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Ardenmohr
Chapter XX. - Sunday.—We gang to the Kirk


Feeling a trifle stiff, and rather languid, after the week’s hard exercise, some slight disinclination was shown to-day about going so far to church: the natural instinct being to stroll about in the sunshine, or to retire with a book to some shady corner; but indolence was conquered, and all of us duly present at the kirk as the bell began to ring in.

The country folks were arriving from various quarters, some coming by the high-road, others by cross-roads; many came over the hill, or were ferried across the water, and not a few had come from a distance, but all the people had the look of health and content. And so they may, for have they not nearly everything they understand and are accustomed to—home shelter, plain but wholesome food, health, and the purest air; and, in their humble occupations, do they not feel as much interest as others do in what the world may consider things of greater moment, and affairs of dignity or diplomacy. Withal, the rural Celt hath little care, and, sooth to say, little grinding toil.

There is poverty sometimes amongst these country folks, but seldom destitution. Poverty in rural districts does not carry the sad meaning it has in towns, nor do the very poorest ever know an approach to the squalid wretchedness so miserably common in large cities. Moreover, the Highland cottar is generally healthy and enjoys long life. Even the very aged seldom take to their beds, but in summer they potter about their doors or sit in the sunshine, and in winter smoke their pipe by the turf fire. At last they die easily, and are laid in the kirk-yard.

I like to see those homely folks as they gather about the little church, near the graves of their grandsires and friends. All about the scene appears so natural to their state and condition. I like to hear the tuneless ding-dong sounding from the belfry, and to look at the parishioners standing by the grey, moss-grown tombstones, while the sun is shining brightly on the fair face of nature, and the light breeze gently

moves the long grass, and carries the sweet summer fragrance of the country into the doors and open windows of the kirk. I like the plain orthodox sermon (if not too long), the simple old-fashioned singing (if not too loud), and I like the benediction.

After kirk we went to the Fraser’s Arms to talk over with John Fraser certain arrangements previous to our leaving the country, for, alas! pleasant times were drawdig to a close; still, as Fred remarked, it somewhat broke our fall to speculate on the approaching visit to Dunesk, where we should meet our friends, hunt the roe, and get a swim in the sea; yet were we sorry to think of a good-bye to Ardenmohr: it must, however, be soon now.

On arriving at the Lodge we, as usual on Sundays, had an hour or two among books, and then a long walk before dinner.

In the evening the people came in for the reading, Major Duncan acting chaplain; and not only did they always come willingly, but usually brought some of their acquaintances.

When they had left, Ward remarked that it was satisfactory when those about us took an interest in services wliicli, for the time being at least, make all of kin. “Don’t you agree, Abbott?” he said.

“Of course, it begets better mutual feelings, and a confidence sometimes wanting when one’s surroundings look more heathenish or indifferent.”

“Eight, most virtuous Abbott; for if there be enough and to spare of hypocrisy in the world, yet I hardly think there is much deliberate sham. Most men I believe to be genuine in such matters according to their lights. Why, the Pharisees even were only in a certain sense hypocrites; they believed in their views and in themselves, thanking God for not being as other men.”

“Yes,” the Major remarked, “but that same sincerity may be pleaded for rank heathens and for speculative infidels.”

“No doubt,” said Ward, “and I would humbly consider that the responsibility lies not so much in the mere belief, as how it comes about; if from hatred of restraint, from indolence, or from indifference. And, perhaps, what carries the greatest responsibility is the promulgating of uncertain and mischievous doctrines on mere speculative opinion.”

“Are you quite just, Hope, to Eenan, Spencer, and Darwin, and the other new lamps? Probably you have tried them all?”

“Of course; for when a certain section of thinkers, as they are termed, coolly assume that for more than eighteen hundred years all outside their ways of thinking have been living in a fool’s paradise, one naturally seeks to find how they make this out.”

“And your sapient conclusion is?”

“My own notion is that it is all very marvellous; and, notably, the evolved potentiality of redundant, flatulent, and intricate verbosity in seeming-like wisdom while settling nothing, not even a single wdll-o’-the-wisp mysticism. Besides, their even asking a definite conclusion on their premises, seems a mistake.”

“You mean that if a Divine government be questionable, so is the truth of their speculations?”

“Quite so; but that is hardly what I meant. The mistake seems palpable all through; it begins at the beginning when they take up the position of teachers and elevators of humanity, and this by premising that humanity is evolved from the beasts, and like the beasts must perish; they then, at least some of them, elevate morally by teaching that vice and virtue are just accidents of circumstance and temperament— a nice theory to give elbow-room to vice and crime. And, vilest doctrine of all, and most wanton, they would bruise the broken reed by telling the sad and wretched of the world, who have nothing left but hope, that their hopes are vain.”

“Bless me, Ward! your feelings have led you on to give us quite a sermon. But don’t you see, man, that abstract science has nought to do with faith or feeling; it is merely mental vivisection. Beally, we had better let alone this unsavoury subject; it is all very sad.”

“Right, Major,” I said, “but I half suspect you yourself first moved it.”

“For whilk indiscretion let me try and atone by burning some of the very particular Begalias. You fellows go out to the garden seat, and I’ll get them presently.” So we went out, and he brought the cigars. u So perish evolution in smoke” he said as we proceeded to light up.

“How charitable not to say in fire” I remarked. “Major George Duncan is not a bigot, and he really has some good tobacco.”

“Cease, you remorseless cynic,” he said laughingly. “Is it not enough to have brought me to confession and a mulct of my best weeds, that you also must crush my wittiest reflections?”

“Massacre of the innocents! But what a lovely night!” And, indeed, it was beautiful.

Some of the aspects of nature have such charm that they never fail to delight, and one of these is a fair autumn night in the Highlands, when the moon, just* risen over the crest of the mountain, casts a tender light on the edges and slopes of the hills, softening all that is rude and rugged into forms of weirdlike and dreamy grace, while far in the vault above the stars shine forth in their ever-mysterious beauty; nor is the enjoyment of such a scene much lessened by the more mundane accompaniments of friendly converse and unexceptionable tobacco.

We remained out this night to rather a late hour in talking of our departure from Ardenmohr, and even rashly, perhaps, speculating on a distant future.

On the evening of the 23rd October we sat round a blazing wood fire, talked of the pleasant days that had passed, and about going to Dunesk, for which we were to leave on the 25th.

For some time past we had been chiefly salmon fishing, only occasionally taking the gun to find a bird or two for the larder. The stock of grouse did not appear very greatly reduced with all the shooting, but so wild that anything like shots at individual birds was quite exceptional now; “Stand not on the order of your going, but go at once", seemed to be their rule.

No particular event had occurred for awhile, except •that a few days since Donald brought to the Lodge an eagle which he had shot. He had been over the evening previous at the north march to meet Peter Doig on some business or other, when Peter told him that a pair of eagles had been seen by the shepherd passing regularly in the early mornings by the head of Loch Na Seachin; so Donald resolved to try and get a shot, and he and the shepherd were on the outlook at the place before daybreak next morning.

The shepherd was so posted on the side of the hill that he could watch them coming and signal to Donald, without being himself observed. As Donald hoped, they did come, and he shot one of the eagles; the other, he said, did not seem to be touched, as, on the fall of its mate, it merely swung slightly off its course, and then continued its flight direct across the hill. We did not quite approve of Donald’s slaying the royal bird, but it was done now, and, being a fine specimen, we packed and sent him away carefully to be stuffed and mounted on a mimic rock. Hope said that he should afterwards supplement the taxidermist’s work by painting a background of Ardenmohr hills.

Our last day was spent in making arrangements for departure, and in a farewell ramble on the moor.


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