Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander
Chapter LXXX. -
Land and People
ON my way to Inverness, and
more fully after I settled there, I heard two stories about the land and the people, which, on the face of them, appeared to be contradictory of one another, but both of which were the truth, looked at from different points of view. Old Highlanders bewailed in eloquent Gaelic the desolating change which had come over the rural districts, and which was still going on as if it would never end. On the other hand, I met with young Highlanders, who, pointing to the growth of population along the railway lines, contended that there were more people now within the Highland lines than had been in the times to which the old ones looked back with so much vain longing, and that also there was room for further increase. The further increase took place as predicted, but not in the manner expected. As new railway lines were opened, new lodging - places for summer visitors sprung up, and some of the older places of resort losing many of their visitors, who went off to the new places, found to their cost that they had over- built themselves, and had to suffer for their rashness. The summer visitors with a few winter ones thrown in are still what they have been from the start the mainstay of the places along the railway lines. Trade prosperity makes the stream of them larger, and trade depression smaller. Many of them like to go to fresh scenes, and change their summer habitats every year, but the majority stick pretty closely to favourite places. Payment for houses, lodgings, and service is far from being all the profit brought by summer visitors. Brisk trade comes in their train to grocers, butchers, bakers, and others, as well as to hotel-keepers and people who have furnished houses or lodgings to let. The traders of the towns and villages along the railway lines supply not only their own places, but the adjacent stretches of country, to which they send out their vans with all the necessaries and most of the luxuries of life. To do away with grocers' licenses would not suit these traders, but the suppression of old licensed country inns, in the name of temperance, would not be unwelcome to them. The owners or tenants of mansions and shooting lodges are their best customers, and such of them as get goods from Army and Navy or other London stores, forfeit popularity by not encouraging local trade.
The population of those towns
and villages has become a little mixed. The people of Highland descent are largely in the majority, and likely to be so always. But while the fathers and mothers spoke Gaelic habitually and universally, few of their children do so. The next important section of the inhabitants are Lowlanders, who came with or followed the railway making. Then we have Irish and English incomers, the ubiquitous Jew, the Italian cream shop keeper, and the German waiter or hotelkeeper. While men and women of Highland blood and surnames hold the front places, to which they have a race-hereditary right, in the life, trades, professions, and other activities, in our much changed town and new village communities, other Highlanders who have drifted in from country places have not fared so well. Some of them had been workers on the railways, but old farm servants and crofters, who thought they could with gain pass from occupations they had been accustomed to, to other employments of which they know nothing, were those deluded ones who deserved most pity.
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