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The Long Glen
Chapter XXIX - The Pilgrimage to Kilmachaoide


THE muster place was at the cross roads, where at seven o'clock on a glorious morning, when woods and meads exhaled perfume, and wimpling burns crooned little anthems, several well-washed carts, provided each with a cushioned swing-seat, drew up in line, with Duncan Ban's brown mare leading. Ewan and Diarmad, representing revolt from family ecclesiasticism, came to this muster, driving each a paternal cart, and occupying a paternal seat. Ewan had, without any difficulty, persuaded his sister Jessie to come with him, but Diarmad had nobody to back him at all when he appeared on the scene. The three seanairean, with two old wives, some grandchildren, and Calum and his sister Meg, came in three carts. Iain Og and Shonnie and their old-mother caught up John the Soldier by the way, and brought him with them. Duncan Ban's vehicle was ridiculously overcrowded ; for he brought with him his son, son's wife, Mary, their grown-up daughter, and several younger children. The smith's cart was fully engaged for his own and the wright's belongings. The luadhadh spinster and widow, with the latter's boy and girl, came to the rendezvous on foot, and asking to be taken up. Being an unexpected reinforcement, they were received with a shout of welcome.

A redistribution of passengers being necessary, Ewan and the widow undertook to arrange things satisfactorily by fairly allotting the swing seats among the older people, and packing a few youngsters in the box-like vacuum behind each seat. When the procession was ready to start it could be seen that Mary Macintyre and the widow were under Ewan's care, and that the spinster and Jessie Cameron were passed over to Diarmad, doubtlessly in remembrance of the cliath.

Duncan Ban's warlike heart rejoiced. He wished he had a Lochaber axe, with a pennon floating from the steel head, to fix in the front of his cart. All unbidden the pibrochd. which defies the men of his own name, and the bald carles who sup sowens, to bar the way, came to his mind, and a parody of it gushed forth from his lips, to the horror of Iain Og, who was standing beside him at the moment, and who did not forget the day, and the object of the pilgrimage. And the unbidden parody was :—

 Gabhaidh sinne 'n rathad mor, Olc air mhath le each e, Olc an mhath le Eaglais Shaoir, 'S le balaich chlaon an racain."

"Whist now! Whist now! You'll frighten folk with your pibrochd verses on the Sabbath," said Iain Og. "If Ealag stood in my brogues, you would not hear the end of it to your dying day."

"Well, for sure, I did forget the day and the occasion for the twinkle of a sunbeam. But be sure the Judge will not take the ruling from Ealag. Why the body herself, with her scandal-making, and trotting for no good to prayer-meetings and such like, is, I doubt, the worst Sabbath-breaker in the glen. A little burst of music or flash of song cannot do much harm whatever. But look ; don't we make a brave muster?"

"Much better than could be expected; and when we get near the far end of the glen, I'm almost sure Seumas Liath will join us."

"You may say that's as sure as death."

"His house, indeed, is in Caoide's parish, although the big part of the farm is on this side of the march."

"They say his children have gone out, which is the greater loss to our side, because Seumas Og is a very sensible fellow, with ten times more grip than his father."

"Well, Seumas Liath was in many things too easy, and he never, I doubt, had much command of his family."

"The black sorrow is that we lose the young so badly. It is to the young the victory belongs, for they are the heirs of the years to be. Old people cannot keep up the succession.''

"Hoot-toot. We have a part of the young too. There is Shonnie now, bothering the grey mare already with the whip—do you think he'll ever forget thib day? And what, or sure have you to complain of at all, at all, when you ave at your back your children, and your children's children?"

The procession of carts rattled away, as if to the sound of the march which Duncan Ban parodied, in forgetfulness of the day. Had the Glen been buried in sleep, the side of it which the highway followed would have been rudely awakened by the trotting of horses on a hard road, and the noise of many heavy wheels going faster than farm cart wheels should go. The Glen, however, was not asleep, but such was the surprise created by the turn-out that people rubbed their eyes to make sure it was not all an optical delusion. Not a whisper of the pilgrims' intention had been heard beforehand ; but the strange sight was a fact not to be rubbed out.

Ealag's abode had to be passed at close quarters. It stood on a rocky height at an angle of the road, just where a watch could best be kept over a long stretch in both directions. Ealag was feeding her hens, and wearing no cap over hair which had just been carefully brushed and front-curled. She was hugely surprised when the long procession of carts came round the shoulder of the dun, full within the scope of her vision. She forgot it was Kilmachaoide communion day, and her soul was troubled with great perplexity. At first she could not make out who the pilgrims were. She felt something terrible was happening—whatever it was—and that she was herself a much-injured woman, defrauded of her natural rights, insomuch as she had got no inkling of the affair beforehand. She shut one eye, to give double power and length of sight to the other. The carts were coming down upon her at such a pace that she could soon recognise Duncan Ban, whose white hair and stately patriarchal presence first came out with distinct individuality in the flood of glorious sunlight. She next began to make out Iain Og, Calum, and the Seanairean, one after another. "All the black Moderates in a band, and where can they be going to-day?" she said to herself and to the hens. Now the pilgrims were close at hand, and curiosity prevailing—although the implied confession of ignorance damaged her character of all-knower—she screamed out, without the usual saluation of'Maduinn mhath," "Wherever may you all be going this morning?"

Duncan Ban, pulling in his mare, shouted back, "To the communion of Kilmachaoide. Come along with us, Ealag."

And Diarmad, from the rear, shouted still more loudly, "Come away with me, Ealag. Here's plenty room."

Ealag threw up her hands, and dramatically exclaimed —"O Righ!" which was not deemed an orthodox and proper exclamation among the good. She laughed, however, when Diarmad made Jessie Cameron draw closer to him, and asked the spinster to move to the other end of the seat, soas to show a bit room between. "Here's room enough; come, Ealag—cuimhnich daonnan." It was time for Ealag to beat a retreat when the worshipper of Baal, scorner, and Moderate began to conjure her by the clannish command, "Always remember."

During the long sermonless interregnum in the Glen, much gossipping, decently excused by occasional prayer-meetings held at elders' houses, mitigated the tedium of the Sundays. With the exception of Seumas Liath, all the elders lived on the south s>ide of ilie Glen, with the sun at their back, which meant long obscurity in winter, when the high bens kept the sun for weeks from shining on their dwellings at all. Rob Macarthur averred that this winter obscurity accounted for the greater piety of the south side people. Since the physical light failed, there was, he said, double need for light within. Seumas Liath, on the other hand, was held to have a poor light within, and that because he basked in the rays of the physical sun every day it unveiled its face all the year round.

As the highway followed the north side of the river, Ealag calculated that in all probability the south side people would be unenlightened as yet about the black Moderate pilgrimage. So she bolted her porridge, and dressed for Sunday visiting in hot haste, that she might have the great pleasure of being the first messenger of bad news.

The pilgrim procession halted at Seumas Liath's house, and Duncan Ban, seeing nobody outside, loudly hailed the inmates. In response the son and namesake of Seumas, a middle-aged man, came forth, preceded by barking dogs, and followed by several curly-headed youngsters, whom he had manifestly been putting through their questions, as he had a big Catechism, with the proofs at large, in his hand. Seumas Og, as he was called to distinguish him from his father, exchanged morning salutations with the pilgrims, and with some trouble silenced his dogs, which, judging from their behaviour, so like "noisy children just let loose from school," must have also been undergoing an unwelcome course of questions with proofs, when an unlooked for interruption restored them to natural voice and liberty of frolicking.

"It is under the black Moderate flag you must all be this day," said Seumas Og, with the genial smile and open cast of countenance inherited from his father.

"We are not under the red flag of schism and revolution at anyrate," sharply responded Diarmid, who got out of his cart to relieve the black mare of a pebble she had got jammed into the hollow of her brogue.

"Well, I only used words that are only too fashionable at present, and I meant no offence. For sure, we are dividing as did our forefathers in the old war times. But we are not going to fight with swords and guns this time. So much the better. The quarrel will be bloodless."

"I fear," said Duncan Ban, "it is so much the worse; but where is thy father? Surely thou hast not dared to put the old man into Free Kirk branks?"

"No, for sure, and he would not let us if we tried."

"I am glad to hear it."

"He never was so obstinate about anything that I know of in the course of his life, unless it might be in running away with my mother. You'll find ftim gone on before you.''

"Alone?"

"My wife has gone with him, not because she means to stop in the Old Kirk, a stick of which our prophets say will not be left standing in ten years' time, but because she could not bear to think of letting him go alone."

"Why did'st thou not go thyself?"

"Me! who would look after the beasts and the bairns, when the servants, being Clachan people, are gone too? But that is not the whole reason either. Truth to tell, I have said ' beannachd leat'1 to the Old Kirk."

"Well, in saying ' blessing be with thee' to the Kirk of thy fathers, it must be confessed thou art more Christian in thy manner of desertion than others on thy side, ministers and people who so little respect themselves and common decency as to go away cursing and reviling the spiritual mother that bore and nursed them."

"You see many of the folk on our side are just now a bit out of their minds, what with exultation, vexation, and loud talking."

"Gleadh mi if they are not the biggest idolaters ever seen. They are consumed with a burning conceit about the sacrifice they have made—some of them, I should say, have made—and they fall down to worship themselves, and condemn all who think the whole thing a bedlam affair."

"But I really think myself, being. I hope, in full possession of temper and senses, that the Old Mother Kirk is nearly dead, and cannot recover. Wherefore we must just prepare to bury her honourably, and praise her for all the good she did in her time."

"Aye, and thou thinkest the grand tough old Kirk of Albyn is dead, and that this Kirk of yesterday is to be her sole heir! But why thinkest thou so?"

"I think in former trials the Kirk had always on her side the majority of those who could fight, whether with working hands, swords, pens, tongues, or ability and will to suffer all the pains of outlawry and martyrdom. She could get up after many falls, because she was the mother of the young and the fountain of hope. Now the fighting power and the majority have left her. She is not the fountain of hope, nor is she the mother of the young, but rather the refuge of the old. If you will not take the comparison for more than I mean, she is like the ruined Castle of Dunan-glas, which is no longer the hold of nobles, but the lair of gipsies."

"But how can you people, who are traitors to your mother Kirk, expect your children to keep faithful to the poor image of her which you are now setting up on your plain of Shinar? It is too true that the present fighting generation has largely deserted the Kirk. It is not impossible the next generation may be of a different mind. Dissenting Kirks do not last long ere they renounce their creeds, fall to pieces, or just rush, like the possessed pigs, into the sea. No doubt we who remain true to the Old Kirk in the hour of her sorrow and shame, are in these parts few and weak ; but it is loyalty which giveth strength. You people, who have not kept the Fifth Commandment in regard to your spiritual mother, may depend upon it your children, with better right and reason, will follow your example, and turn their backs on the Free Kirk, forty or fifty years hence, when the perversity and folly of the present schism will be fully revealed."

The horses having in succession cooled their lips and quenched their thirst in the fountain water of Seumas Liath's stone trough while the foregoing dispute went on, Duncan Ban, not waiting for further reply, cracked his whip, and the procession moved on.

Although he might seem to have got off with flying colours from the encounter with Seumas Og, Duncan Ban in reality was not a little disturbed by that good-natured Free Churchman's view of the present and future prospects of the rival Churches. It came too close upon his own fear about keeping up the succession, to be easily dismissed.

The cloud lifted from Duncan Ban's mind like morning mist from the brow of a ben, when the procession approached the clachan, and he saw the Kilmachaoide parishioners crowding the ways to the Parish Church and to the broom-clad knoll on which the tent was placed,. among the larks and yellow-hammers.

Here at least was no perceptible evidence of the desolation of the Kirk. The present minister of Kilmachaoide was appointed to the parish only two years before, and his settlement took place, of course, under the Veto Act. He was never a favourite among the Evangelicals, who shook their heads at the mention of his name, and in moments of confidence dogmatically said he could not possibly be a converted man, because he was so distinctly a clear-headed opponent of their ecclesiaetical policy from the beginning, and so distinctly an excellent parish worker rather than a gushing preacher. During their period of supremacy the Evangelicals were too much cumbered with Non-Intrusion politics to pay great attention to useful humdrum parish work—always excepting catechising, in which they delighted. The minister of Kilmachaoide was above everything a parish worker, and if his sermons seemed dry in comparison with the eloquence of popular tent preachers, it was just because they dealt with practical questions in a practical manner. He had something of the military martinet, with a great deal of the old clannish Gael, mixed as formative elements of his ministerial character. But if he dragooned his parishioners more than they liked at times, they could not help deeply respecting him for it, because they knew well he did it all for their good. When they quarrelled they went to him as arbiter, and he settled their disputes with all the impartiality and authority of a judge. In fact, the sheriff's decision might be contested, but nobody ever thought of questioning the minister's decreet-arbitral. When they wanted to settle their worldly affairs, he wrote their wills, and saw them duly signed and witnessed. Whenever they got into trouble he rushed to the rescue. Lazy evildoers thought him dreadfully harsh, but they could not deny he was just. Although so lately settled as minister of Kilmachaoide, his authority was no sudden rootless growth. He was a born parishioner, with a good record. His father, a native of the parish, was also minister of it thirty years before. The father was a man who, by talent and perseverance, had made his way up from the station of a peasant boy to name and influence in the National Church. That was quite enough to make the Kil-machaoide people proud of their fellow parishioner ; and by a romantic love marriage with the daughter of an old landed family, he gave to his career the finishing poetic touch which always completely conquers the Celtic mind. If anything was still wanting to his Gaelic fame, he made up the deficiency to overflowing by taking a decided part in the Ossianic controversy, and gathering materials for the Highland Society's big report among old people who had never read a book in their lives, but had retained in the corners of their old memories many fragments of ancient heroic and mythical ballads they heard in youth.

The father was fervid and poetical, the son dry and military; but they were both kenned and trusted folk, and through his mother, who became the last of her race, the son united the influence of old family connection with the ministerial authority. He should have been vetoed because a black Moderate ; but when objections were invited, there was not an objector to be found, although the Non-Intrusion party had tried their best to stir up opposition.

Although—or because—they possessed a very good school which for generations had cheaply qualified their clever boys for entering the Universities, and gaining bursaries, the Kilmachaoide folk were during the Ten Years' Conflict very little affected by the Non-Intrusion agitation. A few among them, however, sympathised with the movement, and subsequently went out. And, indeed, all of them would like well to get rid of patronage, chiefly because the appointing of their ministers fell by turns to two families, who were not Presbyterians, and had not much property connection with the district.

At the Clachan the pilgrims from the glen received quite an ovation. They happened to appear on the scene a little before the time for commencing services, and the handshakings and greetings were extraordinary, both in warmth and extent. Duncan Ban, indeed, felt that they were being almost mobbed, and, with most of his train, sought refuge in the Church as soon as they could decently escape. Iain Og and his wife did not try to escape, but sat down in the churchyard, while old and new friends came crowding round them. They thought of moving at last when the bell began the impatient ringing in ; but just then the ministers passing to church and tent from the manse, through the churchyard, found them still seated on the gravestone of the wife's ancestors, and they detained them a little longer. On this occasion the parish minister's habitual dryness of manner completely disappeared, and there was more than a suspicion of moisture in his eyes when he found that embers of National Churchism remained alive in the Glen after all.


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