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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
Bridal in the Lammermoors


"They were blest beyond compare
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 grows old-fashioned.

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 gate.

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 clothes'.'

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 his pocket.

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 a word.

"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 way."

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 wilderness.

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.

"Good-night, minister—you'll do."

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.

The Apple of her Eye

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' luve!
Oh lichtsome days and lang,
When hinnied hopes around our hearts
Like simmer blossoms sprang.

That was a time, a blessed time,
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."


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