"They were blest beyond
When they held their trysting there,
Amang thae greenest hills shone on by the sun."
SO LONG AS THERE ARE SUMMER
GLOAMINGS, and lads and lasses to forgather at the milkings, or wander by
the quiet burnsides, the old, old story will be told, and never twice told
in the same way. The custom of love in Fairshiels, as else where, never
But there are times and
seasons with us more than with most folk, and to all Fairshiels brides and
bridegrooms it is ever well to say, "Pray that your flight be not in
winter." The mere telling of love can be somehow contrived at any season,
but the consummation of love is whiles ill to come at when the winter
snows are lying deep among the hills, and the shepherd's doors are smoored
to the very lintels with soft, silent drifts.
Still and on, I have seen
the Red, Red Rose, the Rose of All the World, blooming most mystic and
very fragrant at the back of a wilderness, when the earth was lying still
and dead under its dazzling shroud.
It happened that the
minister's first wedding was fixed for a winter forenight in the month of
December at the grieve's cottage away up at the Laird's place of Gilston,
three miles from anywhere, among the hills. That was the year of the great
storm, and when the day came, the snow had obliterated the very hedges,
and neither man nor beast could follow the road that leads from the
northern slopes of the Lammermoors over Soutra into Galawater. To
townsfolk it is hard to believe that dykes and ditches, turnpikes and
crossroads can be altogether hidden beneath an undulating counterpane of
snow; and to the minister, looking out of his study window, it seemed a
hopeless thing that wedding guests should win up the seven miles from the
station at Heriot on the one side, or that he himself should cross the
hills three miles on foot from the other. He had been nervously going over
the ceremony, with the service book in his hand. He had even paid a sly
visit to the Dominie, who was both elder and parish registrar, and had got
a look at the long blue paper about which he was so anxious. And now,
while he was looking out at the silent morning world, a great plough
horse, with a man on its back, came plodding through the snow to the manse
The man got off to deliver
a note. It was from the Laird: "I will ride down with a led horse for you
at four o'clock. Be prepared to ride back with me, and put on your old
So the problem was solved,
and the man on the plough horse plunged back again across the hill, with a
sackful of bread and provisions swung across his saddle, and the answer in
But it was all so different
from what he had expected it to be—this first wedding ceremony. No wedding
bells, no fine company, no need even for his gown or his best black coat.
A long, perilous ride in the dusk of a wintry night, with the smell of a
fresh already in the air, and a new adventure in duty weighing heavily on
his untried soul—that was all. Truly, the shepherd of Christ's sheep in
the parish of Fairshiels must needs be a man of resourceful parts, as well
as a man of strong and simple faith. It put an edge on his anxiety to know
that the pawkie Laird was not nearly so concerned about the wedding of his
grieve's daughter as about his new minister's way with a horse. Here, he
had found a very practical way of putting to the test all those flattering
speeches that had been made by the Doctor of Divinity and the town elders
on the ordination night, which was now some months gone by. To make things
worse, the fresh had evidently set in, and a damp mist was beginning to
obscure the hills, when, round the corner of the kirk the Laird appeared
on a great, big-boned hunter, sixteen and a half hands high, leading a
little grey mare by the bridle.
"Are you ready ?" he
shouted cheerily, without dismounting.
"Quite," replied the
minister, as he walked through the snow to the side of the mare.
Nothing more was said. Both
Laird and minister were Scots. But the younger man knew, without looking,
that every movement and action of his was being quietly criticised from
the moment he took hold of the mare's head. The old riding-crop which he
tucked under his arm, the way he measured the stirrup-straps and shortened
them by one hole, his manner of gathering the reins and of placing his
hands on the saddle with his left foot in the stirrup, and the clean
spring which landed him in position on the mare's back as she began to
dance a waltz in the snow—every detail was calmly marked by the
ruddy-faced Laird, who sat silent and motionless on the big hunter and
surveyed the whole performance with a smile.
"You go first," said the
man of many acres.
"All right," replied the
minister, with a twinkle in his eye at this further test, as he gently
walked the mare through the village. A score of experts peered anxiously
through the cottage windows, where the early lamps were already set, as
both horses walked slowly to the road-end. There, when they turned their
faces up the wide road for the hills, a gentle touch with the crop sent
the fiery little mare off at a swinging canter. The rider looked neither
to the right hand nor to the left, but sat easily as they went flying past
Juniper Lea. The minister was not riding for his life but he was riding
for his reputation, and before he got to the foot of Soutra Hill he had
won it. The Laird, not knowing his new minister's love for a horse, was
out that wild winter afternoon for a frolic. But he had met his match, and
was proud to be disappointed.
So the high-boned hunter
came pounding up behind.
"Well done, minister. Let
me go first now."
There were no words wasted,
but it was no empty compliment either. For in the Lammermoors, where men
are born and bred in silence, these two little words, "Well done," are
equal to a whole volume of testimonials written on foolscap and bound in
half-calf and gold.
For another mile the horses
climbed right on to the misty top of Soutra Hill, twelve hundred feet up,
where the snow had been wind-swept and there was only an occasional drift.
Then, down again, plunging and ploughing through the wet snow, until, with
a final canter, they entered the stableyard of Gilston with a merry
clatter of hoofs and a jingling of bits.
Within the cottage kitchen,
which had so often been hallowed by the joys and sorrows of love, the
wedding guests are doucely set about in comely pairs. Most of them had
come up the heavy Heriot road in carts that were drawn through the deep
drifts by horses yoked in tandem. The lamp was lit. The fire burned in the
silence. The booted Laird was there in his riding things. The little
company of simple folk is solemnised with prayer. So, with the hush of the
winter world lying all about them, and the warm friendships of many a leal
heart beating by their sides, the country man and the country maid join
hands and are made one by the holiest vow that a man or a woman can ever
make in life.
But on leaving the cottage,
a solemn-faced giant of the sheepfolds came up to the minister and craved
"There's juist ae objection
I hae to your wey o' mairryin' folk, sir."
"And what is that?" asked
the minister, wondering if he had made any mistake in his first ceremony.
"Ye didna bind the wumman
sair eneuch doon— for ye left oot that bonny wee word 'obey'!"
"Ah!" laughed the minister,
"is that all? Where there is true love, John, it carries with it a mutual
under-standing that has no need for obedience."
But the shepherd, who had a
right magerful wife at home, went away in the darkness shaking his head.
The night was now pitchy
black, and the cold wet mists were driving, like rain, across the hills.
"How can we possibly see to
ride across the hill in a the dark and mist, with so much drifted snow on
the ground?" asked the minister, with a touch of anxiety in his voice.
"We can't see, but the
horses can. Leave them to themselves, and no fear but they will find the
So the big hunter, followed
by the little grey mare, set off again for the hill. To the minister it
was a new sensation to go plunging up hill and down dale, out of one
darkness into another, on the back of a horse. The wet wind whistled about
his ears, a misty blackness shrouded his face, and all he could do was to
sit firm and lippen to the wise little beast that knew the hill paths so
much better than himself. A mystical fragrance seemed to drug the night
winds up there on the wild wet hill. The rider lifted his face in rapture
and smiled as he galloped through the night. Faith and Love, the Pure
White Snow, and the Red, Red Rose—they were both with him herein the
When at last he dismounted
in a heap of snow and slush at the manse gate, warm and wet and a trifle
weary, the Laird leant down to shake hands with him.
That was all. Then he rode
away with a splashing of hoofs in front of the old kirk.
The years go slowly by, and
the wedding this time is to take place in the low country, some five miles
west of Fairshiels.
It is a windless summer
night, and the whole country-side is steeped in the radiant light of the
setting sun as the minister rides slowly and contentedly along the dusty
roads and turns up at last a sequestered lane that leads to the farmtown
of Dodridge. The roses are hanging on the cottage walls, and there is a
breath of honeysuckle in the gardens where the eident bees are murmuring
late. He dismounts in front of a cottage where a little crowd of friends
are grouped about the door. He enters into the joys as he shares the
sorrows of the country folk—and this is another night of joy. There is not
enough room in the little cottage kitchen for all, so some of the guests
overflow into the garden, and whether standing within or without, they
listen in reverent silence while once more man and maid are joined in that
holy union of hearts which is a living symbol of Christ and His Kirk.
It is an ideal night for
festival, and the world of field and hedgerow, that is now lit up with
lambent light, is an audience chamber worthy of a king. The sacred service
is over, and there is a sound of distant music as all troop out into the
flower-perfumed air. The piping lad now stands in the roadway blowing
blasts of quick-stepping melody, with his crimson face to the west. That
way lies the farmplace, and the barn, where the wedding feast is spread.
The bride, dowered with blushes and dressed in radiant white, takes her
place behind the gallant piper with her hand upon her new-made husband's
arm. Then come the best man and the best maid, and after them the minister
with the bride's mother on his arm. Then another couple and another, till
all are marshalled bravely on the quiet country road. With a swing and a
flourish and a blast of bridal music, the piper steps out, and the gay
little procession wends its way along the sunset lane. With smiles from
the old folks, and laughter from the young, and a handful of coppers for
the little group of bairns, we arrive betimes at the granary stair, where
the piper blows his last breath away.
In the spacious upper
chamber, a long table groans with good things, and after remembering God
again, the minister, amid a strange constraint of country silence, stands
up to carve a roast of prodigious size. As he labours warmly to his task,
he gradually leads the tongue-tied company into happy talk with a tactful
telling of many ancient tales of a humorous turn, until the heavy silence
of the opening hour is dispelled. The plates go merrily round, the
laughter grows, the talk flows on, until the flower-bedecked barn becomes
a rustic hall of innocent merriment.
And ere he leaves, the man
of God, who shows his people how to rejoice as well as how to sorrow,
voices the feelings of all by wishing blessing to the happy pair and a
tranquil eventide to the old folks.
Outside, a silver crescent
moon hangs high in the summer night. The earth in the cool mirk breathes
out a thousand new-born fragrances, while the sound of music and dancing
steals over the woodlands and fields from the open door of the lamp-lit
barn. Through the witchery of this still night the minister rides slowly
home, with a prayer in his heart for the young folks, and the words of
this old, old song ringing through his soul -
"Oh mornin' life! oh mornin'
Oh lichtsome days and lang,
When hinnied hopes around our hearts
Like simmer blossoms sprang.
That was a time, a blessed
When hearts were fresh and young,
When freely gushed all feelings forth,
Unsyllabled — unsung.
The fount that first burst
frae this heart
Still travels on its way,
And channels deeper as it rins
The luve o' life's young day."