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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter IX


Parochial examination—Reverence paid to ministers—Homeliness of the times—Respect to the laird—Means of livelihood— Ridiculous punctuality in telling a story.

The people of the glen were favoured with an annual visit from the minister of the parish, for the purpose of a general examination of the families in the district. This custom was universal, all the parishes were subjected to a similar visitation. This was the more necessary before 8abbath schools were instituted. The custom in these cases was to convene in a body the inhabitants of a certain locality in some large apartment in a dwelling-house, but more commonly in a barn, where plenty of accommodation was to be had. The people were seated on forms around the minister, who began the work by singing a psalm, reading a portion of Scripture, and prayer. The text-book used in these diets, as they were called, was the Shorter Catechism, or, as it was familiarly termed, "the single caritches"—a compendium of divinity which, it was understood, every child at school could repeat from beginning to end. The most of this, to be sure, was mere rote, still it had a place in the memory, and which, though little understood at the time, in after life was frequently found to be of great benefit. As the Catechism was the text-book, all the people, young and old, were busy conning the answers to the questions for some time prior to the public examination, which had been intimated from the pulpit a Sabbath or two previous. It was the object of every one to outstrip his neighbour in the voluble and accurate recital of the answer to the question. This was deemed a high achievement, for, if any one faltered or hesitated in answering, it was regarded as a fatal mistake and a decided failure, which was spoken of afterwards, and which became a subject of gossip in the glen. Hence, modest and timid persons, especially females, were very much put about, and the day of the examination was to them a very painful ordeal. They stood trembling before the minister, and more before the people, their recollection became confused, and the subjects with which they were otherwise quite familiar vanished entirely from their memory, while a tittering might, perhaps, be heard here and there among the people. On the other hand, those who had fortitude or impudence enough could repeat the general answer with great readiness, and even pertness; but when they came to be questioned on the particular points in the answer, they 6ften looked foolish enough.

In questioning the company the minister called the names in rotation, and each stood up in their place to reply to what question might be put to them. Strange answers, it is said, were sometimes given, which caused a general laugh throughout the barn, and even the minister could not contain himself; but in general the replies were passable, and in some cases excellent, and much to the edification of all. The diet of examination sometimes continued the greater part of a day, till both the people and the examinator were entirely worn out. The propriety of such promiscuous examinations is very much to be questioned, and they are now, happily, discontinued. In those times, however, no other mode of instruction was thought of. The modern plan of Sabbath-school classes for children, and Bible classes for young persons, had not yet been conceived.

The minister concluded the sore and tedious day's service with prayer, when the people retired to their several homes. The examination, however, was not done with; it was the subject of much remark in the glen for weeks after, so that any edification which might be supposed to be derived from it was in a great measure lost; and one wonders now-a-days how the people submitted to the task, and yielded to be pilloried before their neighbours, and to be subjected to the rude and unfeeling criticisms which were unsparingly made. But then our wonder becomes abated, when we reflect, on the profound reverence in which the ministerial office was then held. The word of a minister was a law, and his authority was unquestioned. And all this which, in appearance, was a slavish subjection, was really not so; it was a deep respect and veneration for ministers, as men who were set over them as their spiritual guides. They were reverenced for their piety and highly esteemed for their learning, and then their official appearances on the Lord's - day tended to deepen this impression.

The minister was a pattern to the whole parish; he was a father among them, and his counsel and aid were never withheld. The cottars of the glen were not behind their neighbours in other rural districts in true respect for their minister, and even to a superstitious extent. In the landward parts this, in those days, was generally the case, and some may be inclined to derive it from even the popish times. Be this as it may, the parish minister at that period had an immense influence in the locality, and he was a man honoured above all others save one, and that was the laird.

The laird was the most important personage to the inhabitants of the rural districts generally. In those days the proprietors were much more numerous than now, since many small estates have been absorbed by the landed gentlemen of more ample means. But small as some of these lairds were, they were regarded by the simple-minded people with the deepest veneration. The authority of the laird was paramount in all cases, his opinion was not to be gainsaid, his word was law, and a subjection almost slavish was yielded to him. He was regarded as the father of those who lived on his lands, he was the feudal lord whose ancestors had for centuries been proprietors of the estate. The people considered themselves in the light of his retainers, for their forefathers had, for the most part, been, for generations out of mind, residenters on the same lands. They deemed themselves as, in a certain sense, akin to the laird, whose interest was their interest, whose honour was their honour, and an insult done to the family was an insult done to themselves. No person ever thought of giving the laird's injunctions a denial, his will was with them a law which must not be violated, however absurd or impracticable. "Johnnie," said a person to a retainer, whose ideas of obedience due to the laird were of the most extravagant kind; "Johnnie, if the laird were to bid you lift the mansion house, and place it down there on the smooth lawn beside the willow burn, would you refuse?" "Na, na" replied Johnnie, "I wadna refuse the laird; I would just put shouther to it, and say it wadna do." As subjection to the laird in many instances was slavish, so, in other cases equally numerous, a certain power was supposed to be lodged in the laird by which he was able to control untoward events. A poor man's cottage one day took fire, and all the neighbours had collected to extinguish the flames; the devouring element, however, seemed to overmaster their efforts. The old woman, the mistress of the hut, addressed her husband with some degree of impatience, and cried out, "O, John, send for the laird, send for the laird" But John, whose ideas of the laird's potency in such a case were not so great, exclaimed, "Ou, what could the laird do although he were here?"

Although the inhabitants of the glen, at the time we refer to—a hundred years ago—were not so prostrated under the laird's authority, still their reverence and respect were of a much higher cast than anything of the kind now-a-days. The glen, at that time, was apportioned among sundry proprietors, and they had on these several estates upwards of five hundred inhabitants— that is, assuming the glen in its full length. The laird-ships were indeed small, and the income was scanty, compared with the princely revenues now enjoyed by our large landed proprietors, still the lairds had the same respect paid to them as if their territories had been twenty times more extensive, and hence the salutary awe in which the people in these simple times were kept by those on whose lands they resided.

Their means of livelihood depended more immediately on the lairds, and hence the respect paid from motives of self-interest. We have already hinted at the occupation of the cottars, but we may here make a few observations further in regard to their means of subsistence. In those days the proprietors were in the habit of dividing their lands into small farms to industrious persons who, with their families, laboured as servants on the different patches of ground which they occupied in lease. The value of land in those days was very low, and neither the landlord nor the tenant could make much of it. Both, however, contrived to live, although in a somewhat sparing manner. In those simple times luxury was unknown, especially in the landward parts, and it is of them mainly that we speak. A few acres of ground industriously laboured by the tenant—for cultivated it could not be called—furnished food for the household and rent for the laird. These small tenements were numerous in the glen and neighbourhood; and whereas now one tenant occupies the whole district, at that time twenty or thirty leases might, probably, be held in the same locality. This was carrying the thing to an extreme, while now-a-days the opposite extreme has been reached. It is bad policy to overcrowd rural districts with a half-starved population, but it is equally bad policy to clear a

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introduced before the main incident could be mentioned. A boy had one day fallen into a deep pool in the river, and was almost drowned. A woman who had been the means of rescuing him came in haste to Saunders house to tell the news, and was in a state of great perturbation. "What is the matter?" exclaimed Saunders, when he witnessed the excited state of the woman; "What is the matter? Tell us quickly." "Oh, have patience, and I will tell you all. Ye see, I was gaen wi' my bit pitcher in my hand and the bairn in my arm, the length o' Widow Watson's for the drap milk; for, ye see, the bairns carina want the milk—they need it for their sowp parritch or for a mouthfu' o' dry scone; but, indeed, scones are no sae muckle used in our house noo as peas bannocks; and, indeed, our gudeman himsel' says that he wad rather hae the jug fu' o' gude kirn milk than a waught o' yill ony day. Weel, as I was savin', I was settin' out to the widow's for the milk. She is a douce woman, Widow Watson, and makes a fell strusle to bring up the family since the death o' her gudeman, wha cam' to an untimely end in falling off the cart o' hay when the wheel cam' wi' a jog against the muckle stane in the green haugh down by yonder. But I needna tell you, for ye weel ken a' about it. Poor woman, but she had e'en a sair heart that day, and there was muckle sighin' and dool amang the neebers when the dead body o' the worthy man was carried into the house. I hae aye been wae for the widow sin1 syne."

"A' true, a' true," cried Saunders; "but what o' the particular ye were gaen to tell us o'—what of it? "

"Weel, ye see, as I was sauntering alang the road, the poor bairn began to yammer and greet in my arm. She is a gude waen for ordinar', and I couldna think what could be the matter, when I fand that she had been jaggit wi' a prin in my apron; and so, when I got the poor thing composed a wee, and promised her a drink o' milk at the widow's, for ye see the widow is no stintit in the measure o' her milk like mony ane, nor does she put water intil it like some folk we needna name. Na, na, she's an honest body, the widow; she was aye kent for that. So, as I was stepping tentily alang the road, I sees a great cleckin' o' children gathered about the hackberry tree that grows close by the roadside, and overhangs the deep pool at the bend of the Crawick. There were three or four biggish callants up amang the branches, swingin1 about like sae mony craws dabbin' the red berries on the muckle rowan tree at the back o' the house there, when ane o' them missed his grip and fell plump down into the dark pool right over the head. My een dazzled, his bit bonnet was caught by a branch. It was a bonnet that his mother had bought frae Bob, for she had been cheated by the one she coft afore frae Cheap Jock. It was blue, and had a bonny red tap on the crown o't, and a bright yellow rim for a border, just like gowd, and "------

"And what!" exclaimed Saunders. "Tell us about the boy, we want nane o' yer rigmaral; come to the point at once, woman; I want to ken if the callant was drowned or saved—what became of him?"

"Ou, am just comin' till" replied the loquacious wife; "and is na it right that ye should ken a' about it, if ye will hear patiently. But ye are for a' the world like Ned Jackson wi' the peats that day that the laden car and the horse came tumblin1 down the steep brae at the back o' the house there, and so in that gate saved the poor beast from draggin' them round a' the crooks and windings o' the road. There, cried Ned, ye ha'e the hale at ance, and that without ony ceremony. My certes, but Ned did the thing nicely and in a trice, too. Noo yer just for a' the world like Ned—ye wad jump to the end o' the matter at ae lowp—but poor Ned is awa, and sair did his minny moan that day his head was laid in the graff."

"O woman," muttered.Saunders, "but ye wad try the patience of Job."

"It wad be weel," replied she; "it wad be weel for some folk if they wad but learn the patience of Job, they wad be mair attentive to listen to what is said, especially on an occasion like this.

"Weel, as I was savin', the callant gaed plump down to the bottom o' the pool like a shot craw frae a tap branch when the lead drape gae into its crappin. When I saw what happened, I set down the pitcher, and stappit the bairn into the arms o' a muckle lossock that was stanin gaivin' and glowerin' wi* the rest. I saw the lassie could be trustit, for she had a decent look, and weel put on; and sae I sprang to the pool, and just as the callant's curly pow cam up in a bowt aboon the water, I clutched him by the dreepin' hair and drew him to the side. I saw that there was life in him, for he gave a lang fetch or twa and then began to breathe. We carried him to his mother's house, where he was strippit o' his wet claes and put into a warm bed, and in a short time he cam round. But, my certes, the hackberries were soon forgotten, and there was a quick skailin1 among the bairns. Noo, Saunders, you that's a man that works among wood, what think ye o' tak'in' your heavy axe, and gang and hew down that hackberry tree this blessed day, and that will prevent a' sic mishaps for the time to come?"

"It shall be done as you say," replied Saunders, "and thank ye for the hint, and there is my hand for the good deed in saving the poor boy's life; only I say, that in telling news, or indeed in relating any story, don't keep people in suspense by mentioning all the outs and ins connected with the thing, but come to the point at once, though I would not advise you to imitate Ned and the peats either; his was haste and confusion at the same time—all was topsy-turvy. Indeed our minister, honest man, was complaining to me yesterday nae farther gane, of the women of our glen, and even of the men, but especially of the wives, how they wasted so many words and 3% much precious time in telling even a simple matter. He was visiting Janet Young's child that has been so poorly, and he said the mother sat down and deliberately detailed the whole thing respecting the bairn's trouble, and all the different kinds of medicine that the doctor had prescribed, backwards and forwards, summered and wintered, till his patience and his time were bo exhausted that he deliberately rose and walked to the door. Now, my advice to you is, neither to waste time nor words in telling what you wish to communicate, and you will secure more patient listeners than some of us have been on this occasion."


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