The Highlander's personal
dignity is invulnerable. It is maintained in all circumstances - even when
his temper is ruffled, and no matter what funny mistakes he may make in
his translated English.
Long association with the
Saxon does not always bring with it accuracy of idiom. All depends on
The police force in Glasgow
is largely recruited from the Highlands and many stories are told about
their marvellous attempts at every day speech.
We read for instance of a
proclamation having been made to the following effect - "By command of Her
Majesty King Edward and Her Grace the Duke of Argyle."
A stalwart guardian of the
peace going his rounds one day was met by an acquaintance from the same
village. Well, Murdoch," he inquired, "How long have you been in the
"Och," he replied, "she
will be chust two years a police man, and a half." He translated the
Gaelic literally; and the order is queer.
"How do you get to that
village from here?" was asked of a peasant in Invernesshire. The answer
was puzzling. "You chust will be walking to ta right; and you will be
walking to ta left; and you chust will be walking on whateffer. Then a
riffer will rise and meet you."
Gaelic is very poetic, and
pictorial; and sometimes has figures of speech that don't run well into
any other Western tongue.
One idiom which Highlanders
of the uneducated class have picked up is the use of the word "intill"
instead of "into". This may prove, at times, disconcerting to strangers.
Prince Albert, the late Prince Consort, was very much interested in all
that concerned the Highland steamers. The soup was one day particularly
good, and he was anxious to know what the ingredients were. He called the
cook; and, after praising the food on board, began to make inquiry about
the soup. "What is it made of?" he said.
"There is mutton intill
it," replied the, cook "and beef intill it, and potatoes intill it."
"Yes," said the Prince,
"thank you. Yes I understand. But I don 't exactly know what is intill't."
irritability got the better of him. "Didn't she tell her there was mutton
and beef and potatoes intill it? And can't she hear her?"
"She" was his manner of
saying, "Your Royal Highness."
But whatever odd expression
the peasant hillman uses, you had better not even smile at it. For
Highland blood is quick; and the very drovers of cattle move with the air
of princes. They step out with self-possessed mien, and are as dignified
as dukes. Indeed, you may meet with a drover that boasts a long descent
reaching back four hundred or five hundred years.
Chivalrous to a fault and
the very soul of honour, they are quick to resent even the semblance of an
affront. "Do you always go barefoot?" said a tourist to a woman he met
trudging home near the Trossachs.
"Whiles we do," murmured
the old crone, offended at the liberty. And whiles we mind oor ain
Yet it was a Trossachs-girl
that impressed Wordsworth with her old world courtesy and soft musical
speech. The poet had accosted her graciously and got a modest gracious
To this sense of personal
dignity a great measure of sensitiveness must be added; and not a little
pride. A Highland boatman was much incensed by a sharp-voiced lady from
the South, who kept giving orders about her boxes. She was one of that
numerous category of restless travellers who never can be at ease about
She had had her belongings
shifted some eight or nine times. At last the Highlander flared up, and
told her "to go to Jericho". Shocked and insulted the lady went at once to
the captain, and complained bitterly, The captain duly remonstrated with
the erring boatman. "Duncan," he said, "you were very uncivil to this
lady. You must really beg her pardon - before we get to Glasgow."
Duncan waited a while;
then, towards the end of the journey, he casually approached the offended
dame: "Wass you ta old woman I wass telling to go Jericho?"
"Yes," said the lady
"Well," continued Duncan
sullenly. "The captain says you need not go now."
That was his apology.
Despite its ungraciousness, the answer has something that is
characteristic in it, for no Highlander likes to be forced to make excuses
in any circumstances.
The haughtiness of the man
of the mist is matched by his shrewdness in maintaining his self-respect.
If he is the soul of courtesy, he can on occasion make an ironical or
This will be all the more
effective for being totally unexpected. A company of tourists once thought
to chaff an old shepherd.
"You have a fine view here,
"O yes, chentlemen," he
said, "ferry fine."
"Now, you can see far on a
clear day, I suppose?"
"O yes, inteet, a great
"I suppose now you can see
London from this extreme altitude?" Douglad by this time saw divined game
they were up to, and retaliated after his own quiet manner.
"O, aye inteet; and much
"Farther than London! Is
that what you say?"
"Aye, to be surely; and
farther than America."
"Oh, but that is
"Weel, weel, it 's chust
true. But if you won't beliefe me, sit doon here, and wait for twa three
oors ( oors - hours); and if the mist will clear, you'll see the moon from
But this is a playful
retort compared with what Hamish or Donald is capable of, if he imagines
there is a trace of superiority in your remarks. And, of course, in return
for anything distantly savouring of impoliteness he gives, at the least,
"as good as he gets."
Aggravated by a certain
gamekeeper's lofty demeanour a Southern visitor, who was shooting in the
North with his party, tried to humiliate the haughty servitor by making
him a little ridiculous. This he imagined to be quite easy, as the
gamekeeper had dark hair and a red moustache.
"Donald," he said. "You
should dye your moustache the colour of your hair. They don't match, you
Donald caught the point,
and declared war. For, noticing that the Saxon's nose was of a deep hue
not suggestive of total abstinence, he exclaimed aggressively: "Ah, Sir,
you should let people's heads alone, and paint her nose the colour of her
Everybody laughed! To make
the best of it, the Saxon felt in his pocket, and reached Donald a
half-sovereign. "Take it," he said, "I often wondered about Highland wit."
But Donald was not to be
"O keep it, Sir. It will
help to pay for ta paint!"
Money is never any salve
for the mountaineer's wounded pride. Very likely he belonged to the
MacPhersons. It was popularly supposed that the MacPhersons, like the
MacGregors and Camerons, were amongst the most self-respecting of all the
clans. Which is saying a great deal.
But here we are trenching
on dangerous ground; and it requires a specialist in Highland History to
draw the distinctions accurately between clan and clan, and do justice all