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The Long Glen
Chapter II - Gangrel Bodies


THERE is one day a wedding in the glen. The canny shepherd, Do'ull Grigarach, marries Angus Ruadh's only daughter. Angus and his wife have been both lying in the old Culdee Churchyard for a few years back. The daughter, Kate, as sensible, sonsie, and warm-hearted a lass as ever tossed over white shoulders the gold-red locks of the Caledonians, has since wisely and diligently kept house for her brothers, five in number; and they, while scattered far and wide in different employments on week days, have usually gathered beneath the paternal roof-tree on Sundays to eat a meal together, to exchange news, discuss family matters, and to get clean stockings, shirts, and mended or newly-made clothes from Kate, who has been to them in the place of a young mother, although she came into the world almost at the end of the long row of boys, and was but a jinking, bonnie-blinking, helty-skelty lassie when the mother died.

Angus Ruadh was a man who saw in his youth many eastern cities and peoples, for he was from the age of sixteen to twenty-three the servant of David Macara, the parish minister's son, who was then a doctor, and a diplomatic agent also, in the East India Company's service, but afterwards the war with Napoleon so excited his martial ardour that he exchanged the lancet for the sword, and died like a true Highland officer at Quatre-Bras. It was only a purpose of matrimony, and the strong pressure brought to bear upon him by his betrothed and his kindred, that prevented Angus from enlisting as a soldier in Dr Macara's regiment when the latter became an officer. In after years, although, to his regret, he had only second-hand information, Angus was in the habit of describing "the fall of Sir David" just as if he had witnessed it with his own eyes. "You know for sure," he would say, "that Sir David was Colonel of the Ninety-Second when Bonny marched upon Brussels. As was natural, the Highlanders were sent to the front at once, and they met the French at Quatre-Bras-Our plaided heroes were in a field of tall shogal1 when Bonny's horsemen came down upon them like a cloud of locusts, or a sandstorm in the desert blinding the face of heaven. 'Form square to squash cavalry,' shouted Sir David. The rye was up to the men's ears, so that they could not see rightly how they were four-cornering. So, as the bochdainn would have it, when the square was formed Sir David and many others were shut out of it, and stood just between the front and the enemy, now within an arrow flight. 'Fire,' shouted Sir David, his voice being louder and clearer than ever—and a voice that rolled further than his I never heard. The men did not obey, for they saw they would kill their own colonel if they fired at the foe. So did Sir David, who little thought of life in such a case. Again he raised his voice in great wrath, and amidst the clang and din the whole regiment heard his words distinctly. "Remember the fame of the Gael, my boys, and fire at once." "Cliu nan Gael," they shouted back, and fired. Sir David and those with him fell of course, but Cliu nan Gael was safe enough, and, although the regiment suffered severely, Ney's horse-cloud was dispersed, and Bonny's plans were damaged."

There is a great gathering at Kate Ruadh's wedding. As the bridegroom is from the west country, he has brought no friends except an unmarried brother, who has come o'er moss and moor three good score miles, Scotch measure, to be his fieasgach. [Best Man] The bride is in the glen of her birth, where all people, by reckoning many removes back, can prove universal kinship. Her brothers also have many acquaintances; and so almost every house in the glen sends one or more marriage guests. Penny bridals had long, and property, too, been put down by the Kirk, but there were customs older than these eleemosynary festivities, and which also survived them, that not merely sanctioned gifts for the foy by friends and invited guests, but made them almost compulsory. When there was a wedding about to take place in castle, or farmhouse, or shepherd's dwelling, the friends and well-wishers went with their eggs, butter, hens, and smoked mutton hams for the inevitable crotain [Barley broth] to the foy-house. So it was at Kate's wedding, who indeed felt rather afraid that half the good things presented could not be consumed by the marriage guests. The same custom which made the Highland bridal a sort of co-operative festival tended likewise to make it a large, and now and then perhaps a rather noisy, gathering, when the fag-end waited for the rising of the newly-married pair, and tried to subject the bridegroom to the creeling ordeal.

At the time of Kate Ruadh's marriage, the Kirk, under the rule of well meaning but narrow and short-sighted Evangelicals, frowned upon old Highland sociality and time-honoured customs. But Kate's good-hearted, boisterous brothers were not the men to let their sister's wedding be interfered with by the Kirk police. So they had feasting, piping, fiddling, dancing, songs, and lashes of toddy, and they kept up the fun till daylight did appear.

Of course the dozen or two of children whom relationship or next door neighbourhood ranked among the wedding guests, were sent home to bed before midnight. They improved the shining hours while they lasted by dancing on the green to the piping of Donnachadh Amadain, and engaging in other outdoor amusements.

Duncan the Fool had scented the smell of the feast from afar, and hastened over hills and through the rivers of several glens to get his share of it. Weddings, fairs, and balls were the poor innocent's great opportunities for good feeding and pence gathering. He was by long prescription the piper of the youngsters at weddings. They teased him a good deal, but they danced to his music, and that greatly uplifted him. Duncan, in his piping, jumbled reels, laments, and marches so thoroughly together as to produce a genuine bedlam mixture, which, after all, was not without some power and pathos at times, since it was not the braying of mere ignorance, but the music of discords. The abrupt changes and incongruities of Duncan's piping made the children like it all the better, for was it not such fun to dance a jumbly dance to jumbly music! So his piping made the fool a welcome and an expected guest at Highland weddings. Much did he like a big feed, for he was a man cast in a large mould, who at one meal could stowaway provision enough for a week of famished rambling. As for strong drink, he liked it to, and could carry a large quantity without being perceptibly affected. Still, drink-was not so much appreciated as marrow bones and chunks of meat; which, above all other things in the world, were Duncan the Fool's weakness.

As yet, the parochial boards, poor rates, inspectors, and workhouses, were things to be. With a bit of help from the heritors, perhaps once in fifty years, the Highland Sessions gathered by box or offertory collections, and discipline fines, sufficient funds to keep the destitute and forlorn from death by cold and starvation; and, in truth, if the poor were not kept better than they are now, at a tithe of the expense, they were at least more content and happy in the spirit of their mind, when they claimed charity in ' the name of God, and not in the name of the law and as a legal right. All the recipients of box aid had liberty to beg for alms within their parish bounds, and they usual ly gave themselves liberty to roam much further.

The number of paupers in receipt of parish relief and licence to beg was, in comparison with the then population of the Highlands, exceedingly small. But the interdependence of kindred was behind, and the number of people who received friendly help from those that were not very able to help, and would not by the present law be bound to help, was larger than the number of regular paupers. The reciprocal giving and receiving of help at need, varied by changes of fortune which made the son of the poor father the helper of the son of the man who had helped that poor father, produced social ties that were something like a law and gospel in themselves. Feuds of goodwill and charity, which bound closely, as well as feuds of blood, were results of the clannishness that united whole communities from generation to generation.

Duncan the Fool had been a gangrel body from youth upwards; not so much on account of poverty, for his mother, although a widow, managed to give college education to two remarkably clever sons ; but because nothing short of chains and fetters could keep him for more than a week at a time in one place. When he appeared at Kate Ruadh's wedding, he had nearly attained the age of fourscore; and so he had been a gangrel body for upwards of sixty years. He was a public character as far as Skye on the one hand, and Dunedin on the other. One of his clever brothers was appointed minister of a parish in Skye. He was settled there only a short time, when Duncan, with his pipe under his arm, set forth to visit him. Not a word did he say to anybody about his intentions. He did not know the way, but he had an instinct for travelling which brought him safe to Portree. It was winter, and on leaving Portree Duncan was overtaken by a snowstorm, which blinded him and obliterated every trace of road. Strong man as he was, he at length gave up the struggle and stopped. But he did not sleep, and to think was not much in his power at any time. He sought consolation from his pipe, and played what might have, in a dim way, been intended to be his coronach, but which proved his salvation. He happened to get quite near his brother's manse before he gave up the struggle. The moment the minister heard the piping, he knew it must be Duncan, and nobody else in the whole world, although he had not the least expectation of his coming to Skye at such a time of the year, and such a long distance, when he did not know a foot of the way for a hundred miles and more of it. The minister and his people went out in the snow, and, guided by the sound of the piping, they easily found Duncan and rescued him, but not before his toes were badly frost-bitten.

In Dunedin, Duncan was called "Garth's Fool," because he had for General Stewart of Garth the affection of a dog for his master, and when not on the tramp he was to be usually found at meal times near the kitchen of Garth House. Raeburn painted him, but it is not certain that Duncan appreciated the compliment paid to him. He went annually to the Caledonian meeting, where he got a pocketful of shillings. He never spent a penny, but hoarded like a magpie or raven. He liked to get money, however, and when shillings and pennies abounded in his pockets he went by moonlight to some old wall, or hole in a tree, and hid them away forever. Some of these little hoards have been turned up since his death. So little did he know the use of money that on one occasion, wh'en a new boatman at the Queensferry refused him the customary free passage, far from taking money out of his pockets and offering to pay his fare, he took off brogues and hose in presence of a crowd, and on being asked what he meant to do, replied with the usual preliminary grunt— "Ugh, ugh, I'll just lift my kilt and go troo." It is not necessary to add that after that the ferryman gave him a free passage.

Duncan did not possess the slantendicular wit which is often the gift of persons who are mentally off the square. He was more fool than rogue, or rather he was no rogue at all. Yet he now and then in his simplicity said things which hit hard. Here is one instance. Campbell of Bore-land was tried for shooting a man whom he caught breaking into his house at midnight. He was fairly enough acquitted by an unprejudiced jury, but country opinion did not quite coincide with the verdict, because it was suspected there was jealousy about a woman in the case. Soon after the trial there was a large meeting of gentlemen held about an election or some public purpose. Duncan the Fool assembled himself also, and, as a matter of course, the gentlemen dropped their shillings into his battered hat, Campbell of Boreland gave a larger donation than usual, for Duncan acknowledged it by saying to him in a loud voice and very thankful manner, "Oh righ! 's math nach do chroch iad sibh," which, being interpreted, is, "Oh king! good it is that they did not hang you."

Not only was roaming a necessity of life for Duncan. but he roamed worse by night than by day. He would retire with all solemnity to his barn bed after supper, but perhaps ere morning he was many miles away, and frightening some old woman or other person by being seen standing at the foot of the bed like a substantial ghost in the pale moonlight. He was no thief or burglar, but no bolts or locks would keep him out when he chose to break into a house by night. The dogs seemed to be in league with him, for they never barked at him. Indeed, he and his pipe were on such excellent terms with the whole animal kingdom, that many strange stories were told of the curious power he had over dangerous, wild, and vicious creatures. For instance, it was seen by a whole country side that he rode home from Gaig to Foss on a vicious bull, which had been summarily banished from the forest grazing, because he crowned a series of outrages by goring one of the herds almost to death. Not only did this vicious brute allow the fool to get astride his back, but he seemed very fond of the bagpipe, too; and so Duncan rode triumphantly along, sounding his victory.

Had the Amadan no fear? Yes, of his fellow mortals. He crouched before the rebuke of a child, and burly, big, strong man as he was, no mischief was to be feared from him by night or by day. Did he not fear ghosts? Not more than the living ; because, according to popular belief, he did not distinguish between the one and the other. Robert Stewart, the uncle of old Garth, was an Edinburgh lawyer, who flourished about the year of grace 1780, and who, on his annual visits to his Highland kindred, was very kind to Duncan's people. Some years after the above date, the old lawyer, " Robie Uncle," as his grand-nephews and nieces called him, failed to come to shoot the grouse and to renew old times with ancients of the clachan, who were his parish school companions in the reign of Queen Anne, for the tough old lawyer lived long after the threescore and ten before his spectacled eyes got too dim for business, or his natural strength was much abated. Robie Uncle wrote to the home people, saying that he could not come just then on account of business, and that, moreover, he was a little troubled with the ailments of age. But he sent more cheerful letters afterwards, and his Garth friends believed that he had recovered his usual good health. When Christmas came round, Duncan and his sister Marriad, who was also an imbecile, of a less public and interesting character, were naturally attracted by the Garth kitchen perfume of high festival cooking. They went for their suppers with great punctuality; and one night they astonished the family by rushing breathless into the house, declaring that Robie Uncle was coming up the steep avenue in a grand carriage, and that he had nodded to them as they passed. The front door was thrown open wide, and all the family rushed out to greet the welcome guest. Lo ! there was no carriage and no Robie Uncle! The pair of innocents were questioned closely and separately, but they adhered to their story ; and everybody knew that they never lied on their own account, and that when told to lie for other people, they always let the cat out of the bag on the slightest cross-examination. By next week's post there came the news of Robie Uncle's demise, which was sudden and unexpected. Duncan to his dying day maintained he saw Robie Uncle in the flesh that night—so as he could not distinguish ghosts from living people, he had no reason to fear meeting with spirits during his night roamings.

To all men born upon the earth, sooner or later comes the time to die. To Donnachadh Amadain this time came, when his age was nearer ninety than fourscore. General Stewart of Garth had died years before then, at St Lucia, of which island he was governor; and as Duncan did not see him, like the rest of his family, buried beneath the shadow of the ancient yew, he refused for a long time to believe that he was dead, and kept waiting for his return. But at last he got convinced that the General must have disappeared from the earth, since he never returned, and strangers owned his house. When he could no longer roam, Duncan at last came to anchor at the house of his bardic brother the schoolmaster, where he was tended with that unconscious tenderness of affection which characterised the kinship loyalty of the Gael in the olden times, and is not yet—thank God for it—a mere tradition.

The ruling passions were strong in death. There happened to be a wedding in the village when Duncan was in extremis. The sounds of the bagpipe reached his dying ear, and, with the usual grunt of satisfaction, he tried to raise himself up, and fumbled for his own chanter. Before he had lost such senses as he ever possessed, the minister of the parish tried hard to get him to think about his soul. Duncan did not feel in the slightest degree interested about his soul; but when the resurrection—rising again— was mentioned, he asked, with sudden vivacity, "Shall we all rise again?" "Yes." "And shall we all gather together?" "Yes, indeed, Duncan, at the great Day of Judgment." On hearing this, Duncan laughed gleefully, and said—"Deelaman! deelaman! I'll see the General again."

Another old wanderer called Seumas Fineanta finished his roamings when Donnachadh Amadain was still in his prime. This Seumas was a handsome giant, who was very particular about paring his nails, combing his hair, and wearing a clean shirt. The wit of Seumas was caustic at times, and it was difficult to say whether he made hits by chance or design. He was fond of children, and children were very fond of him. When excited by wrong or meanness—for he had high moral perceptions—he could make himself feared, as in strength and courage he resembled an Ossianic hero. Seumas was troubled with a tremendous appetite, which, as he was exceedingly honest, and always roaming the wilds, he could not always get easily satisfied. When some one asked him what was the first wish of his heart? he promptly replied, "To see Loch Tay converted into a basin full of sowens, and the rivers Lochay and Dochart pouring down milk upon it." But, as this wish could not be realised, he tried to diminish his appetite by making a strong decoction of oak bark, and drinking copiously of it. This remedy for a time destroyed his appetite altogether, and brought him to death's door. As soon as he was able to crawl about again some one who met him asked, "And is it true that you have lost your cail (appetite) by drinking the oak bark juice?" "Aye for sure," replied Seumas, "I have lost my cail, and I pity the man who finds it."

The bards and seanachies must have left successors, for among the gangrel bodies were regular roamers, who bowled about from glen to glen singing songs and telling stories as merrily as if the whole world belonged to them. Ne'er-do-weels they perhaps deserved to be called, and yet there was little harm in them either, and they were people who were always sure of shelter and food, and who liked to bask in the sunshine.

Cailleachan na faoidh olainn [Wool-gift old women.] were not paupers at all. They scorned the name, and were justly proud of their spinning industry. They came round when the sheep-clipping commenced, and, going from fank to fank, gathered as free gifts good bags of the raw material of their industry. Faoidh olainn did not degrade the recipients to the list of gangrel bodies. An old lonely spinster or a struggling widow was usually invited to come for wool gifts at first, and, having come once, she came every summer, and much enjoyed her "out."


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