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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter XXXIa — Skye in 1876


My heart is yearning for thee,
0 Skye! Dearest of islands!
There first the sunshine gladdened my eye
On the sea sparkling;
There doth the dust of my dear ones lie,
In the old graveyard.”—Nicholson.

A CHAPTER on Skye — the home of the MacCruimeins—will not, I hope, be thought out of place in any book on the Bagpipe.

Skye! at one time the land of romance and song: the pipers’ paradise, the fountain-head for many generations of all that was good and worthy in piping and Pipe music.

Skye! the birthplace of many of our finest Piobcureachd—the pibroch of rude, wild nature, with the living breath of the great North Sea in it—the Pipe tune filled with the echo of breaking waves, as they churn themselves into ragged foam in the great sea-caverns below—the melodious Skye song, with the sound of the rowlocks in it, and the irriom of the boatmen as they sail by on summer seas, and the cry of the sea-birds, and the sigh of the south-

west wind—the ‘lament,’ with the sadness and the sorrow in it, and the slow, stately movement of the mighty ocean in it—the lone ocean that plays ever round the island (now in calm, now in storm), waiting patiently for that great day when its secrets shall be disclosed, and “the sea shall give up its dead.”

What Highlander can listen unmoved to Bagpipe music “with the story in it,” such as we have in “The Lament for the Children,” “The Lament for the Only Son,” “Macintosh’s Lament,” or “The Lament of the Sisters”?

Or again, knowing the circumstances under which “MacCruimein’s Lament” was composed, the heart must indeed be of stone that fails to respond to that saddest of sad refrains, “ Cha till! Cha till! Cha till mi tuillewhen heard sung—as it ought always to be sung—in the old soft Gaelic tongue.

*MacCruimein will Never Return” is the Highland emigrant’s song above all others—the song with the bitter cry of the exile in it, the song that makes vocal the dumb moan of the despairing heart as the loved shores recede with each blast of wind that hurries the ship onward. There is a story attached to this pibroch, as to so many others,

During the Rebellion of 1745, MacLeod of MacLeod led a military expedition from the Isle of Skye—and it was not to help Prince Charlie either. The night before sailing, MacCrimmon the piper, who formed an important part of the expedition, had a peep into the Book of Fate. A dream came to him in the stillness of the night ; 'and in his dream he beheld the shrouded figure of a man stand before him—a dead man, with pale wan face, and shrouded up to the eyes. And as he looked, the face seemed to him strangely familiar, and the dreamer awoke with a start. It was his own face that shewed above the shroud.

The story varies, and the second sight came through a friend gifted with the power. But what does it matter through whom comes death’s summons, when it does come?

It was the strong presentiment of something evil going to happen to him, and the yearning and love for his island home, which he was forced to leave on an expedition in which his heart was not, that wrung from MacCrimmon the agonising cry, ““Cha till! Cha till! Cha till mi tuille" and to this circumstance we owe one of the most beautiful Highland songs ever written.

Not “An revoir” sang the “Pipes” on board the wherry on that fateful morning, but “good-bye!” And his friends, left weeping on the shore, and remembering the “second sight,” too surely knew that they Avere looking for the last time on the passing of the great Piper, and that his “Farew'ell” was indeed “For Ever.”

I once heard “MacCrimmon’s Lament” sung at a Highland gathering in Glasgow, and while I live I shall not forget how vividly it recalled to my mind the whole scene of that last leave-taking. Those who have read this book so far will not, I feel sure, think me over-imaginative; but on this occasion my imagination ran riot, and I felt as if the sorrow and the burden of that bitter parting had fallen upon me.

I was the piper under the death warrant ; I it was who was leaving the “dearest of islands,” every stone of which I loved; I it was who was playing the “ Farewell” which my tongue refused to utter : for me the women and children on the shore were waving farewells and weeping.

The spell of the singer lay long upon the meeting —long after the last note of the song had died away in silence—but at length the well-deserved applause thundered forth, and woke me from my reverie ; and it was with a tear in my eye and a sob in my throat that I turned to my companion and whispered in his ear the words which stand at the head of this chapter —words which, I need hardly say, are taken from the best song ever written by a son of Skye. Walter Smith called it Nicholson’s one genuine song—

“My heart is yearning for thee, O Skye,
Dearest of islands.”

I lived for many years in Skye, and made my first home there, and during my stay I learned to love the island—and I love it still—with the love of a Nicholson. Can I use a stronger expression? Pleasantest of companions was the late sheriff—a Celt of Celts, a Highlander of Highlanders; and oh! how he loved the land of his birth.

On more than one occasion I have sailed with this loyal Skyeman up Loch Snizort and round about Lynedale and Greshornish, and past grim Dubeg, and listened to his grave deliberate talk, so full of pawky humour, while the rowers pulled lazily at the oars, or the wind gently wafted us over the clear blue waters.

Now he would quote from his own writings, or retail some old-world lore picked up in his journey-ings through the Highlands; or, again, he would sing songs in his own quaint way. “Kate Dalrymple” he was never tired of; giving the chorus nasally, and scraping upon an imaginary fiddle across his left arm, dividing the honours of the song equally between Bagpipe and fiddle ; but always, whether talking, or singing, or story-telling, he kept looking to right and to left, and drinking in with greedy eye and ear every sight and sound of his beloved Skye. Songs of his own composition, too, he often gave us by request. Of these his favourites were “The British Ass,” “Skye.” "Ho! Ro! Mhorag,” and “The Isles of Greece.” Of these songs, and of the singer. Dr Walter Smith, Preacher and Poet, wrote:—“A bright, breezy ditty is “The Beautiful Isles of Greece,” and it was good to hear him sing it.

‘British Ass’ has received the imprimatur of the great Association for which it was written. . . There is no march so delights the Scottish Brigade of the British Armv as ‘ Agus O Mhorag/’ But the triumph of his verse is the exquisite—

‘My heart is yearning for thee, O Skye!
Dearest of islands!’

Which breathes throughout the sweet pure air of the Coolins by the sea. I would give a good deal to have written that song—to have been capable of writing it. Many a time I have felt my eyes grow dim as he sang it; and the last time not less than the first. It is indeed a very scanty wreath we are able to lay on his grave, but this one rich blossom will perfume all the rest.”

Nicholson studied for the Church, but soon gave up theology, thinking—in his own words—“the uniform of the esteemed Free Church, of which I am a member, too strait for me.” And, thanks very much to the teaching of this same strait-laced Church, Pipe music in Skye in the seventies—I talk of last century—was a negligible quantity, and. the quality was even more so.

A stranger in those days might travel round the island and never hear the sound of the Bagpipe. From Dunvegan to Portree there was not a single piper—unless Skeabost’s man-servant could be called one, the piper whose silence on the Sunday morning the late Professor Blaikie lamented—and except at the Skye gatherings, when pipers from the mainland came to compete, I may say that during the six or seven years which I lived on the island, I never either saw a Piper or heard a Riper play.

Two amateurs of the “upper ten,” who could afford to defy the “priest,” occasionally blew the bag; but of the crofter class I met with none who could finger the chanter.

The attitude of the Free Church in the Highlands towards all forms of innocent amusements, including piping and dancing, has much to answer for. It has taken all the colour out of the people’s lives, and at the close of the day the tired workers have nothing to look forward to but dreary theological discussions, fittingly carried on in blinding peat-reek.

The narrow policy of their spiritual guides has taken the very colour out of the people’s clothes, so that on Sundays the church pews are filled with solemn, gloomy-looking faces, staring at you out of rusty blacks and rusty browns, and on week-days the potato-drills are sprinkled with uninteresting crouching bundles of coarse, dull drabs, out of which every vestige of bright, cheery, healthful humanity has been well-nigh crushed.

The Rev. Roderick MacLeod, known sometimes as “The Pope of Skye”—uncle to the great Dr. Norman MacLeod—was returning late one evening from a long tramp over the hills, when he met one of his elders, and stopped to talk to him. After the ordinary salutations had passed between the two men, the minister, rubbing his hands, as if highly pleased with himself, said—“Well, John, I have burnt the last Bagpipe (or fiddle) in the parish. What do you think of that, man? What do you think of that?”

“It may be as you say, Mr MacLeod, and it may be for good,” replied John, “but you have not stamped out all the music in the island yet; to do that, Mr MacLeod, you will have first to cut all the mavis’ throats in Skye.” And good, honest John was right.

The minister’s boast however, was not far off the mark, and the Bagpipe was then, and for many a long year after, pretty completely stamped out in its old home.

Nor was the Free Church minister who lived near Dunvegan in my day a whit behind the Rev. Rory in his display of intolerance towards the music of the Pipe. And what these two—narrow-minded men, shall I call them?—were doing for the Winged-Isle, others of the same creed, and equally bigoted, were doing for the rest of the Highlands.

Once, when Miss MacLeod of MacLeod was giving an afternoon tea party to the children on the estate, she engaged an old piper to go round with his Pipe and gather the children together from the widely-scattered townships, and march them down in a body to the Castle grounds. The Free Church minister on the following Sunday actually denounced the dear old lady from the pulpit, for doing so.

He took for his text “The Scarlet Woman,” a name suggestive to the poor people, who sat silently listening to the impertinent tirade, of everything that is vile and worthless.

A more refined, charming, altogether delightful old lady than Miss MacLeod of MacLeod I have never met. She lived her whole life in Skye, and could not be tempted south, summer or winter, in order that she might have more to spend on the poor. The heavy-laden found in her a friend. She forgot not “the widow and the fatherless”; she nursed the sick with a tenderness not always to be learned in hospital; she was the confidant of half the parish. When she had more than usual difficulty with a case, she took me into her counsels, and I felt honoured at such times to be allowed to work with her, and proud that

I could be of some assistance to her in her great lifelong work of charity. Whatever I prescribed on such occasions, whether medicines, jellies, soups, or wines, she ungrudgingly supplied.

Nor did such services to the poor round about the door satisfy this large-hearted woman.

Some reports appeared in the newspapers about this time commenting on the high mortality among the newly-born children in St. Kilda—the loneliest and most remote part of her brother’s vast domains— and she consulted me in her distress, for she was deeply affected by these reports. When I suggested to her that the cause was a preventable one, she said quietly, “I shall go out to the island and see for myself.” And she did! sailing across the treacherous stretch of waters that separates St. Kilda from Skye in an open boat. There she lived for several months —this fine, delicately-brought-up, high-strung lady, with hair white as the snowflake, making her bed with the poor islanders, and eating of their simple fare. And when she returned from her self-imposed mission she again sent for me, and taking me up to the roof of the Castle, where we would be undisturbed, she told me in triumph that the cause was what I had more than suspected, and that she had saved several little lives while nursing on the island.

The last time I met this dear old lady is indelibly impressed upon my memory. I got a letter one day shortly before leaving Skye asking me to meet her at a certain hour at a poor widow’s house about a mile and a half out of Dun vegan. With a horse in front of me that could trot, I was there rather punctually. It was a real Skye day : the wind bellowed and thundered, and the rain came down in torrents. The black, bleak-looking moorland in front of the cottage was mostly under water, and there, stepping carefully along from tussock to tussock, holding her thin black dress carefully up out-of the wet, battered and buffeted by wind and by rain, in thin house shoes out of which the water poured at every step, was the Lady of the Manor, on her errand of mercy. My heart filled with admiration and love as the whole truth dawned upon me. This high-born lady was in rags, or little better, that the sick might be tended, and the hungry fed, and the naked clothed. And yet the F.C. priest, who was, no doubt, at that moment—for it was early in the morning, and such a morning!—sitting snug in his warm parlour toasting his feet at a comfortable fire—had once dared to denounce her, whose shoe latchet he was not worthy to unloose, for entertaining the little children with a tune on the Great Highland Bagpipe. Assuredly the Piob-mhor has fallen upon evil days in its old home in Skye !

In 1883 I left Skye for Falkirk, and, with the exception of one flying visit paid to it in the following summer, the island and I remained strangers to each other for eighteen years.

In 1902, however, I again visited Skye, while on a cycling tour through the Highlands in company with my eldest daughter, and we spent a very pleasant week there, visiting places new and old. We made Kyle Akin our headquarters, putting up at the King’s

Arms Hotel, where Mrs M‘Innes, the genial hostess —an old Skye friend of mine—made us most welcome. We cycled round the island by easy stages, going to Edinbane (my daughter’s birthplace), via Broadford, Sligachan, and Portree, and returning to Kyle Akin by Dunvegan, Struan, and Carbost.

I am glad to say that things are different to-day in Skye from what they were in 1876.

At Struan, where we spent a night, and got up a reel dance, in which the young men from the hill joined, we met Mrs M‘Lean, the lady of the Manse, and from her we learned with pleasure that the people were rapidly emancipating themselves from the grievous thraldom of the Free Church in such matters as music and dancing.

This is as it should be: the Highlander ought not to give up his old customs and habits, when good and innocent, at the call of Church or State. As our forefathers fought for the restoration of the kilt and the tartan, so should we fight for the restoration of the old dance and the old music, and go on fighting until the Highlands becomes once more the land of dance and song.

With the most picturesque dress in Europe, seen to most advantage perhaps on the ball-room floor or on the field of battle; and a wealth of song that is our very own, and which, for a certain sweet, quaint pathos which it possesses, is difficult to match ; and the Bagpipe, that is now the national instrument of Scotland ; and a dance—the Highland fling—as truly characteristic of the nation to-day as the Pipe, why should we copy the South in our pleasures and dress, to the utter neglect of these?

I had, unfortunately, only one short week to spend in the island ; but I learned enough in that time to assure me of the truth of Mrs M‘Lean’s statement.

“Pipe to us,” said the children, and the Pipes were scarcely shouldered when I had around me an eager, happy crowd.

At Kyle Akin each night we had a dance, in which the visitors, old and young, joined, and I took care to make it as Highland as possible.

It was on this visit that I met the “MacWhamle,” who rated against the idle, lazy, contented poverty of the Skyemen. Remembering this against him, we determined to take notes as we went along with which to refute him on our return.

We arrived at Kyle Akin one Wednesday afternoon in the second week of September, and cycled away the following morning after breakfast. The day was gloriously fine, and the wind, which was but slight, was in our favour. The road was simply perfect for the first eighteen miles. Revelling in the scenery and the freshness of the heather-scented air, we sped along joyously. We had not gone many miles when we saw a boy coming along the road towards us.

“Look out for rags and hunger,” I said; but we were agreeably disappointed. The boy was busy with a huge “jelly piece,” which he seemed to be enjoying heartily, and returned my salutation pleasantly. He was a sturdy little chap, with bare feet, certainly, but a grand pair of legs over them, and looked very comfortable and clean in a nice suit of homespun. A little farther on, we came upon three children chasing a pet sheep out of the corn ; and their gay laughter, as they shouted and ran hither and thither in high glee, after the errant one, fitted delightfully into the gay feelings inspired by the bright sunshine and beautiful scenery. Down by the shore, washerwomen were busy at work, and they gaily waved us a wet welcome and farewell in “one breath.”

Just before entering Broadford, we came up with a little country cart. A smart little pony in a set of bright new harness ambled along between the shafts. The body of the cart was painted green, and the wheels bright red. It was spotlessly clean. A young lad drove, while seated on the straw in the bottom of the cart, was a group of chubby, red-cheeked, well-dressed children, looking so happy and contented, and evidently enjoying the ride as only children can. “Where,” we asked, “is the idleness, and misery, and poverty pictured by Mr MacWhamle?” so far we only saw comfort, and happiness, and content. And so it was all through our tour. We conversed with everyone on the road ; we entered many of the houses and saw few signs of grinding poverty such as you meet with constantly in the slums of all great cities ; we questioned, and were answered brightly and pleasantly ; we piped, and they danced ; if we gave pleasure, it was assuredly returned to us fourfold, and when our short acquaintanceships came to an end, we felt each time as if we were leaving old friends. And how pleasant the flattery with which our healths were drunk at parting, and how polite the manners. “Here’s to your health, young leddy”—Donald’s cap at this point is raised for a moment, showing the innate gallantry of the man, and then quietly replaced, showing his sturdy independence—“you are a Skye-woman, and you are the one that can dance whateffer, may your life be happy whereffer you go, and may you often come back to see us.” “And here’s to your health, sir, and you pipe very well too, and you are not ashamed of your native land, etc., etc.”

No Irishman could improve upon this.

When we left Ivyle-Akin, our intention was to go as far as Sligachan, and rest there for the night, visiting Loch Coruisk on the following day. The journey from Sligachan to Coruisk and back takes a full day, which, as it happened, we could ill afford, and knowing that Broadford was not much farther from the Coolins than was Sligachan, I enquired of an old man who was standing in the Post Office when we called there for the inevitable post card, if there was not a road to the famous Loch, other than by Sligachan.

We were delighted to learn from him, that there was such a road, although “a hilly one,” and that if “the leddy ”—this with a polite bow—was not afraid of an extra fifteen miles run to a place called Elgol, and a sea journey of four or five miles at the other end, we could do Coruisk much more easily and expeditiously than by the wearisome tramp over the hills from Sligachan, and also save a day of precious time.

The idea fitting in to our plans well, we at once acted upon it, and following the directions of our now self-appointed guide—who was most courteous to us, although we were complete strangers to him— we turned off the Portree road sharply to the left, just under Ross’s Hotel, and cut across country to Elgol by Strathaird. This part of Skye was all new to me, and we were richly rewarded for our enterprise in invading unknown territory, by a most lovely run through Suardal.

To describe the beauties of land and sea which everywhere met our delighted eyes on this never-to-be-forgotten day is outwith the scope of this book, and far beyond the power of my poor pen. Some miles out of Broadford, we came upon “Cill Chriosd,” the quiet burial-place of the MacKinnons.

It is situated just a little way off the main road in the very centre of the beautiful Strath, and is guarded on the south by a fresh water loch of the same name, Loch Cill Chriosd, while to the north, keeping watch and ward over the sleepers, Ben na Cailleach rears its tall head to the skies. Basking in the warmth of the soft September sun which shone brightly out of a cloudless sky, Cill Chriosd, as we saw it on that day, looked an ideal place in which to rest when life’s weary strife is o’er. With the exception of a solitary fisher, who stood waist deep in the water silently plying his rod, nor sight nor sound of life was there in all that vast expanse to disturb its still repose. Here I read on the tombstones the names of several old friends who were alive and in their prime when I bade farewell to Skye ; and even since the day on which I stood there with uncovered head, another once well-known and kind-hearted Skyeman, Donald M‘Innes, has been added to the number.

The road, as far as Torran, where we came again within sight of the sea, proved almost as ideal as the Kyle Akin road of the morning, cart ruts and loose stones being noticeable by their absence. At Torran, we sat down on a hillock by the roadside, and, it being now past mid-day, we lunched off chocolate cake. For drink, we enjoyed the clear water from a tiny rivulet that gurgled close by, and for dessert, we had a tune on the Bagpipe, then filled with a lazy content, and the joy of idleness, we turned to admire the scenery. A quiet sense of repose covered the land. On our left, the picturesque township of Torran lay simmering in the mid-day sun; in front, huge Blaavin, sloping down grandly to the very edge of the water at the head of the loch, slumbered peacefully; at our feet, the blue waters of Loch Slapin danced and sparkled in the autumn breeze; while on our right, Ben Dearg spread its mighty red-stained shoulder far up the lonely glens, Srath Mor and Srath Beag. The Great Glen— Srath Mor—forms a continuation on land of the sea valley, and looking at it from Torran, it curves slowly to the right in a great semicircle, and gradually disappears among the mountains, a noble and imposing spectacle.

On the opposite side of the loch, we could follow with the eye for a mile or two, the road to Elgol, as it wound itself ever upward round the mountain side, its steep gradient warning us that to cycle up would be impossible, and to cycle down might be somewhat dangerous.

While we sat enjoying the quiet and beauty of the scene, a young lad came whistling merrily up the hill. Of him I enquired if there were any Pipes or Pipers in Torran, and was told that there was “not one since young M‘Kinnon the shepherd left. He played the Pipe ferry well : Oh yes ! he was a ferry goot piper whateffer.”

I have seldom heard the Highlander—the West Coast Highlander at least—soften the v into / as this lad did : “Tonalt” is not often met with out of English novels, or I have been fortunate hitherto in missing him.

As there was evidently nothing to be learned in Torran that would be helpful to me in the writing of my book, we resumed our journey without visiting the township. After a pleasant run on the level round the head of the loch, we came to the foot of the hill, where—as we feared—we had to dismount and walk, which was perhaps as well, the surface being very rough in parts. A fast spin down the other side of the hill—the road here again being excellent—made up for lost time, and brought us to the lodge of Strathaird.

Here we stopped for a few minutes, and made friends with the “keepers,” through their children, whose pockets we stuffed with sweets, and after another long climb we arrived at the gates of Elgol— for the place is guarded by a wall and gates on its landward side, and protected by nature on the opposite side, where it shews a bold, precipitous face to the sea.

Elgol, meaning, as I w^as told, “the cold spot,” was anything but a cold spot on this bright September day.

Its position, perched on a cliff high above the sea, is not unlike that of one of the beautiful cities on the Mediterranean.

When we arrived there, it was to find the fields all astir with shearers—men, women, and children— busily cutting down the golden grain ; and one of these, a smart, sailor-dressed lad, came forward and spoke to us as we stood with uncertain hand upon the gate. He seemed to understand our errand before we spoke, and led us promptly to the head-man of the village, who lived in a large two-storied, well-built house, with slated roof, standing on the edge of the cliff—a house much superior to any of its neighbours. A profusion of oars and sails and tarry rope giving off a delightful aroma in the warm sun, announced the calling of the master—MacLeod was his name, if I remember aright.

Standing on the edge of the plateau, just behind the house, where we discussed terms, the view we had was simply magnificent.

Such a wealth and profusion of wild beauty and grandeur on land and sea as spread itself out before our astonished gaze, it would be difficult to equal the world over. I speak as a traveller who has visited many strange countries, and seen many wonderful sights.

Nature was in befitting silent mood here, as if resting satisfied with her handiwork ; and well she might feel satisfied. Beyond the faint murmur of the sea rising up from the foot of the cliff, as it caressed with gentle touch, the golden tresses of sea-weed floating lovingly upon its breast, and the distant call of the sea-mew, no sound broke the deep silence.

A flock of gulls lazily swinging to and fro at the foot of the cliff, looked, from the heights on which we stood, like drifting snow-flakes.

Not a breath of air was stirring.

The great Coolins across the bay tower’d aloft, huge in their giant repose.

There was not a cloud in the sky, nor a speck of mist on the mountain’s side, to veil the clear, clean, sharp-cut peaks, as they pierced the blue ether.

Viewing the fair scene from right to left, Elgol looks down upon Camasunary, with its pleasant white-walled shooting lodge and sheltered bay—in which, on the day of our visit, two yachts, looking no bigger than sea-birds, lay at anchor—and upon Loch Scavaig, whose blue waters play ever round her feet; and northwards to where the Coolins sit, nursing Coruisk in their lap ; and out west—over Minginish headlands on to the great Atlantic, and down once more upon Eilean Soay guarding the entrance to the bay; and south to where Rum and Canna lie sleeping, and Ardnamurchan wages eternal battle with the waves. And still farther south by west—so clear was the air on this particular day— the many peaks of the mountain range extending from Morar to Morven, through Strontian, Kilmalieu, and Kingairloch could be seen silhouetted, faint but clear, against the opal sky.

It was under such weather conditions that we visited the famous Loch Coruisk, but the want of cloud and mist took away largely from the solemnity and mystery of the place, and I preferred the scene as I had seen it many years before, on a day when the heavy wind-driven mists were rolling grandly off the sides of the mountains, and the lofty peaks were buried in black thunder-clouds.

Slipping, and sliding, and stumbling over loose stones, we made our way to the shore by a steep path fit only for goats, and while we were launching the boat—no child’s play, I can assure you, pushing the ancient-looking, heavy, water-logged thing through the loose shingle, and over innumerable boulders of black slippery rock—a smart breeze sprang up.

Our boat was an old fishing boat, its only seat, the beam in the centre. It was not one whit better equipped, or more seaworthy than that from which the great Dr. Johnson dropped his spurs into the sea more than a hundred years before when coasting round Skye. The men sat in the bottom of the boat, the steersman sat aft on the gunwale, while my daughter and I occupied the seat of honour in the centre. Before starting, we took on board for ballast, a number of large stones.

The wind, which kept growing in force, being dead against us, the men had to row for a good hour, but at length trusting to catch a slant of wind coming off the mountain side, the primitive lug-sail of brown cotton, and indifferently patched, was hoisted on a rude primitive mast, which was “stepped” primitive fashion in a heap of loose stones.

A curious little incident happened on the way out. My daughter, who was born in Skye, as I have said before, and who spoke Gaelic as a child fluently, had unfortunately completely forgotten the old tongue during her eighteen years’ sojourn in the south. Just as we were approaching the mouth of Loch Scavaig, and the old boat, in spite of much creaking and groaning, was slipping along splendidly, a sudden squall struck her so heavily that she heeled over until the gunwale was under water, and I—who knew a little about boats—thought we were going to the bottom. I was piping at the time, and my hands being occupied (as I continued playing with a seeming indifference to what was happening—an indifference which I was far from feeling) I was shot along the seat, with my daughter on the top of me, and if I had not managed to stop our precipitate flight to leeward, by getting my outstretched foot against the gunwale of the boat, it is a matter of speculation as to whether my researches into the history of the Bagpipe would have been continued or not. As we slid along the seat, my “Nighean don Boidlieach,” in the excitement of the moment, called aloud to the men in Gaelic, “Hic-i-stoi! Hic-i-stoi!,” and immediately coloured up to her eyes with a most becoming blush. The three sailor lads, who had quickly lowered the sail, looked round in gentle wonder, but said nothing.

We took to the oars after this for a time, and the wind soon dying away as quickly as it had risen, we rowed the remaining part of the journey to the accompaniment of “The Macintosh’s Lament,” which I piped at the request of our skipper, John Macintosh.

I had just got to the last variation—the Crumluath— when two torpedo-boats, which had been lying close inshore, hidden behind the Islands, shot out past us at a tremendous pace, throwing up huge cataracts of white foam as they tore along, stern first. I immediately changed from the “Lament” to the Sailor’s Hornpipe. Jack hitched up his trousers as he heard the well-known tune, saying by his action as plainly as words could say, “you’re piping to us, and we would dance to you if we dared, but we’re on duty,” and smiling “good-bye!” was swiftly carried out of sight.

We saw Coruisk this day without a ripple on its surface, reflecting back the clear blue sky as from a mirror of polished silver. The bright sunshine penetrating, revealed every crack and crevice on the steep, scarred sides of the grey-black rocks as they rose abruptly from the water’s edge ; and there was not anywhere—look high or low—a patch of mist the size of one’s hand, to soften the stern outlines, or to deepen the mystery of that loneliest of lonely spots.

When walking round Loch Coruisk, I said to Nelly (my daughter) :

“What was that you said to the sailors when the squall struck us?”

“Oh, yes; did you hear me, father? Did you hear me? It was Gaelic!” and again she blushed with pleasure at the remembrance.

“I know tha!/’ I answered. “But what was it?” “I told them to ‘Hurry up.’”

“You told them to ‘Come in,’” I replied. Hie-i-stoi' is not ‘Hurry up,’ but ‘Come in,’ and it is no wonder that the men who were already ‘ in,’ looked astonished at your imperative call.”

Now here, under the influence of congenial surroundings—the surroundings of her childhood’s days—a language which has been in abeyance for eighteen years is suddenly recalled ; but the special part of the brain concerned having grown “rusty” for want of use, cnves off in the hurry and excitement caused by the sudden approach of grave danger, not the words wanted, but the first that come to hand—the words which had been oftenest heard, or oftenest used in infancy, and which had made the deepest impression on the palimpsest of the young brain—the words of welcome which greeted the ear of every stranger knocking at the door of a Highland cottage, “Hic-i-stoi.”

Hospitality was the failing of the Highlander in days gone by. Its over-indulgence spelt ruin to many a good family in those days, and the law itself had at one time to be put in operation to protect him from the consequences of his own over-generous impulses. In those days there was no suspicious peering out from behind half-closed doors when rat-a-tat-tat wakened the slumbering house dog. “Come in ! ” rane out frank and free at the first summons.

That he knocked at the door, shewed him to be a stranger. That he was a stranger, made him welcome. These were his credentials. His rank or business was of secondary consideration. The time of calling mattered not. Morning, noon, and night, “Hic-i-stoi” was to be heard all over the Highlands, and the children, listening, took the words to heart, and stored them up for future use. If they occasionally sprang unbidden to the lips, as in the present instance, is it to be wondered at?

I have said that hospitality was a failing of the old Celt ; and a grand failing too!

No doubt it was often taken advantage of, and abused by the lazy and the “ne’er-do-weel”; seldom, if ever, by an avowed enemy. This it is which makes the treachery of the Campbells at Glencoe all the more glaring. “ Hic-i-stoi” said the simple, trustful people in the glen, when they saw the Campbells shivering at their doors — the bleak winter night fast closing in and a snow-storm coming on. And the Maclans took them in out of the cold, and feasted them, and rested them, sharing their very beds with them.

In the morning-, when the Campbells moved out down the Glen, muttering in their coward i;beards, there were no good-byes—not even one innocent child’s voice to cry after them—“ God-be-with-you.” Fire and sword had done their work thoroughly and well. The desolation of death filled the glen. And when the news, which spread like wild-fire, brought incredulous friends on the morrow to the scene, they saw before and around them, nothing but blood-stained hearths and blackened rafters and smouldering ruins, where but yesterday was sweet smiling home with its welcome “Hic-i-Stoi.”

We sailed back to Elgol in sunshine, the men rowing leisurely over a sea smooth as glass and matching in colour the brilliant hue of the finest sapphire. The wind, ashamed of the trick it had played us on the way out, hid itself away for the rest of the day.

We heard of three pipers in Elgol, but as they were still on the Clyde yachting, we had no opportunity of judging their playing.

We found the Elgol men a smart, intelligent lot of fellows, quick and decided in their movements. There was also an independent, manly bearing about them, which spoke volumes in their favour. They were all dressed in navy-blue cloth, sailor-fashion, spoke English fluently and correctly, without forgetting their Gaelic, and were not content — O delighted shade of MacWhamle ’.—with even a millhand’s wage for a day’s work.

These young fellows, with frank, fearless eyes, that looked through and beyond you—with that look begotten of long days and nights spent in “going down into the sea in ships ”—make their living in the South during the summer months as yachtsmen, and know every inch of the Clyde as well as, or better than, their own native lochs.

We left Elgol, with regret, at 6 p.m. for Broad-ford, with one and a half hours in which to do fifteen miles. It was our intention, owing to the roughness of the surface, and steepness of Loch Slapin Hill, to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the “keepers,” and stop for the night at Strathaird if darkness overtook us ; and something of this intention was probably in my mind when I took a leaf out of the “Unjust Steward’s” book, and borrowing “striped balls ” from my daughter—what the Americans call “suckers,” gave to the children.

But although the first seven miles, owing to the hilly nature of the road, took us just one hour to cover, we did the last eight miles in half an hour, and, tired but happy, ran into Mr Ross’s hotel at Broad-ford, two minutes before the dinner gong sounded, having spent what turned out to be the most enjoyable day in our week’s tour round Skye.

Broadford has well been called the Manchester of Skye. The dwellers therein are proud of the title. A Broadford lady once told me this, and I remember well how she stiffened and drew herself up to the full height, and minced and affected her accent as became a citizen of this “no mean city.” She spoke as if the Lowland title conferred some honour upon the little town and its inhabitants, and gave them a superior standing- over the rest of Skye.

Broadford has always had too free communication with the South to be characteristically Highland, and its ways and manners are largely those of the Southron. I learned nothing in its streets that I could not just as easily have learned in Falkirk. It is too refined to flaunt its knowledge of Gaelic and the Bagpipe in the face of the stranger.

It was, therefore, without any keen regrets that we started on the following morning at ten o’clock for Portree and Edinbane. Portree was only twenty-six miles distant, and we arranged to lunch there before going on to see our old friends at Edinbane ; but alas for good intentions ! the wind went round to the north, and blew so hard that we had practically to walk the twenty-six miles; lunched at 1.30 p.m. at Sligachan instead of at Portree, and only arrived at the latter place at 5.20 in the evening.

Some distance out of Broadford, feeling out-of-breath, and somewhat tired with the constant struggle against the wind, we sat down to rest by the wayside, near the delightful little village of Luib. Here, sheltered by a soft, brown, turf dyke from the north wind, and bathed in sunshine, we lay and dreamed, watching from under half-closed lids, the fleecy clouds chasing each other across the bright blue sky, and listening to the moan of the waves in the bay below as they leaped over each other in haste to escape from the scourge of the bitter north wind.

Our quiet retreat was discovered before long by the village children, who drew near boldly and fearlessly but in perfect silence. Having found out long ago the secret of unloosing little tongues, we soon learned all that was interesting about Luib; but most interesting of all to me was the news that there was a piper in the village called Murdo M'Innie.

Leaving my daughter to look after the bycycles, I made a bee-line over some very rough ground for Murdo’s house. It was a neat little thatched cottage, but the walls I noticed were built solidly of stone and lime, and more substantial looking altogether than I was accustomed to see in the old days.

It was whitewashed outside and in, and looked dazzlingly white in the bright sunshine. It had a register grate in the room, which jarred upon me at first as being out of place ; but thanks to the grate there was in the house itself just that soup£on of peat reek flavour which greets the visitor’s fresh sense of smell so gratefully on a first visit to the Highlands.

The whole place was as neat and tidy as a new pin. Why was MacWhamle the discontented not here to see how goodly and pleasant the Skye crofters’ lot can be?

The door stood open, but I chose to knock. “Hic-i-stoi" flashed out the quick response. I entered without more ado, and there stood Murdo— frank of face and frank of manner, beaming a welcome upon the stranger.

“I have just heard that you are a piper,” I said to him after the usual greetings had passed between us.

“Oh! no indeed, sir,” answered Murdo, “I’m not much of a piper.”

“But I hear you can play a bit,” I replied, “and I’ve come for a tune!”

“It’s not much of a player I ever was,” said he, “and it’s a long time since I played, and you can’t have a tune whatever, for my bag is burst.”

The bag of his Pipe is what Murdo refers to here.

I liked Murdo for his bashfulness, a most uncommon failing in a piper, as I have observed more than once. “But,” I said, “I have a set of Pipes here,” pointing to the little bundle in waterproof under my arm—at which Murdo smiled a little doubtfully.

So did the boatmen at Elgol when I offered them a pibroch instead of the bottle of whisky which they asked to have thrown into the bargain, and—worse luck for them—accepted my offer, not believing that I could give them a tune.

I soon had the Pipe together, and after I had tuned the drones, I handed it to Murdo. He had barely taken a turn once up and down the room, before an old woman ran in at the door, and holding up her hands in astonishment, exclaimed in Gaelic, “Gracious goodness, what’s up with you, Murdo!” then seeing me for the first time, said nothing more, but incontinently fled. The old woman was followed by a bright-eyed laughing girl, who did exactly the same. Using the very form of speech of the old woman, she gave vent to an exclamation of astonishment, “Yeeally Graish,” and ran away with the sentence unfinished, on catching sight of the stranger. Then, as the music rose and fell in that little room, lad after lad dropped in, till the house could hold no more. These lads needed no invitation—the door stood open, wasn’t that enough ! they spoke no word, but sat and listened in quiet wonder to the piper. In the meantime I had sent for my daughter, who was received in silence and shewn to a seat in the window by one of the young men, who politely made way for her. When Murdo, who played with great spirit, and no little touch of good fingering, had blown his cheeks into a state of paralysis—largely from want of practice—he had to stop. I then—as a farewell—played “M‘Leod of M'Leod’s Lament,” an old tune written in 1626. What possessed me to play so sad a tune I do not know. I had not well begun when an old man came quietly in at the door just as the others had done. I nodded to him and went on playing, but I noticed that he alone went up to my daughter and shook hands with her in a grave and dignified fashion, then turned suddenly away, and going quickly to the back of the press door, where he was out of sight of the others, he wiped his face with a towel that hung there. Coming in fresh from the field, this seemed a natural enough thing to do on the part of the old man, and I thought nothing more of the matter.

After a smoke and a few words of praise to Murdo for his piping, and of encouragement to him to follow it up, and never again to let the bag rot, I said good-bye, and came away. But Murdo would see me across the moor to the road. My daughter walked a little in front, and did not hear what Murdo said as he gave me his history in pocket edition.

“The old man who came in last is my father,” said Murdo. “We live by ourselves. My mother is dead, and my only sister died three years ago. And since then the Pipe has been silent in the house, and that’s how the bag is in holes. You broke the silence of three years to-day.”

“I’m sorry, Murdo,” I said, “if I have awakened painful memories unwittingly, but three years is a long time to mourn for the dead, with life so short.

I think you should have looked sooner to the “Pipes” for comfort, after the manner of your forefathers ; and I will see to it that you get a new bag if you will promise me to continue the piping so well begun to-day.

To which Murdo replied simply, “I promise that.” As we rode along the side of the Loch, my daughter said to me “Father! who was the old man who came in last, and why did he cry when he shook hands with me?”

He was really weeping then, when he went behind the door!

The sound of the Pipe in the house after so long a silence had overcome him—flooding his brain with half-forgotten memories, and his heart with tears.

Five minutes before she spoke, I would have answered her question readily enough, with “Why of course, it was the ‘M‘Leod of McLeod’s Lament,’ played with the proper feeling, that affected him.” But now, I told her Murdo’s story instead, and for some time after, we rode along the shore in silence.

This day’s journey, although short, was the only toilsome one in our tour, and we crawled rather than rode up to the Portree hotel ; but after a most delightful high tea, in which freshly caught herring and freshly laid eggs with ham piping hot, figured largely, we started off as fresh as ever for Edinbane, fourteen miles to the north-west.

The way—every stone of which I knew—was beguiled by stories of the various driving accidents which befel me in the old days, and a short hour and a half brought us to the hospital, just a little after dark, where we were kindly entertained for the night by Dr. and Mrs Sandstein, and where my daughter had the pleasure of sleeping in the room where she first saw the light.

At Edinbane, as indeed all along the road, I noticed a great improvement in the crofters’ houses ; the rudely-thatched, badly-built, dry stone house of my day, having given place to neat cottages, built of stone and lime, with large windows and properly built chimneys, and all nicely slated.

The Crofters Act is surely doing good.

A few of my old friends who heard of our arrival came to see us off in the morning, and their enthusiasm was delightfully refreshing. They, one and all, expressed surprise at Nelly’s having grown so much. Said John M‘Kinnon, “the Marchand,” to her, “And you are little Nelly! Well! well! And do you remember how you used to call to me in Gaelic from the nursery window in the morning, and say, ‘ Iain Mach Kinnie, I am your sweetheart.’Well! well! who would think that little Nelly would grow such a big leddy.”

Alas! “the Marchand,” who was ill at ease and depressed that day over a telegram which he had just received, saying that his son was coming home from Calcutta ill, heard next morning before we left of his boy’s death, which took place on board ship when one day out at sea.

John M‘Farlane also, was very amusing about Nelly. He swore he could tell her anywhere by her likeness to her mother. “And when you left here, you were just the size of that ”—pointing half-way to the ground—“and now you are a great big leddy, taller than your mother ”—which was quite true—“but not so plump,” which—publish it not in Gath, whisper it not in the streets of Askelon— was also quite true.

John, like the rest of our kind Skye friends, was forgetting that “little Nelly” had been away from her island home for over eighteen years, but their warm remembrances were very welcome to us, and after all, it was really “little Nelly” that they knew.

Next day we rode to Dunvegan about mid-day, and lunched there. While I was playing “Lord Lovat’s Lament” in the churchyard, round the tomb of Thomas Fraser of Beaufort, who was father to the famous Simon, Lord Lovat, of the “Forty-five,” Dr. Sandstein, who was to drive me over to Boreraig, the farm which the MacCrimmons held for so many years, arrived at the hotel, and went off without me, believing that I had gone on by myself. As it was now raining heavily, we thought it better not to attempt Boreraig, and so made straight for Struan, where we spent the night. Next day, although it was Sunday, taking advantage of beautiful weather, we cycled to Kyle Akin, a distance of 60 or 70 miles. At Struan, we got up a dance in the kitchen of the inn, at which several young men from the hills joined. One of these, a splendidly built fellow, and handsome looking, was an excellent dancer, and also played very well upon the “Pipes.” The Bagpipe was also very much in evidence at Kyle Akin during the remainder of our stay, where we had nightly dances in which visitors and servants joined heartily.

I had a call on the morning after my return, from one of the natives called John McRa. Hearing that I was interested in the Bagpipe, he said that he would like to show me some relics which he had in his possession. He had, among other things, an old chanter belonging to his grandfather, Donald McRa, and a silver medal won in 1835.

This same Donald had won the championship in 1791, and in 1835 when over eighty years of age, the old man again went south to compete for supremacy. But although he did not win the gold medal, he was awarded a special silver medal for his pluck as well as for his skill.

This same Donald McRa married a Fraser, and had two sons, John and Sandy, who were both pipers in the 71st. John afterwards became piper to Charles Sobieskie Stuart Wells, whose remains lie buried in the Fraser country.

Donald was a teacher of Bagpipe music, and one of his pupils was the famous player, M‘Rae (Pata?i~ beg-vounderlech), piper to the Earl of Seaforth.

The grandson took me to his house, a neat, well-furnished cottage, where he unfolded to me his treasures.

He also told me stories of Angus Mackay, and of the MacCrimmons, and of many a piper long since forgotten.

One of the last of the famous MacCrimmons, according to John, died in the old Fort of Glenelg, after the American War. Another MacCrimmon, named Bruce, went as piper to Louis Philippe, after the battle of Waterloo. John rambled on in this way of old-world affairs for quite an hour, and I came away quite delighted with himself, and his house, and his treasures.

My impressions formed during this short visit to Skye, point to the conclusion that the Bagpipe is once more coming to the front in its old home, and that one day ere long a new race of MacCrimmons may arise to delight future generations with their skill.


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