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Reminiscences of a Highland Parish
Mary Campbell's Marriage


MARY CAMPBELL was a servant in the old manse, about sixty years ago, and was an honest and bonnie lassie. She had blue eyes and flaxen hair, with a form as "beautiful as the fleet roe on the mountain," a very Malvina to charm one of the heroes of old Ossian. Her sweetheart was not, however, an "Oscar of the spear," a "Cuchullin of the car," or a Fingal who "sounded his shield in the halls of Selma," but a fine-looking shepherd lad named Donald Maclean, who "wandered slowly as a cloud" over the hills at morn after his sheep, and sang his songs, played his trump, and lighted up Mary's face with his looks at even. For two years they served together; and, as in all such cases, these years seemed to them like a single day. Yet no vows were exchanged, no engagement made between them. Smiles and looks, improvised songs full of lovers' chaffing, dances together as partners in the kitchen to Archy M'Intyre's fiddle, an inclination to work at the same hay-rick, to reap beside each other on the same harvest rigs, and to walk home together from church:—these were the only significant signs of what was understood by all, that handsome Donald and bonnie Mary were sweethearts.

It happened to them as to all lovers since the world began; the old story of want of smoothness in the river of affection was repeated in their case. It had the usual eddies and turns which are found in all such streams, and it had its little falls, with tiny bubbles, that soon broke and disappeared in rainbow hues, until the agitated water rested once more in a calm pool, dappled with sunlight, and overhung with wild flowers.

But a terrible break and thundering fall at last appeared in the approach of rich Duncan Stewart from Lochaber! Duncan was a well-to-do small tenant, with a number of beeves and sheep. He was a thrifty money-making bachelor, who never gave or accepted bills for man or for beast, but was contented with small profits and ready cash, secured at once and hoarded in safety with Carrick, Brown, & Company's Ship Bank, Glasgow, there to grow at interest while he was sleeping—though he was generally "wide-awake." He was a cousin of Mary's "thrice removed," but close enough to entitle him to a hearing when he came to court her; and on this very errand he arrived one day at the manse, where — alas! for poor Donald Maclean—he was, as a matter of course, hospitably received.

Duncan had seen Mary but once, but having made up his mind as to her fair appearance, which it was not difficult for him to do, and having ascertained from others that she was in every respect a properly-conducted girl, and a most accomplished servant, who could work in the field or dairy, in the kitchen or laundry,—and that beside the fire at night her hands were the most active in knitting, sewing, carding wool, or spinning—he concluded that she was the very wife for Duncan Stewart of Blairdhu. But would Mary take him? A doubt never crossed his mind upon that point. His confidence did not arise from his own good looks, for they, to speak charitably, were doubtful, even to himself. He had high cheek-bones, small teeth, not innocent of tobacco, and a large mouth. To these features there was added a sufficient number of gray hairs sprinkled on the head and among the bushy whiskers, to testify to many more years than those which numbered the age of Mary. But Duncan had money—a large amount of goods laid up for many years—full barns and crowded sheep-folds. He had a place assigned to him at Fort-William market such as a well-known capitalist has on the Exchange. He was thus the sign of a power which tells in every class of society. Are no fair merchant's daughters, we would respectfully ask, affected in their choice of husbands by the state of their funds? Has a coronet no influence over the feelings? Do the men of substance make their advances to beauties who have no wealth, without some sense of the weight of argument which is measured by the weight of gold in their proffered hand? Do worth and character, and honest love, and sufficient means, always get fair play from the fair, when opposed by rivals having less character and less love, but with more than sufficient means' According to the reader's replies to these questions will be his opinion as to the probability of Duncan winning Mary, and of Mary forsaking poor Donald and accepting his "highly respectable" and wealthy rival.

It must be mentioned that another power came into play at this juncture of affairs, and that was an elder sister of Mary's, who lived in the neighbourhood of the farmer, and who vas supposed, by the observing dames of the district, to have "set her cap" at Duncan. But it was more the honour of the connexion than love which had prompted those gentle demonstrations on the part of Peggy. She wished to give him the hint, as it were, that he need not want a respectable wife for the asking; although, of course, she was quite happy and contented to remain in her mother's house, and help to manage the small croft, with its cow, pi-, poultry, and potatoes. Duncan, without ever pledging himself, sometimes seemed to acknowledge that it might be well to keep Peggy on his list as a reserve corps, in case he might fail in his first battle. The fact must be confessed, that such marriages of "convenience" were as common in the Highlands as elsewhere. Love, no doubt, in many cases, carried the day there, as it does in Greenland, London, or Timbuctoo. Nevertheless the dog-team, the blubber, the fishing-tackle, of the North will at times, tell very powerfully on the side of their possessor, who is yef wanting in the softer emotions; and so will the cowries and cattle of Africa, and the West-end mansion and carriage of London. The female heart will everywhere, in its own way, acknowledge that "love is all very well, when one is young, but"- And with that prudential "but," depend upon it the blubber, cowries, and carriage are sure to carry the day, and leave poor Love to make off with clipped wings!

Duncan of Blairdhu so believed, when he proposed to Mary through the minister's wife, who had never heard the kitchen gossip about the shepherd, and who was delighted to think that her Mary had the prospect of being so comfortably married. All the pros and cogs having been set before her, Mary smiled, hung her head, pulled her fingers until every joint cracked, and, after a number of "could not really say's," and "really did not know's," and "wondered why he had asked her," and "what was she to do," &c., followed by a few hearty tears, she left her mistress, and left the impression that she would in due time be Mrs Duncan Stewart. Her sister Peggy appeared on the scene, and, strange to say, urged the suit with extraordinary vehemence. She spoke not of love, but of honour, rank, position, comfort, influence, as all shining around on the Braes of Lochaber. Peggy never heard of the shepherd; but had she done so, the knowledge would have only moved her indignation. Duncan's cousinship made his courtship a sort of family claim—a social right. It was not possible that her sister would be so foolish, stupid, selfish, as not to marry a rich man like Mr Stewart. Was she to bring disgrace on herself and people by refusing him? So Mary was too gentle for Peggy, and she bent like a willow beneath the breeze of her appeals. She would have given worlds to have been able to say that she was engaged to Donald; but that was not the case. Would Donald ask her? She loved hint too well to betray her feelings so as to prompt the delicate question, yet she wondered why he did not cone to her relief at such a crisis. Did he know it? Did he suspect it?

Donald, poor lad, was kept in ignorance of all these diplomatic negotiations; and when at last a fellow-servant expressed iris suspicions, he fell at once into despair, gave up the game as lost, lingered among the hills as long as possible, hardly spoke when he returned home at night, seemed to keep aloof from Mary, and one evening talked to her so crossly in his utter misery, that next morning, when Duncan Stewart arrived at the manse, Peggy had so arranged matters that Mary before the evening was understood to have accepted the hand of the rich farmer.

The news was kept secret. Peggy would not speak; Mary could not. Duncan was discreetly silent, and took his departure to arrange the marriage, the day for which was fixed before he left. The minister's wife and the minister congratulated Mary. Mary gave no response, but pulled her fingers more energetically and nervously than ever. This was all taken as a sign of modesty. The shepherd whistled louder than before for his dogs, and corrected them with singular vehemence; he played his trumps with greater perseverance, and sang his best songs at night; but there was no more dancing, and he did not walk with Mary from the church. The other servants winked and laughed, and knew there was "something atween them," then guessed what it was, then knew all about it; yet none presumed to tease Donald or Mary. There was a something which kept back all intrusion, but no one seemed to know what that something, was.

The marriage dress was easily got up by the manse girls, and each of then added some bonnie gift to make Mary look still more bonnie. She was a special favourite, and the little governess with the work of her own hands contributed a good deal to Mary's wardrobe.

All at once the girls carne to the conclusion that Mary did not love Duncan. She had no interest in her dress; she submitted to every at tention as if it were a stern duty; her smile was not joyous. Their suspicions were confirmed when the cook, commonly called Kate Kitchen, confided to them the secret of Mary's love for the shepherd—all, of course, in strict confidence; but every fair and gentle attempt was made in vain to get her to confess. She was either silent, or said there was nothing between them, or that she would do all that was right, and so on, or would dry her eyes with her apron as she left the room. These interviews were not satisfactory, and so they were soon ended; a gloom gathered over the wedding; there was a want of enthusiasm about it; every one felt drifting slowly to it without any reason strong enough for pulling in an opposite direction. Why won't Donald propose? His proud heart is breaking, but he thinks it too late, and will give no sign. Why does not Mary refuse Duncan—scorn him, if you will, and cling to the shepherd? Her little proud heart is also breaking, for the shepherd has become cold to her. She thinks he ought to have asked her before now, or even yet proposed a runaway marriage, carried her off, and she would have flown with him, like a dove gently held in an eagle's talons, over hill and dale, to a nest of their own, where love alone would have devoured her. But both said, "'Tis too late!" Fate, like a magic power, seemed to have doomed that she must marry Duncan Stewart.

The marriage was to cone off at the house of a tacksman, an uncle of the bride's, about two miles from the manse; for the honour of having a niece married to Blairdhu demanded that special attention should be shown on the occasion. A large party was invited. There were about a score of the tenantry of the district, with the minister's family, and a few of the gentry, such as the sheriff and his wife, and the doctor; some friends who accompanied Duncan from Lochaber; big Sandy Cameron from Lochiel; Archy, son of Donald, from Glen Nevis; and Lachlan, the son of young Lachlan, from Corpach. How they all managed to dispose of themselves in the but and belt. including the centre closet, of Malcolm Morrison's house, has never yet been explained. Those who have known the capacity of Highland louses, —the capacity of being full, and yet able to accommodate more, have thought that the walls possessed some expansive power, the secret of which has not come down to posterity. On that marriage-day a large party was assembled. On the green outside the house, were many Highland carts, which had conveyed the guests; while the horses, with ungainly hops, their fore-legs being tied together at the fetlock, cropped the green herbage at freedom, until their services were required within the next twelve hours. Droves of dogs were busy making one another's acquaintance ; collie dogs and terriers—every tail erect or curled, and each, with bark and growl, asserting its own independence. Groups of guests, in homespun clothes, laughed and chatted round the door waiting for the hour of marriage. Some of "the Iadies" were gravely seated within, decked out in new caps and ribands; while servant-women, with loud voices and louder steps, were rushing to and fro, as if in desperation, arranging the dinner. This same dinner was a very ample one of stoved hens and potatoes, legs of mutton, roast ducks, corned beef, piles of cheese, tureens of curds and cream, and oat-cakes piled in layers. Duncan Stewart walked out and in, dressed in a full suit of blooming Stuart tartan, with frills to his shirt, which added greatly to his turkey-cock appearance.

But where was the bride? She had been expected at four o'clock, and it was now past five. It was understood that she was to have left the manse escorted by Hugh, the son of big John M'Allister. The company became anxious. A message of inquiry was at last despatched, but the only information received was that the bride had left the manse at two o'clock, immediately after the manse party. A herd-boy was again despatched to obtain more accurate tidings, and the governess -whispered in his car to ask particularly about the whereabouts of Donald, the shepherd. But the boy could tell nothing, except that Hugh and the bride had started on horseback three hours before; and as for Donald, he was unwell in bed, for he had seen him there rolled up in blankets, with his face to the wall. The excitement became intense. Duncan Stewart snuffed prodigiously; Malcolm, Mary's uncle, uttered sundry expressions by no means becoming; Peggy, full of alarming surmises, wrung her hands, and threw herself on a bed in the middle closet. The ladies became perplexed ; the sheriff consulted the company as to what should be done. The doctor suggested the suicide of the bride. The minister suspected more than he liked to express. But two men mounted the best horses, and taking a gun with them—why, no one could conjecture—started off in great haste to the manse.. The timid bird had flown, no one knew whither. The secret had been kept from every human being. But if she was to leave the parish it could only be by a certain glen, across a certain river, and along one path, which led to the regions beyond. They conjectured that she was en routa for her mother's home, in order to find there a temporary asylum. To this glen, and along this path, the riders hurried. The marriage party, in the meantime, "took a refreshment," and made M`Pherson, the bagpiper, play reels and strathspeys, to which the young folks danced, while the older people brewed whisky punch, and assured Duncan Stewart that the mystery would soon be satisfactorily cleared up. Duncan seemed to enjoy his tumbler, and pretended to laugh at the odd joke—for a joke he said it was. Peggy alone refused to be comforted. Hour after hour passed, but no news of the bride. The ladies began to yawn, and the gentlemen to think how they should spend the night; until at last all who could not be accommodated within the elastic walls by any amount of squeezing, dispersed, after house and barn were filled, to seek quarters at the manse or among the neighbouring farms.

The two troopers who rode in pursuit of Mary came at last, after a hard ride of twenty miles, to a small inn, which was the frontier house of the parish, and whose white walls marked, as on a peninsula, the ending of one long uninhabited glen, and the commencement of another. As they reached this solitary and wayside place, they determined to put up for the night. The morning had been wet, and clouds full of rain had gathered after sunset on the hills. On entering the kitchen of the "change house," they saw some clothes drying on a chair opposite the fire, with a "braw cap" and ribands suspended near them, and dripping with moisture. On making inquiry, they were informed that these belonged to a young woman who had arrived there shortly before, behind Hugh, the son of big John M'Allister of the manse, who had returned with the horse by another road over the hill. The woman was on her way to Lochaber, but her name was not known. Poor Mary was caught! Her pursuers need not have verified their conjectures by entering her room and upbraiding her in most un -feeling terms, telling her, before locking the door in order to secure her, that she must accompany them back in the morning and be married to Duncan Stewart, as sure as there was justice in the land. Mary spoke not a word, but gazed at them as in a dream.

At early dawn she was mounted behind one of these moss-troopers, and conducted in safety to the manse, as she had requested to see the family before she went through the ceremony of marriage. That return to the manse was an epoch in its history. The shepherd in the meantime had disappeared, and so had Hugh M'Allister. When Mary was ushered into the presence of the minister, and the door was closed, she fell on her knees before him, and, bending her forehead until she rested it on his outstretched hand, she burst forth into hysterical weeping. The minister soothed her, and bid her tell him frankly what all this was about. Did she not like Stewart? Was she unwilling to marry him? "Unwilling to marry him!" cried Mary, rising up, with such flashing eyes and dramatic manner as the minister had never seen in her before, or thought it possible for one so retiring and shy to exhibit; "I tell you, sir, I would sooner be chained to a rock at low water, and rest there until the tide came and choked my breath, than marry that man!" And Mary, as if her whole nature was suddenly changed, spoke out with the vehemence of long-restrained freedom breaking loose at last in its own inherent dignity. "Then, Mary, dear," said the minister, patting her head, "you shall never be married to mortal man against your will, by me or any one else." "Bless you, dear, dear sir," said Mary, kissing his hand.

Duncan heard the news. "What on earth, then," he asked. "is to be done with the dinner?" for the cooking had been stopped. To his Lochaber friends he whispered certain old sayings borrowed from sea and land—as, for example, that "there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it"—that

She who winna when she may,
May live to rue 't another day,"

and so on. Blairdhu spoke and acted like one who pitied, as a friend, the woman whom he thought once so wise as to have been willing to marry him. Yet his question was a serious one, and was still unanswered:—"What was to become of the dinner?" Mary's uncle suggested the answer. He took Duncan aside, and talked confidentially and earnestly to him. His communications were received with a smile, a grunt, and a nod of the head, each outward sign of the inward current of feeling being frequently repeated in the same order. The interview was ended by a request from Duncan to see Peggy. Peggy gave him her hand, and squeezed his with a fervour made up of hysterics and hope. She wept, however, real tears, pouring forth her sympathies for the bride-room in ejaculatory gasps, like jerks for breath, when mentioning a man of his "res-pect-a-bil-i-ty." Before night, a match was made up between Duncan and Peggy: she declaring that it was done to save the credit of her family, though it was not yesterday that she had learned to esteem Mr Stewart; he declaring that he saw clearly the hand of Providence in the whole transaction—that Mary was too young and too inexperienced for him, and that the more he knew her, the less he liked her. The hand of Providence was not less visible when it conveyed a dowry of £50 from Peggy's uncle with his niece. The parties were "proclaimed" in church on the following Sunday and married on Monday—and so both the credit of the family and the dinner were saved.

But what of Mary? She was married to the shepherd, after explanations and a "scene" which, as I am not writing fiction but truth, I cannot describe, the details not having come to me among the traditions of "the parish."

Donald enlisted as a soldier in some Highland regiment, and his faithful Mary accompanied him to the Peninsula. How, as a married man, he managed to enlist at all, and she to follow him as his wife, I know not. But I presume that in those clays, when soldiers were recruited by officers who had personally known them and their people, and to whom the soldier was previously attached, many things were permitted and favours obtained -which would be impossible now. Nor can I tell why Mary was obliged to return home. But the rules or necessities of the service during war demanded this step. So Mary once more appeared at the manse, in the possession of about £60, which she had earned and saved by working for the regiment, and which Donald had intrusted, along with an only daughter, to his wife's care. The money was invested by the minister. Mary, as a matter of course, occupied her old place in the family, and found every other fellow-servant, but Donald, where she had left them years before. No one received her with more joy than Hugh M`Allister, who had been her confidant and best man. But what stories and adventures Mary had to tell! And what a high position she occupied at the old kitchen fireside! Everything there was as happy as in the days of "auld lang syne," and nothing wanting save Donald's blithe face and merry trumps.

Neither Mary nor Donald could write, nor could they speak any language except Gaelic. Their stock of English was barely sufficient to enable them to transact the most ordinary business. Was it this want, and the constant toil and uncertain marches of a soldier during war, which had prevented Donald from writing home to his wife? For, alas! two long years passed without her having once heard from him.

After months of anxious hope had gone by, Mary began to look old and careworn. The minister scanned the weekly newspaper with intense anxiety, especially after a battle had been fought, to catch Donald's name among the list of the dead or wounded. He had written several times for information, but with little effect. All he could hear was that Donald was alive and well.. At last the news came that he was married to another woman. A soldier journeying homewards from the same regiment, and passing through the parish, had said so to several persons in the village, after he had had "his glass." But the soldier was gone Iong before he could be cross-questioned. Mary heard the news, and though scorning the lie, as she said it was, she never alluded to the fearful story. Still the secret wound was evidently injuring her health; her cheek became paler, her "natural force abated" while at her work, and Kate Kitchen had on more than one occasion discovered tears dropping on the little girl's face, as her mother combed her hair, or laid her down to sleep.

There was not a person in the house who did not carry poor Mary's burden, and treat her with the utmost delicacy. Many an expression, calculated to strengthen her faith in God, and to comfort her, was uttered at family prayers, which she always attended. Yet she never complained, never asked any sympathy; she was quiet, meek, and most unselfish, like one who tried to bear alone her own sorrow, without troubling others. She worked diligently, but never joined in the chorus song which often cheered the hours of labour. She clung, much to Hugh M'Allister, who, like a shield, cast aside from her the cruel darts which were shot in the parish by insinuations of Donald's unfaithfulness, or the repetition of the story told by the soldier.

The fifth year of desolation had reached midsummer, and it was clear that Mary was falling into permanent bad health. One day, having toiled until the afternoon at the making of a haystack, she sat down to rest upon some hay near it. Above, lads and lasses were busy tramping, under the superintendence of Hugh M'Allister. Hugh suddenly paused in the midst of his work. and, gazing steadfastly for a minute or two at a distant person approaching the manse from the gate, said, with a suppressed voice, and a "hush" which commanded silence, "If Donald Maclean is in life, that's him!" Every eye was directed to the traveller, who, with a knapsack on his back, was slowly approaching,. "It's a beggar," said Kate Kitchen. "It 's like Donald, after all," said another, as the sounds of the traveller's feet were heard on the narrow gravel walk. "It is him, and none but him!" cried Hugh, as he slid down to the ground, having seen Donald's face as he took off his cap and waved it. Flying to Mary, who had been half asleep from fatigue, he seized her by the hand, raised her tip, and putting his brawny arm round her neck, kissed her; then brushing away a tear from his eye with the back of his rough hand, he said, "God bless you ! this is better than a thousand pounds, any day?" Mary, in perplexity and agitation, asked what he meant, as he dragged her forward, giving her a gentle push as they both came round the haystack which concealed Donald from their view. With a scream she flew to him. and, as they embraced in silence, a loud cheer rose from the stack, which was speedily hushed in silent sobs even from the strong men.

What an evening that was at the manse! If ever Donald heard the falsehood about his second marriage, there was no allusion to it that night. He had returned to his wife and child with honourable wounds, a Waterloo medal, and a pension for life. He and Mary settled down again at the manse for many months, and the trump was again heard, as in the days of yore. On the last night of the year Donald insisted on dancing once more with Mary, in spite of his lame lea and the laughter of his girl.

I will not follow their adventures further, beyond stating that they removed to Glasgow; that Donald died, and was buried thirty years ago in the old churchyard of "the parish;" that the daughter was married, but not happily; that Mary fought a noble self-denying battle to support herself by her industry, and her army savings, the capital of which she has preserved until now.

When nearly eighty years of age, she went on a pilgrimage to visit Donalds grave. "Do you repent marrying him, and refusing Duncan Stewart?" I asked her on her return. "Repent!" she exclaimed, as her fine old face was lighted up with sunshine; "I would do it all again for the noble fellow!"

Mary lived in Glasgow, respected by all who knew her, and died two or three years ago.


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