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The Long Glen
Chapter XIII - Donald Cam and Old Janet


AS if propitiated by the sportive worship on Dun-an-teine, the Sun-God shone brilliantly for the whole of that May—or rather the rest of it, for the Glen people's first of May was the 12th of that month, seeing that, in regard to Hallowe'en, Christmas, New Year, and Beltane, their ancient Christian, and pre-Christian, festivals, they disregarded Act of Parliament and Almanac, and stuck to the Old Style. It had been a cold, wet spring, and field labour had dragged considerably. A good deal of peat-cutting was always done before the barley and turnip sowing ; but this year, owing to the weather, the early part of that working, including the minister's day, turned out rather unsatisfactory. After Beltane the laird's tenants gathered as usual from their several separate hills and mosses to the one hill on which it was customary to cut the kain peats for the Castle. The weather then was so good that three or four days after being cut and spread on the grianan, or drying ground, which usually was gravelly hillocks, whose heather had been burned, they could be footed, or made into what they called ducain.

On a certain Thursday in this May the Castle peat-making had been carried on all the forenoon, in such a broiling sun that, at one o'clock, the men who were cutting and the women who were wheeling the peats to the drying ground, and spreading them in long, close rows, not without a suggestion of fanciful designs, were very glad to rest from their labours, and to eat their sober mid-day meal of .oatcakes and milk. After they had dined in sets of families, each by their own poll moine, or peat cutting, many of them gathered on the shady side of what to most of them was the common grianan, or spreading hillock. Here they looked down through a feadan, or narrow hollow between many hillocks, to the wood, which spread upwards a mile or so from the river. Duncan Ban was there, and so was his yellow fiddle, for the kain peat-cutting was one of the few occasions on which he could, to use Rob Macarthur's words, clip the beard of the cleir, by keeping up old customs, and tempting the young to dance to the Miiileann Dubh during the rest hour. But to-day he said it was too hot for fiddling and dancing, and nobody indeed was lively, until all at once a thick-set, short man, fanning a bare head with a broad, blue bonnet, emerged from the wood, and the question went round, "Who can he be?"

After a long scrutiny by many eyes, shaded with hands, bonnets, and summer caps, a woman's voice proclaimed that the coming man was certainly Donald the shoemaker, of Craig-an-t-Sagairt, a village just below the Glen pass, and therefore belonging to Kilmachaoide. Donald was well-known to all the grown-up people of the Glen, for he began business by being a perambulating shoemaker. Even yet, when a cow was killed at Martinmas, or a cow, heifer, or horse came to grief, the hide was generally tanned into leather at home, there being always plenty of birch bark available ; and next winter the men of the household converted the leather into brogues, or light summer shoes, a peculiarity of which was that they had to be turned inside out after the sole was sewn on. Brogue-making was now on the decline, although not at all a lost art, because sheep had so much superseded cattle that there were fewer hides to tan, as, in the majority of cases, people killed sheep and goats at Martinmas instead of larger cattle. But Donald was never a brogue-maker, although he had cut thousands for his customers to make themselves. He was a regular shoemaker and bootmaker, whose work, whether strong or fine, could bear comparison with the best produced in towns. Shoemakers, tailors, and flax hecklers were all, in Donald's youth, perambulatory people, who went on their rounds regularly. The shoemakers were the first to become stationary. Perhaps Donald himself was the last who perambulated his district of the Highlands. He gave it up when he married, but always retained a sort of hankering for the old jovial rambling, being a man brimful of songs, tales, and humorous anecdotes.

After many hand-shakings and hearty mutual greetings, Donald the shoemaker was asked what was the sgeul from the Priest's Rock, and he replied forthwith :—

"Donald Cam—good be to him!—died last night, and I have come up the Glen to-day to arrange with Hugh the Bellman about his grave, and to bid the Glen folk to his funeral, on the day after to-morrow."

Duncan Ban—"And Donald Cam is dead; and was it not indeed hard for him to part with his pigs, and the bit of money he so diligently scraped together? He was surely, in his way, the biggest miser ever seen in the Garbh-Chriochan in our times; and yet, he kept his mother in croft and cow till her death. He must have been forty before he took to the penny-heaping like a religion. I heard it said he was always a most honest servant and a laborious worker; but surely he never was a handy man, except at rearing and fattening pigs—nasty creatures!"

Diarmad—"That is a mere foolish prejudice. Pigs are too much despised by Highlanders. Donald Cam, it is said, produced the best bacon in this part of Scotland, and got high prices for it from hotelkeepers and shooting-lodge people."

The Shoemaker—"So he did. Besides the farrow sow, he always had two pigs fattening and two growing. The very last words he spoke were about his bacon."

Duncan Ban—"How was that?"

The Shoemaker—"When he felt the death struggle coming upon him, he happened to cast his one eye on the sides of fat bacon hanging on the deal partition, and he said, in quite a loud voice for a dying man, to Anna Nic Fhearchair, who was attending him, in the presence of all of us who were called in—' Take out that bacon before the Aog will go into it'—and it had to be done to give him peace."

Diarmad—"What superstition is that? Is the Aog different from death?"

Duncan Ban—"Bas is merely the stopping of breath, or the cessation of the life we know, and the old people spoke of the Aog as a terrible being, and the Lord of Death. But don't bother the Shoemaker with thy questions now. Let us hear about the end of Donald Cam. I fear me it was not a very edifying one."

The Shoemaker—"Nay, it was far more edifying than could be expected from such a man. He fell ill about Christmas ; but after being in bed for a week got up, and began to look after his pigs again. He became bad again in the latter end of the Faoilteach, and shortly thereafter his ancles showed swelling, and he had to give up the care of the pigs. Whenever he noticed the swelling he said he could not recover, and would not last much longer than six weeks, being, as he was, a man of eighty-five. Then he asked Anna NicFhearchair to come and nurse him, and he trusted the care of his pigs to the old weaver's wife. Now that he felt sure of having got the death-summons, he turned over a new leaf, and was quite free with his money?"'

Duncan Ban—"He surely must have fallen into a doited state?"

The Shoemaker—"Far from it. He never was sharper in all his life. He took a bit to religion also, and Anna had to read chapters and psalms to him morning and evening. He preferred history and parables and miracles to the Epistles, and for some unknown reason the Gospel of St John was his special favourite. The minister and schoolmaster came often to visit him after he had first sent for them to make his will. But the old weaver's prayers and discourses he could not bear."

Duncan Ban—"I suppose that poor man is off his head again with the Church excitement and awakening movement, as they call it?"

The Shoemaker—"Yes, and worse than he was during the time of the Baptist movement."

Duncan Ban—"Well, he is a wonderfully clever body even in his times. I remember a good saying of Duncan the Fool regarding the old weaver when off his head before. Duncan happened to be at our house one evening, when in came the weaver, and began to speak like twenty Baptist rousers. I have heard many placed ministers give far more fusionless discourses. But he scandalised Duncan, who confidentially whispered to my wife—'Oh Lord ! let us be thankful that we have our reason.'"

The Shoemaker—"That was almost as good as what he said when rescued from death in the Skye snowstorm, thanks to the skirling of his pipes."

Diarmad—"What did Duncan the Fool say then?"

Duncan Ban—-"Surely thou must have heard of it? The poor Fool was speechless when taken to his brother's manse; but they gave him whisky, and he soon came out of his mist. On recovering the use of his tongue, the first words he said were—'I would not care in the least for the drifting, were it not for the wind.' But let us hear about Donald Cam's end. He has left his savings to his nephew the Drover, of course?"

The Shoemaker—"Yes, but the Drover, who is now in England, selling a lot of Skye cattle, will find a big hole made in the legacy, by sickbed, lykewake, and funeral expenses. Donald Cam went through the whole accounts, point by point, and had the oatcakes baked under his own eye, and the whisky and cheese bought, paid for, and brought into the house a fortnight before he died. The minister was really staggered at the liberal orders about rounds of refreshments at "faire" and funeral, which the dying man gave to me and two other neighbours in his presence."

Duncan Ban—"Of a truth, he must either have changed his nature, or found out his true original nature, before the end. But what are the orders?"

The Shoemaker—"Well, he complained of the rules laid down by the Sessions about 'faire' refreshments, as being too strict, but said it would perhaps be better to hold to them. By the same rules only one round can be given at the house when starting with the funeral, and another at the grave after the burial. Donald Cam got angry with the minister when he argued that this would be quite enough for a distance of ten miles, as well as for one of three or five. He insisted on there being two rounds on the way, one at each of two phu:cs which he mentioned, and at which I have to put up tre-iies for the bier to rest on when I go back. The first resting-place is on the roadside below Seumas Liath's house------

Duncan Ban—"Surely that is not a fairly divided stage?"

The Shoemaker—"The minister and the dominie both said that. Donald Cam fairly laughed in their faces, saying that Seumas Liath was a good man. whose help he wished to have at his flitting, and that he must not be left behind lifting his hands to the sky as he was at Anna Luath's (swift Ann's) funeral."

Duncan Ban—"Ho !' ho ! ho ! He heard of that story." A voice from the crowd—"What was the story ?"

Duncan Ban—"I'll tell you that. John the Soldier's aunt, Anna, who was called luath, because, being a light, tough, springy body, she could beat the whole parish in walking power, happened to die in the house of her niece in the Land of Pines, and so, of course, her body was brought round on a bier by Kilmachaoide to be buried in the Glen churchyard with her ancestors. Swift of foot, sharp in mind, and a just judge for strict honour and honesty was Anna Luath, and both at home and in the Land of Pines she was thought much of. Well, the Land of Pines people carried the bier to the Kilmachaoide boundary, and the Kilmachaoide people then took it up and carried it to our Glen boundary, where it was taken possession of by the Glen young men, in sets of four, according to custom. I do not know what whim of striving jealousy seized on the sets of young men, but they certainly took to fast walking, or what John the Soldier called 'the double,' before they reached Seumas Liath's house. You know how the house of Seumas, from the height on which it is placed, seems to overhang the road, but I daresay you do not all know that the road from the house between the banks to the King's highway is a good deal longer than one would expect to find it. Seumas, in his Sunday clothes, was waiting on the height in front of his house when the funeral came in sight. He turned at once to walk down, but thought he had lots of time, and took it easy. When between the banks, perhaps thirty yards from the highway, the funeral swept past, and he broke into a good trot to catch it. But when he reached the highway bier and coffin, bobbing and glancing in the sunshine on fast young men's shoulders, were just about to disappear at the forward turn of the road, and Seumas, with two or three more in like position, were left behind in a state of amazement. Seumas then lifted his hands and said—' Gu'n gleidheadh Dia thu Anna Luath. Mar bu luath beo thu, is seachd luaithe marbh thu ! (God have thee in his keeping, swift-footed Anne. If thou wert swift when living, thou art seven times swifter when dead! "

Laughing at a story so characteristic of the genial father of the Session, the company rose to resume their work—the hour of rest being over—and the Shoemaker, declining the invitation of Duncan Ban to stay with him for the night, said he had to get hold of Hugh the Bellman, and to return home that night. He was told that Hugh the Bellman could be surely found a mile or two away, up to the knees or hips in the river fishing with a long pole, having a cleft at the end, for the mussels in which he found the pearls, by the sale of which he made more profit than out of the kirk and graves. One of the young men offered to deliver the Shoemaker's message, but the Shoemaker said:—"Aye, but I must see him myself. I want to get a salmon cast or two from him; for I do a good deal of fishing, mornings and evenings, for the shooting gentry, who have no patience for it themselves, and Hugh beats us all at busking flies, although I would defy him to fish rock-pot linns like me with his own hooks."

Duncan Ban—"I am not so sure he could not beat you all at that too, if he had patience. Hugh is clever at everything, but a flighty old fellow. Well, good-bye. Thou wilt find Hugh in the water, or bent down below a shaded bank opening his sligeachan" (shells).

The Shoemaker—"If I come upon him bent over his sligeachan, I'll give him a fright."

Diarmad—"You'll better not do that, if you want to get flies from him. The children themselves know better, when they want a favour from him, than to put the bodha' on him."

The Shoemaker—"Is that start of alarm of his not a piece of acting?"

Duncan Ban—"No, indeed; but a real cross. I have heard it said that he got it through his mother being terribly frightened before he was born."

The Shoemaker—"Is that so? Then I'll give him due warning of my approach. Feasgar math dhuibh."

Donald Cam's instructions were all strictly carried out; and so he was buried royally, after having closed a long career of Labour and scraping frugality, which had latterly degenerated into extreme miserliness. Seumas Liath attended the funeral, and, having heard how the deceased wished him "to help at his flitting," went all the way to the churchyard, although the distance was a long one.

Here we meanwhile pass over the Queen's first visit to Scotland, the great event of the year 1842, in order to notice the death of Old Janet, which took place late in the autumn. She had been called Old Janet for almost time out of memory, first by much younger brothers and sisters, who looked upon her as an aged spinster and a despotic mistress of their father's house before she was much over thirty, and afterwards by all sorts and conditions of people on account of her great age. Old Janet was born when her father, with his younger brother. Black John, and several other Glen youths, who broke loose from authority, were "out" with Prince Charlie. So she was in her ninety-eighth year when she died, and she remained as intelligent as she ever had been to the last. But as Duncan Ban said—" Old Janet was not half so interesting an old woman as she might have been, because she never cared for songs or stories, or anything beyond her daily domestic surroundings. Her memory remained as sharp as her coal-black eyes, but there was not much of anything worth knowing stored up in it." Gilleasbuig Sgoilear, to whom he was speaking, observed that Diarmad, by dint of persistent interrogations, got in roundabout ways many facts and dates from her in regard to Glen persons and events. "But yet," added Gilleasbuig, "she was for years the bug-bear of Diarmad's boyish life, because her bachelor brother, the Maor, who was his godfather, persistently plagued the boy in his fun by asking him to marry Old Janet and take her off his hands."

Duncan Ban—"I got my turn of that myself nearly sixty years ago from the fun-loving Maor, and so did you, I should think. Old Janet must have been offered in marriage to several generations of Glen boys all round by her wag of a brother, who, although younger by nearly twenty years, died before her—and yet she was never a marrying woman from the beginning."

Gilleasbuig—"It is strange how long some of the people of that descent live. Here is Old Janet herself dying rather of accidental chill than of break-down of strength, when nearly ninety-eight. Her uncle, Black John of Culloden, completed his ninety-sixth year, and his daughter, Bean Dho'uill-ic-Iain,1 bids fair to live as long as did her father or her cousin, Old Janet. Then, when Janet was ten years old, a great-grand-aunt of her's- died—a spinster, too —who, if we are to believe report, was a hundred and three years old. That woman must have been born when Cromwell was in the King's place, and when Monk and English soldiers held the places of strength along the Grampian line and not far from the old line of the forts of the Feinne. Yet, while the lives of a few people of that descent are so singularh' prolonged—and always without the memory failing and the eyes getting dim—according to tables of reckonings made by Diarmad and me, from the best information we could get, and indeed most of it was from Old Janet herself, when you take all the people of the descent together, and share their years fairly among them, they are found to have a shorter average life than belongs to either your stock or mine, although our oldest people seldom see over eighty years."


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