into effect, until one afternoon, as I was returning from my ramble, a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze from the west. On gaining the top of one of the hills on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suishnish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentation became loud and long. As I drew nearer, I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them all farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes and household effects, while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. There was a pause in the notes of woe as the last words were exchanged with the family of Kilbride. Everyone was in tears ; each wished to clasp the hands that had so often befriended them, and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set forth once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation. The people were on their way to be shipped to Canada. I have often wandered since then over the solitary ground of Suishnish. Not a soul is to be seen there now, but the greener patches of field and the crumbling walls mark where an active and happy community once lived.

Another island that formerly possessed a considerable crofter population is Raasay. When I paid it my first visit from Kilbride, the crofters had only recently been removed; many of their cottages still retained their roofs, and in one of these deserted homes I found on a shelf a copy of the Bible wanting the boards and some of the outer pages. When I revisited the place a few years ago, only ruined walls and stripes of brighter herbage showed where the crofts had been. In diminution of population, the island has changed much from what it was when Johnson was charmed with the society and hospitality of the Macleods. The old house, indeed, in which he was entertained still stands, but so built round with ampler additions as to be almost concealed behind the wings and frontage of a large modern mansion. The natural features of the island, however, must be pretty much as he saw them. The Dun Can, one of the most wonderful monuments of geological denudation in the Inner Hebrides, rises as a truncated cone, the flat top of which forms the summit of the island. This conspicuous landmark is the last fragment left of the sheets of lava which stretched eastwards from Skye across Raasay towards the mainland. Besides its geological importance, it has long had for me a sentimental interest, for at a picnic on the top my old friends, John Mackinnon of Kilbride and his future wife, became engaged to each other.

One of the characteristics of this island is to be found in the holes, tunnels, and perforations which in the course of ages have been made by rain-water descending through the calcareous sandstone that forms the higher part of the eastern cliffs. These holes open on the moor above, and as they are apt to be concealed by bracken and heather, they form dangerous pitfalls for sheep. In former days, when numerous crofts stretched along the eastern slopes and there was some traffic across the middle of the island, even an occasional crofter would be lost if benighted, or during the thick fog that sometimes settles on these heights. It is told that a woman, on her way back from the store on the west side of the island, fell into one of these chasms in the dark. Bruised, but not seriously injured, she succeeded in slowly descending between the rough walls, and was found late on the second day crawling along the track below the cliff, not far from her own cottage, with her clothes torn into tatters. All over the west Highlands the tradition is current that such subterranean tunnels have been traversed by dogs, which on emerging at the further end have appeared without any hair, their exertions in squeezing themselves through the long narrow passages having rubbed them bare.

One of the hamlets on the east side of Raasay, built beneath the cliff and at the top of the steep declivity that descends from the base of the precipice to the edge of the sea, was known by a Gaelic name meaning ‘Tether-town,’ because to prevent them rolling down the slope into the sea, the small children had ropes tied round their waists and were tethered to pegs firmly driven into the ground.

Up till towards the close of the eighteenth century it was the general practice in the Highlands to move the cattle and sheep in the summer up to the hills, where the pasture was held in common. One of the great events of the year was this migration to the ‘shielings,’ where for some happy and busy weeks the women and children made butter and cheese, and their flocks gained strength and flesh in the fresh open air and on the sweet young herbage. But the rapid development of sheep-rearing in large farms drove the communities away from their summer retreats, and began that impoverishment of the Highlanders which has continued ever since. Many a time, in my wanderings among the mountains, have I come upon the traces of these shielings—patches of greener verdure, with ruined walls or heaps of stones, overgrown with nettles and other plants indicative of human occupation, but all now solitary and silent.

At the mouth of Loch Scavaig lies a small flat island of red sandstone named Soay, which when I first came to the district was chiefly noted for possessing the fattest boy in the West Highlands. The soil of this island is thin and poor, the climate rather moist, and the situation, facing the Atlantic, cuts the island off from constant communication with Skye. The crofters had their little bits of land, and some of them possessed also frail boats, with which they ferried themselves over the sound to the Skye shore, and added to their slender fare by a little fishing. But one family owned the fat boy, and the brilliant idea occurred to his parents to take him to Glasgow, and earn an honest penny by exhibiting him to the public. They left the island for this purpose, with bright visions of success. But they had no Barnum to take charge of them, nor do they seem to have fallen into the hands of any other showman experienced in

All our antic sights and pageantry,
Which English idiots run in crowds to see.

Had large posters been widely placarded announcing that the veritable fat boy of Pickwickian fame could be seen in all his rotundity for the modest charge of sixpence, enough money might have been made, not only to keep the family for the rest of their lives, but perhaps to buy up the whole island, and establish a dynasty of Kings of Soay. But the young prodigy and his disappointed parents had sorrowfully to return wiser and poorer to their northern home.

The first visit to Glasgow is a memorable event in the lives of those West Highlanders who have never seen more people together than at a fair or a sacrament, or more houses than make one of their little clachans. Donald’s astonishment at the crowded streets, the interminable array of high houses, and the bustle and swirl of city-life, has been chronicled in many ludicrous anecdotes. One of these may be quoted as illustrative of one aspect of commercial dealing. Many years ago a newly-arrived Highlander was being shown the sights of Glasgow by a fellow-countryman who had now got used to them. As they crossed a street, they saw in the distance a dense crowd of people, and the newcomer naturally asked what it meant. He was told that there was a man being hanged. He then enquired what they were hanging him for, and was told it was for sheep-stealing. He looked aghast at this news, and at last exclaimed: ‘Ochan, ochan; hanging a man for stealing sheeps! Could he no’ ha’ bocht them and no’ peyed for them?’

The best opportunity of seeing the whole crofter population of a district is furnished by the summer fairs or markets. In Strath, this important gathering is held on an open moor not far from Broadford. Everybody who has anything to sell or to buy makes a point of attending it, from far and near, accompanied by a still larger number of idlers, intent only on fun and whisky. Old and young, men, women, and children, horses and cattle, sheep and dogs, find their way to the ‘stance.’ Whether or not much business profitable to the crofters was done, the fair to the outside spectator used always to be eminently amusing and picturesque.

The quantity of whisky consumed on thesef occasions must have been enormous. There was likewise a kind of epidemic of bargaining.

I remember the case of a woman who brought a small terrier dog for sale, which she had named I dir—a Gaelic word, equivalent to our expression ‘ At all.’ Having sold her dog, she passed on complaining, ‘Cha ’n ’eil margadh idir, idir’ (This is no market, at all, at all), sounding out the last word so loudly as to reach the ears of the dog, which, when it came to her, she caught up in her arms and sold again in a more distant part of the fair. Another occasion which brought the scattered crofter communities of Strath together was the half-yearly celebration of the communion in Broadford Church. Not only the people of the parish, but numbers of others from adjacent parishes, tramped many a long mile to attend the services.

One cannot live much in the Highlands without meeting with instances of that inveterate laziness already alluded to, more especially on the part of the men. They have a certain code of work for women, and another for themselves, and that of the women is generally the heavier of the two. This national characteristic has been often noticed. Writing as far back as 1787, Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, gave what is not improbably its true explanation. After alluding to the Highlanders as formerly fighters, hunters, loungers in the sun, fond of music and poetry, she continues thus: ‘Haughtily indolent, they thought no rural employment compatible with their dignity, unless, indeed, the plough/ Hence they left all the domestic and family concerns to their women, who worked the farms, attended to the cattle and other cognate labours. ‘The men are now civilised in comparison to what they were, yet the custom of leaving the weight of everything on the more helpless sex still continues. The men think they preserve dignity by this mode of management; the women find a degree of power or consequence in having such an extensive department, which they would not willingly exchange for inglorious ease.’

More than a hundred years have passed since these words were written, yet the usages Mrs. Grant described may still be seen in operation. A few years ago, in boating along the north shore of Loch Carron, on a warm day, I passed a field where the women were hard at harvesting work, while the men were leaning against a wall, with tobacco-pipes in their mouths and their hands in their pockets. I remarked to my two boatmen that these hulking fellows should be ashamed of themselves, to let the women do that heavy work under the hot sun, while they looked on in idleness. The answer was characteristic and not unexpected: ‘Ye surely wadna hae men doin’ women’s wark, wad ye, sir?’

This habit of allowing the women to do menial drudgery, so characteristic of uncivilised races, seems hard to throw off, though probably it is now undergoing amelioration. Burt, writing in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, gives an amusing instance of how the treatment of women in the Highlands appeared to a foreigner. ‘A French officer coming hither to raise some recruits for the Dutch service, met a Highlandman with a good pair of brogues on his feet, and his wife marching bare-foot after him. This indignity to the sex raised the Frenchman’s anger to such a degree, that he leaped from his horse and obliged the fellow to take off the shoes, and the woman to put them on.’ In commenting on this incident, the editor of the fifth edition of Burt’s volumes records an instance in which ‘a stout fellow of the very lowest class in Ardgour, took his wife and daughter, with wicker baskets on their backs, to a dunghill, filled their baskets with manure, and sent them to spread it with their hands on the croft; then, with his greatcoat on, he laid himself down on the lee side of the heap, to bask and chew tobacco till they returned for another load. A stranger, who merely looked at the outside of things, would hardly believe that this man was a kind and tender husband and father, as he really was. The maxim that such work (which must be done by some one) spoils the men, has been so long received as unquestionable by the women, that it makes a part of their nature; and a wife would despise her husband, and expect the contempt of her neighbours on her husband’s account, if he were so forgetful of himself, as to attempt to do such a thing, unless her situation at the time did not admit of her doing it.’ Manufactures have never flourished in the Highlands. Yet the region has many advantages for the establishment of industries, especially abundant water-power and the existence of numerous inlets and natural harbours to and from which commodities could easily be shipped. Whisky-making, indeed, has long flourished, the traditions of the ‘ sma’ still ’ no doubt making it natural to take service in a large distillery. Mrs. Grant of Laggan maintained that £ nature never meant Donald for a manufacturer; born to cultivate or defend his native soil, he droops and degenerates in any mechanical calling. He feels it as losing his caste; and when he begins to be a weaver, he ceases to be a Highlander. Fixing a mountaineer on a loom too much resembles yoking a deer in a plough, and will not in the end suit much better.’ The indignant imprecation which Scott puts into the mouth of Rob Roy, when honest Bailie Nicol Jarvie proposes to make the Highlander’s sons weavers, represents the ingrained national repugnance to mechanical crafts. In recent years a few industries have been introduced on a small scale into some of the little Highland towns, such as Inverness, Oban, and Campbeltown. These innovations, however, make slow progress. Possibly the utilisation of the Falls of Foyers by a Sassenach company of manufacturers may prove to be the forerunner of other similar invasions. But if the future of the Highlands be left to Donald himself, the lovers of the unspoilt charms of the mountains may console themselves with the belief that these charms will remain much as they still are for many a long day to come.


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