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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XXIV


“Fechtam memorate blodaeam,
Fechtam terribilem.”—Dbummond’s Polemo Middinia.

“Tulzies lang-remember’d an’ bluidy,
Terrible tulzies.Muckle- Vennel Translation.

It is well for human happiness in the ruder ages, that cowardice is rarely or never the characteristic of a people who have either no laws, or laws that cannot protect them; for, in the more unsettled stages of society, personal courage is a necessary policy, and no one is less safe than he who attempts to escape danger by running away. During the early part of the last century, Cromarty was well-nigh as rude a village of the kingdom as any it contained. The statute-book had found its way into the place at a much remoter period, but its authority had not yet travelled so far; and so the inhabitants were left to protect themselves by their personal courage and address, in the way their ancestors had done for centuries before. It was partly a consequence of the necessity, and partly from the circumstance that two or three families of the place were deeply imbued for several generations with a warlike spirit, which seemed born with them, that for years, both before and after the Rebellion, the prowess of the people, as exhibited in their quarrels with folk of the neighbouring districts, was celebrated all over the country. True it was, they had quailed before the rebels, but then the best soldiers of the crown had done the same. On one occasion two of them, brothers of the name of Duff—gigantic fellows of six feet and a half—had stood back to back for an entire hour in the throng of a Redcastle market, defending themselves against half the cudgels of Strathglass. On another, at the funeral of a town’s-man, who was interred in the burial-ground of Kilmuir, a party of them had fought with the people of the parish, and defeated them in their own territories. On a third, after a battle which lasted for several hours, they had beaten off the men of Rosemarkie and Avoch from a peat-moss in an unappropriated moor; and this latter victory they celebrated in a song, in which it was humorously proposed that, as their antagonists had been overpowered by the men of the parish, they should, in their next encounter, try their chance of war with the women. In short, their frays at weddings, funerals, and markets, were multiplied beyond number, until at length the cry of “Hiloa! Help for Cromarty!” had become as formidable as the war-cry of any of the neighbouring clans.

But there are principles which are good or evil according to the direction in which they operate; and of this class is that warlike principle whose operations I am attempting to describe. It was well for the people of Cromarty that, when there was no law powerful enough to protect them, they had courage enough to protect themselves; and particularly well at a period when the neighbouring Highlanders were still united by the ties of clanship into formidable bodies, ready to assert to a man the real or pretended rights of any individual of their number. It was not well, however, that these men of Cromarty should have broken the heads of half the men of Kilmuir, for merely insisting on a prescriptive right of carrying the corpse of a native to the churchyard when it had entered the limits of their own parish, and such was the sole occasion of the quarrel; or that, after appropriating to themselves, much at the expense of justice, the moss of the Maolbuoy Common, they should have deemed it legitimate sport to insult, in bad rhyme, the poor people whom they had deprived of their winter’s fuel, and who were starving for want of it Occasionally, however, they avenged on themselves the wrongs done to their neighbours; for, though no tribe of men could be more firmly united at a market or tryst, where an injury done to any one of them was regarded as an injury done to every one, they were not quite so friendly when in town, where their interests were separate, and not unfrequently at variance. • Their necessities abroad had taught them how to fight, and their resentments at home often engaged them in repeating the lesson. Their very enjoyments had caught hold of it, and Martinmas and the New-Year were not more the festivals of good ale than of broken heads. The lesson, sufficiently vexatious at any time, except when conned in its proper school, became peculiarly a misfortune to them upon the change which began to take place in the northern counties about the year 1740, when the law of Edinburgh— as it was termed by a Strathcarron freebooter—arrived at the ancient burgh of Tain, and took up its seat there, much to the terror and annoyance Of the neighbouring districts.

Subsequent to this unfortunate event, a lawyer named Macculloch fixed his place of residence among the people of Cromarty, that he might live by their quarrels; and, under the eye of this sagacious personage, the stroke of a cudgel became as potent as that of the wand of a magician. Houses, and gardens, and com-furrows vanished before it. Law was not yet sold at a determined price. It was administered by men who, having spent the early part of their lives amid feuds and bickerings, were still more characterized by the leanings of the partisan than the impartiality of the judge ; and, under these men, the very statute-book itself became a thing of predilections and antipathies ; for while in some instances justice, and a great deal more, cost almost nothing, in others it was altogether beyond price. Macculloch, however, who dealt it out by retail, rendered it sufficiently expensive, even when at the cheapest. Fines and imprisonments, and accounts which his poor clients could not read, but which they were compelled to pay, were only the minor consequences of his skill; for on one occasion he contrived that almost half the folk of the town should be cited, either as pannels or witnesses, to the circuit court of Inverness ; where, through the wrongheadedness of a jury, and the obstinacy of a judge, a good town’s-man and powerful combatant, who would willingly harm no one, but fight with anybody, ran a very considerable risk of being sent to the plantations. The people were distressed beyond measure, and their old antagonists of Kilmuir and Rosemarkie fully avenged.

In course of time, however, they became better acquainted with law; and their knowledge of the lawyer (which, like every other species of knowledge, was progressive), while it procured him in its first stages much employment, prevented him latterly from being employed at all. He was one of the most active of village attorneys. No one was better acquainted with the whole art of recovering a debt, or of entering on the possession of a legacy—of reclaiming property, or of conveying it; but it was ultimately discovered that his own particular interests could not always be identified with those of the people who employed him; and that the same lawsuit might be gained by him and lost by his client. It was one thing, too, for Macculloch to recover a debt, and quite another for the person to whom it had been due. In cases of the latter description he was an adept in the art of promising. Day after day would he fix his term of settlement; though the violation of the promise of yesterday proved only a prelude to the violation of that of to-day, and though both were found to be typical of the promise which was to be passed on the morrow. He had determined, it was obvious, to render his profession as lucrative as possible; but somehow or other—it could only be through an excess of skill —he completely overshot the mark. No one would, at length, believe his promises, or trust to his professions; his great skill began to border in its effects, as these regarded himself, on the opposite extreme; and he was on the eve of being starved out of the place, when Sir George Mackenzie, the proprietor, made choice of him as his factor, and intrusted to him the sole management of all his concerns.

Sir George in his younger days had been, like his grandfather the Earl, a stirring, active man of business. He was a stanch Tory, and on the downfall of Oxford, and the coming in of the Whigs, he continued to fret away the energies of his character, in a fruitless, splenetic opposition; until at length, losing heart in the contest, he became, from being one of the most active, one of the most indolent men in the country. He drank hard, lived grossly, and seemed indifferent to everything. And never were there two persons better suited to each other than the lawyer and Sir George. The lawyer was always happiest in his calculations when his books were open to the inspection of no one but himself; and the laird, though he had a habit of reckoning over the bottle, commonly fell asleep before the amount was cast up. But an untoward destiny proved too hard for Macculloch in even this office. Apathetical as Sir George was deemed, there was one of his feelings which had survived the wreck of all the others;—that one a rooted aversion to the town of Cromarty, and in particular to that part of the country adjacent which was his own property. No one—least of all himself—could assign any cause for the dislike, but it existed and grew stronger every day: and the consequences were ruinous to Macculloch; for in a few years after he had appointed him to the factorship, he disposed of all his lands to a Mr. William Urquhart of Meldrum—a transaction which is said to have had the effect of converting his antipathy into regret. The factor set himself to seek out for another master; and in a manner agreeable to his character. He professed much satisfaction that the estate should have passed into the hands of so excellent a gentleman as Mr. Urquhart; and proposed to some of the town’s-folk that they should eat to his prosperity in a public dinner, and light up a constellation of bonfires on the heights which overlook the bay. The proposal took; the dinner was attended by a party of the more respectable inhabitants of the place, and the bonfires by all the children.

A sister of Sir George’s, the Lady Margaret, who a few years before had shared in the hopes of her attainted cousin, Lord Cromartie, and had witnessed, with no common sensations of grief, the disastrous termination of the enterprise in which he had been led to engage, was at this time the only tenant of Cromarty Castle. She had resided in the house of Lord George previous to his attainder, but on that event she had come to Cromarty to live with her brother. His low habits of intemperance proved to her a fruitful source of vexation; but how was the feeling deepened when, in about a week after he had set out on a hasty journey, the purpose of which he refused to explain, she received a letter from him, informing her that he had sold all his lands! She saw, in a step so rash and unadvised, the final ruin of her family, and felt with peculiar bitterness that she had no longer a home. Leaning over a window of the castle, she was indulging in the feelings which her circumstances suggested, and looking with an unavailing but natural regret on the fields and hamlets that had so soon become the property of a stranger, when Macculloch and his followers came marching out on the lawn below from the adjoining wood, and began to pile on a little eminence in front of the castle the materials of a bonfire. It seemed, from the effect produced on the poor lady, that, in order entirely to overpower her, it was only necessary she should be shown that the circumstance which was so full of distress to her, was an occasion of rejoicing to others. For a few seconds she seemed stupified by the shouts and exultations of the party below; and then, clasping her hands upon her breast, she burst into tears and hurried to her apartment. As the evening darkened into night, the light of the huge fire without was reflected through a window on the curtains of her bed. She requested her attendant to shut it out; but the wild shouts of Macculloch’s followers, which were echoed until an hour after midnight by the turrets above and the vaults below, could not be excluded. In the morning Lady Margaret was in a high fever, and in a few days after she was dead.

The first to welcome the new laird to his property was Macculloch the factor. Urquhart of Meldrum, or Captain Urquhart, as he was termed, had made his money on sea—some said as a gallant officer in the Spanish service, some as the master of a privateer, or even, it was whispered, as a pirate.' He was a rough unpolished man, fond of a rude joke, and disposed to seek his companions among farmers and mechanics, rather than among the people of a higher sphere. But, with all his rudeness, he was shrewd and intelligent, and qualified, by a peculiar tact, to be a judge of men. When Macculloch was shown into his room, he neither returned his bow nor motioned him to a seat, though the lawyer, no way daunted, proceeded to address him in a long train of compliments and congratulations. “Humph !” replied the Captain. “Ah!” thought the lawyer, “ you will at least hear reason.” He proceeded to state, that as he had been intrusted with the sole management of Sir George’s affairs, he was better acquainted than any one else with the resources of the estate and the character of the tenants; and that, should Mr. Urquhart please to continue him in his office, he would convince him he was the fittest person to occupy it to his advantage. “Humph! ” replied the Captain; “for how many years, Sir lawyer, have you been factor to Mackenzie?” “For about five,” was the reply. “And was he not a good master?” “Yes, sir, rather good, certainly—but his unfortunate habits.” “His habits!—he drank grog, did he not? and served it out for himself? So do I. Mark me, Sir factor! You are a-mean rascal, and shall never finger a penny of mine.

You found in Mackenzie a good simple fellow, who employed you when no one else would ; but no sooner had he unshipped himself than you hoisted colours for me,-you, whom, I suppose, you could tie up to the yard-arm for somewhat less than a bred hangman would tie up a thief for;—ay, that you would! I have heard of your dinner, sir, and your bonfires, and of the death of Lady Margaret (had you another bonfire for that and now tell you once for all, that I despise you as one of the meanest-rascals that ever turned tail on a friend in distress. Off, sir—there is the door! ” Such was the reward of Macculloch. In a few years after, he had sunk into poverty and contempt; one instance of many, that rascality, however profitable in the degree, may be carried to a ruinous extreme, and that he who sets out with a determination of cheating every one, may at length prove too cunning for even himself.

The people of the town, not excepting some of those who had shouted round the bonfires and sat down to the dinner, were much gratified by the result of Macculloch’s application ; and for some time the laird was so popular that there was no party in opposition to him. An incident soon occurred, however, which had the effect of uniting nine-tenths of the whole parish into a confederacy, so powerful and determined, that it contended with him in a lawsuit for three whole years.

The patronage of the church of Cromarty, on the attainder of Lord George Mackenzie, in whom it had been vested, devolved upon the Crown. It was claimed, however, by Captain Urquhart, and the Crown, unacquainted with the extent of many of the privileges derived to it by the general forfeiture of the late Rebellion, and of this privilege among the others, seemed no way inclined to dispute with him the claim. He therefore nominated to the parish, on the first vacancy, a Mr. Simpson of Meldrum as a proper minister. This Meldrum was a property of Mrs. Urquhart’s, and the chief qualification of Mr. Simpson arose from the circumstance of his having been born on it. The Captain was himself a Papist, and had not set a foot within the church of Cromarty since he had come to the estate; his wife was an Episcopalian, and, more liberal than her husband, she had on one occasion attended it in honour of the wedding of a favourite maid. The people of the town, in the opinion that the presentation could not be in worse hands, and dissatisfied with the presentee, rejected the latter on the ground that Captain Urquhart was not the legitimate patron; and, binding themselves by contract, they subscribed a considerable sum that they might join issue with him in a lawsuit. They were, besides, assisted by the neighbouring parishes; and, after a tedious litigation, the suit was decided in their favour; but not until they had expended upon it, as I have frequently heard affirmed with much exultation, the then enormous sum of five hundred pounds. They received from the Crown their choice of a minister.

Urquhart, whose obstinacy, sufficiently marked at any time, had been roused by the struggle into one of its most determined attitudes, resisted the claims of the people until the last; and, when he could no longer dictate to them as a patron, he set himself to try whether he could not influence them as a landlord. A day was fixed for the parishioners to meet in the church, that they might avail themselves of the gift of the Crown by making choice of a minister ; and, before it arrived, the Captain made the round of his estate, visiting his tenants and dependants, and every one whom he had either obliged, or had the power of obliging, with the intention of forming a party to vote for Mr. Simpson. All his influence, however, proved insufficient to accomplish his object. His tenants preserved ^either a moody silence when he urged them to come into his plans, or replied to his arguments, which savoured sadly of temporal interests, in rude homilies about liberty of conscience and the rights of the people. Urquhart was not naturally a very patient man ; he had been trained, too, in a rough school; and, long before he had accomplished the purposed round, he had got into one of his worst moods. His arguments had been converted into threats, and his threats met by sturdy defiances. In the evening of this vexatious day he stood in front of the steadings of Roderick Ross of the Hill, a plain decent farmer, much beloved by the poor for the readiness with which he imparted to them of his substance, and not a little respected by Urquhart himself for his rough strong sense and sterling honesty. A grey, weather-wasted headstone still marks out his grave ; but of the cottage which he inhabited, of his garden fence, and the large gnarled elms which sprung out of it, of his bams, his cow-houses, and his sheep-folds, there is not a single vestige. They occupied, eighty years ago, the middle of one of the parks which are laid out on the hill of Cromarty where it overlooks the town—the third park in the upper range from the eastern comer. In rainy seasons, the spring which supplied his well comes bursting out from among the furrows. Roderick came from the bam to meet the laird ; and, after the customary greeting, was informed of the cause of his visit. The merits of the case he had discussed at mill and smithy with every farmer on the estate ; and, with his usual bluntness, he now inquired at the laird what interest he, a Papist, could have in the concerns of a Protestant church. “For observe, Captain,” said he, “if ye ettle at serving us wi’ a minister, sound after your way o’ belief, I maun in conscience gie you a’ the hinderance I can, as the man must be an unsound Papisher to me ; an’ if, what’s mair likely, ye only wuss to oblige the callant Simpson wi’ a glebe, stipend, an’ manse, without meddling wi’ ony religion, it’s surely my part to oppose ye baith;—you, for making God’s kirk meat an’ drink to a hireling; him, for taking it on sic terms.” The Captain, though he used to admire Roderick’s natural logic, regarded it with a very different feeling when he found it brandished against himself. “Roderick,” said he, and he swore a deadly oath, “you shall either vote for Mr. Simpson or quit your farm at Whitsunday first.” “You at least gie me my choice,” said the honest farmer, and turning abruptly from him he stalked into the bam.

Roderick left his plough in the furrow on the day fixed for the meeting, and went into the house to prepare for it, by dressing himself in his best clothes. His wife had learned the result of his conference with the laird, and, in her opinion, the argument of 'threatened ejection was a more powerful one than any that could be advanced by the opposite party. Repeatedly did she urge it, but to no effect; Roderick was stubborn as an old Covenanter. She watched, however, her opportunity ; and when he went in to dress, which he always did in a small apartment formed by an outlet of the cottage, she followed him, as if once more to repeat what she had so often repeated already, but in reality with a very different intention. She suffered him to throw off his clothes, piece by piece, without the slightest attempt to prevent him ; but at the moment when his head and arms were involved in the intricacies of a stout linen shirt, she snatched up his holiday bonnet, coat, and waistcoat, together with the articles of dress he had just relinquished, and rushing out of the apartment with them, shut and bolted the door behind her. To place against it every article of furniture which the outer room afforded, was the work of the first minute; and to advise her liege lord to betake himself to the bed which his prison contained until the kirk should have skailed, was her employment in the second. Roderick was not to be baulked so. There was a window in the apartment, which, had the walls been of stone, would scarcely have afforded passage to an ordinary-sized cat, but luckily they were of turf. Into this opening he insinuated first his head, next his shoulders, and wriggling from side to side until the whole wall heaved with the commotion, he wormed himself into liberty; and then set off for the church of Cromarty, without bonnet, coat, or waistcoat. An angry man was Roderick ; and the anger, which he well knew would gain him nothing if wreaked on the gudewife, was boiling up against the Captain and Mr. Simpson. He entered the church, and in a moment every eye in it was turned on him. The schoolmaster, a thin serious-looking person, sat in the precentor’s desk, with his writing materials before him, to take down the names of the voters, hundreds of whom thronged the body of the church. Captain Urquhart, in an attitude between sitting and standing, occupied one of the opposite pews; about half a dozen of his servants lounged behind him. He was a formidable-looking, dark-complexioned, square-shouldered man, of about fifty; and over his harsh weather-beaten features, which were in some little degree the reverse of engaging at any time, the occasion of the meeting seemed to have flung a darker expression than was common to them. As Roderick advanced, he started up as if to reconnoitre so terrible an apparition. Roderick’s shirt and breeches were stained by the damp mouldy turf of the window, his face had not escaped, and, instead of being marked by its usual expression of quiet good-nature, bore a portentous ferocity of aspect, which seemed to indicate a man not rashly to be meddled with. “ In the name of wonder, what brings you here in such plight?” was the question put to him by an acquaintance in the aisle. “ I come here,” said Roderick, in a voice sufficiently audible all over the building, “to gie my vote as a free member o’ this kirk in the election o’ this day; an’ as for the particular plight,” lowering his tone into a whisper, “ speer about that at the gudewife.”—“And whom do you vote for?” said the schoolmaster, “ for the time is up;—there are two candidates, Simpson and Henderson.” “For honest Mr. Henderson,” said the farmer; “an’ ill be his luck this day wha votes for ae Roman out o’ the fear o’ anither, or lets the luve o’ warld’s gear stan’ atween him an’ his conscience.” The Captain grasped his stick; Roderick clenched his fist. “ Look ye, Captain,” he continued, “after flinging awa, for the sake o’ the puir kirk, the bonny rigs o’ Driemonorie, an’ I ken I have done it, ye needna think to daunt me wi’ a kent. Come out, Captain, yoursel, or ony twa o’ your gang, an’ in this quarrel I shall bide the warst. Nay, man, glower as ye list; I’m no obliged to be feart though ye choose to be angry.” The shout of “ No Popish patron !—no Popish patron !” which shook the very roof that stretched over the heads of the hundreds who joined in it, served as a kind of chorus to this fearless defiance. The Captain suffered his stick to slip through his fingers until the knob rested on his palm, and then, striding over the pew, he walked out of church. In less than half an hour after, the popular candidate was declared duly elected, and at Whitsunday first Roderick was ejected from his farm. His character, however, as a man of probity and a skilful farmer, was so well established throughout the country, that he suffered less on the occasion than almost any other person would have done. He died many years after, the tacksman of Peddieston, possessed of ingear and outgear, and of a very considerable sum of money, with which he had the temerity to intrust a newfangled kind of money-bor-rower, termed a bank.

After all they had achieved and suffered on this occasion, the people of Cromarty were unfortunate in their minister. He was a person of considerable talent, and an amiable disposition; and beloved by every class of his parishoners. The young spoke well of him for his good-nature; the old. for the deference which he paid to the opinions of his lay advisers. He was, besides, deeply read in theology, and acquainted with the various workings of religion in the various constitutions of mind. But of all his friends and advisers, there were none sufficiently acquainted with his character to give him the advice which he most needed. He was naturally amiable and unassuming, and when he became a convert to Christianity, scarcely any change took place in his external conduct. He continued to act from principle in the manner he had previously acted from the natural bent of his disposition. For the first few years he was much impressed by a sense of the importance of spiritual concerns, and he became a minister of the church that he might press their importance upon others; but there are ebbs and flows of the mind in its moral as certainly as in its intellectual operations; and that flow of zeal which characterizes the young convert is very often succeeded by a temporary ebb, during which he sinks into comparative indifference. It was thus with Henderson. His first impressions became faint, and he continued to walk the round of his duties, rather from their having become matters of custom to him, and that it was necessary for him to maintain the character of being consistent, than from a due sense of their importance. He continued, too, to instruct his people by delineations of character and expositions of doctrine; but his knowledge of the first was the result of studies which he had ceased to prosecute, and in which he himself had been both the student and the thing studied, and the efficacy of the latter was neutralized by their having become to him less the objects of serious belief than of metaphysical speculation. His peculiar character, too, with all its seeming advantages of natural constitution, was perhaps as much exposed to evil as others of a less amiable stamp. There are passions and dispositions so unequivocally bad, that even indifference itself is roused to oppose them; but when the current of nature and the course of duty seem to run parallel, we suffer ourselves to be borne away by the stream, and are seldom sufficiently watchful to ascertain whether the parallelism be alike exact in every stage of our progress. Henderson’s character precluded both suspicion and advice. What were the feelings of his people, when, on summoning the elders of the church, he told them, that, having formed an improper connexion with a girl of the place, he had become a disgrace to the order to which he belonged! He was expelled from his office, and after remaining in town until a neighbouring clergyman had dealt to him the censures of the Church, from the pulpit which he himself had lately occupied, and in presence of a congregation that had once listened to him with pleasure, and now beheld him with tears, he went away, no one knew whither, and was never again seen in Cromarty.

About twenty years after, a young lad, a native of the place, was journeying after nightfall between Elgin and Banff, when he was joined by two persons who were travelling in the same direction, and entered into conversation with them. One of them seemed to be a plain country farmer; the other was evidently a man of education and breeding. The farmer, with a curiosity deemed characteristic of Scotchmen of a certain class, questioned him about the occasion of his journey, and his place of residence. The other seemed less curious; but no sooner had he learned that he was a native of Cromarty, than he became the more inquisitive of the two; and his numberless inquiries regarding the people of the town, showed that at some period he had been intimately acquainted with them. But many of those after whom he inquired had been long dead, or had removed from the place years before. The lad whose curiosity was excited/ was mustering up courage to ask him whether he had not at some time or other resided in Cromarty, when the stranger, hastily seizing his hand with the cordiality of an old friend, bade him farewell, and turning off at a cross-road, left him to the company of the farmer. “Who is that gentleman?” was his first question. “The Mr. Henderson,” was the reply, “who was at one time minister of Cromarty.” The lad learned further, that he supported himself as a country schoolmaster, and was a devout, excellent man, charitable and tender to others, but severe to himself beyond the precedents of Reformed Churches. “I wish,” said the farmer, “you had seen him by day;—he has the grey locks and bent frame of old age though he is not yet turned of fifty. There is a hill in a solitary part of the country, near his school, on which he frequently spends the long winter nights in prayer and meditation; and a little below its summit there is a path which runs quite round, and which can be seen a full mile away, that has been hollowed out by his feet.”


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