"A PENNY for thy thoughts Diarmad, a laoich." [A laoich, hero.]
"Mhuire, Mhic-Griogair, [By Mary, son of Gregor.] they are not
worth even that small coin. If thou must know, I was listening
to the reudan [Woodmoth.] drumming away in that old beam behind
me, and wondering how and why such a soft-like beastie should
make such a big noise. Maybe it has a sort of drum in its body,
and beats it to call its sweetheart."
"Ach, for sure, the world is coming to an end, if thy thoughts
begin to run upon sweethearts. Why look you, although he is
nearly six feet high in his brogues, he runs away from the girls
as.if they were ghosts and vipers."
"And Ewan thinks he has in face or figure a ball seirc, [Ball
seirc-beauty spot] like the ancestor of my clan, Diarmad of the
brown locks; and that the prettiest and proudest maid at fair or
wedding, who looks upon him for the first time, must, because
she cannot help herself, flutter to him like a yesterday
little-soul (butterfly) to a shiny cabbage leaf, when sun breaks
out after rain. Forsooth ! it is much in self conceit to be a
giant. Yet, little David slew Goliath. Indeed, giants have never
been famous for brains either in Palestine or Albyn."
"Bhiasd chaoil—thou starveling greyhound—I'll dip thy nose in
the smearing tub to teach thy tongue better manners."
The last speaker, a gigantic young man of about twenty-five
years of age, having finished smearing his sheep, as he
concluded his threat, rose from his triangular stool, and with
outspread arms rushed on the long lank lad who had so bitingly
tongue-wounded him. There were four of them about two tubs
containing mixed tar and grease lashed up with water. They
occupied a low-roofed fern-thatched out-house, in which stirks
were sheltered and fed during winter, but which at present
served for a smearing house. The sheep waiting their turn to be
smeared crowded around them, now quietly chewing the cud, and
now making little rushes and digs with their horns at one
another. Those that were finished were turned out off the
stools, and the creatures, frightened at the transformation they
had undergone, trotted off to their favourite haunts in the
hills as fast as their four feet could carry them.
It was a foggy and depressing back-end day. The work was
monotonous, and it had proceeded in silence for a long time when
Angus Ruadh Macgregor broke the spell by offering Diarmad Mac
Iain, the youngest of the four, a penny for his thoughts. Then
Ewan Mor, of the clan of Lochiel, was pleased to give and take
offence, and, finally, half in fun and half in wrath, to rush
upon Diarmad for the purpose of convincing him that giants were
not to be trifled with. Diarmad, the son of John, was a long
thin lad of eighteen, whose loops and angles as yet justified
comparison with the greyhound, although an unformed youth can
boast little of the lithe grace of the runner-down of the deer.
As the giant rushed menacingly upon him, Diarmad seized on the
stick of the smearing tub, and opposed it so deftly to the pit
of Ewan Mor's stomach, that the latter in a moment fell full
length back among the sheep, thoroughly astonished at his own
downfall. He was not a whit hurt by the mishap, nor was his
temper much ruffled by the laughter with which Angus and old Rob
Macarthur, who had till then been silent, greeted his
misadventure. Diarmad neither spoke nor smiled, but with flushed
face and kindled eye, rose from his stool, to be ready for
further hostilities if required. Ewan, on getting up, which it
took him some time to do, as in his smearing clothes and
sheep-skin apron he was as heavy and helpless as a sack of
steeped barley, took a long wondering look at his late
antagonist and smiled quite kindly. He caught a sheep, went back
to his stool, and then in a calm philosophical manner began to
discuss his surprise :—
"So the starveling greyhound can turn into a bloodhound! The
bald-headed bodaich [Bodaich—Old men.] of the smith's bench
understand him. But who could think the dreamer should fight,
and that a lad who blushes worse than the girls, and flies from
the girls too, should dare to point a tar stick at me?"
"That could I, air m'anam," [On my soul.] said old Rob, who
looked his full approval of Diarmad's ebullition of fighting
passion. But the lad himself, as if he could not help justifying
Ewan's remarks upon his bashfulness, blushed red to the roots of
his hair, and changed the current of talk and ideas by begging
Rob to give them a song or sgeulachd. [Story.]
Rob replied that Angus was the man of songs.
Ewan—"Ach, look you, Angus is afraid of the Session. He is
courting an elder's daughter; and so it stands to reason he must
walk and talk circumspectly, and conquer the Old Adam. Rob, you
are an unregenerate sinner, or else you would not be leading
Angus into temptation."
Angus—"Would not Ewan wish to step into my brogues, if he only
could get his big feet into them? But that he cannot. Come, Rob,
give us something to lighten the weight of this heavy day. When
the doors will be closed and the candles lighted I'll sing you a
song of love or war, in spite of the beard of the cleir."
Rob—"And to my best thinking it is just that beard which has
grown a great deal too long, and the great good it would be to
cut it shorter; but who is to use the scissors or razor?
Diarmad, dost thou know the ' Breisleach?'"
Diarmad—"I know something about it, Rob. An Irish priest of the
days of old wished to write his last will and testament. He was
old, and his mind was astray. So in trying to write his will he
wrote the mixture of nonsense called the 'Breisleach;' and well
it is named, too, for its changes are quicker, and hold less
together, than those of a fevered dream."
Ewan—"I have heard the Miller Mor give screeds of it by the kiln
fire. It is funny enough, but I should think it worse to learn
than both the Shorter and Longer Catechisms with proofs."
Angus—"Come, Rob, give us the 'Breisleach.' I have never yet
heard the nonsense verses that are always the comparison for
things out of joint and meaning."
Rob—"Ire mhire Mhairi! Mo sgeul deurach, Mo chruaidh dhileas, An
diugh cha leir domh Bhi ga dhith sin. Tarruinn chualta Do
chlaoidh mise, O' n chraoibh thoraidh. Breac o' n uiridh. Sac
brachadh Ann an earn guirmein ! 'S co chuireadh an teagamh Mac-'ille-Phedeir
Thighinn air Laideann "
Rob proceeded for a long time with his recitation in a sustained
half-chanting voice. His hearers were kept in a chorus of loud
merriment by the wonderful incoherences of topics and images
which pourtrayed in the liveliest manner the maunderings of an
insane mind. Rob had to stick to his work solemnly and
seriously. He dared not stop to laugh, nor could he even afford
to vary his recitative tone, lest, losing the stepping stones of
sound, his memory should stumble and tumble, and become like the
Breisleach itself. But the darkening of the door, which also
served as a window, brought the entertainment to a premature
conclusion. In the aperture appeared the Elder Claon (Claon
means squinting), who happened to be passing by on his lawful or
holy business when the unhallowed Breisleach words and
accompanying laughter reached his ears. The Elder Claon must not
be mistaken for Angus's prospective father-in-law, who was by no
means averse to the old songs and stories of his country. The
Elder Claon admired no uninspired poetry except the hymns of
Dugald Buchannan, whose lurid "Day of Judgment" sublimity was
very much indeed to his taste. He once rather liked the hymns of
Peter Grant, the Strathspey Baptist, whom he personally knew
very well, but when Peter, in old age, took a second wife to his
bosom, the Elder Claon ceased to admire either him or his hymns;
for he was an old bachelor himself, and counted that for merit
This good man having been disturbed in his meditations of the
higher subjects, not perhaps of the Law and the Prophets, but of
the prices of wool and beasts, as a matter of duty stepped to
the smearing house door to give a word of rebuke in passing.
"Rob, thy locks are thin and mixed with white. Thy years are not
much under threescore. The shadows of life's evening are fast
gathering round thee. Why then dost thou cling to vanities, and
show a bad example to the young? Thou and I are old men, and in
natural course of things near our graves. We should think then
of our latter end."
"Well, Elder," replied Rob rather testily, "as we were born to
die we were in a sense always near our graves. Yet I have seen
you laugh at the Breisleach yourself, and that not twenty years
ago either. What earthly harm is in it, can you say?"
"In itself not much, perhaps ; but it belongs to the vanities of
uncovenanted times. There is much harm in the songs which
excited men to war for the wrong in former days; and love songs
are still worse."
"Yet you enjoyed them both once, and sang them well too—that I
"Oh, Rob, bring not against me the follies and sins of my
unregenerate youth. Ever since I received my call from the Lord,
and the peace following on that which was at first a sharp
tribulation, which weak humanity could scarcely bear, the only
bardachd. I have cared for are the psalms of the sweet Psalmist
of Israel, and the soul-searching hymns of Dugald Buchannan. Oh
Rob, oh young men, we should strive to conquer the Old Adam and
to get our souls rooted in the sure hope of the Blessed Life to
come— the glorified life of those justified by faith, and
foreordained from the beginning to salvation through imputed
Rob was silent, and Angus and Ewan looked like penitents, but
Diarmad looked the Elder Claon straight in the face, and said :—
"But we have no right to 'boo' the sun out of the sky, or to
suppose that the Lord of all is as mean, narrow, and intolerant
as are even the best men among ourselves."
The Elder looked pained, but having done his duty, and expecting
nothing but evil here and hereafter for the favourite of
unregenerate grey-headed Philistines, he turned his face and
went on his way without attempting to reply.
At the time of our story many ministers and sessions in the
Highlands were waging, with most unreasoning ferocity, war with
piping, fiddling, dancing, song-singing, athletic sports, and
all amusements in which the unregenerate people of the older
times had found enjoyment. Rob Macarthur, although a peaceable,
industrious, and good fellow in secular matters, was in
religious affairs counted a black sheep, with a scant sprinkling
of white tufts. He grumbled sub rosa, but did not rebel openly
against the fanatical tyranny which was pretty strong in the
Glen, and Poetry, reigned absolutely in other parts of the
Highlands on the eve of the Disruption.
Grumblers and Laodiceans might be permitted to hope, but rebels
to the prevalent ideas were marked down as irreclaimable, unless
they were miraculously changed into their own opposites. Much to
the grief of the Elder Claon, the pious women, and all other
fanatics, there was in the Glen a company of old men who
tenaciously clung to denounced vanities and ancient customs.
These were not numbered among the black sheep—they were
relegated to the left-hand fold of the goats. As Diarmad Mac
Iain consorted much with these outcasts, who refused to consider
themselves outcasts, it followed of course that he also got
prematurely into the fold of the goats.
As soon as the Elder's footsteps ceased to'be heard, Ewan
relieved his feelings by an ejaculation which was pious once,
but was now called bad language. Angus completed this once pious
ejaculation, by adding words of anathema orthodox in all ages.
Rob's face expressed mingled surprise and gratification as he
turned to Diarmad and said :—
"And it is at clipping the beard of the cleir thou wouldst be,
young man. Ah, Diarmad, these sons of Seruiah will be too strong
for thee, as they were for David, King of Israel. Dost thou want
to be denounced in the conventicles of the pious, and preached
at from the pulpit, aye, and a deal sorer, too, than if thou
hadst really deserved Session discipline."
Diarmad—"The Elder Claon and all of them may mean well; but I
for one will not submit to their intolerance, or think so ill of
the Lord, or even of poor human nature, as to accept some of
Rob—"It is the dangerous thing, however, to touch the beard of
the cleir with thy Philistine scissors. But, come, tell us what
is thy opinion of this Non-Intrusion barm that works on our holy
people as if they were old leather bottles full of bursting new
Ewan—"He cannot, at anyrate, think or speak any ill off Angus's
father-in-law that is to be; for he is the broadest man in the
Session, except Seumas Liath, and Seumas is"------
Rob—"The best man in any of their skins. That much I would say
to their faces, minister included. What have they to say against
Seumas that they geek at him as if he were a strange bird which
had dropped wrongly into their nest, although, for sure, he was
in the nest first—aye, before some of them were born?"
Diarmad—"All they can say or whisper against Seumas Liath is
much to his credit He speaks like an honest Gael, and not like a
Pharisee. At nearly fourscore he enjoys life, and does not think
he ought to groan and excuse himself to the good Lord for daring
to bask in the light of the blessed sun."
Angus—"Thou dost with heart defend the old Moderate."
Ewan—"No wonder, for look you, Diarmad is the disciple of the
grey-haired carles, and Seumas Liath is their favourite elder. I
have heard the good folk speaking of Diarmad, with head shakes
and sighs, as a rampant young goat. His own kith and kin fear
that he is far from grace; for look you, there is a buzzing
whisper, made strong by dark looks, going round the country,
that when with the old carles on the Scorners' Seat at the
Smith's he dares laugh at Mairi Bhaiche's ululich (howling) for
her soul's salvation in church, and makes mocking fun of Duncan
the tailor's corpse-wake readings and words. Ochonaree ! it is
the dangerous person he must be whatever, and it is I who was
warned to take care lest he should lead me astray."
Bob—"Ach, indeed, the fear is upon me that Diarmad sits often in
the Scorners' Seat—which, for sure, is the bad thing entirely,
if we believe those who pretend to know best about all things
here and hereafter. Yet, why should there be a scorners' seat in
the world at all, if nobody must use it? Methinks for sure the
Black One himself must have some useful work to do; else why
should creation be plagued with him at all? But let that pass
by—I want to know our scorner's real opinion of all this
nose-grinding holiness, and, above all, of the Non-Intrusion
Angus—"Now, Diarmad, pour out the words of knowledge thou hast
learned from books or heard from the lips of the old."
Diarmad—"My opinion is of little weight or worth. It is made of
soft clay which has not taken stable form, and has not been
hardened in the furnace. As to the patronage question, it seems
to be required by the true life-law of our Kirk that
congregations should be allowed to choose their ministers. But I
don't think these noisy Non-Intrusionists go about a right thing
in the right way. It is the duty of the State—Caesar they call
it—to cause every law to be carried out until it be changed.
Now, laws can only be made and unmade by Parliament; and yet
these Non-Intrusionists are trying to set aside an Act of
Parliament by an Act of Assembly. Such a thing cannot, methinks,
be permitted without injuring kingdom-rule, and setting up kirk-popery.
As for the holiness which gloats over the fore-ordained
destruction of the so-called unconverted, which groans at the
general cheerfulness of God's world, mingled with suffering,
sin, and sorrow, as it may be, and grudges us the light of the
sun, the music of birds, and the perfume and beauty of the
bonnie flowers that sleep beneath the winter's snow, and in
spring and summer offer their thanksgiving—as for this
shroud-clad holiness of the gloomy brow, weeping eye, and
ranting tongue, I feel sure the old Adam will conquer it in the
end, and to my thinking, too, the old Adam's conquest will be
Angus—"Thou art the blackest Moderate I have ever listened to."
Ewan—"Yes, for sure, and what our cleir teach us is that
Moderatism is a Christ-denying, God-dishonouring, soul-slaying
Diarmad—" Truly they condemn strongly; but who made them judges?
The holiness they preach is one that can only be truly described
by their own language of anathema. I cannot bear it. It makes me
shiver with repulsion and hot with rage. Now, look you, I
daresay the Elder Claon is all he professes to be, and that he
sincerely wishes us all to be £ood after his pattern; but his
doctrines rather drive me the other way, and his words just now
have so raised my corruption that I think I must plunge into
some small wickedness just to make me afterwards fit to be
reconciled to goodness."
Rob—"That has been a fine holding forth, but the lastly is a
strange one. And what, mo ghille, may be the small wickedness
into which thou wishest to plunge just to make thee good again?"
Diarmad—"Just stop and let me think."
Ewan—"Think quickly then and let us know; for sure I am it is
Angus who is dying to hear."
Diarmad—"Here for you then. What are the three things which it
is not lawful to take, and which honest men may yet take without
being much ashamed?"
Angus—"A bird from the hill, a fish from the linn, and a tree
from the wood."
Diarmad—"Very well then; let us blaze the river."
Ewan—"That is the beautiful plan entirely. So it is indeed. And,
look you, just think of Diarmad putting the tar stick into the
pit of my stomach, bearding the Elder Claon, and making such a
beautiful wicked plan, all in one day! Why, look you, I do
believe the disciple of the carles will be a leader of men in
very deed, whenever he will give up being afraid of the girls,
which, to tell the truth, is the foolishest fear ever seen. Why,
look you, there is no reason in nature for it at all, and it is
not known among the very beasts, but quite the contrary. But
Diarmad, mo charaid, I can tell thee how to get to the other
side of it, just as naturally as summer gets to the other side
of winter My lad. "- My friend. by melting the ice and snow. But
there now! I see thou art blushing like a young maiden when
first kissed by the lover of her heart, or like that wee flower
of the mountains which in early spring shows its crimson face on
the edge of the deep snow wreath, and seems to be much ashamed
of itself for popping forth its head so soon. Ach, just listen
to me, and I'll"------
Diarmad—"Bad end to thee! Listen thou to me. The river is full
Rob—"For sure, but are they out in the shallows? The white
scales are scarcely copper-tinged yet. I don't think they have
commenced to make egg-trenches in the shallows ; and you cannot
come near them in the linns."
Ewan—"Whatever then is to be done? Diarmad's beautiful plan will
come to naught, if we cannot blaze the river when the fathers
and masters will be away selling their beasts at Falkirk. That
is the best time for the fun, and must we give it up because the
frost has not yet been strong enough to warm up the fish to
love-making? It is the sore pity!"
Angus—"Poor Diarmad must remain hopelessly wicked for a little
Diarmad—"If it be too soon for the river, we can blaze
Lochan-na-larig, which has, I daresay, never been yet blazed
since the day it was made. There will be just as good sport with
the trout as with the salmon, and it is just a bit fun we want
and nothing else. Is my thought your thought?"
Angus—"With all my heart."
Ewan—"And with all my two hearts, if I had them."
Diarmad—"Be moderate. The gift of two hearts was only bestowed
on Uilleam Gaelach, whom the bodaich ghallda call William
Rob—"Aye, for sure, they make out every great man of our race to
be one of their own kith and kin."
Diarmad—"Ach, there is some excuse for them in the case of
Wallace; for you see, although his people were Gael, and
continued to be called Gaelach in the land of their sojourning,
taking their race name for their sloinne,1 yet they dwelt before
his birth among the men of Strath-clyde, who were by that time
fast losing their old language, and forgetting that they were
Britons, and own cousins of the Gael. But, Ewan, mo laoch,
modern giants must do the best they can with one heart. Rob,
will you come with us?"
Rob—"Nay, nay; but, for sure, I wish I could too, and that I do
indeed. Old age is come upon me with its stiff joints and its
feet slow to move. After smearing my number, I feel I need and
deserve my rest. Four miles there and four miles back in the
dark of night, are not for me. But if, when the time for it
come, you blaze the river, I do not say I'll not be with you
there. Methinks it would be like jumping back forty years at a
bound to the days of my youth."
Ewan—"Very good; and, Rob, on this whole affair, you must keep
your tongue within your teeth."
Rob—"Which is just the thing that is impossible for me to do,
seeing I have lost all my teeth—bad luck to them."
Ewan—"Let teeth go to the gallows then, but keep your tongue
tight within your jaws, and let no one know."
Angus—"I want him to let one fellow know. When you go home
to-night, Rob, just give the elder's John, as you are passing
their house, a hint of the ploy."
Ewan—"Very good. The elder's John will just complete the band."