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Nether Lochaber
Chapter VII


O the Barren, Barren Shore—Brilliant Auroral Display—Intense Cold—Birds—Glanders — Scribblings on the Back of One Pound Notes.

During a week's pleasant and gentle thaw [February 1870], we had hoped that the worst of winter was come and gone; but to our no small disappointment the genial interregnum has been followed by another heavy fall of snow, and a wonderfully keen and biting frost, which, borne on the wings of a surly nor'easter, has again bound up the earth as if with fetters of iron. Under such circumstances the sea-coast, we take it, presents the most dreary and desolate-looking winter picture imaginable; far more so, to our thinking, than either moss, or moorland, or mountain range. There is a something inexpressibly dismal and doicie in the black crape-like belt of sea beach which divides a landscape deeply clad with snow and frost-bound, from the dull and leaden coloured deep beyond; the dashing of the waves of said deep upon the shore, uttering the while a sadly funereal and dirge-like moan. If our inland friends, in view of the wintry waste around them, take up the cry of "O the dreary, dreary moorland"—we, dwellers by the sea coast, have the best possible right to finish the Tennysonian line by exclaiming "O the barren, barren shore." It must, by the way, have been on some fair summer eve that the Crown officials first thought of depriving landowners of the sea-shore privileges hitherto enjoyed by them; had it been in winter, the idea, it strikes us, would have withered in 'the bud; they would have fled the very sight of the dark and dreary " foreshore," and wisely confined themselves to the shelter of their Woods and Forests!

It is worthy of record that the present severe snow-storm was ushered in by a very splendid and in many respects peculiar auroral display. Shortly after dark on Friday evening, a faint auroral film, over which an occasional streamer flashed impetuously, overspread the northern heavens. All this, however, soon died away, and the north assumed a cold, clear, frosty aspect. Between seven and eight o'clock many meteors, some of them of great brilliancy and beauty, were observed to cross and recross the zenith and its neighbourhood in all directions. Towards the latter hour, however, ' these ceased, and all of a sudden, in a very few seconds at most, the whole celestial hemisphere from E.N.E. to W.S.W.—from horizon to horizon—appeared completely spanned by a magnificent auroral arch, eight degrees in breadth; like a glorious bridge of a single semicircular span, with its edges or parapets of a deep blood-red colour, and its centre part or roadway of frosted silver; the rest of the heavens, in all directions, being the while of an inky blue, and cold and cloudless, without the slightest appearance of anything like streamers to be seen anywhere. Some idea of the brilliancy of this auroral arch may be formed from the fact that such bright stars as Arcturus, Castor and Pollux, Aldebaran, Mars, and others, which lay along its path, became quite dim, and when located near the centre and brightest part of the stream, almost invisible. Even Yenus, which once or twice was overlapped for a few minutes by the arch's margin only, lost all its lustre and sheen, and had a burdened anxious aspect, as if the forehead and "face divine" of a mighty intelligence laboured under the shade of deep and profound thought. For upwards of an hour did this splendid auroral arch continue to span the heavens from horizon to horizon, and undergoing little or no change, until its final disappearance, by what seemed a process of gradual contraction into itself and towards its terminus in the east-north-east, whence it started. Such was the very singular meteoric phenomena by which a severe snow-storm and an amount of cold almost unparalleled in its intensity was ushered in on the western sea-hoard of Scotland in February of the year of grace 1870.

And how fares it with our feathered favourites, the wild birds, in these hard times 1 Fertile as they are in resources, and indefatigable in providing for the wants of the passing hour, all their little shifts must frequently prove inadequate to the supply of their daily wants in such trying times as these. St. "Valentine's day has come and gone, but neither in copse, nor hedgerow, nor ivy-mantled wall, find wre as yet any traces of nidification, nor has the love-prompted warble, in past years so loud and incessant at this season, been yet heard around us. The robin only cheeps; the sparrow simply chirps; the linnet merely twitters; and even the " gay chaffinch" can only give us a disconsolate " fink, fink," in place of his well-known glad burst of choicest and cheeriest song. The mellow chaunt of the merle and song-thrush delights not yet the ear from copse or brake at early morn or evening-tide. The intense and piercing cold, which, on the wings of the northern blast, sweeps over the land as we write, and as it moans, and sighs, and wildly shrieks by starts in its progress over the deep, causes the lone sea-bird to utter its eeriest and wildest cry, has succeeded in freezing, not only the rivulet and the pool, but has actually bound up the voice of gladness and -every source of joyful utterance in all our feathered friends as well. But "nil desperandum," better times are coming. Fields will yet be green, trees will yet be leafy, rivers unbound from icy fetters will yet dance merrily in the sun, and laugh with all their ripples, as they hasten seawards; and then "again shall flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds shall have come, and the voice of the turtle be heard in our land."

Are glanders incurable? is a very ugly, but doubtless a very important question, which is being at present keenly discussed in the columns of several metropolitan journals. By glanders is meant, not the equine disease in the equine subject properly so called, and which comes so frequently under the treatment of the veterinary surgeon, but the same frightful disease when introduced either by accident or design into the human system. Is it curable 1 This is the question, and the general impression seems to be, that when it once fairly lays hold of the human system, it is, like hydrophobia, quite and utterly incurable. "We do not pretend to know anything of the subject, and we allude to it merely to say that we well recollect of hearing, on undoubted authority, of a patient who was actually cured of glanders, caught, if we remember rightly, from eating some beans found in a manger in which a horse having the disease had recently been feeding. All the circumstances connected with the case and cure were related in our hearing by the late Dr. John Eeid, Professor of Anatomy in the University of St. Andrews, one evening that we dined at his house during our attendance at the University. It is now some eighteen or twenty years ago, and we were then too young and thoughtless to give that attention to the subject which it deserved. TYe recollect, however, that the case was said to have occurred in Edinburgh, and to have been treated in the infirmary of that city, and that the patient, on his recovery, having been found shrewd, intelligent, and steady, was afterwards appointed one of the janitors of that institution. There must be some medical gentleman still in Edinburgh able to speak to a case of such importance; and amongst others present on the occasion that we heard Professor Eeid refer to it, were, if we rightly remember, Principal Sir David Brewster and Professor Martin, now of Aberdeen, and at that time Mathematical Master in the Madras College of St. Andrews.

The other evening a one pound note, which a lady friend of ours had just received by post, was handed to us, with a request that we should try and decipher some writing which was observed on the back of it. After some little trouble, we were a good deal amused to find that the writing in question really consisted of the following lines:—

''I am a note of the British Linen;
I've long been kept by L. Mackinnon;
Where'er you go you'll find them willing
To give for me just twenty shilling.—L. M'K."

"We have no idea who this poetical L. Mackinnon is or was, but it is pretty evident, we think, that both he and the British Linen Company's Bank note had very excellent opinions of themselves. It was Lady Louisa Stewart, if we rightly recollect, who sent Sir "Walter Scott a copy of the following lines, which she discovered on the back of a battered bank note wThich had come into her possession. It will be observed that they are in all respects immeasurably superior to Mr. L. Mackinnon's :—

"Farewell, my note, and wheresoe'er ye wend,
Shun gaudy scenes, and be the poor man's friend;
You've left a poor one ; go to one as poor,
And drive despair and hunger from his door."

Let cynics growl and snarl as they list, some people have hearts, and the author of the above lines, be sure, had a right warm and kindly one.


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