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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter V


Statistics of the glen—Religious revival—Conversation on Divine things—Family worship—Sheep-stealing—Startling discovery-Bob, the travelling chapman—Curious incident—Important information—Caravan.

The middle part of the glen was the most thickly peopled. Within little more than a mile in extent along the valley there might be about two hundred and fifty of population. There was no village—there were little hamlets or clumps of cottages, and single huts, or pairs of houses, all scattered here and there—some in the bottom of the valley on the banks of the stream, others under the sheltering woods that skirted the fields, while others, again, were higher up on the breast of the hill where it slopes towards the plain. Every little farm house had its cluster of cottages* There were the Orchard, the Kiln, Auchengour, the two Carcos, Spouth, upper and lower, the Chapel Hill, and other nameless places, with their respective huts. All these were within a brief space of each other, and well remembered every one of them by the people of the last generation, but all of which are now swept away, with the exception of five or six houses, a riddance which was gradually accomplished in the lapse of two generations. The nucleus of the population, as we have said, occupied the middle part of the glen, and it was here also that the aggregate of the moral worth was to be found. The worth contained in the cottages in those days, and even yet, is perhaps what few of the gentry would be prepared to count on, and this through their entire unacquaintance respecting the popular morals in the rural districts. The piety of the cottages has hitherto been the glory of the land; a rich residuum is still to be found in the lowly dwellings of the industrious poor. To clear the landward parts of such piety and virtue is a great mistake, and a mistake which in after times may come to tell its own tale.

The inhabitants of the glen were a compact community. They were intermingled by marriages; they were thoroughly acquainted with one another; their individual histories were all well known; and gossip in the glen was as common as elsewhere. In the forty or fifty households scattered here and there, not a few cottage patriarchs were to be found who were eminent for their intelligence and true religion, although some were characterised by indifference and general irreligiousness.

We now come to notice a considerably important religious movement which about this time took place in the glen. Several things contributed to this, of which the chief was the conversion of Saunders' daughter Jenny. The neighbours began to inquire more particularly into the nature of the change which sinners must necessarily undergo before they can be deemed genuine Christians. Many wondered at the change which was said to have taken place on Jenny, considering that she was so blameless a character, and one who never failed to attend to the duties of religion. This being the case, they did not see why any further change was needed to constitute a strictly religious character in the sight either of God or man. With not a few of them the mere formalities of religion were enough; they never dreamed of looking into the state of the heart: that was a field of discovery on which some of them had never entered. In conversing with the people on religious matters, Saunders took care to show them that unless the heart was right with God, all else went for nothing; and that the inner man must be renewed by the special operations of the Holy Spirit; and that all this was necessary before a sinner could be made meet for the heavenly kingdom. He showed that, while faith in the Divine Saviour was necessary to bring the pardon of sin to the guilty conscience through the blood of the great atonement, this faith was no less necessary in order to the purification of the heart from sin. In this way a conviction began gradually to creep into the minds of some that more was needed than a mere profession, and that unless they were born again, and became new creatures by God's grace, they could not see the kingdom of heaven. Many, as it afterwards appeared, felt deeply concerned about their eternal interests who never opened their minds to any one. They brooded silently but painfully over their spiritual condition, and some were brought even to the borders of despair. An event, however, soon occurred which opened, as it were, the safety valve which let out the pent-up steam, and that was the case of a young woman, an intimate companion of Jenny, who, on witnessing what had happened to her, was brought under the deepest concern about her salvation. The poor young woman could not contain herself, but, amidst showers of tears, cried out incessantly, What must I do to be saved? The news of this spread from house to house, and created no small speculation and inquiry, till, one after another having come under the same concern, began to express themselves in a similar manner, till the thing became so general that Saunders and a few pious friends along with him made it their business to go from house to house conversing with the anxious inquirers, and endeavouring to lead them to the Saviour. And in this way they were greatly successful, for not a few were gathered into the fold of the Redeemer; not a few of the really religious heretofore experienced a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and a number of those of an irreligious cast was overawed and restrained. The face of the community was in a great measure changed, so that with many, "old things had passed away, and all things had become new." It was a joyous time to Saunders and the few godly friends by whom he was surrounded.

Conversations on religious matters now became more common. At one time it was with much difficulty that the people of the glen could be made to engage in religious discourse. They evinced a shyness to talk on Divine things, and this arose from two causes—the one was an ignorance of these matters, and the other was an aversion to them—these two combined tended to shut their mouths. But after the general awakening took place, all excuses were laid aside, and an unwonted readiness to converse on sacred topics showed itself. The people were now in earnest, and the concerns of the soul had assumed a paramount importance, and every one was disposed to speak freely with his neighbour on these matters.

Family worship, which hitherto had by no means been neglected in the glen, was now almost universally observed; and it was interesting to notice how, in many cases, the people uttered themselves in prayer with an accuracy and a fluency surprising both to others and to themselves, for when the heart is touched there is no lack of words in the mouth. This religious awakening was productive of immense advantage to the cottars along the entire line of the glen, so that the good effects were visible for many years afterwards, and a batch of truly pious persons, both men and women, were reared on that occasion, who continued with more or less constancy in the faith, till they were scattered by the gradual clearing of the inhabitants of which we have already spoken. They had now attained a religious status, which they were emulous of sustaining.

About this time, however, a circumstance befel which greatly distressed the honest rustics, who were very sensitive, as it respected their integrity and honesty. A case of sheep-stealing was reported—and not one case only, but a series of cases. One of the small farmers in the glen, whose flocks fed on the massive green height in the immediate vicinity of the cottars, had lost some of his sheep, and suspicion instantly attached to them. The insinuations filled every one with shame, and with nearly the same intensity of shame as if they had been clearly guilty. And then there was the danger, besides, the danger of being evicted on mere suspicion. The law in those days was very stringent, so that to be convicted of i

sheep-stealing was a capital crime. A strict investigation was to be entered on, and every house was to undergo an unsparing search. Accordingly, the search was made, but nothing could be found. Suspicions, indeed, there were, but no person could be fixed on with certainty. The neighbours were perplexed) and none were more troubled than honest Saunders, for he was concerned lest anything should occur that might bring disgrace on the religious profession of the glen. It now occurred to him, that to place a watch in the night-time among the bushes might lead to a discovery, and therefore he mooted the thing to the farmer who had sustained the loss. The two accordingly ensconced themselves in a place where they could see all around, so far as the dusk would allow. They lay quietly till about midnight, when they perceived a gentle rustling among the bushes, and next heard a man speaking to his dog, and apparently giving him certain directions in an under tone. In a short time a general movement was perceived among the sheep, and then a dog was sagaciously gathering them into a cluster; next, a man was observed cautiously stepping into the field, and moving in the direction in which the flock was coming, and as they neared him he laid himself down on his backin a furrow. Being ensconced in this manner, and keeping close to the ground without motion, the sheep advanced and passed nearly over him in the dusk. He then caught one of them firmly by the legs, and tumbling it on its side, secured his prey by binding its feet. He then threw it struggling across his shoulders and walked leisurely away, secure of his prize. At this moment the two men sprang from their concealment, and, having seized the thief by the arm, found, to their surprise, that he was one of the farmer's own shepherds. The man was stunned. He threw his burden on the ground, stood condemned, and implored forgiveness. The fact could not be denied. He was caught in the very act, and could plead no excuse. Honest Edward, the farmer, felt indignant at the deed having been committed by one of his own servants who had the whole flock in his trust. What was now to be done? To divulge the crime might cost the poor man his life, and this was what the feeling man could not think of. He would rather have sustained the damage a hundred times over. He dealt with the man according to the nature of his crime, and directed him to seek forgiveness from the quarter whence alone pardon of sin is to be had. The poor man expressed his deep sorrow, and promised that such an action should never be perpetrated by him so long as he lived. This fact, for fact it is, only the names are changed, afforded great relief to the parties. The shepherd's name was never divulged, and no prosecution was sought.

One evening as the people of the glen were sitting, after the toils of the day, on their turfen seats close to the walls of their huts, enjoying themselves in the cheerful sunshine, about an hour before the king of day went down behind the majestic green hill on the west, a shout arose—"Bob is come!" Bob was the strolling chapman who visited the glen, at certain periods, with his wares. The advent of no person was more welcome than that of Bob, the packman. He was an honest creature, kept a good article, never refused credit, and never failed of a kind entertainment at the various stations where he regularly halted in the wide circle of his peregrinations. The elderly people hailed his arrival for the news they expected to hear; the general multitude for his jokes and stories; and the young women for his fancy wares. In those days there were no newspapers, and the rustic people knew not what was going on beyond the hills. The farmer's domicile in "Muckle Carco" was Bob's general station in the glen, and as he entered in what is called the close, he was hailed with shouts of welcome; but there was something in Bob's countenance that was not his usual. Nobody could tell what it was; it could not be characterised. There was something, apparently, which he wanted to conceal, and which, at the same time, he was scarcely unwilling to divulge. The thing was this: Bob on his progress up the glen happened to call at the Orchard, with the laird of which he was always on friendly terms. The occupant of this place was the venerable Mr Hair, a man well known to all the people of the last generation—a man who possessed certain strange peculiarities, and even ludicrous, and of whom many queer stories are yet told. On entering the house there was a door almost confronting on the side of the long passage, or trance, as it was called, that led between the kitchen and the spence. This door opened on the head of a flight of steps that conducted to a cellar beneath. When Bob entered with his wares on his back, and a little box of trinkets in his hand, he leaned unwittingly against the door—backwards. His pressure instantly burst it open, and down went Bob, pack and all, heels o'er head, in one fell dash, into the dark chamber beneath. He was stunned for a moment, but the soft goods on his back saved him, and he scrambled to his feet unscathed, amidst the uproarious laughter of the household. Poor Bob crawled up the ascent looking somewhat dumfoundered at the unexpected occurrence; but he soon got matters adjusted when he reached the spacious kitchen, and felt truly thankful that the incident was nothing serious. It was this that made him look so sheepish when he reached the farmhouse, not willing to encounter the ridicule of the servants and the cottars around. We have often looked on the little cellar door, which remains to this day, and called to mind the inglorious descent of the poor chapman.

But Bob on this occasion was the bearer of tidings— and tidings of a very serious import. It happened that Bob, on the night previous to his visit to his friends in the glen, had, in the dark, stepped out a short way from the house where he lodged, and hearing the sound of human voices, felt a natural curiosity to listen. He crept nearer and nearer till he distinctly heard every word. To his great surprise he learned that the two men who were conversing, had laid a plan for the burning of the premises of the farmer of "muckle Carco" in the Crawick, and that this was to be done exactly two nights hence. They were to be on the spot at midnight, and having powder and matches with them, they were to strike fire from the flint, and first to kindle the thatch of the dwelling-house, and then to ignite the byre and outhouses. When this was done, they were to retire to the thickets on the hill-side to witness the conflagration. All this was to be done, as far as Bob could learn, to avenge a certain injury which they alleged had been done them by the farmer. Having gained this information, Bob withdrew stealthily to the dwelling-house, without a word to any.

Early in the morning, Bob, with his pack on his back, and his little box of trinkets in his hand, set out for the glen, and as no time was to be lost, he hastened past the places where he usually displayed his wares, and rested not till he reached the orchard, where his descent adown the cellar stair befel.

On reaching his destination, the first thing that Bob did was to communicate with the farmer privately, and: to lay the whole matter before him. The worthy man was in great perplexity, he plainly saw that mischief was determined, but how to guard against it, he seemed to be at a loss. The thing, said the honest chapman, appears to be very plain, and without much ado about the matter, or circulating the report in any way, I think that we should select a company of the strongest men in the glen, who, with implements of defence, should hide themselves in the dark thicket behind the house, and be ready to pounce on the villains whenever they make their appearance. Only, I think, this should be done—let them fairly kindle the thatch, that full proof may be had of evil design, and then let there be buckets of water ready to dash on the fire, and, besides, let us have a coil of strong ropes to bind them on the spot. All this was agreed to. Accordingly, on the night suspected, about a dozen of powerful men were secreted in the bushes, where they watched patiently the approach of the incendiaries. After waiting a considerable time, a gentle rustling was heard among the bushes, immediately at the back of the dwelling-house, and then a low whispering became more and more audible. At length the striking of the flint was apparent, and then the fizzing of the match was perceptible. The two villains then approached the wall, and held up the match to the dry thatch, which, in an instant, took Are; but, at the same instant, the men in concealment rushed out—one party dashed the water on the flames, and the other, seizing the ruffians, bound them firmly with the ropes, and laid them flat on the ground. The two men were thunderstruck. They were apprehended in the very act of fire-raising, which, in a brief space, would have consumed the whole establishment, and probably would also have consumed both the people sleeping on their beds and the cattle in the stalls. A cart was instantly brought, and without any parley or ceremony, the persons were placed in it, and conveyed to the neighbouring burgh and deposited in the jail, and then after a due trial, were banished for life.

Bob earned the sincere approbation of all the people.


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