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Scenes and Stories of the North of Scotland
Chapter I. - Loch Duich, Ross-shire


It may not perhaps be wise to begin my book by rubbing the fur of some readers the wrong way, but justice to my subject and to my own intense convictions leave me no choice.

Do you know Loch Duich? Hundreds answer, Yes. Then I am sure you will bid others listen while I tell my story. On the other hand, thousands upon thousands answer, No. Then you have not yet seen a Scottish sea-loch, which, for interest and attractiveness, has few rivals; some would even say, no equal. Allow me a word or two with the hundreds. They very promptly answered, Yes; but I am doubtful of some of them. Will you kindly step into the witness box, one of you, please? Thank you. Now, sir, you say you know Loch Duich? Yes. Have you sailed up its waters? No, I have not. Have you walked around its shores? No, not exactly. Have you ever spent a night within hearing of its ripple? I cannot say I have. Have you ever seen the Five Sisters of Kintail? No; who or what are they? So ho! you, sir, have turned questioner now; please don’t ask me in the meantime; I shall introduce you to the ladies by-and-bye. Before you leave the box, will you allow me to guess the history and amount of your knowledge of Loch Duich? You were going north or coming south by one of Mr Macbrayne’s excellent fleet of steamers. She came up Loch Alsh, and swung round for perhaps twenty minutes off a small pier called Totaig. There you were almost in Loch Duich, but not quite. It is as if you leant your shoulder against the right-hand door-post, and then told me you knew the house. The claim is absurd; and as you have confessed never to have seen the inmates—who are never away from home—you may go down. So the process of cross-examination might go on with one and another and another; and in the end not more than five out of each hundred would be found, in any worthy sense, to know Loch Duich.

My first acquaintance with Loch Duich began like that of the witness above. We had come—pardon me, that “we” is not editorial, but denotes a small family party —we had come from a fortnight’s pleasant sojourn in the Island of Lewis. We landed at Totaig to seek for quarters somewhere about Loch Duich, but could hear of none in the immediate neighbourhood. Leaving the others to cross by boat to Dornie, where we knew there was an inn, I travelled round the Loch on foot, inquiring for rooms at every likely door. Heavy rain fell incessantly all the day long, but I could afford to despise both the distance and the drenching, when, on reaching Dornie at night, I could report that my search had been successful. These weary seventeen miles, under West Coast rain— quite a peculiar and powerful variety of the genus— were my first introduction to Loch Duich; but we all know in ordinary life that friends do not see the best of each other on first acquaintance.

Loch Alsh, on the west coast of Ross-shire, is a fine broad sheet of water, the access to which from seaward is all but closed by a rugged projecting knee of the Isle of Skye. Only narrow channels or straits remain—Kyle Akin on the north, and Kyle Rhea on the south—by which vessels may creep through between the mainland and the island. Within and between these channels lies Loch Alsh, which at its inner end is split in two by the mountains of Ivintail, and forms Loch Long or Luing to the north, and Loch Duich to the south, like the forefinger and thumb of the left hand. The former creeps up a narrow twisted glen, at the head of which it receives from the Elchaig the brown waters which have roared and foamed over the famous falls of Glomak. It has, however, no special charms of its own; so leaving its shores at the cleavage point of Dornie, we turn our thoughts and steps to Loch Duich. Even at the risk of bleeding my fingers among the thorns of Celtic etymology, I may venture to record that the name seems derived from St Duthec or Duthus, of whose history and labours but little is known. This at least is certain, that a church dedicated to him—an interesting specimen of old Gothic, but now long disused—may be seen in Tain; while a still older chapel—now entirely ruined—stood on a sandy eminence near the same town.

Close by the entrance of Loch Duich, on the Dornie side, lies the low rocky islet which is crowned by the picturesque ruins of Eilandonan Castle. Seen from the water, they appear to stand just above the beach, but looked at from the shore itself, they stand out, lofty and grim, against the hills of Skye. The main portion of the building was a square keep eighty feet high, with various courts, wings, and archways on either hand. On the sloping bank nearest to the shore of the mainland, a well of clear-springing water was shielded by masonry, and high walls banked the path between it and the keep. As at present seen, the walls are shattered and crumbling away ; the turrets show many a gap and rent which the friendly ivy tries in vain to hide; the lintels and archways are broken and jagged; yet if human words and deeds were stored up in the stones which first rang with them, what romances and tragedies lie around us and at our very feet! Its defenders and assailants at many a stormy epoch were men who acted in the spirit of the chiefs famous grace at meat, “Lord, turn the world upside down, that Christians may make bread of it. A castle stood here, it is said, as early as the days of Alexander II.; and for generations Eilandonan was the favourite stronghold of the mighty Mackenzies.

One of the first constables of the Castle was a Kenneth Matheson. He was succeeded by Colin Fitzgerald, an Irishman, who obtained the post as a reward for services to the king at the battle of Largs, and who married Matheson’s daughter. Their son was called Kenneth after his grandfather, and his sons and descendants bore the name of Mackennich, now Mackenzie, that is, the sons of Kenneth. So runs the story of the origin of the great clan whose chiefs were lords of Eilandonan. How far it is true, I shall not pretend to say, for in these matters it is the part of a wise man neither to be a dogmatist who is sure of everything, nor a sceptic who believes in nothing. The same caution is no less needful in respect to the abundant stories and traditions—many of them very interesting and romantic—which cling like ivy round old-world walls such as those of Eilandonan. As a tasting of these stories, true in the main, but, like snowballs, losing nothing as they go, I select one or two out of many.

Between the Macdonalds of Sleat in Skye and the Mackenzies of Eilandonan there existed a chronic feud, which burst out ever and anon into wild fury and fierce fight. As a clansman once said, “There was good mischief in those days,” for slaughter and plunder were scarcely considered sinful at all. On one occasion, in 1537, when the Mackenzies were absent on some raid or expedition, the Macdonalds, with their chief at their head, sailed from Skye to Eilandonan, hoping to make it, in the absence of its defenders, an easy prey. Only the governor, Gilchrist Macrae, and his son Duncan, were in the keep. The Macdonalds landed undisturbed, and for a time scattered here and there over the grass-covered rocks. Then they approached the walls, and demanded the surrender of the garrison. Macrae and his son had no intentions in that direction. Their only reply was a shot from young Duncans bow, and the barbed arrow sunk deep in the heel of the Chief of the Islesmen. It was the old case of Achilles over again. As the blood gushed from the wound, Macdonald fainted, and his devoted clansmen, alarmed for his life, lifted him up and bore him away to his barge to carry him home to Skye. He never reached it alive, for his followers were compelled to land him on a little island by the way; and there he died. Of course the Macdonalds vowed eternal vengeance, and we are not surprised to know that this was not their last visit to Eilandonan. Of every man of them for a generation it might be said :

“For this he still lives on, careless of all
The wreaths that glory on his path lets fall;
For this alone exists,—like lightning fire,
To speed one bolt of vengeance, and expire.”

On another occasion, nearly a century later, the Mackenzies had a deadly quarrel with the Macdonells of Glengarry, whose young Chief, with a large body of men, harried and wasted the whole district between Loch Carron and Kintail. As in the former case, the Chief of the Mackenzies was absent, having gone to Mull in search of allies, but his brave lady was equal to the occasion. When fugitives from the ravaged district came to Eilandonan, she armed a chosen body of the clansmen, supplied them with ammunition, and put two small cannon on board their boats. So equipped, the little expedition was sent out to attempt a surprise attack upon Glengarry and his men, who were expected to come through the Kyles between the mainland and Skye. The Mackenzies lay in wait behind a small rock in the middle of the fairway. A cloudy sky and a blinding snow shower perfected their ambush. At length, young Macdonell’s barge came in sight some distance in advance of the others, and so soon as it came abreast of them, the Mackenzies poured upon it a heavy and ruthless fire. In the panic and confusion which ensued, the Glengarry chief and every one of his men were either drowned or slain. The lady of Eilandonan was a proud woman that night, and lost no time in sending the news of victory to the absent chief. These were days in which strategy and brute courage were valued far above all other manly accomplishments. Many of the clansmen were fully worthy of the epitaph bestowed on one of their number who lies in a graveyard not far from Cape Wrath :

“Donald M'Murrough here lies low,
I'll to his friend, waur {worse) to his foe;
True to his master in weird {fate) and woe.”

Yet again, in 1531, Randolph, Earl of Murray, who had been appointed Warden of Scotland, came to Eilandonan to execute justice upon the Mackenzies because of some lawless outrage. He beheaded no fewer than fifty of the offenders, and hung out their heads to bleach on the battlements of the castle. Again and again in later days, Eilandonan passed through the ruthless vicissitudes of Avar, and siege, and fire, but remained in a habitable condition till 1719. In that year a petty rebellion against the crown took place, in which the Mackenzies had the aid of a body of Spaniards. A battle was fought in Glenshiel, in which the royalist troops were victorious; and soon after, Eilandonan was battered into a ruin by a ship of war, so that traitors might have one haunt the less in which to plot mischief against the king and the laws.

Once within the heights which guard the entrance to Loch Duich, over what an attractive scene does the eye range! Before us lies a fair stretch of green glassy water, not more than a mile broad on this hand and on that—and some six miles long straight in front, to where the further strand is crowned with mingled crags and foliage. On the west, from a long waving ridge clear-cut against the sky, steep slopes of dark green fall downward like the sides of a tent, and terminate near the water s edge in a rich fringe of trees and shrubbery. The eastern side is more rugged and varied. There we find, first a succession of rocky cliffs half covered with trees, which creep far up the mountains behind ; then sloping banks, at one part subdued into rich fields, at another clothed with waving woods; and at length, a rounded knoll, capped with foliage, which pushes itself forward as headland, where a spur of the loch bends abruptly inward toward the valley of the Croe.

So much have we seen of the western and eastern sides of the loch, which run in almost parallel lines along its shores; it remains to speak of its southern end, where wood and water, mountain and mist, combine to produce its charms. The inner reaches of Loch Duich are girded and guarded round by precipitous rocky ridges, which mount upward and upward until they terminate in clusters of giant peaks, a number of which are not less than three thousand feet high. Of these great mountain summits, five stand closely together behind the head of Loch Duich, and are known as the Five Sisters of Kintail. Behind them again, but not visible from the shores of the loch, is Ben Attow, loftier than them all, sitting like a proud mother with her daughters gathered around her. Perhaps nowhere in Scotland, except in Skye alone, are so many Alpine Bens crowded into so small a circle, as those which watch over Glenshiel and Glen Lichd. as they slope downward to meet in Loch Duich.

It would be rash for one who has, as the Celts say, “only one side to his tongue,” to attempt either to spell, or, if he could spell, to pronounce the names of the Five Sisters of Kintail. Let them remain a sacred mystery, “nameless by day,” like the secret title of the Clan Macgregor, aye, and by night also, so far as most of us are concerned. If I could spell them, I should be like Goldsmith’s schoolmaster, over-burdened with learning; if I could pronounce them, and my readers within hearing, it might be dangerous to the sensitive mechanism of their cultivated ears. One thing, however, I must not forget to note before we make our parting bow to the strong-minded ladies. The Five Sisters, sitting in their statuesque beauty at the head of Loch Duich, have some at least of their treasures at their feet. Among these, none is fairer than the lower end of Glenshiel. Just at the feet of one of the Sisters, the river, emerging from a broad dark tarn, begins its ripple and warble again to beguile the tedium of the way; dances forward between pebbly shores and hanging branches ; then plunges beneath a high-backed bridge into a long deep pool, whose rugged sides are dripping with foliage; and at length, having sung its swan-song between heathery banks, falls to sleep in the dark waters which have come to meet it from the ocean. There, too, on either hand, are wild crags and knolls, interspersed with larch and fir, where you must tread knee-deep in heather or breast-high in ferns. Loch Duich has both beauty and majesty; for if the lower reaches have a beauty which rises upward toward majesty, the lower show us majesty having her feet clothed with beauty.

Now, reader, what would you like to study or enjoy, if happily you should visit Loch Duich? Are you in love with botany? Space would fail me to tell of the roses, and irises, and hyacinths, and many other wild flowers which adorn her shores and banks. Are you a devotee of geology? You may study the gneiss and schist formations of the Highlands to your heart’s content, or discuss with yourself, or perhaps better still, with some expert friend, whether Loch Duich is a depressed valley or an encroachment of the sea. Are you fond of mountaineering? You may climb Ben Attow, which I have never heard of anybody having done, provided no gamekeeper turns you back for disturbing the deer, and you have made a special defensive alliance with the Meteorological Office against mist and rain. Are you an artist? What glorious subjects and effects may here be found! You have mountain and sky, loch and river— rainbows which smile as they creep along the hill-sides, and mists which die of their very reluctance to depart. Do you delight in antiquities? Learn and, better still, write the story of the wild Eilandonan; or find out for me if it be true that the very name of Gruagach, above Totaig, denotes a yellow-haired Apollo among the Celts, and that his temple stood there on the hill-side. Is boating one of your pastimes? You may indulge it here with impunity, if you take care that your boldness be not greater than your prudence. Are you interested in social politics? Most of the solid earth you see belonged once to the Clan Mackenzie; now it is part of an enormous deer forest, rented by an American millionaire. “The clan is broken” indeed; but is “the estate improved”? Are you a student of the weather? If the wind be from the north or east, you may have tracks of lovely sunshine; if it come from the west or south-west, as it commonly does, you may patiently press your nose against the window panes for a week, with intervals for sleep, and see no more of Loch Duich than the breadth of your own street or duck-pond in the far south. Is there any one who questions the wit or humour of the Celtic race? Here I can smite him hip and thigh with irresistible proof. Let him turn to the statistical account of the parish, and there he will find a worthy clergyman mildly suggesting that “ generally speaking, the climate may be termed damp.” That man was a humourist, conscious or unconscious, of the first water, as I think I shall clearly show before this chapter is at an end.

Let me close this inquiry by asking, Would you like to learn the language of the people? In the light of an incident which springs into memory among many more from Loch Duich, no process or task of the kind could well be easier. In a humble home one day a worthy native of more than middle age undertook to give a lady visitor a lesson in Gaelic. The text-book, as frequently in the Highlands, and in this case very naturally, was the Bible itself. Opening the sacred book at the beginning of Genesis, he said,

“Now, ma’am, I’ll read this to you in the Gaelic, and you’ll see yourself how will it go.”

Then, with the usual solemn intonation, and an appealing, almost triumphant, glance toward the lady at every clause, he read the first few verses of the chapter, and paused to watch the effect. Only one word more was needed to clinch the lesson home, and it came.

“Now, ma’am, if you’ll take your own Bible, and turn up that chapter, and read it in English, you’ll see that it’s just the self and same thing.”

Perhaps we should here add the mystic letters Q. E. F., signifying “which was to be done.” To all appearance, the worthy man believed then, and perhaps believes still, that from that hour the lady knew at least three or four verses of Gaelic. How could it be otherwise after so plain and conclusive a demonstration? Notwithstanding, having made recent inquiries, I find that the lady was then, and alas ! still remains, quite unconscious of her happy acquirement.

Many curious stories might be culled from the unwritten records of Loch Duich and the district around. We shall first take one, which, from its very substance, must be very ancient indeed—as old at least as the glacial period, which probably began before the birth of the most venerable native now alive in Kintail. In Loch Alsh, a few miles from the entrance to Loch Duich, a small black rock, called Clach Chuir, or the Putting-Stone, lies at some distance from the shore. Strange to say, we are told most precisely how it came there. Somewhere near by there lived a giant—name now unknown—who possessed a castle of some sort, and in that castle kept a dungeon for the accommodation of friends or foes, it mattered little which. These are no more than conjectures; but we are distinctly informed that the giant had a prisoner who, somehow or other, made his escape from confinement. Apparently he was a good swimmer, for he took to the water at once, hoping to cross the loch in safety. The giant sallied forth in pursuit, but was unable to swim after the fugitive. Vexed at his own impotence, and fuming with rage, he did the worst he could. Casting his eye upon a great boulder upon the hill-side, lie used it as his putting-stone, and hurled it at the swimmer far out upon the loch. Whether it was a hit or a miss we are not told; but there, in the sea, lies the boulder to this day, and wears its appropriate name. Whether there exist any parish records of that period, and whether, if extant, they contain the full Christian names and other details relating to this story, I am unable to say, because I have made no inquiry. Perhaps the most we can say of it is this:

“The story is told by legends old,
And by withered dame and sire,
When they sit secure from the winter’s cold
All round the evening fire.”

Another story—much more modern—accords, at least in one particular, with our experience. More than once, on the high ground behind Eilandonan, an ill-tempered bull, lord of a herd of cattle, interfered in the most uncalled-for manner with our artistic studies. We resented his impudent conduct, because, evidently, his criticism was not likely to be impartial, much less friendly. Besides, few people like to have another, especially a stranger—especially an angry bull—looking over their shoulder when at work. What I wish, however, frankly to confess is this, that I never did, and never could, emulate the courage of a certain one in this district who came face to face with a similar difficulty, namely, a furious bull. This hero was a Romish priest who resided in Kintail. If I mistake not, he had spent part of his life in Spain, where he had apparently learnt something of the art of bull-taming. His method was simple enough, but could only be executed by a man, such as he seems pre-eminently to have been, of prodigious strength and agility. By the way, I remember that long ago the question was raised in junior debating clubs, “If a man has a wild bull by the tail, whether is it more prudent to hold on or let go? The reverend father of whom I am speaking would have said, “Hold on,” for observe how he dealt with one very vicious and dangerous animal near Loch Duich. Catching the brute by the tail, which he whipped firmly round his left hand, he wielded in his right a stout rope on which he had twisted a series of knots. So the fun began. Round and round a wide field he drove and lashed, and lashed and drove, the maddened foaming creature. When it attempted to turn upon him, he nimbly leapt aside from reach of its horns, and then by way of reprisal made the chastisement more severe than ever. In the end, bruised in body and broken in temper, the creature stood beside him like a lamb, and was never more a terror in the neighbourhood. This story was told me on authority not at all inferior to what is common in like instances; but if you doubt it, please send me your card privately, and I shall do my best to procure you an introduction either to the priest or to the bull. You will then be able to ascertain for yourself from one of the two principal parties concerned —whichever you think likely to be most approachable— the actual truth and precise details of the incident.

The day of our farewell to Loch Duich was most memorable, not perhaps to the world at large, nor even to the natives whose friendship and good will we had secured, but certainly to ourselves. In the morning we crossed the Dornie Ferry, and having slowly and tediously surmounted the mountains behind Loch Alsh, came down by a steep and dangerous descent to Strome Ferry on Loch Carron. We had arranged that some friends from a distance should meet us there, as it was the railway terminus, and that we should spend the day together. Loch Carron is a fine “voe,” as it would be called in Shetland, and both sides from the narrow strait at Strome outward to the open sea are richly varied and picturesque. The day was bright and sunny; and we fully enjoyed the society both of our friends and of mother nature. After a comfortable dinner in the hotel, there was of course an affecting parting—I refer specially to the ladies—at the station, and then we were alone again to wend our way back over the hills to the mouth of Loch Duich. For these bare statements and dry details I must crave indulgence; the reader, if patient, will see their significance by and by. We had come to Strome by the mail cart in the morning; we returned by the same means of conveyance in the evening. Between the seats at our backs during the return journey, there lay the innocent-looking Post Office bags with the tight-bound cord and splutter of red wax upon their headless necks. Little did we dream what cause of strange experience, what seeds of anxiety and yet of mirth also, what a summons to sleepless adventure, these dun-coloured sacks concealed in their folds, not for others, not for some unknown one somewhere, but for ourselves!

When we arrived at our destination, we did ample justice to an abundant meal, and during its progress chatted over the happy events of the day. About eight o’clock at night, when we had settled cosily round the fire, the post arrived, bringing a telegram which had travelled with us, although we could not possibly suspect it, all the way from Strome Ferry. It bore the unwelcome tidings that a relative in the south had met with a serious accident, and that we must return from the Highlands immediately. The wording of the message was strong, and naturally alarmed us in no small degree. Happily the final issue of the mishap was perfect recovery, so that now we can look back upon our journey from Loch Duich with more mirth than sadness. In less than a minute our minds were made up to catch the train at Strome Ferry at five o’clock next morning. A messenger was sent off to Balmacarra for the mail cart to convey us for the third time over the same hills; our bill for board and lodging was ordered, and all our goods and chattels, down even to the unfinished manuscript of a Highland story, stuffed without care or ceremony into boxes and portmanteaus. By nine o’clock we were over the Ferry, and waiting eagerly for our conveyance. Already we had begun to taste the sweets of our journey. Burdened clouds from the Skye mountains sailed swiftly overhead as we hurried from our door to the pier, and during our brief passage across poured out upon us the very fulness of their hearts. They were determined to give us a last benefit, and to saturate us with the remembrance of one dominant and seldom absent feature of the scenery to which we were bidding adieu. Shortly before ten, the mail-cart arrived, and we were glad to find that the driver, a genuine Celt all over—make, morals, and manners—had yoked a fresh horse to the work. I sat in front beside her Majesty's servant, into whose private pocket the proceeds of this extra trip would be cheerfully welcomed; while the others had somehow or other managed, for the better shelter, to get huddled in where the mail-bags had been before. Though we could see almost nothing, the stages of the journey were most distinctly marked—first, a mile or two of level road among cultivated fields in one of which the valiant priest had so skilfully tamed the bull; then a long monotonous ascent—steep and unbroken—to an elevation of a thousand feet; then a weary, winding tract of mountain-top and moor; and finally, a rattling descent upon Strome and its hotel, nearly four hours after the start. The route it is possible to describe more or less intelligibly; the weather utterly baffles my poor powers of expression. Of course, it is the proper thing to say that the rain “fell in torrents” from the time we left Dornie Ferry till we arrived at Strome, and indeed long after. Equally of course, I must declare that we were “drenched to the skin.” I might even be more specific and affirm that there was scarcely one dry square inch of clothing upper or under, nor of skin beneath, even to the soles of our feet, upon any one of us. The gusty wind made a plaything of the rain, squeezing it through the texture of umbrellas, or scooping it cunningly in below them; dashing it now upon one cheek, now, in the wantonness of sport, upon the other; filling little lochs and tarns—copies of those we were passing—in the folds of waterproofs and shawls; blowing away from our noses and ears the drip which, had it been winter, would have crystallised into beautiful icicles—its own organ-like bass being all the while a fitful accompaniment to the hissing, bubbling, spluttering waters as they fell. There were no showers— the plural is out of place—there was but one shower, alone and indivisible. After careful thought and calculation, I estimate its dimensions as follows: height, say 5000 feet, many of the mountains within its range being from 3000 to 4000; breadth, a diameter of 100 miles more or less, the area covered being probably circular in form ; length, not less than twenty-four hours—a very moderate calculation for the district; depth—well, there I confess myself at a loss, because it might vary greatly according to the nature of the strata underneath the surface. This last point I may illustrate by stating that in this very district the fairies once ordered a native to remove a new house he was building, because the drip from the eaves was falling right down the “lum” (Anglice, chimney) of their underground dwelling. If that be true, who can tell how far down a long-continued rain may sink even below the level of the abodes of the “guid folk?” Allow me to say that I have always had in my own mind a scientific difficulty about that night’s rainfall, which I now express for the first time. We know that there is always a certain amount of air in water, while in any ordinary shower there must be a good deal of free air also between the drops. Now, on the night in question, I am very doubtful if there was any air at all between the drops. Where then did all the free air go to, where did it find room, all that which should in ordinary circumstances have stretched over the wide area of the shower, as described in the above estimate? To that problem I shall be glad to receive answers from experts, or indeed from any quarter whatever.

During this memorable journey over the hills, our worthy old driver did all that he could to make us happy. He did not fail to remind us of certain horrors connected with a haunted burn which at one stage of the journey roared along by the way-side. Most carefully also did he point out the spot—just on the watershed—where a grim and ghastly gallows used to stand, and on which many a poor wretch had swung to and fro on the breeze. This was a sweet suggestion, on a midnight of darkness, storm, and rain. I tried to improve the occasion by thinking of the poor lost traveller in some foreign land who, when he came in sight of a gallows, exclaimed in a transport of joy, “Thank God, I’m in a civilised country.” As to the spot pointed out by the driver, I fear that, owing to the rain, I should not recognise it again. But—to proceed-—I must now plunge, as we did by coming down the hill, into yet deeper and sadder experiences. We at length arrived at the Strome Ferry Hotel some time after one in the morning, and were, I am sure, both thankful and hopeful. Happy memories of our excellent dinner there eleven hours before led us not only to expect, but to be confident, that we had every comfort in prospect. With a few brief strokes, for they are very painful, must I pass over the next half-hour of agony and anger. We rung and waited, rung again and waited, rung twenty times and waited, but, as in the case of the prophets of Baal, there was no voice nor any that answered. We used every tone of menace and entreaty. We threw showers of gravel at the windows—in front, where the old driver thought the master's bedroom was—behind, where the maids were supposed to be sleeping. All was in vain. Not a sound could we hear, not even a groan nor an oath; even the last would have been most welcome. What more could we do? I had already torn away the brass handle and bell-plate at the front door, and they hung dejected on the stonework, like a modest lily drooping its head. All was yet in vain; and there were still fifty miles of rain-cloud to come over from Skye. We were sunken in despair, but not more deeply than the local old man himself, whose familiar voice might, we thought, surely have been known. What could it all mean? Welcomed and feasted in the afternoon sunlight; now shut out in the cold and wet of midnight! What had we done to provoke this change? Even conscience, so justly ready to grumble at all times, could give no reply, for we had paid every penny of our debts at Loch Duich, even to the last postage stamp. Of course, I thought of writing at once to the Times; but that could be done next day. At last, when we turned our hopeless heads away from the hotel, a gleam of light fell upon our misery—the sweet bright star of hope—in a window of the railway station. At once we were drawn to it, luggage and all, as with silken or golden bands, and it did not prove either false or cold. We found a porter at the ticket office waiting for the arrival of a fish steamer from Stornoway. To him we confided our sorrows, and he proved to be a man of singular humanity and kindness. In fact, he would scarcely accept any acknowledgment of his services afterwards. He opened the waiting-room, lit the gas, and—what was still better—a roaring fire; gave us in our luggage; drew down the blinds; and with much sympathy told us to make ourselves comfortable till dawn of day. We had no food with us except a small jar of prunes, and of these one of the party demolished the lion’s share. But we had something better than food—a warm fire, and the opportunity of changing our clothing. We had little or no sleep; but when the morning broke over the hills, and turned the sombre blind of the waiting-room into a blazing orange, we were not sorry, after paying our bill, to gather up our possessions and leave Loch Carron by the morning train at five. One of our poets—I spare him the mention of his name—moralizes to the effect that, in our journey through life, we often find “the warmest welcome in an inn.” What an egregious mistake! I speak from personal experience when I say that, in the very respect he mentions, an inn is not to be compared with the waiting-room of a railway station !

One word more must be added. We have long ago freely and fully forgiven the people of the hotel. We have done so, because ethically that is the right and proper thing to do, but also because they really had a good excuse. In connection with the fish traffic, bodies of men, porters and others, frequently arrived at Strome at or after midnight, and came to the hotel demanding refreshments, and sometimes creating disturbance. To stop this nuisance, it was resolved to open the doors to no one during the night under any pretext or inducement whatever—a decision as prudent as it was natural. Looking at it philosophically, our experience was only an illustration and proof of the solidarity of the human race, many of whom have to suffer for the faults and errors of others. In that great underlying fact, all tribes and nations, all creeds and colours, have an equal share,

“For mankind are one in spirit and an instinct bears along
Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet humanity’s vast frame.
Through its ocean-sundered fibres, feels the gush of joy or shame;
In the gain or loss of one race, all the rest have equal claim.”


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