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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 10


KIRKCUDBRIGHT

A SCOTTISH village is a strangely circumscribed place. Within a radius, varying according to the width of ploughed land about it, everything is known with photographic particularity. A man cannot get shaved without its being publicly canvassed, and no words can express the minuteness with which the characters of women are studied. But once out of the radius of ploughmen who come to the smiddy to get their coulters sharpened, or their horses shod, out of the ken of the herds who descend whistling upon the village shops for flour and baking-soda, off the main roads by which the farmers and their spouses drive to the weekly market, and you are in a region about which nothing whatever is known or cared. A river may divide two parishes as completely in interests and acquaintance, in bargain-striking and love-making, as if it constituted the boundary of two hostile countries. A mountain range or a stretch of wild heathery hills is a watershed of news not to be passed over.

I have at last arrived at Kirkcudbright in my wanderings, and that is why I speak of the separations of Galloway rural Life.

I was a Castle-Douglas boy, yet I know no one in Kirkcudbright only ten miles away. I could not have believed that there was anyone in it worth knowing. The solitary schoolboy (Laurence Kay) who went daily from our town to Kirkcudbright Academy was looked upon as a kind of daring Stanley, familiar to an unholy degree with the " Darkest Africa" at the mouth of the Dee.

Even now I experience a pleasant foreign flavour when I visit the seat of county government. It is easy to do one's work there. As in a foreign land, there are not the frequent invasions of friends who cannot be denied. In the quaint and excellent Selkirk Arms, under Mrs. Carter's fostering care, I "'Tote some part of "The Lilac Sunbonnet." And there is a grateful slumberous quiet which rests the very soul about the bridge and the quay, or better still, along the Borgue Shore and by the sea-girt Ross.

I remember as a lad sitting dreaming on a seat by the sea-edge of St. Mary's Isle, a writing-block on my knee. An old gentleman came and sat down beside me. I put away my scribbling somewhat hastily, and the old gentleman, with the big worn leather patches on his shooting coat, asked me if I had been sketching.

"No," said I, "only trying to write–"

"Writing–ah, what?" he demanded abruptly.

“Verses," I answered, blushing. For at fifteen one blushes at everything.

"What are they about?" was the next question.

"Paul Jones," said I, "but I know very little about him."

“Read them to me."

I read, Happily I had not proceeded very far before I came to the end. The trial was short. The old gentleman smiled good-humouredly.

"Where did you get your information?" said he. "Out of the 'History of Galloway'!"

“I think I can do better for you than that," he said, musing; "where are you staying?"

I told him. It was at a farm in the neighbourhood.

“Well, wait here a little," he said. “I will see what I can find."

He disappeared into the wood, and after twenty minutes or so he came back without his, gun. but with two books under his arm.

"Here they are," he said; "you can keep, them. I find I have another copy."

I declare that I was so much astonished that I forgot to thank him. But he understood, patted me on the shoulder. nodded, and said, smiling. "Good day to you."

”Who was that?" I asked of a gamekeeper who had been hovering in the offing during our second interview.

".Who is that?" he repeated after me in astonishment; “do you mean to tell me that ye dinna ken!"

"No, I don't," I said, but anyway he is very kind, He gave me these two volumes of ‘The Life or Paul Jones.'''

The man stood open-mouthed.

"The Yerl gied you thae twa books! –The Yerl–"

He could say no more, and I left him standing still with dropped jaw, unable to digest his astonishment.

I have the books still, and they bear the arms and autograph of the last Earl of Selkirk.


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