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The Long Glen
Chapter XXIII - Fiddling and Ominous Bell-Ringing


The fiddler of Kilfaolain was a pupil of Neil Gow. When at his best, many good judges who knew both thought his bow-hand equal, if not superior, to his celebrated master's. The composing gift, however, did not fall to his share, and although his spirited play put fire and mettle in the heels of noble lords and ladies gay, as well as in those of common people, it could not be said that he ever attained more than local fame.

With that he was perfectly content, and indeed he prospered well in his vocation as long as the old social life of his district lasted. Hut while still in his fiddling prime—that is to say, not much over fifty—the old small gentry who had kept ancestral lands and holds for, in many cases, unknown generations, began to disappear. Several houses, by fatalities of war or want of heirs, died out entirely. Others had lived beyond their means, and were sold out. The Inchadin estate grew into a principality through the annexation of adjoining properties by purchase, marriage, or legal heirship—oftenest :iy purchase. The old Marquis was in his day the great man among a host of country gentlemen. He lived almost constantly on his estate, and kept up the old social customs and gatherings. His son took to new ways and evictions. He was great at desert-making, and lauded among Non-Intrusionists; but the fiddler of Kilfaolain loved him not.

Still, the fiddler could have put up with professional loss in high quarters had the commoners continued to patronise him as of yore. He was, in his way, a good, sober, God-fearing man, but he hated the religious revivalists of all names and colours, for they nearly ruined him professionally and, what hurt his feelings ten times worse, catalogued fiddling among the Devil's snares.

In the Disruption year the fiddler of Kilfaolain was now a very old man. He was, like most men of his profession, a little of a roamer by nature and more by habit; for in the good old times he seldom remained at home for a month at a stretch. In the evil days that came upon him professionally, when lairds disappeared-and fiddling and dancing were forbidden to the people by ministers and sessions, his absences from home became few and far between, and mostly confined to summer. But this winter he got restless and irritable at home, and at last made up his mind to take his fiddle under his arm and cross the hills on a visit to his old musical pupil and good sympathising friend, Duncan Ban.

The Kirk quarrel and all things pertaining to it made him almost tired of living longer in a world with which he was not at all in harmony. And there was a special grievance of a curious kind that irritated him beyond measure. Before becoming Neil Gow's pupil he took first lessons in his favourite art from a neighbour's son who was blind. The blind fiddler afterwards married and had a son ; but when the son was born the mother died. The boy grew apace, and soon was able to guide his blind father, the Fidhlear Deora, up and down the country to balls and weddings, where his services were required. He was a very bright lad, and friends began to say that he should be kept to his books instead of being, as it were, led into temptation as his father's guide. The Fidhlear Deora all the more heartily assented to this view of his friends because he wisned to marry again ; but he asked—What was to be done? At this time the fiddler of Kilfaolain was nearly at the top of his profession, and he interested himself greatly in little Do'ull Deora. So he and others put their hands in their pockets and set little Donald up as a pedlar. Donald, who was very persevering and talented, justified the help given him by thriving in business and in learning. He extended his peddling to dealing in flax yarn, then spun in great quantities in his native district and by this dealing he made a tidy bit of money long before he was out of his teens. The next thing which happened to him, and changed his whole career, was falling under the influence of what was first called the Missionary Revival, at the end of last century. He became a sort of local preacher, while still continuing both his book studies and commercial pursuits. In a short time the Missionaries divided into Independents and Baptists. Do'ull Deora stuck, for the time, to the Independents, and went to Homerton to study under Dr Pye Smith, where he learned to throw the living inspiration of his native Gaelic into eloquent English. But, after a time, Independency did not suit him. He rejoined the church of his fathers, and after completing his University course, with high honours, was licensed as a probationer. He was next employed as tutor in a highly-connected country gentleman's family, and employed his opportunities so well that the sole daughter of the house eloped with him. There was a raging storm at first, but the ex-pedlar and son of the blind fiddler was a man of independent mind and one who steadily made headway by his own merit. His wife was a proud earl's grand-daughter, but she never had cause to repent of her choice and rnoon-light flitting. Her husband rose rapidly in public estimation and public influence, and her relatives learned not only to tolerate him but to be proud of him.

The fiddler of Kilfaolain had rejoiced with all his heart in the successful career of his blind friend's son. What was then his feelings when he found his great Principal of 3. Northern College perambulating the Highlands as one of .a deputation of Non-Intrusionist agitators ! Was he not reported to have said that he would rather lay his head on the block than yield the principle in dispute? The fiddler of Kilfaolain felt stabbed at the shrine of his idolatry, and so he thought he would just go and have a talk with Duncan Ban about the Principal's going astray and the general degeneracy of an age which did not duly appreciate a good bow hand and which turned its back upon old ways.

The day, for winter, was a fair one, when he left home ; but before he got to the top of the hill pass it began to snow heavily, and by the time he reached the corner of the pine wood it was a blinding storm. This was the luadhadh storm already mentioned, and at the same time that Ewan and Duncan were working among the sheep on one side of the larig valley Angus and Duncan Ban's son were similarly employed among those on the other side. The old fiddler lost his way, which was no difficult thing to do, since the track, at no time very clear to strangers' eyes, was totally obliterated by the heavy fall of snow. He wandered into treacherous bogs and broken ground, seeking a way out of the wood and finding none. Then he felt the greatest difficulty in keeping moving on, and finally he sat down on the sheltered side of a big juniper bush, overcome by utter exhaustion and drowsiness, but still dreamily conscious that if he stopped he would never get up again.

Angus, or rather Angus's dogs, found him before it was too late. He was conveyed to Duncan Ban's house in a comatose state, but warmth, whisky, and food made him himself very soon. Next morning, however, it was discovered that his toes were slightly frost-bitten, and although the damage was not great, it was enough to lame him thoroughly for several weeks. At first he did not care for that. Duncan Ban sympathised with him fully about Do'ull Deora. And when the two old men drew forth their fiddles and played to a cearna full of ceilidh people, after the giuthas or bog-pine flame was lighted, they were as happy as kings and diffused happiness around them.

Ewan Mor, during this musical period, developed a gift for fiddling which astonished himself more than anybody-else. Diarmad tried his prentice hand, but found he had not the gift.

The heavy snowstorm yielded after a fortnight to thaw on the lower grounds, although it kept yet a firm grip of the mountain passes. The old fiddler, still very lame, began now to fidget about getting home. He was, however, persuaded to stay another week, and promised that Angus, who was bound to go to look at the hoggs which were wintering far away, would convey him safely down the glen as far as Kilmachaoide on the back of his host's brown mare.

On the eve of the trysted day unfortunately another fall of snow occurred, and the March wind drifted it fiercely. Still the old fiddler would not accept further invitation to stay out the storm impediments ; and Angus could not put off his journey. So they started just before daybreak, when the wind was low after having for a while blown itself to rest, and when the star-bespangled sky bore witness to the setting in of keen frost. It was dim dawn when they reached the church bridge. There they got into a narrow place between walls, the exit from which was most thoroughly blocked up by a wreath of snow higher than the mare's head. What was to be done? The old fiddler's hands were muffled in gloves and mittens; and, after trying, he declared he could not hold the reins and keep the restless mare quiet while Angus went to the smith's for spades and help to cut a passage through the wreath. Angus then led the mare into the sheltered enclosure about the church, and tied the strong rein, as he thought, securely to the bell-rope end. But, in the bad light, he made the tie above the ring, or in some other way the bell-rope itself was insecure.

The mare, after being for a little very quiet—for patience was not usually her greatest virtue—made a tug of investigation, and the bell forthwith voiced out loud and far upon the still frosty air, Angus by this time was with some difficulty getting Alastairand his man out of bed, and finding spades and shovels. Louder and louder rang the bell. The brown mare in truth was frightened out of her wits by the result of her first experiment. She began to pull and dance with a will. The old fiddler clung desperately to mane and saddle, and the bell startled the rising and risen population for miles round. Hugh the Bellman was among the first to hear it, and off he set to ascertain the cause of such an unheard-of event. He gathered a tail of followers as he ran to the church, and he was the first on the ground.

There was quite a crowd gathered in a short time, and Angus only regretted that he had not first thought of ringing the bell himself instead of letting the mare find out the best way for summoning quick assistance. The strange bell-ringing was accepted for an omen. Hugh, when running to ascertain the cause, had said in his haste that the Devil was ringing the bell, and the pious people who had the power and will to fulfil the augury, accepted the bellman's theory, and improved upon it, as a sign that desolation was proclaimed and Ichabod written on the walls of the now doomed place of former parish worship.


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