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In the Hebrides
Chapter 5


THE QUIRAINO

Uig—A Terrible "Spate"—Gaelic Churches—Forms of Worship—Island Homes—Timber—The Famine of 1883—Primitive Agricultural Implements—No Frost —Dr. Johnson—Legend of Castle Ustian—Glens of the Conan and of the Rah—The Quiraing—Monkstadt—Duntulm—Midges —A great Sacramental Gathering.

ONE thing I will say for Skye weather: whatever it does, it does in thorough earnest. I went there intending to remain a week; but it was four months before I left its hospitable shores, and during all that time we had either drenching rain or broiling heat in about equal parts. On this, our first morning, we awoke late, with a happy consciousness that a steady downpour had commenced, and hour after hour passed without the faintest promise of a break. The laird of Kilmuir had sent his carriage for us at daybreak, but wary old John suggested the hope of a break in the clouds towards sunset, when sure enough it cleared, and we found the road in such first-rate order that the fifteen miles to Uig, right across the district of Trotternish, were accomplished with wonderful rapidity.

Uig is a deep bay, in the form of a horse-shoe, the points of which are two rocky headlands rising abruptly from the sea. The Lodge, where so hearty a welcome awaited us, stood at the head of the bay, exactly in the centre, very few feet above the water level, so that at high tide we could throw a pebble from the window into the sea. It was very pleasant on these sweet summer evenings, but its inmates told me that when wild storms raged outside the bay, their wrath, albeit spent in the outer world, still sorely troubled these quiet waters, and lashed the angry surf till it overleapt the low sea-wall, and threw its foam and tangle right up to the porch. On either side of the house a mountain streamlet rushed to the sea with ceaseless babble, so that the pleasant home virtually stood on a little island, connected with the mainland by bridges.

Alas! that pretty home is now a memory of the past! On a memorable Sunday in October, 1877, a wild storm occurred, and so heavy was the rainfall that both the mountain rivulets were transformed to raging torrents. Madly they rushed down the deep ravine on either side, and swept over the little island. The sea rose in tumultuous waves, and the surging floods met and battled round the house, whence most fortunately the family were absent. Only a faithful old servant was left in charge, no one dreaming of danger.

All night long the raging waters roared, and when day dawned the villagers looked down to where, at sunset, the Big House had stood so securely, but there remained only some traces of a ruin, visible above the waves, which extended inland about a quarter of a mile.' When the waters assuaged, the scene was one of ghastly desolation. The trim garden, which had cost its owner so much care and expense, was strewn with large boulders—the bridges were washed away, as were also all those on the road to Portree. The old graveyard, which had stood secure for four hundred years, was washed away, and time bodies lay tossed about in hideous confusion, partially embedded in mud and gravel. Broken coffins, and corpses whom the waves had robbed of their shrouds, lay scattered round the house, where roses and fuschias had bloomed the day before. Many bodies were actually carried away by the current and thrown ashore at Grieshernish,—a distance of fourteen miles. As to the trusty old steward, he must have been carried out to sea, for his body was found cast up by the tide, at a distance of about three miles.

That terrible night is spoken of in Skye as the night of "the Big Flood"—one long to be remembered. But at the time of my visit all was bright and sunny, and happy children played securely in their pleasant home.

On either side of Uig Bay stand the two kirks, the Free Kirk, which is large and crowded, the Established, which is small and half empty. There is no resident minister, but the representatives of either church at Loch Snizort, distant twelve miles, arrange when possible to come and hold service here on different Sundays, about three times a month. But the distance being considerable, and weather often anything but encouraging, their ministrations are apt to be somewhat irregular.

The service at each is in Gaelic, that combination of savage gutturals being the only language "understanded of the people." But in consideration of the ignorance of about six inhabitants of the Lodge, each church allowed us a special English service every third Sunday. So after the Gaelic service had lasted about two hours we were expected to walk in, the rest of the congregation remaining stationary, though a very small proportion of the men and none of the women understood the English psalm, prayer, and "discourse," which followed, after which it was our turn to wait patiently while the Gaelic service came to a conclusion; and though to a southern ear there might be little beauty in the wild tunes to which those old Gaelic Psalms are set, to me they seemed so thoroughly in harmony with the voices of wind and waves around us, that they acquired a charm often lacking in more perfect music.

The tunes are nominally the same as some of those common in the Lowlands, but from the lips of a Gaelic-speaking race, they seem so entirely to assimilate with the language that it would be hard for even a practised ear to recognize their identity. This is partly owing to the fact that they are sung like a kind of litany, each line being first chanted by the precentor alone, and then taken up by the whole congregation. The verse generally begins in a low subdued tone, which gradually swells as it rolls on, then again the voices sink and die away in prolonged wild cadence. Thus each verse is sung in turn, and as the congregation in in no hurry to disperse, and the number of verses is unlimited, the singing seems to roll on endlessly, in a soothing monotony like the sighing of the night wind.

A favourite psalm was the 65th, and its words seem as though written for some such sea-girt land; well watered, and with corn land, and rich pastures, and little hills covered with flocks. Many a time it was recalled to my mind when camping in the uttermost parts of the earth, and from some hill temple in the Himalayas the wild song of the Paharis (those genuine Highlanders) came floating up to my tent. What words they sung I knew not, doubtless hymns to rivers, and pine forests, and snowy mountains, but the voices and harmonies were identical, and they never failed to carry my thoughts back to the Western Isles.

Altogether there is a wonderful charm in the simplicity of these Highland churches, and even the custom which always strikes a stranger as so singularly unpleasant and unnatural, namely that of standing during public prayer, seems here to acquire a special interest, reminding us of those early days of the primitive Church when the little band of Christians marked the first day of the week by standing at worship in token that on this day they were justified and freed from slavish dread by Christ's resurrection; therefore, while they knelt on the other six days, they "deemed it impious"  to bend the knee or to fast on the Lord's own day. The standing attitude was also adopted during Pentecost, but not observed uniformly by all the Churches, for we find the Council of Nice decreeing that "Because there are some who kneel on the Lord's day, and in the days of Pentecost, in order that all things may be uniformly performed in every parish or diocese, it seems good to the holy synod that prayers be made to God standing."

So you see that in this matter, and perhaps also in some other respects, the simple worship of the isles comes nearer to the practice of the primitive Christians than does our own more attractive ceremonial. Practically, however, the custom by no means tends to reverence, and it is one which is happily falling into disuse in many Scotch churches.

One picturesque feature of these congregations is that a very large proportion of the older women still continue faithful to their clean white mutches and bright tartan shawls, and some bonnie lassies, too, are not ashamed to make a fold of their plaid act as head-gear, as their mothers did before them, instead of aiming at one invariable type of dress. The poetic snood, which in olden days was the distinguishing mark of every Highland maiden, has unfortunately quite disappeared, its place being usurped by the commonest hair-net; too often by much-beflowered bonnets.

This departure from the simple old head-gear was originally due to an order of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for awakening sleepers, whose powers of attention were exhausted by the length of the sermons. The Kirk Sessions thereupon prohibited all women from wearing plaids or hoods upon their heads in time of Divine service, that they might not sleep unobserved. These law-givers you perceive were men, who could not brook that the women-folk should have such an advantage over them.

They were decidedly selfish, too, in the matter of seats, for until long after the Reformation there were no pews in church save for the big magistrates and landowners. All men of low degree brought their own stools or benches to kirk with them; and the Kirk Sessions of 1597 forbade women to sit on the forms men should occupy. "All women must sit together in the kirk, and sit laigh," that is, on the ground! and lest they should profit by this lowly posture, and sleep in peace, a church officer was ordered to go through the kirk with a long pole, to remove the plaids from the heads of all women, whether wives or maids. The same enactment is recorded in the year 1649, and at later intervals.

This regulation as to "sitting laigh" suggests a very different style of church from that which we find now-a-days—perhaps more like those described by Dr. Norman Macleod, who, speaking of a parish of 2000 souls in the Western Highlands, says that in the beginning of the present century, it possessed only two so-called churches. Their dimensions were 40 x 16 feet, and they had neither seats nor bells. He paints the congregation assembling dripping wet, after a long walk across the mountains in heavy rain, and having to huddle together in such a barn as this—perhaps reclining on the earthen floor—perhaps sitting on bunches of heather or stones—but assuredly finding no luxurious comfort as an inducement to sleep.

Doubtless the congregations assembled' in these humble churches, were considerably more devout than some composed of finer folk in more orthodox buildings. Such congregations for instance as provoked Bishop Burnet, when he found that "the gallants would ogle the ladies of the Court," and that these likewise would look about them, instead of attending to what Queen Mary called " his thundering long sermons." He persuaded Queen Anne to allow him to have all the pews in St. James's Church raised so high that his captives could see nothing lower than the pulpit, an example which was shortly after adopted by many of his dry and long-winded brethren, to the lasting disfigurement of our churches!
As to the effects of this legislation on the dresses of our lassies, of course once the plaids were put down by law, it was natural enough that southern fashions should creep in; and the inevitable bonnet with its "gum-flowers" now haunts you at every remotest corner. I think one of the worst points in spreading civilization is the tendency to put away all distinctive national dress, and reduce all raiment to a dull uniformity. And the people in every land, who formerly wore their own accustomed dress with easy grace and dignity, now ape the stiff fashions of England and France; and a very unbecoming change it is, in almost every case.

The men of the isles are more faithful than the women, and retain their suit of sonsy dark blue home-spun and broad bluebonnet. The kilt never seems to have found favour amongst them. Happily the number of black coats and hats is very limited, and you see at a glance that you are surrounded by a race of hardworking fishers and shepherds.

The marvel is to see such families of well brushed-up lads and lassies—so many, and so well grown—and then to look at the tiny bothy whose roof is home, not to these only, but probably to other sons and daughters as well, who have gone to earn their bread on the mainland, or to establish far more prosperous homes in distant lands beyond the seas, but whose hearts are so warm to the old home, and to those that gather round its hearth, that no new ties will ever fill its place. A steadfast people in truth, to whom the home of childhood, how homely soever, will be the golden milestone from which to date each stage of life. And nowhere are the little ones more deeply cared for, and more heartily welcomed. Poor though the hearth may be, that house is reckoned poorest where the quiver is empty, for the Highlanders say that a home without the voices of children is dreary as a farm without sheep or kye.

The bothies are all much alike; there are generally two rooms: the outer division is the byre for the cattle. It is not cleaned out very often, and is not altogether a pleasant entrance-hall!

Most houses have a double wall of rough unhewn stone, perhaps five or six feet thick, the interstices being crammed with heather and turf. On the inner side of this wall rests the roof, which consequently acts as a conduit to convey all the rain that falls, right into the middle of the double wall, which accordingly is always damp. Hence the necessity of sleeping in box-beds, which form a sort of wooden lining for the sleeping corner. Such beds are stuffy, and very suggestive of the probable presence of noxious insects, but the wooden backs, following the angle of the roof, protect the sleepers from some draughts and possible rain-drip, and the bedding looks warm, and as clean as can be expected.

A well-to-do house probably has a window at the end where the family live. It cannot, however, be very efficient in the way of admitting light, since it is merely a hole from twelve to eighteen inches square, and only partially glazed, about half the space being filled up with turf. A misty gleam, however, streams through the opening, by which the smoke ought to escape, but the interior is chiefly dependent for light on the ever-open doorway. To enable the door thus to do double work, it is generally made in two halves, the lower half being frequently closed, while the upper half stands open.

If you approach such a dwelling, a kindly voice will assuredly bid you welcome in the Gaelic tongue (for they "have no English"), and as you stoop to enter the low doorway, you become aware that the peat-reek which saturates the thatch, likewise fills the interior of the house with a dense blue cloud, stinging and choking to unaccustomed eyes and lungs. Then you perceive that half of the house is devoted to the cattle—is, in fact, the byre, and a very dirty byre to boot. Here stand the cow and her calf, or maybe a goat or two, kept for milking.

Possibly a rough pony is grazing near, with his fore-legs hobbled to prevent his straying. The pig, should there be one, likewise takes care of itself and roams about outside, for that household companion of the Irish Celt is not a welcome inmate here. Indeed this "gintleman who pays the rint" in the Emerald Isle (or rather who did so in bygone days) is by no means a common possession in these Scottish Isles, where the domestic pig has ever been held in abhorrence well-nigh as deep-seated as among the Hebrews.

A man of the true old type would sooner have starved than have eaten pork or pig's flesh in any form. Now the old prejudice is so far modified that a certain number of "advanced" Colts tolerate the unclean animal as a marketable article; but they are still in a minority, as may be judged from the fact that in the statistics of the Isle of Lewis we find that four thousand families only own one hundred and fifty pigs amongst them all.

Another departure from old tradition is shown by the presence of poultry, the use of which, for food, would have been as repugnant to an ancient Celt as would have been that of a goose or a hare.

Now, however, the "croose tappit hen" is in high favour, and the gude-wife's poultry share with the cat and her kittens, and the handsome Collie dogs, the privilege and honours of the inner chamber. The mother-hen and her chickens seek for crumbs of oat-cake that may have been dropped by the bairns on the earthen floor, while the venerable cock and the other members of his family roost on a well-blackened rafter, rejoicing in the warm smoke.

So also apparently does the kindly-looking old crone in the large clean white cap, bound round her head with a rusty black ribbon, who bends over the peat fire, turning the well-browned oat-cakes on the flat iron girdle which hangs from a heavy chain, suspended from the open chimney, down which streams a ray of light which perchance glances on the blue bonnet and silvery hair of the old grandfather, who sits in the corner quietly knitting his stout blue stockings,and perhaps indulging in a pipe at the same time. A tidy woman, dressed, like all the family, in thick warm homespun, is spinning at her wheel,—the most picturesque of all occupations, and the most soothing of sounds. Possibly the home also owns a loom, in which she can weave the yarn of her own spinning, and so indeed clothe her household in the work of her own hands.

Probably the baby is in a rough wooden cradle at her side, the bigger bairns being away at' the school; and wonderful it is how the baby intellect survives the terrible shocks of such rocking as is administered by the maternal foot, working in sympathy with the busy hand. Near the fire are a heap of peats, drying for future use, and perhaps some tarry wool, and a coil of rope, and fishing- nets, proving that here farming and fishing are combined professions.

A few plates and bowls, spoons and wooden porringers, stand on the rude dresser; a rickety table, a few stools and benches (all probably made of worm-eaten driftwood), complete the furniture, always excepting the kist, or seaman's chest, which contains all the Sunday garments of the family, and perhaps, too, the carefully- treasured winding-sheets, prepared by the good-wife for herself and her husband against the day when they will surely be required--a day that is often in their thoughts, not as the end of life, but merely as an incident in the journey that will take them safely to the only Land that is more to be desired than even their own dear Western Isles—the only Home that could be dearer than this, in which they have dwelt so lovingly ever since they can remember, and where most likely their ancestors for many generations have lived and died.

Many of these houses are most picturesque. In old age the thatch acquires a canopy of gold and brown velvety moss, and is perhaps also adorned with so rich a crop of grass as is positively valuable to the thrifty gude-wife, who, mounting on the roof with her rusty sickle, carefully cuts it all for her cow, should she be so fortunate as to possess one.

The roof is tied on with a perfect net-work of straw or heather ropes, and weighted by large stones, to resist the frightful gusts of wind, which would carry off any ordinary cottage roof. A wealthy man, and one who cares about trifles, may perhaps put up an old herring-barrel to act as a chimney, but, as a general rule, there is none, and the blue smoke finds its way out where it can, or settles on the brown rafters, encrusting the hanging cobwebs with thick peat-reek, which is a much more romantic decoration than our common domestic soot I As years wear on, even oft-repeated patching will not keep the decaying roof water-tight, and in the heavy rains every weak corner is betrayed by a ceaseless drip of diluted soot, establishing black puddles on the earthen floor, or wherever it may chance to fall. 'When the roof has become so thoroughly saturated with this rich brown grease that a new thatch becomes necessary, the old one is broken up, and becomes very valuable as manure for the little crofts (though some say that soot thus applied merely stimulates, but eventually deteriorates the land).

Owing to the great difficulty in obtaining timber, the real value of the house lies in its rafters; these are for the most part the gift of the sea; sometimes the masts of some poor ship, whose crew lie deep beneath the waters; oftener some grand tree torn up by the mighty tempests that months before raged over the western forests; thence floated by rushing torrents to the deep sea, to become the sport of the waves, and the home of strange creatures, animate and inanimate—barnacles and limpets and many-coloured weeds, which the builder has not thought it worth while to scrape off, so that when, after a few months, they have acquired the general rich brown hue of all within the house, they might very well pass muster as fine old oak carving.

As to the roots and branches, you must not fancy anything so precious is used for firewood; each little chip is turned to some good account; and the man who secures a good log of driftwood has found a prize indeed. Should he change his home from one village to another, he claims compensation from his successor for the roof timber, which is probably his most valuable possession Hence when a young couple are courting, their wooing and cooing is accompanied by a most serious search for wood, sticks, straw, and moss, wherewith to build and thatch their future nest.

This lack of timber is one of the great grievances of the lairds, some of whom keep up a ceaseless struggle with nature, striving to make wood grow where she has determined to have none. It is vain to suggest that these hare moors are, at least in this present era, the true character of the country, and that they might as well try to change an aquiline nose into a Roman one. The struggle still goes on, and good gold is sunk in hopeless plantations and great stone walls to protect them from the cutting sea blasts. By dint of these, the young trees are so far protected that they do get a fair start, but alas for the proud day when they attempt to overtop that kindly shelter I Very few days will pass before they are scorched and burnt up, as if by a furnace; and it seems pretty clear that except in a few sheltered nooks, such as Armadale, Dunvegan, and Greshernish, trees will not grow.

This is the more remarkable, as there are traces in different parts of the Hebrides of the comparative abundance of timber in olden days, a fact to which Dean Munro alludes when, writing in A.D. 1594, he speaks of Pabba (now a low grassy island lying off Broad- ford), as being "full of wodes, and a main shelter for thieves and cut-throats." With respect to more ancient forests, very extensive tracts exist where stems, roots, and branches of large trees, are constantly dug up in the peat moss, remains both of hardwood and of pine, the latter being invaluable as a substitute for candles, from the clear light of iii resinous wood; and many a cosy home-group gathers round the ingle neuk, listening to stories of the old days, while one, learned in legends of the past, tells how the Norwegians swept these coasts, and burnt all the old forests, leaving traces of their devastations even to this day, in the charred and blackened timber.

In many instances, fine large trunks have been found under the present sea-level, covered with sea-weed and shells, a striking proof of the gradual encroachments of the ocean in certain districts. It is said that whole tracts of land, till recently under cultivation, have disappeared—or are now so covered with sand, as to be utterly worthless—very much in the same way as a great portion of the "Laich of Moray" was submerged by those fearful inundations at the close of the eleventh century, when, says Boethius, "the lands of Godowine, near the mouth of the Thames, and likewise the land of Moray on the east coast of Scotland, together with many villages, castles, towns, and extensive woods both in England and Scotland, were overwhelmed by the sea, and the labours of men laid waste by the discharge of sand from the sea."

One curious inference drawn from the class of timber which formerly flourished in these islands is, that a very marvellous change in climate must have taken place in comparatively recent ages. This seems to corroborate certain statistical accounts of the temperature which have been preserved at Kilwinthng, in Ayrshire, where, it is affirmed, that so great was the heat in the month of May, that farmers had to leave off ploughing at 8 A.M., and could not resume work before 4 P.M. The same account states that the harvest was finished in August—a very different story from our average nowadays, when a harvest-home in September marks a very satisfactory autumn; while, in too many instances, a very much later date might be given.

In the Hebrides the cereal crops are always a matter of risk, owing to the extreme probability of prolonged autumnal rains; and it is only too common to see the crops at the end of the season cut green, and only fit for fodder. In truth, the patience and perseverance of the poor cotters, who continue year after year to toil in such unprofitable soil, are qualities which may well call forth our wondering admiration.

This particular district of Kilmuir, has the happy distinction of having from time immemorial been known as the best corn-producing portion of the Isle—" The granary of Skye." A hundred years ago Pennant described Uig as "laughing with corn," in contradistinction to other districts which he described as black and pathless bogs. To what extent this superiority may rise I know not, but, in a general way, the crofters on these poor lands never look for a return exceeding three times the quantity planted—many only reap one and a half times what they sow! (whereas on really good soil the farmer may garner twelve times the amount of seed sown).

So poor are the harvests of the land, throughout the Western Isles generally, that they can at best only supplement those cf the sea, and these vary greatly from year to year. So essential to these small crofters is this combination of toils by sea and land, that out of the 1780 occupants of land in Skye, there are not more than sixty who are not also fishermen. This double profession is not altogether advantageous, however, as most of the work is crowded into the summer, and one labour interferes with the other. Necessary care for the land detains the men, so that they start late for the fishery; and then, again, they often have to leave the fishing-ground too soon, lest theii agricultural work should suffer, and so they miss the finest shoals, which perhaps come just after they have left. Thus great labour is often expended for small profit.

Nevertheless almost every able-bodied man on the Isles counts on making his principal income by the summer herring-fishing, the profits on which (should there be any) afford his only margin of comfort for the year. For it is a rare season in which the sterile soil yields a sufficiency of grain for the requirements of the people, who are always obliged to buy meal, and are dependent on the sale of their fish to enable them to obtain their simple fare of oat-cake and porridge.

Any failure in these supplies at once results in positive distress. There is no cutting down of luxuriea,—it is the necessaries of life that fail, and the whole population is at once plunged into absolute want. Never have the Isles experienced a more grievous succession of losses than those of 1882, which have resulted in such widespread misery that those dwelling in its midst, almost despair of coping with it. Indeed it would be difficult to picture a condition of more utter wretchedness than that in which the islanders are now plunged, utterly worsted in the strife with the adverse forces of nature.

The majority do not say much, being well-trained to suffer in silence, and having an amazing power of endurance in bearing troubles which they believe to be ordained by God. No Mahommedan submitting to the irresistible will of Allah can show more fortitude than do these simple Christian folk. "Our people," says one writing on their behalf, "are not over-ready to complain."

Norman MacLeod has recorded how, in a year of terrible destitution in the Highlands, he was present at the first distribution of meal in a remote district. A party of poor old women approached, their clothes patched and repatched, but very clean. They had come from a glen far inland to receive a dole of meal. Never before had they sought alms, and sorely did they shrink from approaching the Committee. At last they deputed one woman to go forward as their representative, and as she advanced they hid their faces in their tattered plaids. When she drew near she could not find words in which to tell her tale, but she bared her right arm, reduced by starvation to a mere skeleton, and stretching it towards the Committee, burst into tears, and her bitter sobs told their own tale of anguish.

That scene might be enacted again this day in a thousand districts in the Highlands and Isles, where nothing approaching to the present distress has been experienced during the last thirty years. It has been rightly said, that there could be no surer test of dire need than that these people should so far conquer their proverbial "Highland pride" as even now to reveal the depths of their poverty.

The tale of woe of 1882 practically commenced in the previous year, when a wild storm destroyed many of the boats. Local subscriptions, however, went far towards covering this loss—and the men went off in high hope to the herring fishery on the East coast. It proved an absolute failure, and at the close of the season, many crews returned home penniless, having had to borrow necessary funds from the fish-curers. Later in the season, the ling fishery, to which they looked for the recovery of some of their losses, proved an absolute blank. Thus the islanders were left entirely dependent on the return of their scanty crops. But here again they found that they had spent their strength for nought, and all their toil had been in vain.

First the potato crop proved an utter failure. As the summer wore on, the blackening shaws grievously suggested the approach of the too familiar blight. Even where the best seed had been planted in the best soil, the result was alike disheartening. In place of large mealy potatoes, the luckless planters gathered a small crop of worthless watery roots, smaller than walnuts. One man tells how he has only raised five barrels from the very same ground which generally yields thirty barrels. Another planted eight and a half barrels of seed potatoes and only raised two and a half. Others proved their crops so hopeless, that it was literally not worth the exertion of turning the ground to seek for the few half-diseased roots that might have been obtained.

Mr. Mackay, Chamberlain for Lewis, stated that in one parish he set two men to dig, in order to raise as many potatoes as possible, and all they were able to get, after working from ten in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon, was about a basketful.

The testimony of the clergy writing from the neighbourhood of Stornaway, and from the district of Barvas, was heart-rending. They told of the sick and suffering, of feeble women and aged men who, in the extremity of illness, possessed only a few small diseased potatoes. They told of houses in which parents watched tenderly by dying children, but their bitter lamentations were not for the dying, but for the living children who were well-nigh starving. The teachers in the schools state that a large proportion of children in attendance, many of whom have travelled long distances from their homes, have actually done so without a morning meal of any sort. And they themselves have little or nothing to give. The parish ministers say truly that these are people who are not inclined to cry out for a small matter—nothing short of extreme need would have induced them to apply for aid. But what can men do in the face of starvation!

As long as there was the prospect of a tolerable grain-crop, they kept up a brave heart—though well aware how scanty must be the supply, with neither potatoes nor herring to look to. Still, the harvest promised fair, and ripened so well that by the end of September all was cut, and ready for carrying. But on the night of the 1st October a terrible gale swept over the land, to the utter destruction of both grain and hay crops. The small stooks still stood ungarnered in the fields, all ready for stacking, when the tremendous storm burst upon the unsheltered shores, and carried them away as though they had been so many feathers. Some were carried miles inland, and scattered over the hill-sides; some were scattered along the sea-beach, others carried far out to sea.

When the fury of the gale subsided, all that remained of this--the last resource of the people—the produce of their year's toil— was some widely-scattered damaged straw, with all the grain beaten out of it. One man reports that on the morning of the gale he owned three hundred stooks of barley; of these, he was only able to save thirty. Another, who is generally able to make seven boils of bailey-meal, has this year failed to make one pound.

From every corner of the Isles, comes the same tale of distress, only varying a little in degree. Here is the report of a fairly typical village in the parish of Duirinish, in Skye. It contains thirty-seven houses, with a population of 189 persons. From this village about sixty men went to the herring fishing on the East coast, but the whole result was only twenty-one barrels, worth about 60, to be divided among the whole community—a poor reward for the long and arduous toil involved.

The crofters of this township planted 171 boils of potatoes, but in the autumn they lifted only 215 bolls. In seed time they sowed 156 bolls of oats, but in the harvest they garnered only 136. So that on the grain crop all their toil resulted in dead loss.

The townships own twenty-three cows. In the spring of 1883 these were yielding only eleven quarts of milk a day—not a very abundant supply for 189 porridge-consuming men, women, and children!

Their sole remaining source of revenue was from their hens, which yielded an average of sixty-two eggs per diem.

To add to the wretchedness of their destitution, they had to endure the bitter cold of a prolonged winter, beside a dreary, almost fireless hearth, for the long summer rains which reduced the hay to a sodden pulp, prevented the newly-cut peats from drying. So they remained like heavy wet bricks, piled on the peat moss, and there in some districts they still lay, saturated,—when the wild October gale came and whirled them back into the peat-bogs whence they had been cut with so much labour.

One glimmer of hope remained in the prospect of the winter haddock-fishing, which in some years proves fairly lucrative. Last year, however, it proved an absolute failure, and for the third time in one year, the poor disheartened fellows returned to their sad homes, with empty boats, to face long months, during which no alleviation could be hoped for. So in the spring of 1883, many thousands of persons, in every part of the North-western Islands and Highlands, stood in absolute need of everything,—dependent on the charity of the more fortunate dwellers on the mainland for actual daily bread, as well as for seed-corn and seed-potatoes for the future.

This is no story of want resulting from improvidence, for the people are careful and frugal, and (though very slow in their movements, and occasionally making matters worse than they need be, by procrastination, or by the listlessness born of vainly fighting against circumstances, to say nothing of the depression produced by constant under-feeding) it is certainly unjust to call them idle— many are hard-working. "A patient, industrious, God-fearing people" is the description given of them by those who know them best; and their life* in most prosperous times would seem to us to be one of exceeding hardship—a life in which luxury is an altogether unknown term, and a bare subsistence is hardly wrung, by ceaseless toil, from the unfertile land and stormy waves.

Even in what is called a "good year, when the fishing has been successful, and the grain and potato crops have been safely garnered —when the harvest of the sea, and of the land, have alike been above the average—the islanders can barely make a living and pay their rents ; yet, being generous and warm-hearted, they contrive so to divide their pittance, as to provide meal and potatoes for the widows and orphans, and such other members of the community as have none to work for them. No light undertaking, when we consider that in one parish alone, which may be accepted as a fair type of others, it has been calculated that out of a population of 5000 persons, 1400 may be classed as poor relations, living by sufferance on the tiny land-lots of their friends, and in a great measure supported by them.

Of course the distress in many districts has been intensified by this lamentable system of over-crowding, but these poor islanders, with their deeply-rooted love of home, are slow to learn the lesson of the bees, and to send off voluntary swarms to commence new colonies in unpeopled regions. It has required the pressure of the oft-repeated years of famine, and strong persuasion to boot, in order to establish those very Highland communities in various parts of the world, 'where, to this day, the second and third generations of flourishing colonists, speak no language but Gaelic, and will call no place by the sacred name of "home" save those far-distant Isles, which their own eyes have never beheld—but to which their hearts turn with such intensity of patriotic love. To this day, Wilson's words express the true feeling of thousands of these prosperous exiles.

From the dim shieling on the misty island,
Mountains divide us, and a world of seas,
But still our hearts are true—our hearts are Highland,
And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides!"

Doubtless the poetic love of nature, and leal patriotism, so characteristic of the Celt, is considerably strengthened by the general use of the Gaelic language, which, while it cuts off these people from general communication with the outer world, keeps in habitual use a phraseology peculiar to themselves, full of images drawn from the world of nature.

At the present moment, though so great a multitude of Scotland's sons have emigrated to all parts of the world (there to form Gaelic colonies in which no other tongue is spoken), there remain in the four counties of Sutherland, Ross (which includes Cromarty), Inverness, and Argyle, upwards of one hundred and eighty-four ihougand persons who habitually use the Gaelic language.

Out of a total population of 3,735,573, it is found that 231,594 of our Scottish people still use the old Celtic tongue. Of these 151,244 represent all parts of the Highlands, while the remaining 80,350 abide in the Western Isles, in most of which English is still an almost unknown tongue.' This in itself explains one great secret of the aversion felt by the islanders to going forth to seek work on the mainland, where they are well aware that they will have to fight life's battle amongst men who are to them a foreign race, and to whom their tongue is an uncouth, incomprehensible jargon.

It is somewhat remarkable, by the way, to learn that at five-sixths of the two hundred Board-Schools, attended by the twenty thousand Gaelic-speaking children, there is actually no provision for teaching them to read their own language, nor does there appear to be any reasonable prospect of such teaching being provided. Even in the remaining one-sixth the provision is very inadequate. Under these circumstances it is difficult to understand what advantage the children are to derive from compulsory school attendance, unless the art of reading English like parrots be accounted sufficient. For all instruction given in such form as they can understand, they are dependent on the voluntary exertions of the Gaelic School Society.

Doubtless the School Board authorities suppose that by ignoring Gaelic in school teaching, a useful blow may be struck at its existence, and the time hastened when it shall cease to be a distinctive language.' Little do such judges know of its amazing hold on the love of the people—such a hold that even in far countries to which Gaelic-speaking Islanders and Highlanders drifted two or three generations back, not a word of English is spoken to this day; indeed so carefully have the children been taught their mother tongue in its purity, that the descendants of Skye men, Harris men, or men of Argyle, can still recognize one another by the peculiarities of dialect, only to be detected by their own keen ears.

I know of at least one such village in the province of Auckland in New Zealand, and am told that many such exist in the Southern Isle. Far in all parts of the wilds of British North America such colonies are scattered. Canada has no population more intensely loyal than her true Highlanders, all born on her shores, and who probably have never left them, but are nevertheless whole-hearted Scotchmen, keeping up all old customs, singing the old Gaelic songs in the old style, and ready to welcome with ecstatic delight the stranger who can accost them in their mother-tongue, thereby proving it to be his own, for it is a language that few have been able to acquire, save those to whom its accents come as a birthright.

One of the principal colonies of Gaelic-speaking Canadians is that of Stornoway, a flourishing town, so named in memory of the barren shores of Lewis. Here three thousand Highlanders, strong in ancestral tradition, are ready to welcome fresh colonists from the old land, for whose behoof large tracts of land have been laid out in lots of a hundred acres, offered for sale at 1 per acre, payable in the course of ten years. On each of these lots ten acres have already been cleared and are ready for crops; the remaining ninety acres are still in forest, and furnish abundant timber for the lumberer.

Perhaps the strangest instance of the survival of the Gaelic tongue and highland sympathy is to be found in the American State of South Carolina, where we should have supposed that the American nationality, which swallows up all others, assimilating them to itself, would assuredly have likewise absorbed the Celtic colonists. But here, on the contrary, so strongly has the line of demarcation been kept up for upwards of a century, that to this day there are about fifteen Presbyterian churches, filled by congregations born in South Carolina, and who, understanding no language save Gaelic, are instructed solely by Gaelic pastors born in the colony. Every circumstance of life has altered—independence and comparative wealth have taken the place of the poverty which drove their fathers from their loved Isles or Highlands, yet the new country in which they have found these blessings has but a secondary place in their love, for they are still Highlanders at heart, and they still speak of the moorland, which their own eyes have never seen, as—Home.

In the present instance, the wide-spread distress of so many thousands of innocent sufferers has most unfortunately been made the occasion of such virulent contests, between the advocates of compulsory emigration, and these who believe that by a new division of farms and pasture-lands, the north-country could feed all her hardy Sons, and retain their strength in her own service,—that party-strife has waxed hot on this battle-field, and the various Relief Committees complain bitterly that the tide of charity has been checked, and that they are consequently left without the necessary funds to relieve pressing cases of want; so, while the few are battling over political questions, the many are compelled to endure extreme want in silence and despair.

In the year of my visit to the Isles, there was happily no such time of trial—all was going on well—the season was favourable— the pastures abundant—the crops ripening fairly under the influence of an unusual predominance of sunshine.

To us (as to all visitors from the mainland), the primitive agricultural implements in common use, were objects of wonder and of interest, and many a time we halted to watch the patient toilers at their slow and weary work. The quaintest of their tools is the Caschrom or wooden plough, consisting of a bent handle four or five feet long, to which is attached a piece of wood like a long pointed foot shod with iron; this is propelled by the ploughman's own foot. Sometimes it is made more like a spade, which digs into the ground, instead of scratching it. And with this curious tool, the little fields or small crofts are worked. The only marvel is that it should act at all, but the soil is so light that after rains which would convert most places into morasses, half an hour's sun makes the dust fly, and in order to enrich it, we see the people dig sea-weed into the earth as a manure—sea-weed which they must first purchase the right to collect, and then carry on their backs in wicker baskets, for perhaps several miles up hill. This perpetual use of sea-ware does not seem to be altogether advantageous, as it is said to destroy the tenacity of the soil, and renders it more liable to be washed away by every falling rain. It is, however, a necessary evil, the crofts being now so small, that it is impossible for these very poor farmers ever to let a field lie fallow, so that the land, having been made to yield the same crops for fifty or sixty years without any rotation, is naturally exhausted, and becomes less productive year by year.

When the fields are thus ploughed by hand, a couple of lassies will yoke themselves to the barrow, and work bravely for hours, dragging it to and fro, over the rough ground. It is a rough and ready harrow, on which are laid branches of furze, heavily weighted with stones. Such work must be tolerably exhausting, yet, when evening comes, these lassies (who do not ,look specially robust) must, perhaps," travel" eight or nine miles across the hills, carrying on their back some heavy box just brought by the steamer, or else a sack of potatoes, or a creel of peats.

It is a hard life, of never-ending and ill-requited toil, and the struggle for existence becomes harder year by year, as the land becomes more impoverished by the effort to yield the self-same crops for generation after generation,—the soil ever deteriorating, and the mouths to be fed ever increasing in number. Many a pang of hunger and cold and weariness have these men and women endured, without a murmur, as beseems thoroughbred Islesmen and Highlanders; who would have fallen low indeed in their own eyes, should they betray symptoms of any such weakness.

They are real gentlemen in their way, with delicate inborn tact, and all the naturally courteous instincts of good breeding; and, moreover, with a keen perception of all that marks true breeding in others; as well as the pride born of self-respect This is the key to that which does so puzzle Englishmen, in the perfectly familiar intercourse existing between class and class, yet never breeding contempt; every detail connected with the laird's kith and kin, having ever been treated by the people as a matter of personal interest.

Notwithstanding the sparks of antagonism between class and class, which have recently been so carefully kindled, and fostered, by party agitators, the deep-seated feeling of real allegiance to the old blood—the hereditary owners of the soil—happily still exists, though in too many cases grievously weakened by the lack of personal intercourse, and by the slowly realized conviction that the pecuniary value of estates has, in some instances, been more considered than the interests of those dwelling thereon. In other cases the Sassenach and his gold have the sway, and hold the broad lands, while the descendants of the old stock seek their fortunes in far countries; and it can scarcely be supposed that the affection of the people can be bought with the land.

There is one advantage possessed by the Isles, which at a first glance we could scarcely expect, namely, the unusual mildness of their climate. Heavy as is the rainfall, they enjoy a singular immunity from biting frosts—a peculiarity which attracted our attention in Cantyre, and which is .said to be especially true of the remote Isle of St. Kilda, which is more fully subject to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream.

Nevertheless, strange things sometimes drift ashore, which tell rather of having floated down from chilling northern latitudes. Sometimes large fragments of ice, and once a great walrus found its way hither, having probably sailed along unsuspiciously on some detached fragment of his iceberg. His head is still preserved, as that of so rare a guest deserved to be.

Speaking of rare guests, you will not travel far in Skye before, hearing anecdotes of the pompous Dr. Johnson and his little friend "Bozzy." Almost the first drive we were taken from IJig was to' see Kingsburgh House, as being the place where Flora Macdonald entertained them. To us it had far more interest as being that in which, many years before, in the days of her youth and beauty, she and her princely maid, Betty Burke, had found shelter and safety. But we heard so many legends of Prince Charlie's hairbreadth escapes among these islands, that I will tell you what we gathered on that subject in a more connected form.

I do not mean to say that we withheld our tribute of admiration from the brave old man, the City-bred philosopher, who, at the age of sixty-four, forsook the luxury of London clubs, and, though suffering from his sight, and heavy alike from disease and from his naturally unwieldy size, yet determined to behold with his own eyes those barren Hebrides, which had appeared to him in far-away visions, grey and dreamy, as he sat by his comfortable board in Fleet Street.

So, like a true pilgrim, he started on that, then difficult, journey to Iona, and thence to Isles further still, tossing about on stormy nights in an open sailing-boat; riding rough Highland ponies, or even trudging wearily on tired feet over moor and mountain, through scenery that to him seemed only grim and savage. Nothing daunted by storms and discomforts, he pursued his way, seeking for Ossian and for trees. Fancy a man with no Gaelic hoping to find Ossian! He tested his drinking capacity against that of seasoned whisky- loving lairds, and tried to deepen the impression he had made on their women-folk, by keepsakes of such light literature as odd volumes of arithmetic! The poor man even tried to get up a due appreciation of the pipes by standing with his ear close to the drone, enduring silent martyrdom without wincing, thinking thereby to test his fine ear for music!

How little he or his entertainers could have foreseen how each little detail of their intercourse was destined to become historical, thanks to the ever ready note-book of his faithful chronicler!

Between Kingsburgh and Uig there is an old ruin on a cliff overhanging the sea, a pleasant spot in which to bask away the sunny hours—the blue Cuchullins making a lovely background to the grey walls. This Castle Ustian (or Hugh's Castle) was built in the time of James VI. by Hugh Macdonald, as a place of refuge. It had no windows, or any means of access, except a small door high in the wall, to which its master climbed by a ladder, which he then pulled up after him; and could rest tolerably secure as long as his provisions lasted.

Being next of kin to Donald Gorm Mor, the chief, he seems to have been weary of waiting for dead men's shoes; and, having induced some of his neighbours to form a conspiracy against his uncle, they formally drew up a bond, which they all signed. This compact was left in the hands of one, Macleod. It seems that this man had previously received a bond from a cattle-dealer, for monies due to him, and on this being reclaimed, Macleod, who could neither write nor read, gave the drover the wrong document, which quickly found its way to the chief. The latter generously determined to meet this villiany with chivalrous goodness, and giving a public feast, invited all these traitors, who duly appeared. He then publicly produced the compact; confronted them with their own signatures, and forgave them.

Hugh was solemnly sworn to fidelity along with the others, but being little touched by his uncle's forgiveness, he soon embarked in a new plot, and the story runs, that having written two letters, one to the chief in terms of deepest penitence, and the other to a co-traitor, devising fresh means for his assassination, he folded both letters, and addressed each to the other correspondent. His villany being thus a second time detected, his uncle determined to secure his own safety, and before Hugh was conscious of his blunder, he was invited to return to the house of his chief, when he was seized and cast into a dark and noisome dungeon, where he was left for many hours without tasting food. When ravenous with hunger, an abundant meal of salt meat was lowered to him. And after awhile, when half mad from raging thirst, a cup followed. But it was the cup of Tantalus—empty, and only mocked his agony. After this no human step drew near again, and he was left to perish miserably in solitude, darkness, and unutterable anguish.

There is no lack of variety in the drives about Kilmuir, and the good roads in every direction show the wish of the proprietor to open up the country. The most beautiful, is one along the sea-coast, passing above the rock needle, known as "The old man of Scudaboro," who rises from the sea, and whether in tempest or in calm, keeps ceaseless watch, though the human garrison have for many a long century forsaken their vitrified fort, traces of which you may still note on the green hill-top. Beyond rises the red headland of Idrigal, one of the points of Uig Bay.

A short distance further comes Monkstadt, so called from an old monastery, of which some ruins can still be traced, on what was once an islet in the lake close by. Probably it furnished a convenient quarry for the modern farm-house, to which various Jacobite legends are attached, whereof more anon. The loch has been partially drained, and now yields rich meadow hay, while the land all along the coast is unusually fertile. The grain crops are generally good, and the pasture-lands green and smiling, which indeed is the most striking characteristic of this very verdant part of Skye, and doubtless led to its selection as the site of the monastery.

Passing onward along the coast, with the sea on one hand, and on the other a confused wall of broken-down cliff and great rocks,. we come to the ruins of old Duntuirn Castle, the Castle of the Grassy Hillock, one of the finest holdings of the old Lords of the Isles, and indeed their original home, built on the site of an old Dun, or fortress of the Vikings, the Scandinavian pirate chiefs who held sway on these Isles, ere the coming of the conquering Norsemen. There are no less than six old Danish Duns in this one parish of Kilmuir.

Like all this coast, Duntulin is now the property of the Laird of Kilmuir, and the modern house and broad pastures are rented by one of those wealthy farmers, whose names are as familiar at the cattle shows of the mainland as they are in the Isles. The old castle has been uninhabited since 1715, and is now quite a ruin, and like all the ancient dwellings, it conveys a wonderful idea of discomfort, with tiny rooms in the thickness of the wall, and little space for luxury in such crowded quarters.

Whether the ladies wrought tapestry for their walls I know not; but servants, called rush-bearers, were kept on purpose to strew the floors every morning with fresh rushes. This in due time led to the invention of rush or grass matting, and so to the use of other materials for carpeting.

I suppose it was only in extra luxurious houses that rushes were thus strewn, for even when Dr. Johnson visited the Highlands, he found only clay floors in some of the best houses. He describes one to which he was welcomed, and, after an abundant supper, was conducted to a bedroom where "an elegant bed, spread with fine sheets, stood on the cold earth, which a long course of rain had softened to a puddle." Not noticing this at first, he undressed and found his feet in the mire!

The inhabitants of Duntuim Castle, commanded a grand sea- view, overlooking the channel of the Minch, the rocky Shiant Isles, and those of Uist, Harris, and Lewis; while its site on perpendicular basalt cliffs, rising from the sea, proved a very grand natural fortification.

If we continue our drive along the same wild and beautiful road, it will take us round the foot of the Quiraing, by the green hills of Flodigarry, to the inn at Loch Staffin; thence two miles of slow ascent and infinite beauty bring us to the brow of the hill, whence we first caught sight of the wonderful Rock Wilderness.

I have sometimes sat at this spot throughout the beautiful long day without seeing a living creature save a group of picturesque lassies, in the usual short petticoat and white bed-gown, with bare feet and bright scarlet or white handkerchief on their glossy hair, half-hidden by the huge bundle of heather, which they would have to carry six or eight miles, that the men might rothatch their bothies. Though their usual habit is to dart off the road, and hide, on the approach of any gentry, they would rest a while near me, to watch the lady "making maps," and laugh and chatter to me in Gaelic, of which I knew about three words.

One of these—i. e. meaniskulagan, the small flies, alias nudges— was a sure bond of sympathy, for these little miscreants are the very torture of life in Skye. You have only to brush over the heather, and even if by any accident they were at rest, up they start in ravenous armed myriads, making work utterly impossible, till at last, with fevered blood, and face and hands literally swollen by their attacks, you probably have to leave the spot to which you had attained with such toil and trouble, and make for home or the seashore as fast as ever you can. Never before have I been filled with so righteous a personal detestation to Beelzebub, the god of flies! Never have I so devoutly sympathized with those old Greeks, who considered the office of Fly-disperser to be work enough and to spare for one of their gods, and told him off accordingly. We tried every conceivable mixture to drive them away, and even sent to a London physician for special antidotes for our tormentors, but all prescriptions failed, and we found that the only thing approaching to relief was always to carry a small bottle of essential oil of lavender, with which to rub our face and hands. It dries so rapidly that there is no danger to an artist of greasing his paper, and the scent, which to human beings is rather pleasant, seems unendurable to the midges. After we made this discovery, every sportsman carried a tiny phial, as the best defensive ammunition.

We had not far to go, in search of natural beauty. I have already alluded to the two streams, which enter the sea on either side of the site whereon stood the hospitable home, in which we spent such pleasant summer days. One of these is the Conan—a clear, cool stream, laughing and sparkling in the sun-light, or dreaming in quiet pools under the green shade of ferns which grow in every cleft of the black mossy rock; it flows down a narrow glen, where the yellow broom, shaken by the breeze, drops in golden blossoms into the brown water, startling the .speckled trout that lie on the white gravel below, and making them dart up-stream, to hide among the pebbles, over which the water frets and ripples, ere it speeds on its sea-ward way.

For me, this quiet little glen had a never-failing charm, for each time I explored it, some new interest revealed itself. Sometimes I took up a post of observation near an overhanging ledge of rock, from beneath whose shelter there presently swam out a motherly old wild duck with all her brood—darling little balls of brown and yellow fluff, with eyes like black diaionds —rejoicing in their young lives. At another time, a water-ouzel would dive from among the sedges right into the stream, in pursuit of some delectable beetle; or the ring-ouzel would fly down from his home among the heathery Cliffs, to a flat granite rock, to drink and lift up his head to the sun as if giving thanks, and then drink again. Sometimes came the lovely black and white Oyster Catchers, with scarlet bills and legs (Sea-Pyats, i. e. Sea-Magpies, we call them, when they make 'their spring home on the gravelly banks of the rushing Spey), and the air rang with their wild cries.

As I wandered up this bonnie burnside, I came upon rich masses of honeysuckle, trailing up the rocks, and hanging down to the water's edge. And hidden in this sweet tangle of whispering leaves and blossoms, were dainty homes in the woodbine, whore young birds chirped the livelong day.

To all lovers of wild flowers, these islands must have an especial Charm, for their infinite variety and beauty. There are rare flowers for collectors, but I confess I care more for those I have known from childhood, and the sweet braeside is all covered with these. The delicate purple rock geranium and the white Stellaria (the Star of Bethlehem) grow thickest among "the moist and reedy grass" in these shady nooks; and Our Lady's Mantle holds its large dewdrop in each leafy cup.

The fragrant Bog-Myrt (or rather, Sweet Gale), lies in green patches, scenting the air; while over every heather tuf6 the gossamer spider has spun its delicate web, and one marvels how so frail a tissue can support the thousand diamond-like dew-drops, which glisten and sparkle all over it. The Canna grass or Bog Cotton also waves its soft downy plumes, seeming to sprinkle a shower of snow above the dark peat-moss, an emblem dear to many an old Scotch ballad-writer.

The Grass of Parnassus is here in abundance, but you must go to drier banks to find the loveliest flower of all, the pure white star which crowns that delicate slender stem, from which grows a second star of green leaves, two or three inches below the blossom. I only know it as the "Trientalis Europea,"—far too fine a name for so graceful and delicate a blossom.

When we reach the Falls of the Conan, where the merry waters dash noisily over the dark rock, we turn aside into a quiet "deli without a name," where a multitude of conical fairy hillocks rise on every side of us, like innumerable tumuli of some giant race of bygone days. They are all exactly alike in shape, only differing in size; all clothed with short grass, and worn into countless concentric rings, which I fancy must be sheep-walks, though they look like water-marks, or indeed like human handiwork, like the steps of the Pyramids on a small scale. The only other place where I am aware of the existence of a similar formation is near Loch Torridon, where, in a valley known in Gaelic as that of the thousand hills, the same green knolls rise in endless groups round a central loch.

The highest of these Skye hillocks, is crowned by a precipitous rock, called Castle Ewan, so marvellously resembling a fortified castle, that it is difficult to believe some ghostly masons have not been at work. The hillocks are essentially grassy, "with daisies powdered o'er" as old Chaucer says, but in the little valleys between them, there is the same wealth of wild flowers in endless variety. Here are carpets of purple and white Orchis, and golden Globe flowers, veiled by the lace-like blossoms of wild Parsley; while the honeyed fragrance of the pink Bog-Heather attracts. a humming swarm of bees. The delicate blue butterflies hover like floating harebells over the large pearly-white Gowan, with the golden heart -" the Wishing-Flower" the children call it, when they test their little loves by its fortune-telling leaves.

You will hardly find a pleasanter resting-place than one of these grassy knolls, where you can lie in peace and listen to nature's stillness—" the many-mingled sounds of earth, which men call silence," —the sounds of the moorlands, the shiver and rustle of grasses, ferns and tall iris-leaves bending before the faint breeze; and the hum of insect life, with that ceaseless undertone of murmuring sea and rivulet;, alike invisible. Presently, from their burrow under the fairy hillock, come a family of young rabbits—little, soft, coaxy things—playing all manner of merry antics; springing and leaping like merry kittens, and nibbling at the rich grasses. One site close to us,

"Fondling its poor harmless face,"

while the others scamper off to a feast of Dandelion, and, as they touch the feathery tufts of silken down, the whole air is filled with fluffy parachutes, wafted about with every breath; and thistledown too is floating in soft white clouds.

Do you know how the Thistle came to be chosen as the emblem of Scotland I The old tradition is, that when a Scottish garrison was in danger of being surprised by a Danish foe, a bare-footed Dane, creeping along in the darkness of night, trod on the sharp prickles of a thistle, and, yelling with the shock of sudden pain, aroused the drowsy sentinel; and the garrison thus saved, adopted the emblem and motto which afterwards became that of the nation.

Turning homeward from this happy valley, a light curl of blue smoke betrays a lonely shelling, more picturesque than cosy, I fear. It is built as a lean-to against a great boulder of rock, the honeysuckle has clambered over the heather roof; outside it is a study for a painter, but within, it is dark and dingy, and thick with the rich brown peat-reek of ages. It does own a chimney, through which we see more of the blue sky than through the tiny window; and when our blinded eyes can distinguish anything, a ray of light (from the chimney) gleaming athwart the blue haze reveals a handsome cat with her kittens playing near two nice old wives "cailacha," the Gaelic folk would say—who sit spinning in the corner. They are very deaf, and "have no English," so our friendship begins and ends with a smile and a grip from a kindly old hand that has done plenty of good work in its day. Probably they offer us a hot oat-cake, for the poorest hut would fain show hospitality to a stranger.

The other stream which flows into Uig Bay is the Rah, whose chief attraction is a very picturesque waterfall—no great thing on a dry day, but after a good night's rain, when there is something of a spate, and it comes roaring, rushing, and tumbling, as if from the blue sky, down between the black cliffs where the Ravens build, into a deep basin, whence it boils over and makes a second fall, and then swirls and hubbies round the great boulders of grey rock, whose golden lichens and brown mosses gleam through the spray— then, I think, it is a thing of beauty, and worth pausing a few moments to see, from some spot nearer than the high-road, along which the tourists hurry to Quiraing; that being the thing to do; and to be done, like all sight-seeing, as quickly as possible.

We narrowly escaped bequeathing to the spot a legend of our own. For one morning, while I was quietly painting, and my brother scrambling about the rocks overhead, suddenly 8ornething flashed past me, and I looked up just in time to see him disappear in the black water below. As we knew nothing of its depth, my first terror was that he would probably strike his head upon a rock, and it was with a sense of thankful relief that, long before I could clamber down from my own somewhat dangerous perch, I saw a white face rise, and in a few moments more, he managed to scramble out, with no worse hurt than a bruised knee.

A few days later we found our way to the Quiraing, which afterwards became a very favourite haunt. it is a stupendous mass of rock (amygdaloidal trap, which is a black rock speckled with white), the grassy hill ending abruptly in a precipitous rock face, whence green banks slope down to the sea. Its general form, and that of its neighbour, "The Storr Rook," is much the same as Salisbury Crags, which must be familiar to every one who has passed through Edinburgh. The Storr has one gigantic detached needle about 165 feet in height, which stands out clear against the sky like a huge horn, quite separate from the cliff, and visible for many miles on either side.

The Quiraing, in addition to one giant needle, has a chaotic wilderness of huge detached masses of rock of every conceivable form. These are striking enough, even when seen in the bright sunshine; but after a rainy night, when fleecy white mists curl and wreathe themselves, like spirit drapery, round each weird form, and vapours steam up from the grass at your very feet till you hardly know where you stand, and every object is magnified tenfold, the feeling of awe and mystery becomes almost overpowering.

Sometimes a fantastic white shroud suddenly hides the whole scene, and you see nothing but the grass and rushes under foot. Then a rift in the cloud shows you the blue sea, lying in the calm sunlight far below, dotted with islands, and perhaps the white sail of a yacht. Suddenly a fairy hand draws back the curtain, and close to you is a rock, like a huge lion couchant, and behind it, a tall pillar, with a kneeling figure, which reminds one of St. Simon Stylites. Another moment, and these have disappeared; but in their place three giant figures, with curled wigs and flowing robes, have slowly emerged from the mist. They are unmistakably a King and Queen, and the Lord Chancellor; who, however, stands uncourteously dos i doe to his sovereign, but facing a solemn and shadowy old Druid priest, who sits gravely guarding his Rock Sanctuary.

These, and a hundred more, are among the quaint rock forms that jut up from that wonderful confusion like figures in a dream, suggesting the work of some antediluvian wizard, whose spell had suddenly petrified all living things, and thus bequeathed to us these weird groups of fossil giants. Geologists, however, give us a more common-place reason for this strange formation. They tell how, between these masses of black trap rock, and the columnar trap which crests the sea-cliffs, there lie beds of soft shale and crumbly limestone and oolite; and that as these slowly wear away, the superincumbent mass of rock breaks up, and remains standing in huge isolated blocks and pinnacles like gigantic castles and figures. This process is slowly but continually going on, and therefore, year by year, these strange rock forms must multiply, as the breaking up of each winter's frost loosens fresh masses of crag.

To see the Quiraing from the upper road, conveys a very poor notion of it; and though the scramble to the foot of the rocks lies over slippery grass and sharp-cutting stones, it well repays the fatigue. Behind the great needle, there is a cleft in the rock hardly seen from below. You must scramble up here, over the same sharp fragments of disintegrated rock—a most toilsome process, and one very trying to shoe-leather—and at last you reach the summit; and, standing in the cleft of the mighty cliff which towers above you on either side, you look down into a cup of greenest pasture, closed in on every hand by the great black crag. In the middle of this amphitheatre lies one gigantic mass of rock, a huge oblong about forty feet high. The top of this is perfectly flat, and carpeted with the richest green grass, smooth as a lawn, and measuring about three hundred feet in length, by half that width.

This rock is the Quiraing par excellence; and though the meaning of the word is uncertain, it is understood to imply that it was the sheep-fold of some one once famous, who, driving his flocks thither at the approach of danger, found here rich pasture and a safe hiding-place from foray and raid, at a height of upwards of a thousand feet above the sea, which washes the base of the green hill.

As you look down from this high post, through some cleft between the great rock spires and towers, your eye wanders first over a succession of grassy slopes and hillocks, till it rests on that broad, gleaming surface—

"With its multitudinous sparkle,
And its countless laughing ripple,"

all dotted with islands—some near, some faintly visible in the far horizon; while, looking towards the mainland, you discern the great hills of Ross and Sutherland. That the islands are tolerably numerous, we are well aware, having in our infancy been taught that the Hebrides are 490 in number. This, of course, includes every rocky islet as far south as Bute and Arran, whereon pasturage for even one sheep may be found. Of these, 130 are inhabited.

I spent many delightful days alone in this rocky wilderness, enjoying its beauty and its solitude beyond description; and, above all, its intensity of silence, rarely broken, save by the crowing of some cheery old grouse calling its mate, or by the quick whizz of their wings as they shot past me—sounds which, to a Child of the Moorland, are about the pleasantest that can be heard, associated, as they are, with many a sunny day among the heathery hills. Moreover, there is a charm in the feeling of out-and-out patriotism of the one bird that is essentially British, and that positively refuses to exist in any corner of the earth save his native moors, where he and his family have from time immemorial lived their jolly and independent lives.

As a general rule, tourists visiting the Quiraing only come by the coach, and "do" the rocks in a couple of hours, during which a fair amount of whisky is consumed, and the echoes are awakened by discordant shouts and songs. It rarely occurs to them to stop a night in the Uig Inn; so, when the steamer lands them at Portree, they drive upwards of twenty miles, returning the same day. The excellent roads make this easy enough; and at the time of our visit, rival coaches had reduced one anothers prices to such a pitch, that they were carrying passengers at one penny per mile! Whether, like the Kilkenny cats, they succeeded in devouring one another, or whether either survived, I cannot tell.

But this I know—that he who would learn the lesson of the hills, must go forth from the multitude, and learn it in silence and solitude; that nature's voice may whisper to him in sweet low tones that cannot be discerned, amid the jarring sounds of human mirth. Never more forcibly than in this place does one realize the truth and beauty of such a description4 as that given by Wordsworth of a solitary wanderer, with soul absorbed in intensest sympathy with nature, looking down on such a scene as this, and revelling in its utter loneliness:

"From the naked top
Of some bold head-land, he beheld the sun
Rise up and bathe the world in light!
He looked— Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness Is!
Beneath him; far and wide the clouds were touched,
And in their silent faces could he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle, —sensation, soul, and form,
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life."

Sometimes while you sit here entranced, a shadow passes over, and as you look up, you may see the Great Golden Eagle soar from its eyrie on the highest crag, cleaving the air with strong steady wing (measuring perhaps six feet from tip to tip), and now scanning Duntuim's lambs, which would be tempting prizes to carry back to the eaglets, in their nest of rushes and heather.

Sometimes the Osprey sails along, for it, too, breeds among these cliffs; but it makes for the river, and would rather catch fish for itself, like an honest bird, than molest the flocks. The Kite is less scrupulous, and glides along, marking where the weak and sickly lamb may become his prey. The shepherds call him the gled, because of his smooth gliding flight.

One sight for which I vainly watched both here and in the Himalayas, is that of the eagle teaching her eaglets to fly, ready, the moment the young wings are weary, to fly below, and stay them from falling—an image employed with such force and beauty, in that last song of Moses, sung in the waste howling wilderness, on the eve of his last ascent to the Arabian mountains, where he was to die alone on Mount Nebo, and where the eagle, looking down from his lonely eyrie, would strengthen his own spirit with the lesson of faith and trust he had just been teaching to his people.

One day while I was sitting as usual on the lonely hill-side, I was amazed to see first one group—then another—and another, of tidy folk in their Sunday best, coming in an almost continuous stream along the bleak road from Portree. Then I found that there was to be a sacramental preaching on the bill-side many miles away. It was to last a week, and this great multitude was gathering from every farm and village in the district. Many of the people had walked thirty miles, and would stay two or three days; though where a hundredth part of them could hope to find cover I cannot imagine. Doubtless vast numbers must have slept in the open air, and happily the weather was hot and dry. Still, in these regions it is apt to change at any moment, and the most cloudless sunshine may be succeeded by a prolonged spell of pitiless rain, in which case, what would become of all these people!

The multitude of carts and curious vehicles of all sorts which passed this day and the next was really amazing, and such primitive carts and harness! A bit of rope or twisted bent from the nearest hillock, with a stick to act as crupper! Sometimes a very good dog-cart would pass, full of well-dressed people, the old mare trotting cheerily along, followed by her foal, and every now and then stopping to give it a drink!

I was once present at one of these great sacramental gatherings, when about three thousand people had assembled on the wild coast of Boss-shire (those rugged mountain ranges which we behold as we look down from the Quiraing, and across the blue straits). A more picturesque scene I have rarely beheld. It recalled visions of the old Covenanters. As we gazed over the bleak expanse of hills, we marvelled whence that great concourse of human beings could have assembled, till we heard that not only every shepherd's hut in the district, but almost every island and village within forty miles, had sent its pilgrims to the preaching; some by boat, some on foot. Not the able-bodied only, but some poor half-paralyzed creatures, who took days of hard walking and crawling (sometimes literally crawling on all-fours), dragging their weary steps down those steep paths, that they might sit at the feet of some favourite, trusted teacher, and, with child-like intensity of interest, drink in the old, old story from his lips. The preachings were, as usual, to extend over several days.

But it was on the Great Day of the Feast, that we found our way there, when on the green award was set the long table covered with fair white linen, round which were gathered a great company of devout worshippers, passing the Sacred Cup and Bread from hand to hand. From time to time a Gaelic psalm was raised, the pre- center singing every alternate line alone, and the mass of voices taking up the wild tune, low at first, then swelling into full chorus, and again dying away, like the booming of waves in some ocean cave. The people were all seated on the grass, or clustering in groups up the side of the hill, which formed a natural amphitheatre of grey rocks or fading russet brackens, whose "calm decay " was in keeping with the great peace of all around.

The majority of the old wives wore the cleanest of white mutches; some with large white handkerchiefs tied over them and great blue cotton umbrellas, for though it was an October afternoon, the heat of the sun was sickening. Nevertheless the men all sat bareheaded, • looking up to the preacher with earnest weather-beaten faces, the warm colours of their hair and beards recalling the russet of the withering brackens around them. Whatever their occupation, nearly all were dressed in the uniform dark blue cloth peculiar to our seafaring folk.

On the rocky hill above, groups of little rough Highland cattle were .feeding, wondering doubtless at such an invasion of their solitude. Close by flowed a tiny streamlet of purest crystal, yielding precious store to all the thirsty multitude. At our feet lay the great calm ocean, on which the sun's glittering reflection was changing from quicksilver to molten gold. Beyond, faintly seen through the hot misty haze, lay the grand Skye hills, all mirrored as clearly as the near cliffs or the countless islands. From the little ciaclian of black bothies on the shore, the blue smoke rose in transparent columns, and there was quiet on every side. Only the distant cry of myriad sea-birds, or the nearer song of the laverock, broke that great stillness, and now and then the crow of black-cock or grouse, or the heavy flap of a heron floating past on leaden wing, fell on the listening ear.

There was something in the scene, that insensibly carried the mind back to the multitudes who assembled on the mountains, or by the lakes of Judea, in those early days before the name of "Christian" had been yet bestowed on the new sect.

One marked change, however, there must be in this modern teaching from that of those early days when the disciples, continuing steadfast in the apostles' doctrine, met daily for the breaking of bread and prayer,—a custom which we know was adhered to by the early Church, in Rome, Milan, and Spain, and which was retained by the African Church at least until the time of St. Augustine, that is to say, for the first four hundred years after the Feast was instituted. In all these churches it was optional whether the Holy Communion should be celebrated daily or weekly. The majority of Christians seem to have received twice a week, but in no case was less than one celebration in the week thought of.

These modern Christians have but one such meeting in the year, and out of the three thou8and assembled on the hill-side, at the great annual celebration of which I speak, only eighty were communicants, the youngest of whom was a shepherd upwards of forty years of age. Painful as it always is to witness the crowds that pour out of our great city churches whenever the "comfortable words" of invitation are about to be spoken (recalling the sad reproach once uttered by their Lord when, of the ten whom He had cleansed, one only would return to give Him thanks), it seems more painful still, to know that these who have gathered from so far to hear His Word, are actually deterred from approaching His table by the impracticable standard of "fitness" exacted by their teachers—the awful warnings known as "Fencing the Tables," whereby the sick and sad-hearted are turned away sorrowing; while those only, whom a human standard declares to be whole, may approach the feast of the Great Physician. This state of things seems to grow worse rather than better, if it be true that not very many years ago these great gatherings sometimes numbered ten thousand souls, of whom two thousand were communicants. In this respect, at least, the Northern Highlands might do well to take a lesson from the Lowlands.

One reason alleged for this rare celebration of the Great Feast in the more remote districts, is the difficulty of obtaining wheaten bread, which alone is deemed suitable for use on this occasion. Dr. Norman Macleod speaks of a parish familiar to him, where the old minister used to be obliged to send a man on horseback over moors and across stormy arms of the sea, for sixty miles, to fetch the wheaten loaves. And in most of the Isles, such bread is only seen when brought by the steamer from Glasgow, and of course the steamer only touches at principal ports, with which many isles have rare communication.


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