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The Long Glen
Chapter XXVI - The Maor Enlightened


As Calum and Duncan Ban were going for their snuff on a Saturday in the month of July, shortly before the first Free Church Communion, the Maor overtook them, and forthwith began to bluster and threaten that the Laird, when he came of age, would do this and that, and make the Free Churchmen on his estate suffer. Knowing well how staunchly they opposed the Disruption movement from first to last, the Maor fully expected sympathy and assent from the two old men. In very truth, he much desired sympathy and support; for he found himself quietly sent to Coventry by the Free Church tenants on his master's estate, and bitterly tongue-bitten by the pious women and effective partisans on the Marquis's land. What was still worse he was just beginning to suspect that he possibly deserved his punishment; and he consequently wished for words of external approbation to rid him of that uncomfortable suspicion.

Calum, as a matter of course, and Duncan Ban, with a strong effort of self-restraint, listened silently to a long monologue, half accusation half explanation, which was well garnished with oaths and cursings. In this monologue the beardless Laird figured as an omnipotent offended deity, and the Maor as the ready executioner of his sovereign will, while Do'ull Uilleam, the disobedient farmer, and the whole Free Church squad were freely consigned to perdition as enemies of Laird and Maor, who required the punishment of eviction in this life, lest by some trick they should jink the Devil beyond.

Great was the Maor's disappointment when he gathered from solemn silence that the old men did not coincide with him. He therefore got angry both with them and with himself. And he was foolish enough to ask pointedly for their opinions. Calum replied softly that it was a great pity the young Laird's name should get mixed up in the kirk quarrel, especially as he was only a lad yet, and not a Presbyterian at all—which also was a great pity. The Maor, very ill satisfied with Calum's view of the matter, pressed hard for Duncan Ban's opinion, and the old man gave it, as Calum afterwards deserved, "hot and fat as the first burst of the haggis."

"From what you have just told us it is my sad opinion you have already worked more mischief for the young Laird —poor misguided lad !—the tenants, and yourself also, than you will be able to undo all your life. And indeed, may God grant I may be quite mistaken."

"Mile Mollachd!—What do you say? The young Laird means to be master of his own property. That is not a strange thing, is it? Indeed, all the land-masters are banding together to prove to all the world that they are masters —and quite time, too, they should do so. Tenants that disobey their masters need not therefore expect to keep their farms when their leases run out. What the Devil have I done? Nothing but what was right. I warned Do'ull Uilleam the Laird might not approve of his letting this Free Church Communion be held on his cow pasture. What business had he to promise it before he first spoke to me, that the Laird might be consulted? It was cursed impertinence. Let him take the consequences. I have told him that the Laird will be master of his own in a short time when leases run out—the Devil take him."

"And he refused, in spite of your threats, to break his promise to the Free Kirk folk in regard to lending them the use of the bit heather for a day?"

"Devil take him! That he did with fire and fury. But he'll repent of it in a day to come, air m'anam!"

"Has he ever failed to pay his mal (rent), plack and bawbee, on the mal day all the long years he has been tenant?"

"Well, no. He is a punctual payer." "And uses the land well?"

"Well, yes. But, Devil take him, that is not the question."

"Och man," answered Duncan Ban, "it is the black sorrow that you do not keep from meddling beyond your right, and stick carefully and thankfully to tree-planting, drain-making, wood-management, tenants, and kains, with toddy-drinking to boot, which are all your work, and for all of which you are well fitted—that must be confessed. Do you think now that lords, lairds, factors, and jaunty maoran can warrant the salvation of tenants and commons at the Day of Judgment?"

"I have not said or thought anything of the kind."

"Well, then, what business have they to meddle with the way in which these people seek to make their souls? If, indeed, the lords and lairds tried to make their souls in the Kirk of the country a right of community would entitle them to some say and influence."

"The rights of property belong to the land-masters."

"Aye, well do we know that, and much have the Marquis and others ventured to abuse these rights. But what have the rights of property to do with matters in which the poorest men have as much at stake as the richest? Ever)- peat you throw on the fire throws out its own reek."

"That has nothing to do with Do'ull Uilleam's misconduct in granting his pasture near the Kirk to the spiteful Free-Kirkers without the laird's consent or mine."

"Alan, it is glad and proud I am to hear that Do'ull Uilleam put down his'long brogue on your miserable threat, and crushed it like a black churchyard beetle. The world is all before him, and he is the good farmer and thriving man. Where can you find a better tenant? And why is he threatened with the loss of his farm ? Because he dares to call his soul his own. Oh shame, shame on the black heart into which the mean thought ever entered!"

"Devil take me, do you think—"

"I think," grimly interrupted Duncan Ban, "the Devil is likely to take you without being bidden."

"Mile Mollachd! What I want to ask is this reasonable question, had Do'ull Uilleam any right to promise the pasture without the Laird's consent?"

"Every right in the world. He pays his rent, and the pasture is his to make any use of it he likes, which is not forbidden by the lease or the law ; and neither lease nor law forbid Free Kirk Communions."

"But when the lease will end the laird will have every right to do what he likes with his own land."

"Every right of law, for sure. But, man, are not such things as justice and goodwill to be kept in view by the owners of the land? All rights are not written on paper and sheepskins; the highest of all are only written on men's hearts. The Laird can turn off Do'ull Uilleam at the end of the lease. But will it be right for him to turn him off just because he calls his soul his own? Do'ull's people have been in this Glen for many centuries."

The Maor—"What the Devil has all this to do with the Laird's rights?"

Duncan Ban—"Maybe nothing as things go nowadays* This young Laird of ours is the third of his race who has owned this estate. They have had it, the three of them among them, for barely sixty years. They are for sure a short-lived race, and their generations come quickly on the top of each other. The family from which they inherited held it for eighty years, and before then there was a socharach (generous) family that owned the whole Glen for 250 years, which is almost since it was first ' counted out' to any man by the kings who owned it from of old. The generous family, whose memory is still treasured, lost the Glen by a great misfortune, and the folly of one man. And what think you happened when the Glen was about to be sold? All the tenants having secretly put their heads together, and come to the same resolution, went to the ruined laird and offered to give half their stocks to redeem his debts. But he did not accept the offer, because he did not see how they were ever to be repaid. It is to that old family that the Glen owes enclosed fields, head-dykes and plan and purpose for making the most of the land both arable and pasture."

The Maor—"Mile donas! What do I care for all this old-world stuff?"

Duncan Ban—"Do you think if the need arose the present family would be offered for ransom the free-will gift of half stocks?"

The Maor—"Of course not. Calpa-cinne and feudal relations have long died out. Landlords when farms fall in can do what they like with their own. Tenants are protected by their leases, and if they offer higher rents than they can get out of the farms, that is their own look-out."

Duncan Ban—"Is not Do'ull Uilleam entitled by his lease to make any use which the law allows of his cow pasture?"

The Maor—"Well, let him look to himself at the end of his lease. That is all I say."

Duncan Ban—"And it is a deal more than you ought to say. Poor young Laird!"

The Maor—"Why poor young Laird?"

Duncan Ban—"Poor young lad! Is cruaidh a dhan— hard is his fate."

The Maor—"Whatever may you mean?"

Duncan Ban—"I mean that a cruel wrong was done to the boy when he was sent to the great school of Oxford to be brought up as a foreigner in creed, language, likings, aud thoughts. I mean also that it is a black misfortune for him to have you for his eyes and mouth in the Glen just at present. Then also he has so much to make up."

The Maor—"A hundred thousand devils! What has he to make up, ye cursed bodach of the unrespectful tongue?"

Duncan Ban—"The truth may not be what you call respectful, but yet it is the truth that shall stand. The Commandment threatens that the sins of the parents will be visited on the children to the third and fourth generation ; and we see the proofs of that visitation every day. The young Laird is only the third generation, and, poor laddie, he has much to make up. I have paid rent to every one of his race who ever owned this estate. What sort of man, think you, was his grandfather? A light horseman— so fast indeed that he must have got his horse where the witches get their broomsticks from. He drank like a fish; gambled like a madman; spent his substance among harlots ; scattered money like dust in all debaucheries; and finally got his second wifeand the mother of his heir out of the play-house. But that was just the best thing he ever did. She was the good wife, but it could not be said that he was the good husband. The little lady had a warm Irish heart and a bonnie, blithesome face. She also spoke the Gaelic of Erin, and her sunny smile, kindly words, and good deeds, soon made her the pride and delight of young and old. Her husband's folly and wickedness, however, spoiled a young life, which better guided or left to itself would have been useful and beautiful. He drank, gambled, and raked, until he had not a crossed coin with which to scare the Evil One. Then his creditors obtained legal hold of the estate for his lifetime; and they pounced upon it just as ravens, carrion crows, and magpies come down on the carcase of a braxy sheep. The moment the leases given by the former family died out, these creditors disposed of the farms to the highest bidders, at public roup, for the next seven years if the ne'er-do-weel Laird chanced to live so long. The old tenants, cleaving with all their hearts to the homes of their forefathers and the hills of their youth, kept out the strangers by bidding above them, and binding themselves to pay rents which they could never expect to get out of the holdings. So high indeed were the rents run above the prices for cattle, sheep, and the yarn spun by the women, that for the next seven years men, women, and children worked harder than slaves, and fared worse than begging tramps. The poor tenants having spent all their own small savings, borrowed money from friends, and sent out as many sons and daughters as they could, all over Alba, to serve and work, so that with their wages they might help to pay the rents. It was surely no sin for people so bestead to hope and wish that the ne'er-do-weel Laird should die, so that the oppression of the ravenous creditors might end, and the little lady and her boy might bring back light, liberty, and hope before they altogether broke down in black despair. But, although he was a burden to himself and a shame to the land of his birth, die he would not for a wearisomely-long time. The seven years ended at last, and the farms were rouped again. This second time, however, few strangers came forward to bid against the old tenants, because great pity for their hard case prevailed far and wide throughout the Land of the Gael. So the second term of bondage was rather lighter than the first. It was shorter, too; for, at the end of five years, the ne'er-do-weel Laird died at long-last, and you may safely swear no tear of grief was shed on his grave. But he had seen the little lady dead and buried before him. Their son, the father of the lad now at the Great School of Oxford, was our next Laird. A kind and just Laird he was; for the warm heart of his mother had been given to him, and he inherited none of his father's failings, except over-fondness for drink towards the end. With the good reductions the new Laird made in the rents, and the good rise in prices caused by the war with France the tenants recovered their courage, and drew a long breath of relief, like people feeling thankful for a wonderful escape from drowning. The new Laird married a good and pretty Highland lady of true Gaelic descent, and she spoke beautifully the Gaelic of the West. It was well off we thought ourselves, and did we not indeed heartily hope and pray they might long live happily in our midst. But it was not to be. Husband and wife died quite young, and their little boy was left to the care of others. Poor boy, taken away in infancy from home and people, he has been brought up in the Church of England, although his father was a member of the Kirk of Scotland to his dying day. But that misfortune could have been covered by a good Highland plaid, if they had not sent him to the Great School of Oxford to be made a foreigner of, all and altogether. The laddie has not had fair play. And you, his Maor, and all others, who would help bad education to lead him astray, will, for sure, have much to answer for, both in regard to him upon whom a burden has come by birth, and in regard to the tenants who have scarcely yet had time to forget the sore sufferings of the days of bondage ; aye, and of the late bliadhnachan cruaidh (hard years between 1835 and 1S41), when you know full well the trustees, much as they wished it, could not give us the abatements granted to neighbouring tenants."
The Maor, to whom mucn of this was a revelation, had nothing to reply. He went away rather repenting, but resolved all the same not to show repentance, and not to give his young master the benefit of knowing Duncan Ban's view of the case.


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