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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XVIII


November Rains: 1500 tons per Imperial Acre!—Rainfall in Skye—An old Gaelic Apologue —The Drover and his Minister—Grand Stag's Head—Scott as a Poet—Mr. Gladstone and Scott—An old Lullaby from the Gaelic.

With the exception of two, or at most three, tolerably line days at the beginning of the month, December [1870] has been hardly less rainy and generally disagreeable than November itself, and this, although in November a fall of 18 inches—1500 tons of rain water to the imperial acre—was duly registered. A recent communication from Skye went to show that in the matter of rainfall that island is far ahead, not only of Lochaber, but of every other station in the kingdom—a pluvial pre-eminence which we had really thought belonged to ourselves, but which, claimed for Skye on the impartial authority of the rain-gauge, we give up ungrudgingly, simply exclaiming with Meliboeus in the Virgilian eclogue—

"Non equidem invideo, miror magis."
(In sooth I feel not envy, but surprise.)

With such a rainfall as is claimed for Skye, one only wonders how it is that the inhabitants of the island seem not to suffer a whit because of it. As a rule, they are a robust and remarkably long-lived people; and, what is even more surprising, they are exceedingly good-humoured and cheerful—the pleasantest people in the world to meet with, whether at home or abroad. There is an old Gaelic apologue current in Lochaber, which may perhaps have some bearing on the point:—"It was long, long ago that, in the grey dawn of an intensely cold January morning, after a wild night of drift and snow, the heathcock of Ben Nevis clapped his wings, and, in a loud, prolonged, interrogative crow, addressed his first cousin by the father's side, the heathcock of Ben Cruachan—' How do you feel yourself this morning, dear heathcock of Cruachan?' ' So, so,' with a feeble attempt at wing-clapping, responded the heathcock of Cruachan; 'So, so; miserable enough, believe me, after such a night as last night was. And if I am thus miserable down here, it only puzzles me to understand how you can at all endure it, and live up there on Ben Nevis.' 'Thanks, my dear fellow,' with a second vigorous clapping of his wings, quoth the Ben Nevis bird; 'Thanks, my dear fellow, for your kind and cousinly solicitude for my welfare. Know this, however, that, bad as it doubtless is up here on Ben Nevis, I am made to it.'" "We can only suppose that our friends in Skye bear this prodigious rainfall with such philosophic equanimity and impunity because, like the heathcock of Ben Nevis, they are "made to it." The first time we heard this apologue was many years ago, in the cabin of one of the Messrs. Hutcheson's steamers. A rubicund visaged drover—a fine-looking man, of burly frame and Atlantean shoulders—had just swallowed quite half-a-tumblerful of potent and unadulterated "Talisker" at a gulp rather than a draught, when his parish clergyman, who happened to be reclining on a sofa at the opposite side of the cabin, got up and expostulated with his parishioner for drinking ardent spirits in such a way as that; prophesying that unless he stopped it very quickly it would kill him, and only wondering that it had not killed him long ago. The drover, who was not aware until then that his minister was on board, and a witness to his potations, respectfully took off his broad bonnet, and, with a bow, begged to repeat the apologue, which he did, ore rotundo, in the most beautiful Gaelic; the application being so manifestly apt and pertinent to his particular case that we all burst out a laughing, the venerable clergyman—now, alas, no more!—enjoying it as much as any one that the tables had been so cleverly turned upon him. Fables apart, however, the fact of the matter seems to be simply this, that the humidity of the climate along our western sea-board, and amongst the Hebrides, is in nowise inimical to robust health or longevity. It is of course disagreeable enough at times, and frequently a sad drawback on our agricultural prosperity; but a minute examination of the vital statistics of the Western Highlands and Islands wrould probably go far to show that our superabundance of rain is rather favourable to health and long life than otherwise. Ach bCdh sin mar a chithear da, a beautiful Gaelic phrase literally. But be that particular matter as it may seem to it,—what would most please us at this moment would be a month or more of the good old-fashioned winters of our boyhood, when everything was blanketed for weeks together in soft and virgin snow, and the earth was at times so braced and bound with frost that under the rapid tread and multitudinous rush of all the village schoolboys at play, it rang again like a hollow globe of iron ! It is now, alas, dribble and drip, and splash, slop, and slush from year's end to year's end.

We are indebted to our excellent friend Mr. Snowie, of Inverness, for a very curious and valuable stag's head, admirably stuffed, which reached us the other day by steamer. It is a splendid trophy, a veritable Cabar-Feidh, which the Chief of the Mackenzies himself, when the clan was at its proudest, might be glad to have to adorn the entrance-hall of Brahan Castle. The antlers are of immense girth and spread; one, except for the brow tine, what is called a cabar-slat; the other with two tines, each of them almost big enough for an antler of itself. We have seen many grand and cuAous heads in our day, both cabar-slats and multicornute; but this, which is properly neither the one nor the other, is, from its size and peculiar style of antlers, a trophy to be singled out and admired in a collection of the best heads of the kingdom. It faces lis as we write from the opposite wall of our study, and constantly reminds us of Scott's magnificent description of the stag that led Eitzjames and his attendants such a merry dance in the Lady of the Lake. We must he pardoned for quoting a passage with which every one is familiar:—

"As Chief, who hears his warder call, 'To arms! the foomen storm the wall,' The antler'd monarch of the waste Sprang from his heathery couch in haste But, ere his fleet career he took, The deff-drops from, his flanks he shook, Like ercsted leader proud and high, Toss'd his beamed fronth to the. sky; A moment gazed adown the dale, A moment snutf'd the tainted gale, A moment listened to the cry, That thicken'd as the chase drew nigh; Then, as the foremost foes appeared, With one brave bound the copse he clear'd And, stretching forward free and far, Sought the wild heaths of Uam-Var."

And yet some stupid people will ask if Scott was a poet! Even Landseer never painted anything finer or truer to the life than that word-painting of Scott's. Every one admits that Homer was a poet: well, then, search the Iliad, point out anything better, or anything, entre nous, quite as good, and when you have found it, please let us know, and we promise to reperuse the passage, with every attention and care, in the original of Homer himself, as well as in the translations of Pope, Cowper, and Blackie; and if you are right and we are wrong, we shall not hesitate to confess it, and humbly cry peccavi. Meantime we shall continue steadfast in our belief that Scott is a poet, and not only a poet, but a poet of the highest order ; more " Homeric," too, than any other poet you can name, cither of the present or past century; and that Mr. Gladstone has had the good sense and penetration to discover this, and the courage to avow it, is one, and not the least, of many things which make us have a lining for that distinguished statesman and scholar.

A lady, to whom we are indebted for numberless obligations of a like nature, has sent us a copy of an old Gaelic lullaby or baby-song, the composition of which must clearly be referred to the days when cattle-lifting forays and spuilzies of every description were in high fashion and favour with the gentlemen of the north—

"When tooming faulds, or 8weeping of a glen,
Had still been held the deed of gallant men."

It is in many respects so curious that we venture on a translation of it. Attached to it is a very pretty air, low and soft and subdued as a lullaby air should be, though consisting but of a single part, as was always the case with such compositions, unlike ordinary songs, which generally had two parts, and admitted of endless variations, according to the taste and vocal capabilities of the singer. It is proper to state that our version is not intended to be sung to the original air, for which the measure we have selected is unsuitable. Our only object has been to convey to the English reader the general sense, with something of the spirit and manner, of the original.

A Lullaby.

"Hush thee, my baby-boy, hush thee to sleep,
Soft in my bosom laid, why should'st thou weep;
Hush thee, my pretty babe, why should'st thou fear,
Well can thy father wield broadsword and spear.

"Lullaby, lullaby, hush thee to rest,
Snug in my arms as a bird in its nest;
Sweet be thy slumbers, boy, dreaming the while
A dream that shall dimple thy cheek with a smile.

"Helpless and weak as thou 'rt now on my knee,
My eaglet shall yet spread his wings and be free—
Free on the mountain side, free in the glen,
Strong-handed, swift-footed, a man among men!

"Then shall my dalt' bring his muim' a good store
Of game from the mountain and fish from the shore;
Cattle, and sheep, and goats—graze where they may—
My
 dalta will find ere the dawn of the day.

' Thy father and uncles, with target and sword,
Will back each bold venture by ferry and ford;
From thy hand I shall yet drain a beaker of wine,
And the toast shall be—
Health and the lowing of kineI

"Then rest thee, my foster-son, sleep and be still,
The first star of night twinkles bright on the hill;
My brave boy is sleeping—kind angels watch o'er him,
And safe to the light of the morning restore him.
Lullaby, lullaby, what should he fear,
"Well can his father wield broadsword and spear!"

To the proper understanding of this curious composition, a few wurds of comment and elucidation may he necessary. The lullaby must be understood as sung by a foster-mother to her foster-son, the Gaelic words from which the exigencies of verse oblige us to retain in our paraphrase. In lulling her charge to sleep, the foster-mother fondly anticipates the time when the boy on her knee shall have become a full-grown and perfect man; her beau-ideal of a perfect man, observe, being that, like the heroes of ancient song, he should be brawny limbed, strong of hand, and swift of foot, able and willing at all risks to seize and appropriate his neighbour's goods, especially his cattle, whenever necessity—an empty larder—or honour urged him to the adventure. The coolness wTith which the old lady commits her foster-son to the immediate care and guardianship of the heavenly powers, in the self-same breath in which she hopes and believes that he will, when he becomes a man, prove an active and expert thief—a stealer of beeves from the pastures of neighbouring tribes, in utter defiance of the decalogue—is ludicrous in the extreme. To understand it aright, we must recollect that in former times it was accounted not only lawful but honourable among hostile tribes to commit depredations on one another; and as hostility among the clans was the rule rather than the exception, every species of depredation was practised,— cattle-lifting raids, however, heing accounted the most honourable of all, and in the conduct of which the best gentlemen of the clan might without a blush take an active part. The "lowing of kine," geumnaich bha, occurring in this lullaby, was an old toast of the cattle-lifting times, that the late Dr. Macfarlane of Arrochar told us, he himself had often heard when a young man at baptismal feasts and bridals on Loch Lomond side. The secret of it is this : The geumnaich, or " lowing," implied that the cattle were strangers to the glen, whilst those that belonged to the glen itself, and were the bona fide property of the clan, if such there were, were quiet and staid and well-behaved, as decent cattle should be. The cattle "stolen or strayed," as the advertisements have it, "lowed," and were troublesome; while those born and bred in the glen were content to graze in peace, and to "low" only when they deemed it absolutely necessary. "The lowing of kine," therefore, was a toast that meant neither more nor less than success to the cattle-lifting trade ! As ancient Pistol says—

"'Convey,' the wise it call '  Steal!' foh, a fico for the phrase.


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