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History of Loch Kinnord
Chapter XI. Story of Nellie Ogg


The following sketch of humble life, as it existed on the shores of Loch Kinnord towards the close of last century, may not be unacceptable to the general reader as a sequel to the foregoing history.

When our story opens, Nellie Ogg was a playful little girl about twelve years of age. Her parents occupied a small croft towards the north-western end of the loch, near the place where the ancient Al was situated, then called the Claggans, a name the origin of which has already been explained. The blight of desolation, in that dreariest and deepest of all its aspects—when it follows as a reaction on unwonted stir and adventitious populousness—had fallen on the whole district. Gone were the ancient Deailich with their hill forts and lake crannogs, their sacrificial Al and their big canoes; gone were the early Christian preachers with their cross-incised stones, their rude churches and ruder claggans; gone were the great English armies that had more than once been seen here in their vain attempt to subjugate the stubborn Scottish nation; gone were the excitement and bustle wont to attend the visits of royal personages here; gone were also the pomp and circumstance of the great baronial hall, thronged with the retinue of the high feudal lord who scarcely owned a superior; and gone, too, were the hordes of Highland banditti, and the relentless soldiers of conquering generals, whose work was plunder and demolition—all were gone, while the wrecks they left behind them were heaps of ruins, a few fragments of blackened walls, and a confused mass of broken and disjointed timbers.

In this state the shores of Loch Kinnord had long lain almost desolate. It was a place of evil fame, haunted by the ghosts of the departed, by the denizens of the nether world and their coadjutors, the wizards and witches of the human kind! Thus superstition had invested it with a terror which, though it kept the land tenantless, yet for long preserved the ruins from spoliation. [As an example of the superstitious beliefs then entertained, it may be stated that the witches, in common with the fraternity elsewhere, rode the air on broomsticks, and the wizards sailed the lake in riddles—i. e., corn-sieves divided into meshes by interlacing splits of wood. One of these wizards had the gifts of music and poetry to so high a degree that his fame had reached the capital; and a great lord there became exceedingly desirous of securing his services. The wizard, however, rejected all offers of such employment made to him; and it was discovered that he could not be compelled unless some greater magician were found to put him under the required spell or bondage. The services of such an one were at length secured, who, coming to Loch Kinnord under disguise, got an interview, and laid his wand upon the shoulder of this preternatural genius, who henceforth for a certain number of years became his bondsman. He now hired him out to the nobleman in Edinburgh, in whose halls he sang his songs, and at whose banquets he supplied the music. But though bound in obedience to the spell upon him to perform his task, he was not happy, for a fragment of his muse, which has survived in the traditions of the district, represents him as frequently thus soliloquizing :—

"I 'd rather be on Loch Kinnord
Rowan' in a riddle,
Than here in Edinburgh town
Playan' on the fiddle."]

By-and-by one daring sceptic after another ventured to settle on the unoccupied fields, till at length a goodly number of small huts, called "reekan houses" again gave signs of human life, though in its humblest forms, in scattered clachans around the lake.

In one of these huts lived Duncan Ogg, and his wife, Tibby Turner, the parents of the subject of our story. Their habitation was humble and their substance small. The former consisted of a but and a ben, affording accommodation respectively to the bestial and the family. There were no outhouses. Indeed to have made such a separation between the rational and irrational members as would have resulted from delegating the latter to outhouses, would have been an infringement on the principles that regulated the establishment; for the bestial were accounted an integral portion of the family circle; at least they were so in little Nellie Ogg's view.

"Cromie," the cow, was so sensible and alive to her duty and station, that she knew her place in the family circle, and generally kept it, seldom stepping "ben" the house, unless when unduly excited by female curiosity to see a little of high life, or tempted by appetising odours about baking time; for she dearly loved a bit of oat cakes. But even then she never ventured farther than merely to show her "honest, sonsy face" within the "ben" door. The least commotion within that apartment was sure to bring her to a sense of her duty, and cause her to retreat in some confusion to her own quarters. She was an old servant, and respected the dignity of the family.

Very different was the conduct of the other under-members of the household. These were the three goats, whose names were Jock, Maysie, and Old Jonet. Old Jonet, it must be allowed, had some sense of decorum about her 3 but as for Jock and Maysie, no discipline would teach them manners. They had been petted and pampered, and allowed such liberties in their early years that they never could be made to understand that when their beards grew they ought to behave differently. And then they were so pert and frolicsome in their ways that it was found impossible not soon to forget their acts of more serious misconduct, and fall a-petting them again. In fact, had they been human creatures they would have been entirely spoiled, and would have behaved not one whit better than they did in their brute capacity.

They lost no opportunity of stealing "ben" the house, and were not at all particular about appropriating what they found that suited their tastes, whether it were the cakes on the table, or the cold porridge set apart for the goodman's supper, when he should come in at even; and if detected by Nellie they looked so innocent of auy wrong-doing that her wrath soon fell She would scold and threaten, generally winding up with, "Ah, Jock, Jock, ye'll catch it, my man, when mammie comes in." Should mammie then come in, a storm was sure to burst on the head of Jock in the shape of a severe cuffing; and then Nellie never failed to take his part, throwing her arms about his neck, and bemoaning his castigation—"Peer man ! ye'll nae dee the like again; noo, will ye Jock V If the cuffing had been unusually severe, Jock generally shed some tears at this commiseration, which mark of penitence Nellie was not slow to plead in his favour—"Oh, mammie! I kent he widna dee 't again; see he's greetan'" If the storm was not yet over, Tibby Turner would angrily answer—"Lat him greet there, the scoun'rel; I canua turn my fit about but he's sure to be in some bad ploy or ither." Seeing wrath still in store, Nellie would take hold on his horn and lead him away from further danger, saying, in a coaxing tone, "Come awa* but the house, Jockie, mammie 's angry; but ye'll nae dee 't again, noo will ye"? and then the two would disappear.

Thus within doors Nellie's management of the little herd was often interfered with ; abroad, however, it was supreme, and there, it must be allowed, there was less ground to complain of the misconduct of any member of it. Nellie, in short, was goat-herd, and considered the three as peculiarly under her protection. Not only did they look to her for guidance in all matters, but by some rule of goat-life they kept their respective stations among themselves. The leadership was so absolutely in the hands of Jock that on no occasion would either of the other two presume to march without having him as vanguard. Maysie, it is true, was always by his side, and usually only a neck behind, while Old Jonet brought up the rear. Should, by any chance, men or dogs disturb this order of march, there was no peace till it was again restored. If hunted, Maysie would wheel round, bleat, and stamp the ground with all fours until she gained her wonted position close by the side of, but a neck behind her leader, where she would boldly join him in offering defiance to all foes. In these times of danger Jonet kept close in the rear, though at other times she allowed herself a considerable latitude of movement.

The Castle Island was their pasture ground. It was then so encumbered with the mouldering debris of its former buildings that goats alone could safely pasture among the ruins. The access was over the remains of the old drawbridge, then an unsightly mass of spars and beams. Nellie, who was agile and sure of foot as any of her own goats, had been so long accustomed, evening and morning, to make her way through the labyrinth of timbers, pacing carefully along a spar here, bounding more freely along a plank there, now crosswise, now forward, zig-zagging her way from mainland to island and back again, that it was believed she would not have missed a foot had she been blindfolded.

Poor Nellie! One morning the goats were led forth by her father and conducted to the end of the drawbridge. Arrived there, he tried hard to make them take the planks; but in vain. They had been accustomed to be led, and they would not be driven. As far as he judged it safe he walked on before them, talking to them as his daughter had been wont to do ; but it was not the shepherd's voice, and they would not follow. That day, nor for many days thereafter, the goats went not to the Castle Island.

And where was Nellie? At home, abed, and very, very sick. Days passed, and she became worse. At length some fiery red spots on her brow disclosed her malady. It was small-pox. From the attack, which was a severe one, she barely escaped with her life. Her young and vigorous constitution alone brought her through it; but though her step at length regained its firmness and her voice its tone, her cheek had for ever lost its colour and her eye its lustro. Poor Nellie was blind. From the day she fell sick to the day she was able, to walk abroad again no attempt had been made to force the goats across the old drawbridge ; but in the wanderings of her mind, when the hut fever was on her brain, she kept up an almost continuous conversation with Jock, Maysie, and Old Jonet, as in imagination she led them to and from the island along the well-remembered planks of the ruined fabric of confused timbers, warning them of danger here, and of some sharp turn requiring caution there.

Soon after her restoration to health she insisted on resuming her former charge. To humour her she was allowed to be with them about the doors; but for some time she was not permitted to follow them out of sight of her mother. Seeing how well she managed, and how guarded she was whenever she ventured on unfamiliar ground, a less strict watch was by and bye kept over her movements. One day when she had been absent beyond her usual time, her mother went out to see what had become of her. Terror-stricken she beheld her blind child walking along the narrowest plank near the middle of the drawbridge, followed by Jock, Maysie, and Old Jonet, in the old established order. The mother saw no more, for covering her face with her hands that she might not behold her child perish, she sank on the ground in a sort of stupor. Nellie and her charge had been to the island and were now returning ; and ere the mother had recovered from her fright, they were all safe on the mainland. Nellie was severely reprimanded for her thoughtless daring; but she still maintained she could tread the planks as securely and as safely as ever she had done; and though it was long before she received her parents' permission to venture on the bridge again, it was not long till she rightly interpreted the bleating of Jock to mean, "Oh, bring us to the island, Nellie;" and Nellie had not the heart to refuse him.

So for many years blind Nellie Ogg conducted her father's goats to and from the Castle Island along the planks of the ruined drawbridge. Hers was the last foot that ever crossed it.

At length a fearful gale swept the middle plank into the lake, and Nellie's vocation was ended. She was alive, it is said, though very old and frail, when in 1805 the workmen of the famous engineer, Telford, pillaged the drawbridge for timbers to lay the foundations of the last stone bridge over the Dee at Ballater.


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