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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 17


SOME BALMAGHIE WORTHIES

  As I write the words, there comes before me a long defile of men and women whom I have known, natives of or resident in the parish of Balmaghie. Of mine own I will say nothing, though they too were held of the worthiest, save of William Crockett, so lately of Glenlochar, swiftly carried off by a fever caught in the discharge of his duty, and followed to an honoured grave by the sincere mourning of a whole countryside, leaving a name of an enduring sweet savour for simple truth, justice, and loyalty.

  Of a few others I have spoken elsewhere, notably in the chapters of this book entitled Four Galloway Farms.

The M'Haffies.

  As characters, I do not think that any in all Galloway impressed my boyish mind so much as the three Laurieston old maids, Mary, Jennie, and Jean M'Haffie. I have written of them time and again.

  Hardly ever did I go to church without making  up to the three brave little old maids, who, leaving a Free Kirk at their very door, and an Established one over the hill, made their way seven long miles to the true Kirk of the Persecutions.

  It had always, I think. been a grief to them that there was no Lag to make them testify up to the chin in Solway tide, or with a great fiery match between their fingers to burn them to the bone. But what they could, they did. They trudged fourteen miles every Sabbath day, with their dresses “feat and snod” and their linen like the very snow, to listen to the gospel preached according to their consciences. They were all the smallest or women, but their hearts were great, and those who knew them held them far more worthy of honour than all the lairds of the parish.

  Of them all only one remains.1 But their name and honour shall not be forgotten on Deeside while fire bums and water runs, if this biographer can help it. The M'Haffies were all distinguished by their sturdy independence, but Jen M'Haffie was ever the cleverest with her head. A former parish minister had once mistaken Jen for a person of limited intelligence; but he altered his opinion after Jen had taken him through-hands upon the Settlement of ”Aughty-nine” (1689), when the Cameronians refused to enter into the Church or Scotland as reconstructed by the Revolution Settlement.

  The three sisters kept a little shop which the two less active tended j while Mary, the business woman of the family, resorted to Cairn Edward every Monday and Thursday with and for a miscellaneous cargo. As she plodded the weary way, she divided herself between conning the sermons of the previous Sabbath, arranging her packages, and anathematising the cuddy. “Ye person–ye awfu' person!”  was her severest denunciation.

  Billy was a donkey of parts. He knew what houses to call at. It is said that he always brayed when he had to pass the Established manse, in order to express his feelings. But in spite of this Billy was not a true Cameronian. It was always suspected that he could not be much more than

1 Alas, no more even one!

The Laurieston Express.

Cameronian by marriage–a" tacked-on one," in short. His walk and conversation were by no means so straightforward as those of one sound in the faith ought to have been. It was easy to tell when Billy and his cart had passed along the road, for his tracks did not go forward, like all other wheel-marks, but meandered hither and thither across the road, as tough he had been weaving some intricate web or his own devising. He was called the Laurieston Express, and his record was a mile and a quarter an hour, good going.

 Mary herself was generally tugging at him to come on. She pulled Billy, and Billy pulled the cart. But, nevertheless, in the long run, it was the will of Billy that was the ultimate law. The School Boy was very glad to have the M'Haffies taken up on the cart, both because he was allowed to walk all the time, and because he hoped to get Mary into a good temper against next Tuesday.

  Mary came his way twice a week–on Tuesdays and Fridays. As the School Boy plodded along towards school he met her, and, being allowed by his granny one penny to spend at Mary's cart, he generally occupied most of church time, and all the school hours for a day or two before, in deciding what he would buy.

  It did not make choice any easier that alternatives were strictly limited. While he was slowly and laboriously making up his mind as to the long-drawn-out merits of four farthing biscuits, the way that “halfpenny Abernethies" melted in the mouth arose before him with irresistible force. And just as he had settled to have these, the thought of charming explorations after the currants in a couple of “cookies" was really too much for him. Again, the solid and enduring charms of a penny I”Jew's roll," into which he could put his lump of butter, often entirely unsettled his mind at the last moment. The consequence was that he had always to make up his mind in the immediate presence of the objects, and by that time neither Billy nor Mary could brook any very long delays.

  It was important, therefore, on Sabbaths, to propitiate. Mary as much as possible, so that she might not cut him short and proceed on her way without supplying his wants, as she had done more than once before. On that occasion her words were these–

  "D'ye think Mary M 'Haffie has naething else in the world to do, but stan' still as lang as it pleases you to gawp there! Gin ye canna tell us what ye want, ye can e'en do withoot! Gee up, Billy! Come oot o' the roadside–ye're aye eat-eatin', ye bursen craitur ye !”

  Professor Reid will, I know, pardon me for “lifting” what I wrote long ago in the preface of his "Kirk Above Dee Water," concerning the M'Haffies, and about another Galloway worthy, equally widely known, David M'Quhae.

  “Who that remembers the Crossmichael road as it goes over the knowes by Sandfield, or the long Glenlochar ‘straight mile' where it turns off by the thirteen lums of the ‘lang raw' (it is thirteen, is it not?) can drive along these far-reaching vistas on Monday nights, without expecting to come upon Mary's erratic cart, with Mary herself tug-tugging at Billy's obstinate head, hauling him behind her by main force up the brae? Do we not still hear, midway up the Balmaghie woods, the clip of her emphatic tongue, ‘O Billy, ye awesome person! Ye are no worth a preen-ye feckless, greedy, menseless seefer, ye! Stand up there frae that bank! Did onybody ever see the like o' ye?' Or can we not recall seeing Mary patp-attering in and out of the Castle-Douglas shops upon the day of the Monday market? With what invincible accuracy did she not rap out her commands over the counter, always concluding with, ‘And I'll be back for the parcels at three o'clock preccese–sae see an' hae them ready to lift, and dinna keep me an' Billy waitin'.'

  "Then again in the little shop on the long whitewashed Laurieston street, do we not remember how Jean and Jennie (I think in later years Jean alone) sat at the receipt of custom? No light thing to go in there for a quarter of tea! It was enterprise over which an hour might be very profitably spent–and not a moment wasted either. Such high discourse as there was upon the ‘fundamentals' and the ‘deeveesions' of Mr. Symington's or Mr. Kay's last sermon at the Cameronian Kirk of Castle-Douglas. Or it might be a word of canny advice to the young and innocent–‘Laddie, dinna ye be ower keen to be takkin' up wi' the lasses–hey are but feckless, fleein' heverals, the young yins noo-a-days. Noo, in my young days–'

  “Whereupon would follow a full and specific account of the immense superiority of ‘my young days,' and specially a very unfavourable comparison of the modesty and humility of the ‘lasses langsyne' with the forwardness and pertness of ‘thae daft young hizzies ' of to-day.

David M’Quhae. 

  “Then but-and-ben with the M’Haffies, one might find David M'Quhae, a very fine type of Galloway man, a mighty fisher of fish, a trustworthy squire of dames, full of courtesy and kindliness, a perfect God-send to a wandering or truant boy. None like David could busk a fly, or give advice as to soft bait. He carried about with him, besides, much of the savour of an older time, when the relations of life were simpler and all men walked closer to one another. David had been a strong Tory of the old sort all his life, yet he went about breathing a simple equality akin to the original democracy of Eden. As a rival used severely to say of him– ‘He was nae mair feared to speak to the laird or the minister than to ony ither man!' And from that little house on the brae what examples of consistent living and good kirk-going went forth. From the one end went the three old maids, six long miles to Castle-Douglas, each with her Bible and her neatly-folded Sabbath handkerchief. They went to hear ‘the Word of God properly preached' in the Kirk of the Hill Folk, which had never fyled its hands with ‘an Erastian Establishment! '

  “From the other end went forth David, and it might be one or two dear to him, equally strong in their own faith and equally walking in the good way. In amity Auld Kirk and Cameronian dwelt together but-and-ben all the week.

  But on the Sabbath coined money would not have made them sit down and worship in each other's sanctuaries. All Scottish history is in the fact. Wet or dry, hair or shine, plashing Lammas flood or wreathed snow, David M'Quhae went his good four miles over the wild moor to his beloved Kirk of Balmaghie, the history of which has been written by one whose knowledge is infinitely greater than mine. My friend, Dr. Reid, has much to tell of faithful ministers, of worthy elders, and of silent, attentive flocks. But I am sure he can speak of none more loyal, more conscientious, than David M'Quhae of Laurieston." 1

1 From the Foreword to Dr. H. M. B. Reid's “The Kirk Above Dee Water. "


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