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.
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
1 Alas, no more even one!
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
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
“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
"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.
“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. "