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The Long Glen
Chapter VIII - The Scorners' Seat


DONNACHA BAN, gu 'm faiceam slan." [Duncan Ban, may I see you whole.]

"Buaidh-larach ort, Iain, [Battle-victory lo thee, John.] and it is glad I arn to meet thee here. And when didst thou come over the hills, and what is new in the Land of the Pines?"

"I came to Alastair's last night, and there is not any sgeul from the Land of the Pines except that the Rid ire ' is very ill. They say the gout has taken his head, and that his mind has gone into a cloud."

"It is sorry I am to hear that."

"And it is indeed the sorrow for the whole Land of the Gael to lose a good master of land now-a-days, for they don't grow so plentifully."

"That is the sorrow. Just look at the Marquis of lnchadin. Was not his father as good a master of land as ever stood in brogues? But lo ! you, what is the son? A great Reformer whom they put up in the Parliament House in London to—what did they call it?—move the Address, in the Reform Bill year. Aye, truly, and he is here at home reforming the old tenants of whole baronies off the face of the land ! Yes, indeed, and the forefathers of these old tenants made him and his what they are by the power of their swords."

"He clears out kith and kin, not many times removed, along with the others, I anftold."

"To be sure he does that. Then look at the race of Black Charles. They were sadly aggrieved and wronged, it is the many hundreds of years ago, and when their heads were under the wood, they became black and bloody foes to their former oppressors, and to all the opponents of their clan. What would have been the worth of the Inchadin charters if they had not been made good by this fierce sept of the clan ? Well, the Marquis has the profit, and the children of Black Charles have the scaith ; they ventured soul and body in building up the greatness of the Inchadin House, and the Marquis pays the long debt of gratitude by sending barda x to men of that race, just like to others."

"Perhaps he knew nothing at all about the old obligations."

" The more the shame to him. What business has a man in such a position not to know such things as hereditary obligations?"

"Oh! there are no chiefs, or at least very few, now-a-days It is a matter of highest rent and game."

"Aye, but more of game even than of rent." "The Inchadin House is now getting very weak in offspring and offshoots. The tree is but poorly shaded by top and branches. Don't you think the prophecy of Bain-tighearna Labhair is about to be fulfilled?"

"You mean that a one-eyed white hor.se will be able to take the whole House of Inchadin—that is the people of that stock and their belongings—in a peat cart back over Carn-droma?" "Yes."

"Well, but-that is not the end of it. There must be a hope still for the Inchadin House, if prophecy is to hold." Notice to quit.

"I have never heard but of the white horse prophecy." "Well, here is another which might be supposed to apply to the late good Marquis, but did not, as can be seen now :—

"'Unless the surest fates must fail,
As soon as the branch becomes the big tree,
And Britain is troubled from sea to cea,
When prospects are blackest, a man will come,
Wearing the myrtle of Colin of Rome,
Who will chase the aliens,
And rally the Fenians,
And be a high chief of the Gael.'

"A man to rally them and lead them is, for sure, what the Gael need most."

"Aye, and it is a comfort to hope well, even yet, about the House of Inchadin, for it is one of the great Gaelic Houses, and we have not many of them now."

"Well, our old Ridire has been a real good and kind laird all his days."

"That he has, God be his stay, and his bed be in Heaven ! What sort of youths are his sons?"

"As fine lads as ever stept on heather."

"But can they speak the Gaelic?"

"Not much, I fear. You see they were early sent to school in England, and they are now at the great school of Oxford, like your own young laird."

"May Do'ull Riabhach take the great school of Oxford ! Why should not the great schools of Dunedin, Glasgow, Kilribhinn, and Aberdeen, do for Scotchmen? The great school of Oxford makes foreigners of our young nobles and lairds. It is the black sorrow to see them rushing to the bad with the swiftness of the wind. But here come Iain Og and other old friends."

The preceding conversation passed between John the Soldier, from the Land of the Pines, and Duncan Ban, a Glen fanner of good standing and green old age, at the smith's Conversation Bench, which the extra-religious people in their conclaves called the "Scorners' Seat." In good weather this doubly named resting place, for the old men of the neighbourhood, was a squared pine tree placed at the end of the smithy, but for the convenience of the old scorners, with whom he was hand and glove, Alastair, the smith, kept also a similar bench indoors to which the carles could retire in bad weather.

The Conversation Bench Club always assembled on Saturday. Alastair, or rather his wife, kept the little shop^ of the place, and to the shop the bodaich wended their way from every direction on the last day of the week to fill their snuff-horns and spleuchans; and, after doing their shopping, the)- adjourned to Conversation Bench for their gossip.

This day Duncan Ban was the first to arrive, and he found John the Soldier waiting for the gathering. John was the smith's uncle, but not a regular member of the smith's family. He had many kinsfolk, and went a great deal back and forward among them all; but his headquarters were with his sister, the smith's mother, away over the hills.

John the Soldier had well earned his pension from a grateful country by having manfully done his full share of fighting in the war with Napoleon; and he was very grateful to his country in return for the shilling a day, which, as he could add and eke in different honest ways, made him comfortably independent on retiring with medals and clasps from active service.

Although usually a temperate man, and a respectable member of society, this old warrior was at first liable every time he went for his pension to get more or less elevated drinking health and happiness to the reigning sovereign, to-the Duke of Wellington, and his own heart-honoured general, Thomas Graham of Balgowan, Lord Lyndoch, and "Hero of Barrosa." On the pension occasion immediately following the accession of Queen Victoria, John the Soldier and Donald the Sailor—who lost a leg and gained a pension at Trafalgar—went dreadfully on the spree together. Donald had to drown immense grief for the loss of the "Sailor King," and John, whose chivalrous loyalty was called into exuberant activity by the age and sex of the young girl now come to the throne, thought he could never too often drink—" Long life, happiness, and victory to the bonnie young Queen." John's loud rejoicings gave the mourning Donald some offence; but a quarrel was averted, and good fellowship, cemented by the soldier cleverly discovering that he also had cause to drown sorrow in whisky, and that " The memory of the Duke of York, the soldiers' friend," would couple nicely with "The memory of the Sailor King." On their return home with what remained of their pensions after a whole week's carousal, the veterans scandalised three parishes. They stopped of course at every public-house, and their idea of refreshing themselves was to go on drinking their favourite toasts until they could not see each other. The publicans had great trouble in getting them to move on at all. And when they took at last to the road, John the Soldier sang Gaelic war songs, mostly of Jacobite tinge—a thing quite against his principles when sober—and Donald the Sailor, who was not a bit musical when in possession of his faculties, tacked about taking latitudes and longitudes on the highway, and croaking like a maniac frog some long forgotten naval ballad in praise of a tight little English ship that showed a clean pair of heels to the whole French fleet, and "would bob to nothing on the sea." This outbreak, however, was quite •exceptional. Both soldier and sailor were heartily ashamed of themselves, and resolved not to be so overtaken again. But, knowing the weakness of human nature in genera], and their own in particular, they took material guarantees with them on next pension day in the persons of the widowed sister of John the Soldier, and Donald's spinster one. After a few trials of temptation, which were successfully resisted, the widow and spinster were relieved from guard, and John and Donald recovered self-control by refraining from exciting toasts and indulgence in memorial griefs.

To return to Conversation Bench, the first to join John the Soldier and Duncan Ban was Iain Og, whose years were seventy-five, and who needed the help of a crutch on account of his rheumatism. He did not come alone. To-day Gilleasbuig Sgoilear accompanied him. Gilleas-buig was not a regular member of the band of the scorners. He lived far away; but he was often a casual visitor, and whenever he came the sitting was a long one. After Iain Og and the casual visitor, came the three Seanairean (grandfathers) of Craig-Helig, hale and hearty old men for their years, and all regular members of the club, and far better listeners than speakers. Rob Macarthur, with black fingers and nails after six weeks of smearing, followed on the trail of the Seanairean. Lastly came Calum Mac-calum, a brisk well-preserved bachelor of sixty-five, who, with his old sister, Meg, to keep house to him, was now leading an easy life on the annual income derived from the savings of fifty years of work and thrift.

As soon as the many warm greetings were exchanged, and Calum, the last of the comers, got settled, Iain Og produced a silver-mounted snuff-horn, took his own allowance of the pungent contents, and then passed the horn on to his next neighbour for a round of social pinches.

"My eyes deceive me, Iain, or that is your Sunday horn you have passed to John the Soldier. For sure, after sneezing Sunday, it is I who will be afraid to touch it."

And Calum, who was the speaker, laughed heartily, and the laugh went round as well as the horn.

Duncan Ban—"John the Soldier has not heard the story. Iain Og, you must tell it as the responsible person,. and the owner of the bewitched horn, which played as bad a trick as any performed by that enchanted Balquhidder horn, which the invisible ghost in the shepherd's house used for a weapon."

Calum—"Yes, Iain, do tell it. Ach, but it was sore good, ho ! ho ! ho !"

Seanairean in a chorus—" It was sore good, ho ! ho ! ho ! ha ! ha ! ha !"


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