JOHN, who was called "Og," or "young," at seventy-five, because
his father before him was also named John, and as long as their
lives ran concurrently, it was necessary to distinguish father
and son by the epithets "old" and "young," began his story
without further pressing :—
"Well, friend of the sword, this
is just it. My grandson Shonnie, who had just turned eight by
some months, did a mischievous thing, when we least expected it,
to us old caries who on common Sundays sit all about the
communion table, because we like to have plenty room for our
stiff limbs and sticks. It was such a trick, and all so simple,
too, as we never heard the like of; and oh! what a scandal it
created in the whole parish!"
"John the Soldier's and
Donald the Sailor's great spree was nothing to it," observed Calum, with a laugh that went round.
"Air m'anam, then it
must be the wonderful thing altogether," commented the soldier.
Iain Og—"Indeed, that thou mayst safely swear."
seanairean were struggling to keep themselves from breaking out
with an interrupting chorus of laughter.
Iain Og—"Now, then,
keep quiet and serious all of you> if you can, and don't set me
off, nor Calum, who, as you may see, is firmly tying up his
mouth, he ! he ! he ! Bother it, I must set to it right. Shonnie,
the little fellow, likes to poke his nose into everything right
or wrong. So one day his mother was using the strong red pepper
for cooking or curing, and he must, when her back is turned, go
and poke his nose into that. And a sad state he got himself into, sneezing, shaking, laughing,
crying, raging, all at once. And his mother, much as she likes
him, was so vexed that she caught him, and nearly cuffed the wee
remaining bit of breath out of him. As soon as I saw him getting
green-red in the face, and his eyes starting out of their
sockets, I got up and rescued the laddie from further
punishment. He got into good breath and good humour quicker than
one could believe. His mother soon forgot all about the red
pepper. So did I. As the upshot proved, so did not Shonnie. Next
time I went to church, the wickedness of the laddie was made
manifest. It so happened I was in a hurry to leave with the old
mother (grandmother) that morning, and that, contrary to
custom—a thing on which the young ceard1 could not have
reckoned—my week day snuff-box remained in my waistcoat pocket,
while I put my horn, as usual, in the breast-pocket of my Sunday
cota-mor.2 If I took any pinches on the way and during the
forepart of the service, I must have taken them from the
week-day box ; for it was only after the Beurla (English) sermon
was finished, and the shooting gentry, with their stuck-up
servants, had gone away, that the sore scandal arose."
Ban—"It was well the Sasunnach people were gone, whatever; for
it is the much scoffing they would have had about us."
Og—"When the Gaelic prayer and psalm were over, and the
minister was reading the text, we old men settled ourselves in
our places to listen to the sermon, and, taking a good pinch
myself to begin with, I sent my Sunday horn on the round. And
our noses were surely hungry enough by that time, although Calum's silver box had been once or twice on the round during
the English service. Quickly went the horn from man to man. But
it did not get back to me again before I was sneezing just out
of all moderation ; and the others, too, were following as fast
as whirlwind my evil example. During the first round or two of
sneezes, I suspected no trick. I only thought the snuff was
wonderfully alive, and that I must have taken wonderfully large
pinches of it. But when I went on sneezing like mad, and saw the
others in the same way, I could no longer doubt that a sneezing
devil was in full possession of us. Then Shonnie and his red
pepper flashed like lightning on my memory. I looked round for
my horn to save new victims if I could, being myself, as Shonnie
said to the elder, when he asked him what length he was on with
his questions, ' far past redemption.' Five or six other carles
were then sneezing as hard as myself, -while more were just
beginning. My eyes were almost blinded, but I managed to catch
sight of the bewitched horn in the hand of Seumas Liath, the
father of the Session, to whom Rob Macarthur had handed it over
the passage. And for .sure, Seumas does not at all snuff on week
days, but we well know he likes a wee pinch out of a neighbour's
box on Sunday to keep him awake, more especially if the sermon
be heavy or the day be hot arid drowsy, as Sneezing Sunday
happened to be. I feared greatly a pinch of the peppered snuff,
however moderate, would harm Seumas, not so much in health as in
reputation, since all the new lights pretend rather to look down
upon him, as if from higher places in the sky. So I rose at once
to go out, and, in passing, I snatched the horn from his hand,
just when he had tapped the lid, and was opening it for his wee
pinch. I got out, I don't know how, for I was a blind sneezing
earthquake, and, sitting down on the nearest mound, went on, I
don't know how long, shaking and sneezing as if going to pieces,
and finding the obair far from easy. All the others who had
touched the bewitched horn followed me out in twos and threes ;
and we shook and sneezed together on the bank by the wall till a
child <:ould bind us fast with the pith of rushes."
Soldier—"If I live to see pension day I'll xdrink Shonnie's
health next to the Hero of Barrosa's."
Calum—"Iain Og has not told the whole of
the scandal. When he took the horn out of Seumas Liath's
hand—and it was Seumas who was the astonished man—the lid of it,
as he has said already, was open, and he snatched the horn with
a jerk which caused the bewitched snuff to fly out and over the
pious women, who always sit behind the pew of the elders, and
groan for other people's sins. And the pious women sneezed like
mad; and they fanned themselves with their cambric kerchiefs,
and that spread the biting dust into the air, for it was the
much of it that fell on the poor pious women. And it reached the
precentor in his desk, and he sneezed as loud as a trumpet. And
all the elders joined in the luinneag (chorus), and it was
considered a miracle that the minister himself escaped."
Duncan Ban—"Ho ! ho ! ho ! It was a sight to see elders, precentor, and the female props of the pulpit, all sneezing as
if for life, and deil take the hindmost. Never was such a dirdum
since the stag, with its branchy antlers, dispersed old Dominie
Macarthur's congregation on the Iollaraig."
for sure. I was the last of the old men's pannan (band) to get
out, because, look you, my good dog Bran, which cannot be kept
from going to church whatever I do, believed, the amadan, that
the people about were doing me wrong, since he saw me sneezing
and wiping my eyes. With this smuain (idea) in his head, Bran
rushed here, there, and everywhere, upstairs and downstairs,
through the whole church, barking for a declared enemy. The
great fear fell on me he would in no time begin biting legs and
arms, and tearing women's bonnets. So, from the necessity of the
case, and to get him right away, 1 put two fingers in my mouth
and whistled three as loud whistles as I could give. I forgot
for the moment the place and the day, but,. with the danger
before my eyes, I think I would have done it all the same if I
remembered both. Bran was not to be trifled with whatever ; but
the whistling just crowned the scandal of Sneezing Sunday."
John the Soldier—"It must have been the
rarest scandal ever heard of."
Omnes—"It was rare good, ho !
ho ! ho !"
John the Soldier—"And where was Shonnie? I hope he
saw the fun."
Iain Og—"Thou mayst safely swear that. He was
in the breast of the loft, looking on as if butter would not
melt in his mouth; and I am told he never laughed once until Calum whistled for Bran. That was more than he could resist, for
Bran and he are great friends."
Calum—"Aye, that they are."
Iain Og—"His mother was sitting beside him ; and this time she
never suspected his wickedness, although she puts on him many a
blame, and often calls him a naughty boy spoiled by his seanair—which,
there is fear upon me, is not the breadth of the world away from
John the Soldier—"What happened afterwards? I
hope you were not too severe on Shonnie, although no doubt he
deserved to be 'court-martialed.'"
Iain Og—"Well, then, when
we all got home I was that put out, nobody dared speak to me.
But just when my son was to begin the reading, and when all were
gathered round the teallach (ingle), with their Bibles in their
hands, I looked at Shonnie, and asked—' Didst thou put thy
mother's strong red pepper into my Sunday snaoisean horn?' The
laddie replied readily, and it angered me to see his lips
twisting for laughter—'Yes, old father, that I did.' With that
his mother gets up and takes out the pepper box, and lo ! there
was not a pinch of the red pepper in it. He had put the whole
lot—and it was not a small one—into my Sunday horn. You may be
sure his mother was shocked, and that she said — remembering my
former interference—she now hoped I should let him be properly
punished, or do it myself. My son said the same, and yet it was
clear to be seen that it was hard for him to keep from laughing,
although the open Bible was on his knee waiting for the reading.
As it was the Sabbath, nothing
more passed that night. In the morning, when I was thinking
whatever to do, Shonnie came to me before them all and said—' I
must be whipt by father or you ; and I wish to be whipt by
yourself, old father.'"
John the Soldier—"He is a laddie
that knows what he is about."
Iain Og—"Aye, indeed, above
the common. His father and mother said the whipping must be very
real, and must take place there and then. My son handed me his
long razor strap, as nasty and harsh a piece of tough leather as
could well be cut out of a horse's hide. I took it, and asked Shonnie if he was not very sorry for what he had done, and very
much ashamed of himself for the scandal he had caused ? "
John the Soldier—"I'll be bound, he replied like a truthful
Iain Og—"Aye, that he did. Instead of
blubbering, and sneaking, and seeking to lessen punishment, he
replied —'I am not a bit really sorry at all, at all, old
father. And that is the truth ; for oh, it was so funny ! You
must whip me right hard, because I can't be a bit sorry.' With
that the little fellow broke out into screams of merriment,
which so raised my corruption that I seized on him, and whipt
him, until his very mother, who is uncommonly hard on Shonnie,
said it was enough. It was the sore heart that whipping gave me
too. But at the end of it, although Shonnie's cheeks were wet
with silent tears, there was the ghost of a merry twinkle in his
eye, and a faint smile on his lips."
John the Soldier—"The
boy is a true young laoch (hero)."
One of the Seanairean—"Tell the soldier what Shonnie did at the questioning."
Og—"Oh, that was the laddie's peace-offering. The minister and
the elders—each elder in his district—were going round, as they
do every year, to try the people in
Bible knowledge and the Book of Questions (Shorter Catechism) ;
and soon after Sneezing Sunday, it came to the turn of our baile.
So we gathered, young and old, in Do'ull Chalum's empty barn,
and, after prayer and praise, the questioning began. I was
sitting with the Dalveich old mother (grandmother) on one side
of me, and Shonnie on the other. When the minister put her
question to the Dalveich old mother, she just looked at him,
nodded her head, and moved her hand to signify that she passed
it on like the bad penny. And the minister, who is not hard on
old people, said nothing, but looked at ine for the answer. And
I was preparing to give the answer, quite right, too, when the
word was taken out of my mouth by Shonnie, who, in his clear
young voice, gave the answer as if reading it from a printed
book, without stop or slip. I thought much wonder of this, and
was much vexed likewise; but the minister passed on to the
person after Shonnie, without making any remark. When the
meeting was skailing and all the women, children, and young
men were passing out, while we, the few old men of the baile,
were stopping to have a drop of whisky with the minister out of
my son's bottle, I seized Shonnie, when passing me, and asked—
'Why, then, didst thou do it whatever?' And, giving a bit turn
of the eye, he said—' Because you should be let off. like the
Dalveich old mother, who is a deal younger, and because of
Sneezing Sunday, too.' I told this to the minister and the
others when we were taking our drop, lest I should be thought to
have forgotten the Book of Questions, and to have put Shonnie up
to answer for me. And the minister laughed right heartily; for
he is not the gloomy man, at all, but the good fellow, all and
entirely, although he may be too fierce about Non-Intrusion, and
perhaps a thought too strict about small gleanings of worldly
pleasures that were thought no harm of in former times."
Duncan Ban—"No doubt, the minister is a good sincere man, and
the right fine fellow, too, when following his
own bent. But it is to the noisy and foolish party he has made
himself over. Aye, they have exalted the little men, and, worse
still, the little women ; and these puffed-up imps master their
masters, and, far from taking to the innocent employment of
making a rope of sand, it is busy they are overturning the Kirk,
and bringing all to confusion."
John the Soldier—"My nephew
Alastair tells me there is a prospect of your soon losing the
Duncan Ban—"For sure there is. He went last
summer to preach at communions in the far North, and the outcome
of it is that he is now offered a parish there, which has, they
say, nearly three times the stipend of ours. But I was going to
tell something which happened at the questioning of our baile.
Among the company of us gathered in Angus Beg's large cearna
(kitchen) was John the Drover. Now, before the minister came
round, it was well known John was striving hard to learn his
questions; and, indeed, he strove hard also many a time before.
But for the Book of Questions, John's memory is not worth a
dadum,1 although for songs and the head-marks of beasts, it is
just the best memory in the whole county. As evil luck would
have it, the minister asked John one of the petition questions
at the very end of the book. This was a surprise, and a hard one
too, for John had placed himself at the top end of the settle,
hoping the minister would begin at the beginning, and ask him a
question from the fore part of the book, for he thought he could
pretty safely swim as far as Effectual Calling. So, when the
minister began at the other end of the company, and, on at last
coming to him, asked a question from the very end of the book,
John lost grip of the reply altogether, and felt wronged, and
angry besides. But a dauntless carle is the old drover. He would
not give up without trying to say what he thought should be
something near the answer. At last, when he saw the minister's
clouding, and the young people wanting sore to be allowed to
laugh out, he said he could not just then mind the answer, and
he shut his mouth, hoping the minister would pass on to the next
without more ado. But that the minister did not do. He stopped
to exhort and rebuke John in severe words. Then John fairly
spoke up, saying he had more to do with cattle than questions in
his youth, and that now, however much he tried to learn, his
memory would not keep its grip. 'But, John,' said the minister,
looking black, 'I fear it is the will rather than the memory
which is at fault. I am quite sure thou couldst easily learn a
new song.' 'Of course I could,' replied John, 'were it as long
as Bendorain, and with great pleasure too. Songs glide into my
memory like water into a linn. But questions are not like songs.
They are jumbly things without rhyme or tune, reason or
sweetness. Yet I could learn one question, and keep grip of it,
if you only told beforehand what question you wished to ask.
But, come what may, I'll never malt my brains any more by the
whole Book of Questions at a stretch.' After that the minister
was glad to pass on to the next."
Calum—"And John the Drover
was right to refuse to let himself be harried and shown up
before young folk."
Iain Og—"So he was; but I am thinking
it is time for us to be now taking our ways home."