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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XXIX. - The Eccentric Minister


THE Government, with the help of the Laird of Ardvoirlich, one of the trustees of the Culdares estate, found, in Mr David Drummond from Comrie, a presentee for Glenlyon. Mr Drummond came of a good farming race, and if he had remained years after having been licensed without being settled in any charge, it was for no other cause than his eccentricity. In life arid conversation he was a thorough Christian. His talents and learning were decidedly above the average. I do not know whether it was true or not, but the story we heard about him was that in preparing to compete for some University prize or honour, he had by hard study thrown himself into a brain fever, out of which he emerged different from his former self, and also from the ordinary rank and file. He was always gentlemanly, and cleanliness he held to be next to godliness. He was particular about his dress, but eccentric in regard to his brown, curly wig, which, according to the weather, he took off or put on like a skull-cap. That is what it really was to him. His head was partly bald, and the hair on what was not bald he kept closely cut for health's sake. He had no thought of disguising baldness by the curly wig, which went off and on just as he felt his head to be hot or cold. One day when he preached at Fortin- gall for Mr Stewart, his treatment of the wig so astonished that gentleman's little son, that after the sermon he ran away to his mother to tell her that when Mr Drummond came out of the church, he took off his head and put it in his pocket.

When he came to Glenlyon to preach his trial sermons, he saw the desolation of the Church of Scotland there; for he had to preach to congregations not exceeding twenty in number in a building which, with its galleries, was then seated for an audience of seven or eight hundred. The Maor Ruadh entertained him hospitably, and the few communicants who remained in signed his call. There was nobody left to object, and the settlement was carried through without a hitch of any kind. When settled in the snug little manse, where a studious bachelor like him should in other circumstances feel happily lodged, he found himself placed very much like a sun-loving plant compelled to pine beneath the shadow of a yew-tree. His kindly sociable nature craved for the sympathy and social intercourse which were denied to him. He had a high idea of his ministerial responsibilities, wished to do good, and found no scope for doing it left to him. He could not say that the Free Church folk persecuted or insulted him openly, but he suffered just as badly as if they did. They treated him politely, but as a stranger who was always to remain a stranger among them. It was well for him that he could find refuge in books from the boycotting he had to endure. As the years slipped by the boycotting slackened. His peculiarities were laughed at, but his blameless, guileless character, and high ideals were admired.

The coming of Mr Drummond to the Glen was a great gain to me. I was beginning to struggle with Latin, and could get no help in that study from the young man who was that year the teacher of our side-school and a capital teacher of the three R's he was. Mr Drummond, who took much interest in the school and often visited it, found out my difficulty, and at once invited me to come to the manse for evening lessons. I was as eager to learn as he was willing to teach. So throughout the winter I walked round by the bridge, or crossed the river below the manse on stilts night after night to be drilled in Latin by a man bursting with classical learning and naturally gifted for imparting instruction. I worked hard, and under his stimulating tuition made rapid progress. I was only a young lad, but when I shook off my shyness, and saw what a lovable man, a Nathaniel without guile, my teacher was, I became warmly attached to him. From being teacher and pupil we became life-long friends. Nothing could be better for a young lad than close contact with such a cultured, noble-minded teacher. On the other hand, in getting a pupil so eager to learn, the isolated hermit found an opening for doing good and some mitigation of his trying position. I was the first, but not the last, of Mr Drummond's pupils. There was quite a number of Glenlyon lads placed under a similar obligation of unending gratitude to him. It mattered little to him whether these boys were the sons of Established Churchmen or Free Churchmen. Mr John Maclellan, the eldest son of the worthy Baptist pastor, was a specially favourite pupil of his, and he was proud indeed when this pupil became minister of the Edinburgh Baptist congregation that Mr James Haldane had founded, and of which he was the pastor till his death at an advanced age.

Mr Drununoud carefully wrote out his sermons, both English and Gaelic. When we got to be confidential, he told me that he was troubled about his Gaelic, which he had not cultivated as much as he ought to have done at Comrie, where it was already in his boyhood showing signs of dying out. I had to listen to him reading his Gaelic sermons before their being preached, and give help in correcting the mistakes which slipped into them. His command of Gaelic words was extensive enough for all purposes, but the case changes and euphony modifications, which seemed easy and natural to rne from habit, were perplexing to him, and led him into awkward expressions. His English sermons, in diction and substance, were of more than good average quality. But he had an ambition for extempore preaching which frequently caused him, after reading the opening sentences and the headings, to roll up the manuscript and use it as a baton for beating the pulpit bookboard to give emphasis to thoughts which had just come into his mind, and which were not in the written sermons. The written sermon itself had generally been delivered to the fishes on Saturday, if the weather was fine; for to commit it to memory, which lie was never able to do, it was his habit to read it aloud while walking back and forward in his glebe on the bank of the river. In similar perambulations he spoke aloud long passages of the sermons which he was intending to write. When I was schoolmaster of Fortingall, during Christmas week I went up Glenlyon late on v a Saturday night to my father's house with the intention of going to a big hare hunt on Monday ; for at Christmas the schools had a few days' holiday. On Sunday morning snow was falling heavily, and there had been plenty of snow and ice on the ground before this second storm had come. Owing to the storm I was a little behind time in getting to church. When I went in I slipped into the nearest seat, and was just in the act of sitting down when, to my confusion, the minister, who had opened the Bible to give out the psalm, hailed me from the pulpit, asked me when I had come up, and said he was glad to see me there that day "For," said he, "we are a small company, but still a larger one than that of the Apostles. Minister included, we numbered seventeen. That day he kept his hat on the top of his curly wig while giving out the psalms, reading the lessons, and preaching, but he always took it off at prayers and singing. He had a most reverent soul, and yet on sudden impulse he could commit irreverent indiscretions unconsciously.

Mr Drummond had been preaching for fifteen years or longer to a skeleton congregation, looking well after the side-school and catechising the children that went to it, and, as a labour of love, helping ambitious lads to a higher education than could be obtained in that useful class of schools, when he received a heavy blow. A double calamity indeed befel him in one year. His trustworthy servant man died of fever after a short illness. That loss threw him into a state of sorrowful excitement which was sad to witness. But the second loss was much more tragic. His brother's son, Peter Drummond, who had come from Comrie to live with him, and whom he was beginning to train for college, was accidentally killed by the fall of a tree, when the schoolmaster and the elder scholars were cutting down birch trees which were given to them for school-house fuel. Young Peter was beloved by his school-companions, and well-liked by all that knew him. He was a bright, intelligent, good-looking and most amiable lad of fourteen or so, and the idol of his poor uncle, who had fairyland hopes of the boy's future career. Long before this sad accident occurred the Free Church folk had considerably altered opinion and demeanour in regard to Mr Drummond. They threw away all reserve on this occasion, and warmly expressed their sympathy and affection. Their sympathy helped him to bear his loss with outward composure, but he could not for- get, he could not sleep as he used to do, and his oddities gradually increased. The result was that some years later he retired on a pension, and went back to his people at Comrie, and there ended his days and slept with his fathers.


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