The Scot from London - The
Adventure of a Stag - Evening in the Inn-Highland Evictions - I Sail down
Loch Ailort - The Silent Mansion - A Lonely Village - The Chapel by the
Shore - "The Eight Men of Moidart" - The Pass of the Rough Rock.
MY new acquaintance talked
without ceasing, and I was afraid I might grow a little weary of Gillespie
before we said good-night. An exchange of snowballs in youth may be a
powerful link between two young men; but I felt physically tired, and
people with the salient energy of an oil-gusher take some coping with. And
yet it was impossible to dislike him. I found myself passively disagreeing
with a good half of his opinions about life and death and literature, all
of which he touched upon at tea with a bustling bravado; and he cheerfully
warned me that my politics were radically unsound as well as being too
damnably eighteenth-century for words. But when he began to speak about
his friends, I found myself listening with interest. The man was a mass of
warm loyalties, and even in his remarks about his enemies - he seemed to
have several - you could detect not the slightest trace of venom. Then I
began actively to like him. His honesty was as transparent as a bit of
clean plate-glass; but when you know exactly where you stand with a man,
you may disagree but it is difficult to quarrel with him. Later on in the
evening, however, I found out one piece of deception. The bedroom allotted
to me had been the one Gillespie himself was to have used. For some
domestic reason, no other was available that night, and without a word to
me he had given up his bed and arranged to sleep on the couch in the
sitting-room next door.
After tea, he suggested that we might stroll
down to the loch and-if we could find a good place-bathe. but bathing
seemed to be impossible, and I said so for the tide was low, and the beach
was covered with a deep mat of saffron-coloured seaweed that shone like
pale gold in the evening sun. Gillespie's enthusiasm swept aside my
objections, however, and before darkness fell that evening I was glad that
I had given in to him, for if we had kept to the higher ground I would not
have seen what I did. We descended the hill to the uttermost tip of the
loch, into which a river flowed from a wooded glen and curled like a long
shining eel in and out among the hillocks of seaweed. We sauntered up this
river and came upon a pool that evoked a sudden whoop of joy from my
companion. In a trice, his clothes were on the grass, and he flopped into
the pool and bobbed about like a sportive seal. As the water was icy, I
was out again and clothed long before Gillespie crawled up beside me and
lay on the grass with heaving sides and wet hair over his forehead. It was
good to get your back against a warm rock and close your eyes against the
brightness of the setting sun. For the first time since we had met, his
cheerful tongue was still, and I am not sure whether it was the smell of
his tobacco or a slight nip in the evening air that awakened me from a
delicious dose. We must have lain there for nearly an hour. I noticed that
my companion was casting glances upwards at the crags across the river;
then he spoke.
"Thought I saw something moving! It's a man-look, he's got a gun with him.
Wonder what he's doing up there ."
I followed the direction of his pointing arm.
The hillside rose steeply above the crags, and whins and heather grew
thick among the outcrop of rocks.
Though the distance must have been four or
five hundred yards, the air was so clear that I could make out the man
distinctly. He had settled down beside a clump of whins, stretched out at
full length, his gun between his hands.
We continued our talk for a little, but the
presence of the man on the hillside seemed to worry Gillespie. He got to
his feet and took a survey over the flat top of the boulder beside which
we lay. Except for the gentle rush of the little waterfall a dozen yards
from us, there was no sound to be heard ; in the bay, the tide was ebbing
sluggishly ; a few sheep brooded on the slope behind us ; and on the
skyline, the smoke from the chimneys of the inn wavered gently to westward
against the reddening sky.
"Good lord-look, man, look! "
I jumped to my feet. Gillespie was pointing
eagerly across the river into a corn-field. At first, I could not make out
the reason for his excitement. And then my eye lit upon a moving thing.
It was a stag. The animal was wading through
the corn, which came up past his brown haunches. He was breasting it as if
he were crossing a pool, his head high, his horns thrown back, and was
moving very slowly as though he hated the stiff stalks of the grain
swishing around his flanks.
He halted for an instant, the sun glinting in
his big brown eye, then went on again. Though the shoulder of the hillside
shut him off from the man among the rocks above, it was plain that every
moment he was coming nearer to the point when he would be in full view.
Presently, we caught sight of another figure-a
short kilted young man with a faded blue bonnet on his head. He was on the
low ground across the river, crouching behind a dry stone dyke, obviously
afraid he might startle the oncoming stag. The pair of them must have been
waiting for the beast for some time; and Gillespie told me he had heard at
the inn in the afternoon that for the last few days a stag had been coming
down from the hills and working havoc among the corn.
The young man behind the dyke was making
gestures towards the hillside above, and a hand was raised in
acknowledgement. The stag must now have been within twenty yards of the
edge of the field ; and at any moment he would be within the keeper's area
of vision. I tried to watch both man and animal at the same time. The
keeper was motionless beside his rifle, his face making a pale blotch
against the darker surface of the rocks. The wind was blowing gently in
our direction, and the stag had not scented any danger, for he came on
through the corn with his slow gliding motion. And then on the hillside,
the man's head jerked up, and went down again. He had seen the beast. I
found myself holding my breath, and though I wanted to watch the stag in
the cornfield, I could not take my eyes from the clump of whins on the
hill. After what seemed a long interval, there was a tiny flash and a puff
of smoke. I could hear the scream of a bullet, then the bark of the rifle,
and the explosion was caught up in the valley in long deep echoes.
For the fraction of a second the stag stood
rigid. Then he leaped. I could see daylight below his belly. And across
the pale gold of the grain there was a streak of brown as he covered the
last few yards to the edge of the field. Over the wire fence he went, his
horns back, his bent knees high on his breast, alighting as nimbly as a
cat, and you could hear the patter of his hoofs as he skimmed across the
road to take the ditch and dry-stone dyke at a jump. With his buttocks
oddly like a scurrying rabbit's, he dived into a grove of birch trees and
hazels, and had disappeared before the echoes of the shot had quite faded
in the glen.
in a long breath. Only a stop-watch could have told how few were the
seconds that had ticked away, from my first sight of the animal to the
final flicker of his hindquarters among the hazel-bushes ; but that brief
span of time had been as heady as any man could have wished for. Gillespie
and I stared at each other in silence.
"Were you hoping he'd get the beast?" he
enquired at length. "Or are you one of those damned sentimentalists - like
sentimentalist," I said.
"Good," grunted Gillespie. "Well, he's half a
mile into Morar by this time. Here's hoping he stops there . . ."
As the sun went down over Arisaig, leaving a
sky that was splashed with all the colours of one of Turner's wildest
visions, we slowly climbed the hill. There were lights in the windows by
the time we reached the inn.
The pleasant smell of oil lamps was through
the house as we sat down to supper. The landlord had modestly warned us
that it would be a simple meal - a few trout and a bit of mutton. But I
had little expected on setting out that morning to sit down to such a
meal, and I accepted the happy gift of the gods with suitable gratitude.
The trout were small but delicious. The bottle of claret that accompanied
the roast mutton was passably good, and I find it difficult not to be
happy in the company of passably good claret. Gillespie drank whiskey,
maintaining that a mere French wine was no tipple for a man at all, and I
had the satisfaction of reminding him that claret was drunk in Scotland
long before whiskey became the popular tipple. "Exactly," he retorted.
"They drank the claret stuff until they discovered something better."
In defence of my beverage, I ventured to
protest that claret drinking was killed in Scotland when the English
forced a tax upon it after the Union, and that whiskey was used as the
next best thing. Which sent Gillespie off on the subject of Heather Ale:
"They say the secret of it died with the Picts. But that's nonsense. Sir
Walter Scott said he was given it among the hills in his younger days."
And from drink, I remember, we passed by some obscure sequence to the
topic of Scottish Nationalism. That fur did not fly must be accepted as
evidence that we were both in the most genial of moods, for Gillespie's
brand of Nationalism was not mine, and the presence of two other people in
the little dining-room did not check our babble. I was a little ashamed to
find that my tongue was keeping pace with Gillespie's, and that I was
painting nightmare pictures of what Scotland would soon be like if he had
his way, pictures of revolution and pestilence and death which the
inspiration of the claret did not tend to subdue in colouring or detail. I
glanced at the two strangers, wondering what they thought of us.
They sat apart. One of them, a tall dark
heavily-built man of over fifty, with high cheek bones, read a book while
he ate. The other-ruddy-faced, ginger-haired, with small bright blue
eyes-gazed stolidly at the food on his plate, no doubt chuckling to
himself at the yeasty extravagance of our argument.
Among the fumes of tobacco, the four of us
gathered afterwards round the sitting-room fire. The dark man did not seem
to be in the mood for talking, and, after a few words of conventional
politeness, relapsed into the pages of his book. I liked his pale square
face and quiet dark eyes, and could not help wondering what his profession
was. His well-worn tweeds had been decently cut, and his firm hands with
their square-tipped fingers were cared for. At the other side of the fire,
the ruddy-faced man in the brown plus-fours began to speak to Gillespie. I
gathered from one of his remarks that he was a Government official of some
kind, and was on one of his periodical tours around the countryside. He
seemed to come into pretty close contact with the West Highland folk, and
he was not diffident in talking about them.
"They're a dawmed lazy lot," he declared.
"They'll do nothing to help themselves. They need to be led -ay, and
they're that dawmed slow to take a telling ! Tuberculosis has played the
devil with them, and they'll do little to check it. That-and the tea-pot !
The tea-pot's one of the curses of the Highlands. It would be telling the
ministers if they'd preach a sermon twice a year about it. What's the
trouble ? Well, it simply stews on the hob all day, and the folk wonder
why they've got raddled stomachs ! But will they take a telling ? Not
them. Besides, they haven't the guts of the Borderers. They're a
quarrelsome lot, too-always bickering among themselves . . ."
Gillespie was about to put in a word when the
man across the hearth smiled and laid down his book.
"I hope you'll forgive the interruption? . . .
If I may say so, I think you've seen the worst side of the Highlander." He
spoke with a careful formality that somehow did not sound in the least
pompous, and his voice was pleasant. "There's been so much sentimental
nonsense talked about the Gael that the worst side of him is apt to strike
you. But surely if there's one thing that stands out in a Gael it's this.
He's instinctively a gentleman. Yes, instinctively. Take the Gaelic
servant. As a rule, he's never servile -servility simply isn't in their
blood. You've only to look at the little maid who waited table to-night to
see what I mean."
ruddy-faced Government official crossed his legs and lay back in his
chair, as if to set himself comfortably for an argument. "Servility isn't
in their blood? I don't follow. I thought some of the old Highland chiefs
were supposed to keep up an establishment like a prince. How can you run a
show like that without servants-and servility?"
The question seemed to interest Gillespie. "I
read just the other day that there's no word for servant in the Gaelic
language. I'd like to put the point to a Gaelic-speaker."
The dark man hesitated. Something was on the
tip of his tongue, and Gillespie looked at him expectantly.
"You don't have the Gaelic, sir, do you?"
"As it happens," he said, "I do, and I think I
can explain." He told us that the Gaelic word maol was once used for
servant, and it meant crop-haired, as distinct from the long hair that the
nobles wore. "But there was no odium in the word," he went on. "Why, many
a noble in Scotland had it as part of his name, linked up with some Celtic
saint or other. You see what I'm driving at? But there's one thing that's
apt to be forgotten nowadays. Parts of Scotland and Ireland were once the
most cultured places in Europe. Learning, and music, and so forth were
flourishing in these islands when there was darkness over most of the
Continent. And that's the Gael's inheritance ! Nothing has been able to
kill it. The spirit is still there. Forgive my preaching like this, but
the subject happens to touch me rather on the raw."
"I dare say you've got me whacked on history."
The Government official lit another cigarette. "Anyhow, I do know this.
The Highlanders have changed in the last twenty-five years-deteriorated.
They're softer-less independent. Come in contact with them in the way I
have to do, and you'll find their heads are too mighty full of how much
they can get out of the Government."
"Can you blame them, poor devils ?" asked the
other. "Do you expect them to refuse Government benefits? They're hard
pressed. In the old days they may have been poor, but they were looked
after by their chiefs. At least, they were-until times changed, and some
of the chiefs changed too. But we won't go into that ..."
"You mean the evictions?" said Gillespie.
The man nodded, and stared into the fire. For
some reason, he seemed to dislike the subject, and I wondered why. In the
silence that fell, I was hoping that the subject had not been dropped for
"I've read a
little about the Clearances," I ventured to remark. "The apologists say
there's been a lot of wild exaggeration."
The man moved uneasily in his chair. "There's
little doubt about exaggeration," he said slowly. "Some of the landlords
spent thousands to help their people. But in places I'm afraid there was a
good deal of brutality-devilish brutality. I'm sorry to say it. I happen
to know one case . . ." He hesitated again, and it crossed my mind that
perhaps he was thinking of some forebear of his own whose hands had not
been altogether clean. "It was a painful business, and I'd rather not
mention names, but I happen to know it's true." And he told us a story
that made the blood tingle with pity and anger. I shall not try to
reproduce his words, because my memory may be at fault in some of the
details, and the subdued tones of his voice-subdued with shame, one might
almost have believed-had an impressive quality that cannot be put down on
paper. The gist of the incident is in this. There had been ill-feeling
between a Laird and some of his people, for times were bad, and their
rents were in arrear. The Laird himself was impoverished, and a
sheep-farmer offered him a good rent for the land. But the people refused
to move-their fathers had lived there for generations-so the Laird gave
orders to his factor to get rid of them, by force if necessary. When he
returned home, after attending to some business in Edinburgh, he found the
people gone. Although it was the beginning of winter, young and old had
been turned out of their homes to fend for themselves in the open air.
Their belongings had been torn from their cottages, piled up in a heap,
and the thatched roofs set on fire. One family-a father; mother, and three
children-ventured to return to the blackened ruins of their home, huddling
together below a sail they had stretched over some wooden poles in a
corner. A week later, they were ejected again, with the warning that, if
they went back, their belongings would be made into a bonfire.
"They took refuge in a hollow under some
crags," the man went on, "and there, ten days later, a child was born. In
the end, help was forthcoming, and the family went overseas in an emigrant
ship. The mother died on the voyage . . . Things like that," he added
quietly, " make one ashamed of one's own countrymen."
The silence was broken by the Government
official on the opposite side of the hearth. "Pretty low cads, some of
those fine old Highland gentlemen must have been! "
"Worse," said the other quietly. "But don't
forget this. After the Rising of 'Forty-five, the Government went out
deliberately to smash up the old clan spirit. The chiefs were deprived of
their privileges; the clansmen became mere tenants-or squatters. As time
went on, some of the chiefs were nearly bankrupt, and thousands of the
people were on the point of starvation. Thank heaven, the emigrants were
soon much better off in the lands they went to. In Nova Scotia to-day
there's more Gaelic spoken than in all Scotland-people there still talk of
the Highlands as `home.' I happen to have travelled a bit, and it's
amazing how a love for the old country is handed down to children and
grandchildren who are never likely to set eyes on it. I've heard the
bagpipes in some of the loneliest corners of the world. More than that,
I've actually heard a sermon preached in Gaelic to negroes in
Carolina-they had picked up the language from their masters. Which reminds
me . . ."
midnight before we broke up, and I forget whether it was Gillespie or I
who suggested a stroll in the fresh air before we turned in. The
Government official thought he would go straight to bed, and the three of
us smoked our last pipe out of doors. It was a perfect night, the air
clean and still, sweetening our tobacco. We sauntered over the rough grass
to the brow of the hill. The loch lay below us, and the moon cut a white
furrow across the quiet water. Over the folds of the hills on either side,
there was a haze that seemed to shimmer like a curtain of thin pale silk,
hiding mysterious things. It was easy to be fanciful in that place on such
a night, easy to imagine that the Little People themselves were dancing
round their knolls ; and it was difficult to believe that on the same
island there were cities with streets, and men hurrying through them at
this midnight hour, and women with hard questioning eyes in the darkness
of doorways : it was easy to let the mind stray down the moonlit loch and
travel out to sea, out beyond the Hebrides to the Blessed Islands in the
Atlantic mists where the Highlanders used to think their souls would find
a resting-place; and it was difficult, desperately difficult, to believe
that on my journey I would have another night so fortunate as this, or
that I would find so perfect a haven or talk so good. Gillespie broke the
silence by asking the older man a question.
"Do you live in the Highlands, by any chance?"
"In the Highlands?" the man repeated, his
voice showing surprise, and then in the moonlight I could see the flicker
of a smile on his face. He drew himself up. "No; I don't live in Scotland
at all. I come from America. I told you about a crofter's child that was
born in the open air beside a crag, over these hills. That child," he said
quietly, "was my grandfather."
Next morning I was awakened before seven
o'clock by noises in the next room. Gillespie was stirring early. I
expected that at breakfast he would give me an account of a hill-walk
taken in the cool of the morning, and would charge me with indolence ; but
I decided to save my energy for the long day's tramp across Moidart, and
so dozed off again into that region of pellucid bliss that lies between
sleep and wakefulness, when the mind moves with the ease of bird-flight. I
can remember how in that hour my thoughts went ahead of me into Moidart
with an absurd and careless rapture. But it was a Moidart of my own
creating, not the country I had been warned about, the heart of the "Rough
Bounds," where there was not even a decent cart-track to follow, where the
postman was compelled to make his daily journey on horseback, where no inn
existed, and where in consequence a shelter for the night might be hard to
Gillespie and I
had nearly finished breakfast before the Government official appeared. The
older man had breakfasted early, and, after saying good-bye to us, had
gone off to the hills. I went out into the sunshine to smoke the best pipe
of the day ; and when I had settled my bill, I went in to the little
dining-room to make my farewells.
Gillespie rose with a smile in his quick eyes.
"We've been arranging things for you," he
said. "I've just discovered that our friend here is going in your
direction. A motor-boat's coming from Glenuig to take him down the loch.
He'll give you a lift. It'll knock a good ten miles off your walk. What
about it ?"
at the suggestion. If I had known that a rnotor-boat was to be had, I
might have been tempted to hire it myself, though the only way of getting
in touch with the owner would have been to send a message by the postman
who came daily from Glenuig on horseback, which would have meant the delay
of a day. As the official was going on duty, he declined my offer to share
expenses, adding that if I did not care to sail down the loch as a guest
of His Majesty's Government, I must foot-slog into Moidart by the shore.
"But that's not all," said Gillespie. "I'm
coming with you, if you'll have me. I'm making for Loch Shiel, and so are
you. I meant to go round by Glenfinnan, and take the steamer. But the
chance of walking across Moidart is too good to miss. Mind, if you'd
rather go alone, say the word."
I told him I'd be delighted to have his
company. But at the same time I warned him that the walk would be a tough
one, that only heaven knew where we would get shelter for the night, and
if my feet hurt as they had done the previous day I would be in a vile
temper before we had covered many miles-that in short, the journey across
Moidart might turn out to be anything but a spree. At my recital of all
the ills in store for us, Gillespie's face lit up with pleasure. "It
sounds just about right," he declared, and so the thing was clinched. He
had with him an old haversack, which he filled, and he gave a boy a
shilling to carry his suitcase down the road to the little railway
station. Three quarters of an hour later we were at the lochside stepping
into the dinghy that took us out to the clumsy old motorboat, which lay
like a fat sleepy aquatic animal sprawling on the water. But she was
staunch, and though at times the engine snorted and roared like an angry
bull, we made a good steady six knots. It was, however, the crew of two
that caught my interest. One was a boy of about fifteen, the other
eighteen or so.
They were hatless,
collarless, and their clothes were faded and patched. But their faces were
a revelation, with eyes as clear as dew and skin that glowed pinkly with
cleanness and health. I detest these fables about the dirt and lousiness
of the Highlander: I have seen more dirt and lousiness among the Saxon
peasantry in a couple of English parishes than among all the Gaels with
whom I have come in contact in Scotland. And as I looked at the young men
standing in the cockpit, I remembered the remark the American had made the
previous evening about the Highlander being instinctively a gentleman. In
these boys there was nothing loutish, nothing of the slouch or even the
covert glances that one so often notices in the country folk of some
districts in the South. Their spines were straight, their heads well set
on their shoulders, and their eyes politely ignored us. Some of my best
friends are crofters in the glens of Perthshire ; but I knew nothing of
the West Highlander or the Islesman and here, I thought, are people one
can surely trust. The Government official's remarks at the fireside had
stuck unpleasantly in my mind, but I wondered whether on analysis they
might reduce to this-that these Gaels are a stubborn people with a hearty
concern for their own rights, a concern which has perhaps been intensified
by repression in the not very distant past. I went aft and lowered myself
into the cockpit beside the two boys.
They were not anxious to talk, but presently I
gathered that they worked on crofts at Glenuig, and one had spent the
summer on the fishing-boat of a relative who lived on the Long Island. The
English they spoke was slow and careful ; it was the lovely musical speech
of a people whose tongue-muscles are flexed and made sensitive by one of
the richest languages on earth. They seemed a little surprised when I
asked whether they found Moidart a lonely place to live in, and whether
they wanted to get away from it and take their chance of earning more
money elsewhere. "Ah, we'll be better in Moidart," said the older of the
two; and once more they seemed a little surprised when I agreed with them.
For they were better off in Moidart. It was obvious. Their living might be
poor, but a glance at their healthy skin was enough to tell that it was
adequate. They were living in a countryside that is between the mountains
and the sea, with a climate that is unsurpassed in Britain and a winter
temperature as high as that on the south coast of Cornwall. Given land to
till, sheep or cattle to tend, a boat to sail, fish to catch when the
larder is bare, it is difficult to see why a man of a placid temperament
should not be happy. Ambition is a fine thing; but fortunately it is not
the glittering prizes that most folk are struggling for. To imagine you
are a temporary millionaire makes quite a jolly day-dream, but the truth
is that few people have the palate to enjoy either wealth or power; and
some of the most miserable men of my acquaintance have a nagging ambition
to get out of the very rut for which they lack the wit to realise they are
admirably fitted. Cool, hard-headed, successful men of the world often
snort with scorn at platitudes about ambition and say that you hear them
only on the lips of those who have failed in life. But do these
hard-headed, successful men gloat over the glittering prizes they have
won? I have not noticed it. When they talk about themselves-which they
often do - It is their battles they like to dwell upon, not their spoils
I leaned over
the gunwale of the boat and looked down into the water. The surface around
us was as blue as the sky; but when you stared into the depths, the water
was a wonderful green colour, clean and
transparent, and you could see the rock and sand and waving myrtle-tinted
seaweed on the bottom. To the south, mist was rising from the hills of
Ardnish, and to the east a thicker mist was drifting from the crown of Ben
Rois nearly three thousand feet above. Ahead of us, the rim of the
Atlantic glittered like a taut piece of silver wire. On the rocks of an
islet I could see many black seals lying quiescent in the morning sun ; as
we drew near, they slid smoothly into the water, like the launching of
tiny skiffs ; and presently their dark snouts broke the surface, and their
big eyes watched us with the stupid inquisitive stare of weekold calves.
Soon we were out in the Sound of Arisaig, passing close to Eilean nan
Gobhar, which the older boy told me meant the Goats' Island, because goats
were kept there in the old days; but indeed the island itself, with its
pale grey rock rising steeply, was for all the world like a gigantic goat
standing up to the belly in water.
As we were slipping away from the island,
Gillespie waved me forward, and for my benefit the Government official
repeated the yarn he had just been spinning. "It's a story they tell in
Moidart," he said. "A battle was fought here in Loch Ailort soon after
Culloden, between English and French warships. It lasted for a whole day,
so it is said, until the English ammunition ran short and they had to make
a bolt for it. The country folk gathered up on the hills and watched them.
One old man got down on his knees and began to pray as if his own life
depended on it. Some of the others went over to him and asked whom he was
praying for-the English or the French. The old man opened his eyes, and
pointed -across to the Goats' Island. Some of the shots of the guns were
falling on it. Then the man spat on the ground. `What do I care for the
English or the French?' he cried. `I am asking the Lord to preserve my
goats on the island! ' "
I suddenly remembered it was here that the Du
Teillay had anchored in the 'Forty-five, for the ship with Prince Charles
on board had made a tour of the Sound of Arisaig, and the Goats' Island is
mentioned in a letter the Prince wrote to his father. In the Log of the
ship for Tuesday, the 10th August 1745, it is recorded: "At ten o'clock at
night we had been sending arms and ammunition ashore, till three o'clock
in the morning." By Sunday the Du Teillay was still anchored in this
place, for the Log says: "We carried our dinner on shore and fished for
oysters." The weather must have been good, for on Monday "the Prince
embarked in our little boat with four gentlemen" and was rowed back to
Angus Macdonald's in Borrodale.
To complete the story of the Du Teillay: She
avoided the British men-of-war by sailing round the north coast of
Scotland, and Monsieur Walsh ["Along with Walsh there returned to the
Continent a man called Butler, who had played a considerable part in
making the arrangements for the expedition to Scotland. As soon as Walsh
and Butler reached Paris, Butler set out for Rome to give personally to
James full details about the landing, and he carried with him the Prince's
despatches. Butler again was prominent in making arrangements for the
Heureux to bring Charles back to France after the failure of the Rising.
It would be interesting to know more about this mysterious figure who
accompanied the Prince to Scotland. He is referred to by Walsh as the Abbe
Butler. He had been an equerry of Louis XV, who had sent him across the
Channel in 1744 to make a detailed report about the strength of the
Jacobites in England, and he had travelled through the country on the
pretext of buying horses. Copies of these reports in French are in the
Stuart MSS. at Windsor Castle; and thanks to Major L. Eardley-Simpson,
whose admirable book Derby and the Forty-five has filled a gap in Jacobite
history, they have now been published in English.] did a little quiet
privateering on the way. From the Margaret of Aberdour, he demanded and
received a ransom of "£100 sterling and £10 for the cabin." From the Unity
he extracted a ransom of £200 and £10 for the Captain's cabin. From the
Princess Mary of Renfrew, £100 sterling and £10 for the cabin. From the
Lirwindiwin laden with planks and iron from the Baltic, he took £650
sterling and £10 for the cabin. I like that delightfully frugal addition
of £10 for the Captain's cabin! And over a thousand pounds before he was
out of sight of the Island of Skye strikes me as pretty good going,
especially as he did not need to fire a shot. On Saturday, 4th September,
the ship arrived safely in Holland, where she was sold to a Dutchman. The
Log, thirty-five quarto pages, yellow and stained by the vinegar of
quarantine ports, now lies in the archives of Serrant.
We were glad of the lift down the loch; and
after thanking His Majesty's Government, represented by its official in
plus-fours, Gillespie and I were taken ashore :n the dinghy, and we landed
on a slippery rock in the corner of a secluded bay.
I was a little startled to see a magnificent
mansion-house on the hillside above us. What enthusiast for solitude had
selected this site miles from the nearest road, and with the mountains of
Moidart piled round it like a rampart? And whence had come the thousands
of grey stone blocks that had gone to the making of his house? Perhaps
they had been quarried out of the bills behind; and I could not help
wondering what the builders thought of their task--that regiment of
stone-masons, and carpenters, and plasterers, and slaters - that had
worked there with only the mewing of sea-gulls to accompany the clink of
their chisels and the reedy discord of their saws, and a deer from the
mountains taking a peep at their labours from the edge of a gully. How the
proprietor transported his household furniture passes my comprehension,
unless it was brought by sea from Glasgow and taken ashore in small boats,
just as Prince Charles more than a hundred years before had landed a few
miles further along this coast his shipload of swords and muskets and
fieldguns from France.
To reach Glenuig, we found that our shortest
way was to go through the private grounds of the house, and presently we
found that we were compelled to pass quite close to it. In case there was
a chance of going off our way a little further on, I decided to stop and
enquire. The door was open, and I stepped into the panelled vestibule to
find the inner door open also. Since I could not see a bell, I knocked.
But there was no response, no sound of movement. I waited patiently, and
as I listened to the loud ticking of a clock within, my eye was attracted
to a great collection of shepherd's crooks in the hall-stand-crooks of all
shapes and sizes. It had never before occurred to me that a man could take
a connoisseur's pleasure in the elegantly curved tops of these tall
staves, but here lived someone who evidently did. I knocked again, this
time so loudly that I was sure the sound must have penetrated to the
uttermost corner of the house ; and I retreated from the vestibule and
waited for several minutes. What was the explanation of the silence ? The
doors and some of the windows were open, so I knew the house was occupied
; but except for ourselves, there did not seem to be a living soul within
or without. In the end I joined Gillespie, and we went on our way, the
mystery unsolved. Soon the trees shut the place off from our sight ; and
had it not been for a tingling in the knuckles that had smitten the
panelling of the vestibule it would have been easy to believe that the
silent house had been part of a vivid illusion, a trick of sunshine and
shadow. . . .
struck a path that ran down close to the shore; and after two or three
miles we came round the shoulder of a low crag and saw before us a green
corrie in the hills with a few cottages scattered on its slopes. My map
told me this was Glenuig.
We pulled up and stared at that solitary
place. Gillespie, who had been talking cheerfully, became suddenly quiet.
It may have been that the empty house with the open doors had put us in a
receptive mood, but when we afterwards compared our first impressions of
Glenuig we were in a curious agreement -we both felt that here we were on
the fringes of an older world. The empty house was like a lodge at the
gates through which one had to pass to reach this magical corrie. In front
of the little schoolhouse, a handful of children with wise faces paused in
their play to look at us, and in their odd and courteous shyness they
reminded me of the children I had seen at Arisaig. With clasped hands the
girls had been dancing in a circle, singing with soft treble voices, but
presently they moved timidly away to continue their game out of sight. The
boys, however, bravely held their ground ; and it was pleasant to hear the
friendly ripple of their Gaelic tongues as they talked together.
Remembering what I had been told about the postman and his pony, I asked
where the post office was. One of the boys, a little bolder than the rest,
stepped forward from the group and pointed to a white-washed cottage that
lay snugly below some pine trees across the burn.
We walked in single file over the narrow
planks of the bridge, and a puppy raced out to welcome us. The woman who
answered my knock was short and dark-skinned, with black eyes and jet
black hair, and was very neat in her dress. She could not have seen us
coming, and seemed startled at the appearance of strangers. I asked her
the way to Kinlochmoidart, and she pointed to a path among the hills. It
seemed a little unfriendly to turn away at once, and I found myself asking
her whether she found Glenuig dull : an absurd question, because it showed
how shallow was my appreciation of the essential life of these people, a
life that is quiet and deep, drawing its strength from these very hills
and shores that I was misinterpreting.
Without a gesture of her placid brown hands,
or a shake of her head, or even a hint of feeling in her dark eyes, she
I was disconcerted by her calmness, and asked
another question equally stupid. "I don't suppose you see many strangers
in these parts?"
"No," she said again.
Her tone was perfectly polite, but distant:
there was no vital link between us. I waited, but she did not enlarge upon
her reply. I thought of how a woman of the South country would have
explained what was so obvious-that she saw no strangers because there were
no roads or railways within a good many miles; but this Highland woman
waited patiently at her doormat, I thought, wishing us to be gone, but
just waiting. Once more I recalled the American's remarks at the inn-fire
about the Gael being at heart a gentleman, and I perceived that this woman
possessed an old and serene dignity that she herself was probably unaware
of. I spoke of Moidart, and called it the Prince Charlie country,
wondering if this would evoke a response. "They say the Prince sailed
across from Arisaig and landed at Kinlochmoidart," I added.
"No, the Prince landed here," she said, her
placid eyes glancing towards the beach, then looking past us to the
supposed to have sailed round to Loch Moidart," I insisted. "So some
Prince landed at Glenuig," she repeated with quiet confidence. "But it was
a long time ago. We are not paying much attention to it now."
"It was a long time ago," I agreed. "You don't
talk about the Prince here nowadays ?"
"But the old people?"
"Yes, the old people used to talk about him
when I was young. There is an old woman who lives there on the hill, she
is very old and bed-ridden, her great-grandfather went with the Prince
when he came here. These were the terrible days, she would be saying." Her
dark eyes turned from their slow contemplation of the rocks and heather
and gave me a glance that seemed to mean: "Why trouble now? The men are
dead. It is an old story."
She was silent for nearly a minute, and then
in a tone which gave no suggestion that she was offering a favour, she
asked us if we would care for a cup of tea since we had such a long
journey ahead of us to Kinlochmoidart.
We thanked her, and she led us into the room
on the right and drew in two chairs to the fire. A little iron grate had
been built into the old open fireplace where logs had once crackled on a
bed of wood-ashes. The paper on the walls was of the wild floral pattern
of Queen Victoria's days, and hanging round were old calendars and
almanacs and some dim yellow photographs of bearded men with big
shoulders. There was a bed in the corner, and the white coverlet was as
fresh as though it had come that day from bleaching on the grass. Dishes
were set on a table-cloth that was as spotless as the bed, and on them
were thick oat cakes, and cheese, and a tall pile of girdle scones. The
woman said she was expecting somebody for a meal a little later on.
Perhaps it was a visiting priest from over the hills, I thought, but I did
not venture to enquire, and she did not explain.
Neither of us was hungry, but the tea was very
welcome. The water tasted of peat, which gave it an attractive pungency ;
and while we drank it, the woman told us she remembered a man at Samalaman,
a little way round the coast, who sometimes talked about the Prince. "But
Samalaman is not on the way to Kinlochmoidart," she said; "it is in the
name Samalaman was unusual, and it sounded familiar. And then I
remembered. I had read somewhere that about a hundred and fifty years ago
a Catholic Bishop had taken up his residence there and had run a college
for young priests. But I was doubly interested to go there because it
seemed that we had hit upon an interesting local tradition about the route
Prince Charlie had taken. Many scholars are apt to look askance on local
traditions, for so often these have been embellished by some person with
an eye for the picturesque. The Senate, in extolling to a chief the mighty
deeds of his ancestors, was not likely to subtract from the stories handed
down to him. Even the early historians themselves were not too scrupulous
; and Hector Boece, founding his famous history upon early chroniclers,
added many fascinating and enthusiastic lies about the origins of the
Scottish people. But I think modern research tends to treat tradition a
little too lightly ; and if the man who lived at Samalaman had anything to
say about Prince Charles Edward Stuart in Glenuig, I was eager to hear it.
My only difficulty was Gillespie. He was to
meet a friend at Acharacle on Loch Shiel, and he had talked of arriving
there that night. I thought this optimistic of him ; and if we wasted time
by going along the shore to Samalaman, it was certain that he would not
reach his destination until the following day.
When I put the point to him he brushed it
aside with a jest. The reply struck me as apiece of generous camouflage,
like his deception of the previous evening when he had given up his bed to
me at the inn. It made me anxious to press on to Kinlochmoidart, which we
had to pass to reach Loch Shiel. But Gillespie stubbornly turned down the
idea: "We're going to Samalaman first," he said. I think he felt that he
had thrust himself upon me, and that his own plans must therefore come
second. I would have suggested to him that we separated, and that he
should go on by himself to Acharacle, but I was afraid this might be taken
as a hint that I would rather be alone, which was not the case. Because
the woman was listening to our argument with a puzzled expression, I gave
in to him. Thanking our hostess rather abruptly-she would accept no
money-we set out on the cart-track along the coast. I had a notion that a
row was brewing, a childish and unpleasant row, simply because each of us
was over-anxious to do what he thought the other would have liked.
When we came to a tiny church on a knoll, with
a grove of birches and pines surrounding it on three sides, I climbed up
to it. With a grunt, Gillespie refused to follow. The double doors were
secured by a hazel-twig, and when I got inside I saw that it was a
Catholic chapel. It was dim and cool, and there was a simplicity about it
that I had never associated with a Catholic place of worship. Shadows lay
around the altar, shadows that gave it dignity and seemed to lift it into
a little dim world of its own. I sat down on one of the benches. Moidart
was entirely Catholic, I remembered, and there was something deeply
reverential in this simple place. As I tip-toed out, a slip of paper
pinned beside the door caught my eye, and-I read this: "In your charity
please pray for the repose of the soul of . . . who departed this life on
the ... strengthened with the rites of the Holy Church." The rites of the
Holy Church-the phrase made me think of Rome, thirteen hundred miles away,
and brought suddenly and profoundly home to me the spiritual link that
existed between it and this tiny grey chapel on the seashore: a little
corner of Rome itself, where the ancient faith of these people was kept
alive. When I went out into the sunshine Gillespie sat on the edge of the
knoll smoking his pipe. I think he had concluded that I was a Catholic,
but he did not refer to the matter, and neither did I, and we went on our
way to Samalaman in silence.
Set in a little hollow with trees was a large
whitewashed house with many gables, and a burn trickled past it and fell
into the sea. From the distance we had covered, I knew this was the
college of Samalaman. No sweeter place for study and meditation could be
imagined; the Bishop must have had an eye for atmosphere. I learned
afterwards that the college had been transferred to Lismore, and the house
had eventually passed into the hands of a Stewart from Lochaber. This
Stewart as a boy had studied under the Bishop, and had finished his
education in France, and strangers were a little startled to find a
Moidart sheep-farmer carrying a copy of Virgil in his pocket. One night
the house was struck by lightning and badly smashed; but one room stood
quite intact, and nothing could shake Stewart's belief that God's special
blessing had been upon this room because it had been the Bishop's own
chamber in the college days. A boy in the steading behind the house
directed us to the small white-washed cottage that we sought ; and when we
drew near we heard somebody playing a melodeon.
The music stopped abruptly, and a girl of
about eighteen came to the door. Her father, she said, was down at his
boat, and she would take us to him. I had been a little surprised at the
girl's appearance, and as we walked down to the shore I was still more
surprised by her talk. She was slightly built, with dark hair and large
dark blue eyes. Her dress was simple but in perfect taste, and her shoes
looked both elegant and serviceable. It is easy to understand the
flowering of rustic beauty : but here was a girl who, if she had slipped a
modish hat on her head, could have mingled with the crowds on Princes
Street at that very hour of half-past eleven and attracted not the
slightest notice except an occasional glance of admiration. Though she was
a crofter's daughter, it was plain from her dress and her speech that she
lived in one of the larger towns, and I guessed that she was at home on
holiday. I could not make up my mind whether she was an assistant in a big
store or was studying to become a school-teacher : perhaps, I ventured to
think, she was older than I had imagined and was a student at some
University. It seemed a little impertinent to put the question bluntly,
but my curiosity got the better of me: "I don't suppose you live here all
the year round ?" The answer was accompanied by a twinkle of amusement in
her eyes. Yes, she had lived here all her life : she hardly ever went away
: she was educated at the little school at Glenuig: she had been in
Glasgow once or twice, perhaps, and did not care for it much-she liked
Glenuig better. Her placid acceptance of things, her quiet happiness in
the slow turning of the wheel, was disconcerting after my attempt at
trying to guess her environment. This was her environment: she had never
wished for any other.
"Do you know," said Gillespie afterwards, "I'd
like to take that girl out to tea at some swell place in London. I wonder
what she'd think of it all-the skinny chattering jays with their damned
awful painted faces . . ."
Her father turned out to be a tall strongly
built man with hair and moustache that had been reddish and were now
turning grey. He was standing in the stern of his rowing-boat, ten or a
dozen yards away from the low rock where the three of us stood ; and
without a word, he sculled in to the shore and tied the painter to a post.
When I told him I had heard of a tradition that the Prince had landed at
Glenuig, he nodded.
"It is so," he said.
"He didn't sail to Kinlochmoidart?"
"It was to Glenuig the Prince came from
Arisaig," he said confidently, adding that with warships about it was not
likely they would have ventured to sail round the point. "The stores and
ammunition were landed from the Du Teillay near Glenuig, and were carried
up over the pass to Loch Moidart by Clanranald men. Tearlach and his
friends went the same way."
There was no shaking the man in his story. His
great-great-grandfather, who lived within a mile from where we were
talking, had followed the Prince in the 'Forty-five. Moidart was wild with
enthusiasm when Charles came ashore at Glenuig, and there was much piping
and dancing. One of the MacIntyres, the hereditary pipers of the
Macdonalds of Kinlochmoidart, composed a reel in honour of the Prince's
arrival called "The Eight Men of Moidart," and it is still played at
our benefit, the tall Macdonald who stood beside us whistled or rather
breathed the lively melody, beating time with his foot on the rock. "They
danced to that at Glenuig when the Prince came here," he repeated. His
story had the ring of truth, and every Moidart man to whom I spoke about
it was firm in the same belief. Although Dr. W. B. Blaikie, [In his
article in the Scottish Historical Review, April 1926, Dr. Blaikie took
the opportunity to correct two dates in his Itinerary of Prince Charles
Edward from information he had derived from the Log of the Du Teillay,
which was published after his own work had been completed; and it is
possible that he afterwards revised his opinion about the Prince's route
between Borrodale and Kinlochmoidart.] who knew more Jacobite history than
any man, stated in the Itinerary that the Prince made the journey from
Borrodale to Kinlochmoidart by sea, I have no doubt in the face of so
clear a tradition that he came by Glenuig and went on foot over the pass
to Loch Moidart, where for a week he stayed at the house of Donald
been often said that the famous "Seven Men of Moidart" took part in the
dance; and in histories of the Rising one reads that these were the seven
companions who came with Charles from France. I myself have always
believed that "The Seven Men of Moidart" were not the strangers but
Moidart men the seven Macdonalds who were among the first to join the
Prince. I am open to correction, but here I think are their names: Donald
Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart and his brothers Ranald and Allan; Aeneas
Macdonald of Dalilea and his brother Alexander; and Alexander Macdonald of
Glenaladale and his brother John.
I put the point to Angus Macdonald when he
came to the end of his tune.
"The Seven Men of Moidart weren't the Prince's
Irishmen at all," he agreed emphatically. "They were Moidart men."
"Why are you so certain ?" I asked.
"My grandfather told me," he replied; "and I
have read it in a book besides."
"What book? " I enquired.
"A book by Sir Walter Scott," he said, with a
nod which implied that anyone who dared to contradict Sir Walter was a
myself, I am happy to leave it at that.
We did not get back to Glenuig until it was
nearly noon. The directions the woman at the post office had given us had
been quite clear, and we made for the steep path leading up to the
Beallach-a-Charra (the Pass of the Rough Rock.) Neither of us made any
reference to the long tramp ahead of us. I did not know what Gillespie was
thinking, but I was satisfied in my own mind that we could not possibly
reach Loch Shiel that day. When you are walking on an old drove road, with
springy turf beneath your feet, you can keep up a steady pace for miles
with little exertion ; but it is a different thing to pick your way along
a steep and rocky track, where the descent is often more tiring than the
climb; and when you are carrying a pack, each jolt seems to increase in
force. More than that, it was not as if we had a long day before us; but I
dismissed from my mind the problem of where we would sleep that night, and
concentrated on the effort of keeping pace with Gillespie, who was going
up the track ahead of me with the slow long stride of the hillwalker. Near
the summit we halted for a backward glance at the sweet green corrie we
had left behind. On our right the crags rose sheer, with many tumbled
rocks at the bottom. Hazels and heather and bracken lined the track, and
an occasional rowan clung sturdily in high crevices. Below us Glenuig lay
under the hot noonday sun looking more than ever like a hamlet of the
Middle Ages. The ruins of cottages showed how populous it once had been.
In the little bay beyond, the sea was a clear blue-green, its surface
broken a hundred yards from the shore by a long ridge of rock, on which
oil-beacon lights burned night and day. Eight miles across the Sound, the
brown mountains of Arisaig and Morar stood against the sky. I was
reluctant to turn and follow Gillespie over the summit, for we were
leaving the sea behind us, and I doubted whether in all the miles I had to
tramp before I reached Edinburgh I would again look upon a view more
soon to halt again, however, for among the grass and bracken beside the
path was a large group of cairns. I counted between sixty and seventy of
these little conical heaps of stone. Each marked the place where a corpse
had been set down on its way to the burial-ground. It was here that the
bearers and the rest of the cortege paused to refresh themselves. These
resting-cairns are to be seen in many parts of the Highlands, reminding
the passer-by of the solemnity of death, and reminding one at the same
time of much deep and solemn drinking of whiskey-for in the old days no
Highland funeral was counted decent if the bottle did not freely go round
among the mourners. Some of the cairns had been raised for individuals,
some belonging to a family; and to say, "I'll put a stone on your cairn,"
is a Gaelic way of expressing gratitude to a person who has done you a
favour. I walked forward to one pile a little larger than most of the
others, and on a flat slab beside it I read: "This cairn is erected in
memory of James MacLean who died in Glenuig . . ." The rest of the
inscription had been obliterated by the weather. Probably James was a
descendant of the two Glenuig MacLeans, James and Donald his brother, who
were recorded to have followed the Prince, the one armed only with a sword
and the other carrying a gun. As we paused beside these grey monuments,
the thought that we were walking on the funeral road was a little sobering
to our spirits. When we turned our faces to the south, a new land was
spread before us.