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Chronicals of Stratheden
Popular Entertainments and Amusements in a Highland Parish of To-Day


ENTERTAINMENTS, beyond all dispute, are few and far between among us. In some few instances, such as in the central seaport of a fishing population, or other large village or small town, there may be musical, and other more or less intellectual, entertainments under the auspices of Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations and similar societies; but in the general run of Highland parishes, the rural ones especially, there is a scantiness of popular means of amusement. For want of such, the younger members of the community often spend their evenings in shops and smithies, and the like, wasting precious hours, learning no useful accomplishment, but, on the contrary, in too many instances, acquiring, decidedly unhopeful modes of speaking and thinking, and listening to local gossip, not seldom of a low and hurtful nature.

The reader will naturally ask if there is any reason why there should be such a dearth of the means of social improvement. In trying to answer this question, it must at once be admitted that those who might be expected to take a lead in providing such, have, in too many cases, prevented their existence—we mean the clergy, and other persons more or less ecclesiastical. Though the dawn of a better day is distinctly visible, it was too long the practice for the clergy to denounce, sweepingly and angrily, all sorts of entertainments or gatherings not exclusively for church purposes. They seemed to dread that the people should assemble themselves together anywhere than within the walls of a church — oblivious of the fact that if the providing of means of mental recreation and improvement were encouraged, there would be a clearer appreciation of such instruction as might happen to be supplied by the pulpit ministrations. Even to-day, if a concert is announced in a Highland parish, cases will be found where the clergy immediately thunder forth a wailing "encyclical" against the proposed profanity, and many angry words are uttered about "godless" amusements and the follies of the day ; while any clergyman that openly countenances such gatherings is sure to be viewed with suspicion and displeasure by some of his flock. Not long ago there occurred in a highland parish not very far from Stratheden a remarkable instance of the latter element of the peculiarity in question. In a small village in the parish referred to, some persons interested in the welfare of the district proposed to establish a coffee-room, with a view to which a concert was announced. Many of those coming in from the surrounding district to transact business in the village, when needing refreshment, must needs go to the only available place, the village inn; and, as some people iii other than Highland parishes will do, certain of these would occasionally remain in the inn longer than was good for them. The promoters of the concert were anxious to remedy this state of matters, and hence the proposed establishment of a coffee-room. The proceedings at the concert began with the singing of the Hundredth Psalm, to the well-known tune of Old Hundred, which may be taken as evidence that no reckless, and still less profane, intentions actuated the promoters of the concert. Some secular songs of a popular kind, and incapable of offending the most fastidious, formed a part of the evening's programme. Among the audience there was the Free Church clergyman of the district—a fact which, while creditable to his good sense, marks him out as very different from the average northern Free Church parson. The concert was brought about for a most praiseworthy object, and surely those that are supposed to be set for doing good should countenance such efforts. But, reader, mark what follows! On the Sunday after the concert, lo and behold ! some seats hitherto regularly occupied are seen to be vacant in the church where the pastor that was at the village concert is wont to preach. Some "weel-kent" faces are away, yea, even some long and solemn countenances long known as occupants of the upper seats in the local synagogue. Even among those in the said church on this particular day, here and there a face appears more sombre and elongated than was previously its wont, wearing an expression indicating doubtfulness as to the propriety, if not the safety, of sharing in the ministrations of the day. And why all this? wherefore these vacant seats and this doubting expression? It is because the clergyman in the pulpit is the same that countenanced the concert;—because, believing the coffee-room would help sobriety in the district he was present at the concert got up to help in establishing it.

There is another species of entertainment that continues to call forth a severe rebuke from certain clerical monitors—to wit, balls, or what is understood to be dancing-parties; an accompaniment of which, in addition to the music, is the effect of the liquor that possesses the almost marvellous power of cooling or warming as may be required.

A certain clerical gentleman, pastor of a Free Church congregation in a North-West Highland parish, not long ago allowed his zeal to outrun his discretion in rebuking the promoters of a ball. This pastor, seemingly alarmed for the safety of such of his flock as might think of going to the "awful gathering,"—or, as certain ill-natured ones of a different religious denomination insinuated, angry that the money spent on the ball was so much lost to the possible resources of the "collections" and Sustentation Fund,—made the ball the object of special and angry attack on the Sunday after he heard of it. The wails and denunciations of the enraged parson —though offensive to some of the younger and to the most of the intelligent portion of the congregation—greatly pleased the majority of the older people; and, old Duncan M'Gillivray, a member of the congregation, remarked, "Whatna grawnd sairman we got the day! The munnistarr give an awful blow to the pulpit; and them that's going to the ball got it the day." But poor Duncan was no dancer, nor had he an ear for music, and he liked the blow style of preaching. But the worst remains to be told. The pulpit warning, sad to say, moved not the hearts of the godless crew that promoted the ball, and the awful gathering took place.

On the evening of the ball, so much was the reverend gentleman's spirit troubled, that—horrible as well as wonderful to relate—he repaired to the ball-room; and there, in propria persoina, stood the parson, on that awful ball-room floor, it may well be believed, the observed of all observers. Some verily thought it was an apparition; and one or two persons, more given to levity than the others, wondered whether any wild intention of "tripping the light fantastic" had suddenly seized the reverend gentleman. But he himself soon set all surmising at rest by roaring at his loudest: "Stop this terrible work!" "Go out of this place, and shut the door of this awful place!" and kindred expressions. Melancholy to relate, the parson's roaring rebukes were unheeded. In reporting the ball to the newspapers read in the district, the local correspondent, with some sense of humour evidently, in giving some names after the usual "among those present we observed," mentioned the name of the Rev. Peter Mackay, the Free Church clergyman of the parish ! It was, of course, too true. He could not deny he was at the ball. The angry parson now became afraid. What would his friends say? What would many that knew him think of him "among those present" at that godless amusement? It is gratifying, however, to be able to chronicle that the matter was satisfactorily settled —none that knew his reverence believing it was to sing or dance, or for any like profane purpose, he was among those present at the ball.

Another Free Church clergyman in a Highland parish—it is not very clear why the pastors of this particular denomination should specially shine in such capacities—placed himself, a very few years ago, in even a more ludicrous and alarming situation than did the Rev. Peter Mackay. We learned the circumstances from a member of his congregation, who heard the details from several persons who witnessed the scene. A marriage took place in the district, the officiating clergyman at which was the Rev. Neil Ferguson. In wedding festivities the bagpipes, as is yet generally the case, occupied a prominent place. It is important to note the presence of this musical instrument, because it "plays" an essential part in the story. The clergyman left after he had tied the nuptial knot ; but happening, however, to meet the marriage-party at a later hour of the day, the piper playing an appropriate air, the Rev. Neil Ferguson, as if seized with temporary insanity, rushed up to the bagpipeplayer—a young man of the district, and an adherent of the reverend gentleman's church—and violently wrenched the bagpipes from him, accompanying the act with angry mutterings about the godless music, and the foolish people, and like observations. Nor was this all. At the moment the pipes were forced out of the player's hands the bag was pretty considerably inflated, and as the parson held the pipes under his arm, the yet unused wind, in making its way out, made a sort of bagpipe-music, so that, beyond dispute, the parson was the bagpipe player of the moment! There are, even at this moment, not a few of the clerical brethren of these angry parsons who have much the same narrow views anent rational amusements generally, but a growing public opinion is daily helping to render such scenes as those we have described less probable.

Stratheden shares in the too general scantiness of means of social and bettering entertainment. Nor is it easy to see why such is the case. Besides other persons that might reasonably be expected to help in providing something useful, there are two clergymen in the parish, and neither, so far as is known, in any remarkable way wanting in mental endowments and capabilities for general usefulness. In no Highland parish of to-day, it may be safely said, are the intellectual or other appliances so meagre but that, with some little energy and perseverance, such entertainments as penny readings, concerts, and popular lectures might be easily enough got up. These might also surely be so conducted as—instead of being institutions of which the clergy would be afraid—to be materially helpful towards promoting a healthy religious development among the community generally. The people will have excitement; and if, as unfortunately is the case the whole world over, some people in Highland parishes will go after excitement that is neither amusing nor healthy, those who assume the position of guardians of their morals should beware lest by a sour, unsympathetic denouncing of innocent rational entertainments and amusements, they may be virtually aiding in encouraging what they often have cause to deplore.

The places of public resort, in Stratheden are not numerous, and the most is made of such as do exist. For a long period, until within the past ten years, the habit of going to ceilidh—that is visiting the neighbours' houses in the evenings—winter especially—for purposes of gossip, was largely patronised. Local events received the largest share of attention, but national questions were not altogether untouched; and some events, or supposed events, of the fable and ghost story order, were pretty largely laid under contribution. An intense craving for the surprising was very prevalent among the persons constituting this local parliament, and they who could satisfy this craving the best were the most popular frequenters of such gatherings. Personal observations, of course, of a kind uncomplimentary to some one or other in the neighbourhood, were often enough heard at the ceilidh; and sometimes the habit, unfortunately not peculiar to such meetings, of making free with the reputation of the absent, was more than sufficiently honoured. However, these gatherings had some harmlessly attractive features, and did good in a way. They kept the people from an idler and possibly worse way of spending their time; and before the state of matters to-day, when newspapers and books are so much more widely read, the ceilidh gathering in many instances was the.means of circulating no small amount of useful intelligence. But the custom of ceilidh is rapidly disappearing, and the ceilidh meetings are to-day but thinly attended compared with even ten years ago. Railways and newspapers are tending to diminish the number at these gatherings, and not long hence, to all appearance, the ceilidh will cease to be known as a distinctive institution. The popular places of resort to-day are railway stations, blacksmiths', tailors', and shoemakers' shops, as also the shop by pre-eminence, or the general merchant's shop.

The first-named place—the railway station—seems a rather strange place to be regularly frequented except on business, and yet a considerable number of the young men and boys of Stratheden—as is the case in many other parishes—habitually frequent the railway station. One can easily understand how, at the time the train was a novelty, many old as well as young people would go to hear the snorting of the "each iarruinn " (iron horse), and see the huge load of waggons he dragged so rapidly in his train. But in Stratheden the charm of novelty has faded years ago, and still the people referred to, almost every evening, Sunday as well as week-days, from far and near, in all weathers, flock to the railway station. They all make a point, if possible, of being there at the arrival of the mail train from the south; and though few or none of them can have anything like an extensive correspondence, or any important or frequent business transactions, we have seen them pass towards the railway station shortly before train time running as if for dear life, afraid they would be too late. It is not easy to explain this phenomenon. It may be that the craving for excitement, incidental to the quiet monotony of the district, leads them to the railway station in the expectation of hearing something sensational among the latest intelligence; or it may be that some, even more curious, wish to see to whom a box or a parcel, or even a cask of sugar—and more especially, of something stronger—is addressed, such information being useful for purposes of gossip on some subsequent occasion. It is all very well to say that the station-master might prevent such gatherings. The Stratheden stationmaster is a highly efficient faithful official, and as capable at least as the average station-master of removing any annoyance that might exist; but the custom is deeply rooted, and it might not be judicious to deal summarily with it. The young people have few other places of public resort to go to; and though the gossip at these gatherings is not always elevating, it might seem hard, considering the fewness of places of amusement, to grudge the young men and boys this, as they must think, attractive entertainment.

The blacksmith's shop is a favourite resort, and many a remarkable conversation is heard in the "smithy"---many a strange sentiment is ventilated round the anvil. Angus Kennedy, the principal blacksmith in Stratheden,—to-day there are three in the parish, while twenty years ago there was but one,—is a man somewhat past middle life, with the brawny arm usually associated with the man of the anvil. He is altogether an intelligent person, and with that tendency to dictate and to be opinionative which the head of a place thus frequented is so apt to manifest. Many are they that visit, on business and without business, the smithy of Angus Kennedy. Crofters, grieves, and ploughmen generally, form of course the greater number. Not to speak of the attention paid to national affairs, no event of any consequence, or of no consequence, that takes place in or around Stratheden, fails to become a subject of comment among the frequenters of Angus Kennedy's "smithy." Events that never happened are occasionally discussed as well !—which latter, of course, is not peculiar to the blacksmith's or any other shop. "School boord and parochial boord maiters," as some of the assembled ones put it, are more or less exhaustively discussed; and the "school boord" elections of recent times created no small stir, the smithy parliaments taking special cognisance of the "maiter," and making somewhat remarkable com ments both on the fitness of one or more of the "cawndidates" for membership in the "school board," and on what the "boord," when elected, should do. "What the munnistarr said last Saw-bath" is frequently very freely commented on; and special delight is felt in discussing some real or supposed personal admonitions or rebukes that may happen to be administered from one or both of the Stratheden pulpits.

Angus Kennedy, the smith, in virtue of his position as head of the house, is, of course, president of the anvil assembly; and, having seen a little of the world—Angus was in the south some years—greater deference is paid to his opinions, for the average native resident of a Highland parish looks up somewhat to a travelled man. A notable personage at these gatherings is Hugh Ferguson, a crabbed-looking little man, past the threescore and ten, and, in some respects, a veritable "character." Hugh has seen a good deal of the world—in fact he has been a wandering sort of individual; and being what is called unsuccessful in life, he is somewhat sour, and disposed to sneer all round. Hugh is comparatively well read, and evidently has been looking into literature of various kinds, useful and otherwise. He is liked, generally speaking, not only for his general information and frequent smart replies, but also because, though not over-wise at times, Hugh is not believed to be of either a violent or a vicious disposition. Ordinarily, in any discussion of importance, the final deliverance rests with Angus Kennedy the blacksmith and Hugh Ferguson the tailor; and by universal consent even the president has occasionally—often, indeed—to yield the palm to Hugh Ferguson.

At the time the Scotch Education Act of 1872 came into operation, frequent and more or less excited conferences anent the matter took place at Angus Kennedy's smithy. The general verdict of these local legislators seemed to be that, while there were "some grawnd raygulayshans" in the new Act, if the schools were getting along as well in other "paireeshes" as in Stratheden, there was little or no need for an altered system. This was pretty much the local sentiment at the date of the passing of the Act. Hugh . Ferguson and Angus Kennedy, while agreeing in the main regarding the Act, differed anent the duties of the inspector of schools—Angus strongly insisting that this official should be asked by some competent authority to examine as to the religious instruction. "Na, na, Angus," observed Hugh; "let the parsons look after that business: they hessna owre muckle to do, and they're weel paid for all they do. The inspector canna hey muckle time for asking aboot the long string o' questions aboot 'fectual calling, and original sin, and the likes o' that." "Oh, Hugh, Hugh, take care what you'll be saying!" exclaimed George Morison, brother-in-law of Alexander Mackenzie—one of the elders of the Free Church in Stratheden—from a corner of the smithy, where he had been listening. "It's a lot of people hess need of 'fectual calling, and you shouldna be speak-in' that way. Graysheous, whatna lot of strange speaking there's in't in this days aboot 'fectual calling, and questions, and the Bible itself! In my younger days," added George Morison, "it would be only in the church, and at the kattykeesin' (catechising) and prayer-meetings, there would be any speaking aboot them maiters; but now great many will be speaking every place aboot them, and I don't know what's to be in't." The educational question was by this time being lost sight of, the conversation showing—so far, at least, as George Morison was concerned—a tendency to become of a distinctly theological nature. And not seldom is there a theological discussion at the smithy. "I don't know myself what some o' them munnistarrs is aboot; he's an awful man that David Macrae, a munnistarr in the sooth," was the indignant avail of James Maclean, a sour-looking old man, one evening recently at the smithy parliament. "This Macrae," added James, "is saying there's to be no bad place at all, at all, aifter this world ! and isn't that awful ? They were saying that my own neebour, Sandy Macdougal — daysant good man, he could be an elder any day, but he wouldna take it—they were saying Sandy didna sleep for two nights aifter they told him that a munnistarr was saying there wasna to be a bad place at all — isn't that awful? It was a cruall thing to take the sleep from the hoaly man. But stop you," proceeded our energetic critic —"some people wull know to their cost that there is a bad place! and this David Macrae-" At this juncture, when, we are grieved to have to suspect, James Maclean was about to relegate the southern parson to regions uninviting, Hugh Ferguson, who was present this evening also, somewhat angrily said to James Maclean, "Haud your tongue, Jeemuss ; you're bletherin' aboot what you dinna ken. Are you sure David Macrae is saying there's no to be a bad place, as you call it?" James hesitated before replying to Hugh Ferguson's question: he dreaded it might not be canny to be saying much about such matters in a mixed company. At last, however, and as if to vindicate himself, he observed, "Yes; a'm sure he was saying it, because Angus Gordon said he heard Jeemuss Finlayson the deacon saying it, and Jeemuss reads the papers sometimes." At this stage David Grant, a painter in Stratheden, and a native of the parish, who happened to be on business at the smithy on the evening in question, volunteered an observation on the matter. David is an intelligent young man, reads the papers, and has, it is said, a pretty good collection of books of various kinds. "I have been reading about the Rev. David Macrae, and what they're saying against him," observed Grant, "and I don't think he's really saying that at all. It is too great a matter for me to speak about; and more than that, I don't think David Macrae or any other one can make the matter perfectly clear to us. But, James, my friend, yourself nor myself surely cannot see into the like of these matters, but we should live a good life, and never mind what we cannot see into." " Ah, Maister Grant, we can see weel enough into them fearful munnistarrs that's saying there's to be no bad place." "I scarcely know what your views arc, James," added Grant, " but I know very well that my views are like the views of a good lot of the young men of Stratheden. Let us be good men, James, and don't be bothering your head about David Macrae, or any other man. They're all most likely doing their best; and there is One wiser than any of us will decide, and we should leave the matter there." "But surely it's better," said James Maclean, "to have sound views, and to keep to what good men before us said." " But who knows what views are sound?" replied Grant; "every one thinks his own views sound." "Och, Maister Grant, there's the Bible to show it,—to show the richt way," observed James. "All very well, James," replied Grant, "but people don't agree about the Bible. Some say it says this, and others that; but I tell you," added Grant, "the Bible tells us to be good, right living, and honest every way, and there cannot be any doubt about that. We should ask God to help us to be good, James, and leave dark questions." So much for the smithy conferences. They still endure, though not so largely patronised as of old. The spread of the newspaper, and of cheap literature generally, is diminishing the attendance at these once very popular gatherings.

Prominent among the entertainments of the average Highland parish stands the dancing - school. An institution of this sort periodically appears in Stratheden. Dancing-schools were, and to some extent yet are, especial objects of clerical denunciation in the Highlands. This did, and does, more harm than good. The peaceable members of the community, for the most part trained into dread of the clerical rebuke, even when such rebuke was unwise, kept away from the forbidden entertainment, and it was, as a rule, only such as affected to discard all authority and lived recklessly that became patrons of the unhallowed amusement. Hence, in consequence very much of clerical narrowness and sourness, dancing-schools in Highland parishes long bore a rather uninviting reputation. Matters are much changed to-day. At the same time, though the average resident seems less afraid of the dancing-school, it can hardly be said that this institution, so far as the average rural Highland parish is concerned, is always a school of refinement, or a place for acquiring elegant manners and polite conversation.

James Ferguson, a plasterer to trade, and a dancing-master by profession, came to Stratheden last autumn, and announced his intention of opening a dancing-school. Any kind of excitement takes in a place like Stratheden, where novelties are rare, and the dancing-school was the topic of the hour. Alexander Macrae, the old elder, ominously shook his aged head, bewailing the follies of the times; and if he did not pray for those that placed their souls in jeopardy by going to the dancing-school, he was going to do it. So, at least, said Mary Macgillivray, an old maid in Stratheden. She was much of the elder's way of thinking regarding dancing-schools. Mary, however, may have had depressing reflections awakened in her by hearing that so many young women attended the dancing-school —young women, that is, with better chances of marriage than herself; and, such is human nature, this may somewhat explain her sympathy with the elder's views. But, and strange to say, another elder of the Free Church, to which church also Alexander Macrae adhered, actually sent three of his family to the dancing-school. Horror seized many of those so-called "good" people at the thought of this shocking declension. The erring elder brought down on his unhappy head, not merely remonstrances for his godless relaxing of parental discipline, but a torrent of wild abuse for the great scandal caused by the enormous iniquity of an elder sending his children to a dancing-school. One evening during the currency of the dancing-school a small group happened to meet at one of the Stratheden shops, and, while there, some pupils passed along to the dancing-schooI. "There they are!" exclaimed Catherine MacKay, a sister of the wife of James Murchison, one of the deacons in the Stratheden Free Church ; "a'm afraid they're on the broad way; they'll get plenty room on it for dancing, but a'm thinking it's no dancing that wull be in their heads at the endI" " The dancing will no do them a grain o' ilI," replied the young wife of Hugh Kennedy, a mason in Stratheden, "if they'll be decent themselves. It makes people kind o' smart and active like ; and ourselves here, though we're as smart and clever like as people in other places, we canna be the worse of getting lessons at the dancing-school." "Ochan! ochan! is that what your sayin'!" retorted Catherine MacKay; "it's easy seen the young people o' this day is gettin' awful strange kind o' views. I think, Mustrass Kennedy, you should go and you'Il get a sairman from Hugh MacKay the elder; its awful that he sent his children to the dancing-school. And maybe aifter the sairman, Hugh and yourself---though it wunna be easy for him wi' the lame leg—may hey a reel with the dancing scholars." "Be quate, be quate," exclaimed Angus Matheson, an old, sombre, sour-looking native, of some sixty years of age; "don't be putting sairmans and dancing together that way. If people listened better to sairmans, the dancing wouldn't hey a chance at all. It's awful that people wull go and jump aboot round and round for hours, and they'll be sayin' the sairmans are too long to sit and hear. Ochan! ochan! what are we coming to?" At this stage of the discussion, which was becoming somewhat warm, Thomas Cameron, a respectable tradesman in Stratheden, a roan of some five-and-thirty years of age, appeared on the scene; and his shrewd ways and long residence in the south having given him a sort of name in the place, Thomas was at once appealed to for his opinion anent the matter in dispute. "What do you think of this dancing-school that's going on in the paereesh, Maister Cawmurran?" said Catherine MacKay, determined to take a lead in the deliberations, and who would fain get Thomas Cameron to side with her, whatever his own views were. Cameron, taking a practical view of the matter, merely observed that it might be better to wait until the close of the dancing-school to see if any good resulted. The moral or religious aspect of the dispute never entered into Cameron's calculations, so that his cautious, and, as most people will say, wise observation, came rather disappointingly to some of those present. Catherine MacKay, however, determined to have sonic expression of opinion from Thomas Cameron, remarked, "Don't you think, Maister Cawmurran, the dancing is a sin?" Cameron, slightly irritated at this fanatical view of the matter, replied, "None of your old blether. A sin! there's people winna go to a dancing-school will do far worse." Catherine began to think some strange wild views were beginning to prevail, and she retired from the shop in evident disgust. So much for dancing-schools.

At those seasons when the world generally is supposed to rejoice — Hallowe'en, Christmas, and New Year—Stratheden has its amusements, and they are such as are popular in many Highland parishes of to-day. In most parishes the old style is observed in the three instances specified—namely, November 11th, January 6th, and January 12th. These seasons are not now so generally observed as they were at one time. We remember how, some twenty-five years ago, Hallowe'en was one of the greatest events of the year. Young and old paid homage to the returning season, and the observance included indoor and outdoor amusements. A favourite indoor amusement of those days in some districts of the Highlands was the placing of a silver coin, a ring, or some such valuable, in a preparation of meal and cream, contained in the most capacious basin available in the house, in which preparation some dozen or more spoons eagerly concentrated their energies. Tremendous issues depended on the finding of the ring and coin, and he or she who found either would be soonest married; and a bright future generally, of course, was in store for the successful spoon.

The customs of to-day, so far as Hallowe'en, and indeed the other seasons referred to, are concerned, are much the same as at the period indicated, the important difference being that the extent to which they are observed is materially less. The more adventurous give special attention to outdoor amusements. About the middle of autumn it is common in some districts to see schoolboys, when lessons are past, go to the moorland and glens to pluck or cut a sort of long hard grass, some of them bringing home a bundle of about half the size of an ordinary sheaf of corn. This is laid past to dry, and on Hallowe'en used as a torch. When this custom was more largely patronised than now, it was a picturesque sight, on a dark night, to see these youthful torch-light processionists rush along—boys of course rarely walk—the sparkling stream of fire, that spoke of a rapidly fading torch, giving a weird ghastly aspect to the scene, while hearty loud hurrahs were constantly yelled by the happy processionists.

Another Hallowe'en custom of other days yet lingers, and is more extensively honoured than the one just described, though, as will be seen, some people consider it a less harmless amusement. Late at night turnip-fields and kail-gardens are honoured with a visit from some of the fun-loving youths. Nor are these fields and gardens left exactly as they were found: sometimes a considerable number of turnips and cabbages are removed, and, these being distributed among the party, are subsequently disposed of in a manner not a little alarming to some of the quieter inhabitants. Some time during the night the inmates of one or more cottages are startled by a violent crash, as if the door had been smashed in, and this is one of the ways in which some of the turnips are disposed of. Sometimes a door is attacked by a vigorous cannonade of turnips, some 3 and some 5-pounders, all hurriedly but well aimed by the unwelcome nocturnal merrymakers. Another Hallowe'en custom consists in bodily removing a crofter's or " big fairmer's " cart from the steading, and depositing it in some out-of-the-way corner, the search occasionally causing some annoyance and irritation, so carefully is the cart, or plough, or barrow, hid.

All this, generally speaking, is done from harmless motives, though the owners of the turnips and carts, and some others, may have doubts as to the morality of the amusements referred to. `Ve have heard it said that any residenter more or less unpopular is sure to receive the larger share of the attentions of Hallowe'en, in the matter of door-hitting and the like. It would be rash, however, to take these attentions as evidence of unpopularity. Most of the merrymaking ones are at a time of life when local strifes, with their envy and hatred, enter but little, if at all, into their deliberations. They hurl the turnips for hurling's sake, and for the fun of it, and that is all.

These customs arc on the wane. Somehow they seem to disappear with the remoteness of our Highland parishes, and in consequence of the spread of cheap literature and the increased travelling facilities. It would be foolish to utter a wail over the change. Many of us have happy fond memories of the days when these customs were widely popular, and the average Highlander was then at least as brave, as kindly, and as true as to-day; but seeing the change has brought with it no harm save the sad remembering of those who love to speak of the good old days of long ago, we may composedly accept the altered times.

Of Good Friday, Easter, Candlemas, and even Christmas, little or no notice is taken in the Highlands in the way of practical observance. The New Year, however, is yet observed, though here, too, the custom is diminishing. The old style, as already indicated, is yet observed in Stratheden and in the Highlands generally, but there is a growing feeling in favour of the new style. Many parishes have already adopted the latter, and it must, not long hence, be general. Some of the older natives, of course, adhere rigidly to the old style; and not longer ago than this year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty, we know of a Highland parish where, while the younger and some of the middle-aged residents observed the new style, the older and more rigid adherents of the old style got up a counter-demonstration on the 12th day of January. With such as observe the New Year, "first-footing" is all the "go" in Stratheden, as in most other places. Before the old year has scarce chimed its last hour, a large proportion of the young men are astir, and each carrying a bottle of mountain-dew, they take their respective ways to neighbours' houses, to exchange the greetings of the season over the contents of the bottle. They sing and laugh and joke after their own fashion, and all are happy, or at least seem to be. Daylight, however, rarely overtakes the hilarity that belongs to an earlier stage of the festivities. At the time when, ordinarily, they get up, many on this day go to bed, exhausted by the wakefulness and walking of the night and morning. Perhaps, too, in one or two instances, something in the nature of a collapse may take place at even an earlier hour than that indicated, as the result, to put it mildly, of a mistaken estimate of their own capacity, or of the power of the mountain-dew, or of both. But we are glad to chronicle there are very few cases of drunkenness; and here we take the opportunity of recording the pleasing fact that the people, generally speaking, are essentially temperate in the use of intoxicating drink. In the early New Year morning some few persons—those that wisely accepted the blessed gift of sleep, or prudently maintained a wakeful coolness the whole livelong night—may be seen careering along the hillsides and straths, bound for some neighbour's cottage, singing a festive song with voices seemingly not yet subdued by serious contact with the cares of life. It is not the silly maudlin song that comes of intoxication, but, as a rule, the genuine outburst of a young and gladsome heart. As the day advances, groups, of two or three or more, family and other groups, may be seen passing along to exchange neighbourly greetings. In some houses there is at night a substantial tea spread, to which a few neighbours are invited. There is a return tea next evening in another house, so that the New Year festivities are thus often prolonged for a week. This return feasting is much in vogue, and on such occasions, tables that sometimes are bare enough, literally groan under the heavy variety of eatables and drinkables. A very remarkable feature of such entertainments lately came under our notice. A resident in a parish not fifty miles from Stratheden, in speaking of such matters, strong in the belief—a pretty common one—that a hugely laden table on such occasions is very essential, observed with a look of pride, referring to the parish he lives in, "Plenty of oor people kill half a pig at the New Year!" Here, surely, is a case for the anti-vivisectionists. It would not apparently be easy, if, indeed, it would be possible, to find a clearer case of vivisection.

Card-playing (no betting as a rule) is yet a somewhat popular amusement in the Highlands, and many a long winter evening it helps to while away. Some of the older natives look on card -playing as altogether an unsanctified matter, and plainly enough express their belief that it is a practice specially under the direction of the foe of all good. Some of these people have a superstitious dread of the mere sight of cards, and shudder at the silent, harmless stare of the knave of clubs, more than, probably, they would at the club of a knave, or even a Zulu's assegai. Not many days ago, one of the Stratheden people—a person believing card-playing to be "no richt"—gravely told us that at a house in the neighbourhood of Stratheden, where a game at cards was being played, "something awful took place for to make them give it up." Our informant alleged that in the case in question the cards indulged in a spiritualistic dance on their own account, — some leaping to the roof, some taking a suicidal plunge into the fire, and a remnant mysteriously disappearing beneath the table on which, but a few moments before, they quietly lay. Card-playing, however, yet endures. Farmhouse kitchens, and shoemakers' and tailors' shops, are the favourite rendezvous of card-players. Happily, strong drink is as rare at these gatherings as is the practice of betting; but the conversation accompanying card-playing is not always edifying.

The telling of ghost-stories may be classed among the popular entertainments. This was at one time a very popular practice in the family circle and at ceilidh gatherings; but the railway train has whistled many a ghost out of existence, and consequently materially curtailed the number of ghost-stories. The newspaper and the travelling facilities, also, have recently been very successfully attacking the ghost and ghost-story strongholds. But even to-day this once very common practice is to some extent observed. The haunted localities laid under contribution include places out of and in "the paereesh." When the alleged haunted locality is near at hand, there is, of course, a more anxious look towards the door, and a closer creeping near the fireplace, among, at least, the younger members of the listening group. Even to-day some Stratheden people gravely allege that " uncanny " lights and unearthly yells frequent a wood in the parish. If, by way of accounting for the lights, tinkers' tents are mentioned, the reply is, "Och no, indeet; it's far worse nor tinkers that's in't. You'll see they'll be something yet where the light waas." If a howl of a wandering dog be suggested as explanatory of the yell, the reply sometimes is, "Och, indeet, it's no that kind o' noise —people knows what's in't, and that it's no a right noise; but there will be something come oot o' that noise yet."

In speaking to a Stratheden man the other day on the subject of ghosts, we took occasion to notice that the railway, and the constant moving about of the people, in addition to other agencies, must have scared away the ghosts, if ever there were any. "Ochan! ochan! sir," he replied, "it's no a train or anything o' that kind that can put away the ghosts. What do they care for trains and that? They're saying" (and this story was believed by not a few in Stratheden) "that last Sawbath night, when the train was coming near Stratheden, a big, big black thing stopped it and it couldna go, and they tried and tried, and it wouldna go. The object wouldna move, nor speak, nor anything. Now, Maister Mackenzie," he added, "that waas a ghost; and it's no right for trains to be going on the Sawbath."

Some readers by this time may be asking, what about the musical entertainments? Does not this clement continue to occupy a prominent place in the popular entertainments of a Highland parish? What about Gaelic songs? Surely Stratheden is rich in the department of Gaelic song-singing? Are not Ossian's strains familiar sounds? Are not the plaintive melodies of the bards, of Rob Donn, of M`Intyre, and others, often sung in the family circle and at festive gatherings? Do not the young maidens of the parish often sing love-songs in the Gaelic tongue?

Much though many will regret it, these questions, so far as the average Highland parish of to-day is concerned, must severally be answered in the negative. As to concerts, we have already indicated the measure of popularity they enjoy in some parishes. Songs are sung, of course; but in comparison with even fifteen years ago, the proportion sung in Gaelic is small indeed. Even Ossian, though revered by Highlanders generally, is read by few; and there are many to-day to whom Ossian's classic page is very much of a foreign tongue. Mackay (Rob Donn), M'Intyre, and various other Gaelic bards, are spoken of; but their songs, though found in most cottages affecting anything like a library, are rarely sung. Such of the young maidens as are given to singing, in the great majority of cases, find expression for their tender emotions in the English language. Gaelic songs are to-day oftener heard in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, than in many Highland parishes; and those Highlanders that in these and other distant places sing the fondly cherished melodies of long ago, --- melodies that awaken fond though mingled memories of the old home "in the misty island " or the distant glen,—will doubtless feel disposed to sigh over what many of them no doubt will consider the melancholy declension in the matter of Gaelic song-singing in Highland parishes.

In the department of purely literary entertainment, Stratheden has not much to boast of. Efforts have recently been made to establish a society, professedly having in view, by means of essays, lectures, and debates, the cultivating of literary tastes, and, generally, the mental improvement of the members; but it remains to be seen what good, if any, it will accomplish in the way of promoting reading habits, a manly toleration in matters of Church and creed, and general intelligence. In too many Highland parishes such societies, though making a promising beginning, soon exhibit signs of an approaching collapse. This is not owing to the inexperience of the members, or to the fact that some of the essays are dull, and some of the debates stupid and ludicrously conducted. There is many a literary society, now flourishing, that experienced similar early disadvantages. The great barrier to the genuine progress of such a society consists, in some places, in the fact that the old miserable leaven of sectarianism finds its way into its counsels. The society is started ostensibly on an unsectarian basis, but too often this is but a pretext to secure public countenance. In course of time sectarian animosities, descending at times to venomous and cowardly personalities, are ventilated; but it is right to add that such contemptible displays, as a rule, come from the adherents of the ecclesiastical sect that is numerically the stronger in the Highlands, and that the unhopeful feelings alluded to are kept alive and promoted chiefly by those who should be the first to endeavour to scare them away.

At this stage we fancy we hear some enthusiastic admirer of the ideal Highland parish wonderingly ask, what about the bagpipes? Have the strains of this ancient instrument, that used to speak to Highland hearts and stir the Highland blood, been swamped in the newer noises of the changes of to-day? By no means; and it is only because it is not now so much, so to speak, the universal musical instrument, that we have delayed reference to it. There are some changes that will be variously viewed, but most of us would consider a Highland parish sadly forfeiting its claim to interest and regard -- sadly adrift, indeed, from what a Highland parish should be—if within it were unknown the stirring strains of the ancient bagpipes. Some of the young lads of Stratheden play them, and not seldom from a cottage here and there one may hear "the pibroch sounding deep over mountain and glen." These amateur players, when asked, give their services willingly at weddings, balls, and harvest-homes; but it is in his home, to the delight of his brothers and sisters, though not, in every case, quite to the delight of the older people, some of whom have a pharisaic horror of all secular, and especially of instrumental, music, that the amateur chiefly plays. There are other musical instruments coming into general use, such as concertinas and accordions; nor are the notes of the violin unknown. While, however, it will be a long time before any, or even all of these, will succeed in swamping the strains of the ancient bagpipes, we are glad to think it will be longer still before the narrow-minded and pharisaic fanatics of the community will be able to put to silence any one of these instruments, all of which, when sorrow comes, or time hangs wearily, are capable of affording much comfort and bettering entertainment.


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