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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 20


LOCH KEN

  IF it had not been my fate to be born upon Loch Grenoch, I would have desired to be born on Loch Ken-side–in some herd's house up towards the Tinkler's Loup, past Mossdale, and looking across to the Shirmers. Here, however, are the impressions of one actually born to this heritage of loch and moor and wide blowing air.

  “So, during my father's absence, my brothers and I had the work of the farm to attend to. No dawn of day, sifting from the east through the greenery of the great soughing beeches and firs about the door, ever found any of the three of us in our beds. For me, as soon as it was light, I was up and away to the hills–where sometimes in the full lambing-time I would spend all night on the heathery fells or among the lirks and hidden dells of the mountain fastnesses.

A Fit Birthplace.

  "And oh, but it was pleasant work, and I liked it well! The breathing airs; the wide, starry arch I looked up into, when night had drawn her nightcap low down over the girdling blue-black hills; the moon glinting on the wrinkled breast of Loch Ken; the moor-birds, whaup and snipe, plover and wild duck, cheeping and chummering in their nests, while the wood doves' moan rose plaintive from every copse and covert–it was a fit birthplace for a young lad's soul, though indeed at that time none was farther from guessing it than I. For as I went hither and thither, I pondered on nothing except the fine hunger the hills gave me, and the glorious draughts of whey and buttermilk my mother would serve out to me on my return, calling me meantime the greatest and silliest of her calves, as well as tweaking my ears at the milk-house door, if she could catch me ere I set my bare legs twinkling down the loaning.”1

  But Loch Ken is more than a paradise for playing children. Yonder on its knoll is historic Kenmure Castle, where have dwelt many generations of the brave and the generous–bold barons, stout Lords of Lochinvar, indomitable Covenanters, sweet dames with souls that have “won far ben" in the mysteries of the faith. From that door Claverhouse rode forth on his quests. In that keep he held his garrison, with Colvin his right-hand man getting ”His Honour” from all and sundry, while on a stone by the waterside Jean Gordon of Earlstoun sat writing her piteous epistle. Over the hills. to the east, “Kenmure is up and awa” on that ill-fortuned riding of his which ended under the headsman's axe at Tower Hill.

  It is a wondrous loch to watch, say from the bare side of Bennan on which the heather is conquering the space where I remember only the green waving of the fir, and the cushie-doos making moan under the dense branches.

  Now for a moment Ken is clear and blue like an Italian sky.

Anon all suddenly it ruffles its breast, as a dove's feathers are blown awry by a sudden gust of wind. It is full of broad, still

1 “The Standard-Bearer," p. 2. (Methuen.)

stretches and unexpected inlets, sanded and pebbled. All this, too, though strictly speaking Loch Ken is no loch at all, but only the extension of a sluggard river, dreaming along between reedy solitudes and bays where the water-lilies grow in hundreds, white and yellow after their kind.

  It was by the Loch of Ken that a certain pair of imagined lovers looked (for a time) their last into each other's eyes. I have been required by many correspondents to include the scene in "Raiderland." But I halt at the most interesting part in accordance with custom, so that those interested may go to them that sell and buy for themselves.

Lovers’ Parting.

  '"There, that will keep you in mind of Galloway!” she said, thrusting a bunch of bog-myrtle into his breast pocket. And indeed bog-myrtle is the characteristic smell of the great world-of hill and moss we call by that name. In far Iands the mere thought of It has brought tears to the eyes unaccustomed, so close do the scents and sights of the old Free Province–the lordship of the Pict–wind themselves about the hearts of its sons.

  "Loch Ken lay like a dream in the clear dispersed light of the morning, the sun shimmering upon it as through translucent ground-glass. Teal and moor-hen squattered away from the shore as Winsome and Ralph climbed the brae, and stood looking northward over the superb levels of the loch. On the horizon Cairnsmuir showed golden tints through his steadfast blue.

  "vVhaups swirled and wailed about the rugged side of Bennan above their heads. Across the loch there was a solitary farm–beautifully set. Then beyond, the whole land leaped skyward in great heathery sweeps, save only here and there, where about some hill farm the little emerald crofts and blue-green springing oatlands clustered closest. The loch spread far to the north, sleeping in the sunshine. Burnished like a mirror it was, with no breath upon it. In the south, the Dee Water came down from the hills peaty and brown. The roaring of its rapids could faintly be heard. To the east, across the loch, an island slept in the fairway, wooded to the water's edge.

  “It were a good place to look one's last on earth, this wooded promontory–which might indeed have been that mountain, though a little one, from which was once seen all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them. For there are no finer glories on the earth than red heather and blue loch, except only love and youth. And these four go well together.

  “Yet here love and youth had come to part, between the heather that glowed on the Bennan Hill and the sapphire pavement of Loch Ken.

  “For a long time Winsome and Ralph were silent-the empty interior sadness, mixed of great fear and great hunger, beginning to grip them as they stood. Lives only just twined and unified were again to twain. Love lately knit was to be torn asunder.

  “’I must go,' said Ralph, looking down into his betrothed's face.

  “’Stay only a little,' said Winsome. ‘It is the last time.'

  “So he stayed. "1

  But they parted at last, and Ralph set out alone. In a little while he struck the beautiful road which runs north and south along the side of the Loch of Ken. Now there are fairer bowers in the south sun-lands. There are High-lands and Alp-lands there of sky-piercing beauty. But to Galloway, and specially to the central glens and flanking desolations thereof, one special beauty belongs. She is like a plain girl with beautiful eyes. There is no country like her in the world for colour–so delicately fresh is the rain-washed green of her pasture slopes, so keen the viridian of her turnip-fields when the dew is on the broad, fleshy, crushed leaves, so tender and deep the blue in the hollow places. It was small wonder that Ralph had set down in the note-book in which he sketched for future use all that passed under his eye:

“’Hast thou seen the glamour that follows
The falling of summer rain–
The mystical blues in the hollows,
The purples and greys on the plain?'

1 “The Lilac Sunbonnet," p. 298. (T. Fisher Unwin.)

  "It is true that all these things were but the idle garniture of a tale that had lost its meaning to Ralph this morning; but yet in time the sense that the beauty and hope of life lay about him, stole soothingly in upon his soul. He was glad to breathe the gracious scent of spraying honeysuckle running its creamy riot of honey-drenched petals over the hedges, and flinging daring reconnaissance even to the tops of the dwarf birches by the wayside.

  "So quickly Nature eased his smart, that–for such is the nature of the best men, even of the very best–at the moment when Winsome threw herself, dazed and blinded with pain, upon her low white bed in the little darkened chamber over the hill at Craig Ronald, Ralph was once more, even though with the gnaw of emptiness and loss in his heart, looking forward to the future, and planning what the day would bring to him upon which he should return."

  So at the request of many I have printed part of this simple scene. And I have this excuse, that there is not only scenery to be found in Galloway. There are men and women, hearts to be wounded and–Love wherewith to mend them.

Or so, at least, I have been informed.


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