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Chapter I. - On to the Hills

Late one fine afternoon in July a light-built and quaint-looking carriage was rattling at a good pace along a narrow road in the Highlands. The occupants were Hope Ward, little Fred Peyton, and myself, on our way to the far hills, “Lull of pleasant anticipations of some months’ sojourn in the wild west.

I had been at Ardenmohr a week or two before with my friend, Major George Duncan, and who remained there, while I returned south to get the necessary supplies and come back with the others: the Major’s letters meanwhile reporting how fortunate we were in our lease—the country being thoroughly savage, the natives civilised, and the climate glorious.

We still were some ten miles from the end of our journey, but felt none of that impatience shown by fussy railway travellers, or more distinctly patent in sea-going “miserables.” Our vehicle held manifold comforts in its recesses and curiously contrived pockets, while the worthy who did postillion was Ward’s valet and factotum, Dick, who can cook a chop, ride a steeplechase, or carry a love-letter with equal propriety.

There is always to me peculiar enjoyment in driving along these Highland roads, especially in a new country, and the more so on such an evening as this. It had rained heavily early in the day, but had now cleared up, and the great aromatic pines and fields of white clover smelt, oh, how fresh and sweet! At every turn there was a change of scene: here dark wood on either side, with now and then a peep through some open glade; by-and-by wide moor and rolling hills far beyond, then past braes covered with broom and wild flowers; now, by a thatched hamlet at the burnside, we catch a glimpse of white-haired urchins at play, or a shy Highland maiden filling her pitchers at the stream; then through miles of wood, and we drove down a steep part of the road, crossed a bustling little burn, and came to the river.

Alongside the broken waters we drove for some distance, crossed an obtuse-angled ancient bridge, of the General Wade pattern, and associated in one’s mind with lawless Celts and ruthless troopers. Then a sharp turn to the right, and we pulled up at the Fraser’s Arms Inn.

The landlord had a letter from Major Duncan, which said he hardly expected us till next day. So we disembarked to have some provision and look about.

John Fraser is a good specimen of the Highland innkeeper (not hotel-keeper, save the mark!). John has a nice grazing-farm at a “canny rent,” he says; he owns store of West Highland cattle and blackfaced sheep, and moreover has a “sonsie wife and bonnie bairns;” so small thanks to him if lie do not grumble, like most of his lowland brethren, but works, fishes, bargains, and jokes, in an easy-going way, pleasant to witness.

The horses were taken round to the stables, and we were greeted by Mrs. Fraser’s smiling face.

“Glad to see you again, Mrs. Fraser,” I said; “how are the bairns?”

“All weel and stout, thank you, sir. I hope you and the ither gentlemen will have a pleasant stay in the Highlands.”

“No doubt of it. Mrs. Fraser. Can you give us something for dinner?”

“Not very much, I fear, sir. You would like it soon, I suppose?”

“Yes, as soon as may be, if not too much trouble.”

We now went out for a stroll, and to have a look around. Fred Peyton and Ward, who had never before been farther north than York, were delighted with everything — the wide unfenccd moors, the rough river and queer old bridge, and the great towering hills around; but, above all, by the cheery, homely ways of the people.

When we came back to the inn, dinner was neatly laid out, simple, but good—a fresh sea-trout, black-faced mutton, and a dish of fruit with delicious cream. Mrs. Fraser gave us some wine that she had got, seventeen years ago, from her old master, Cairndhu, on her beginning housekeeping, and her training with him accounted for the excellent menage of the clachan.

A little after eight o’clock Dick brought round .the carriage; so, bidding good-bye to the worthy family, we journeyed north.

Here our road led along the river for a mile or two. We then turned through a gap in the hills, and were now in a purely Highland glen, with bare mountains towering on each side; to the left those fine rolling, heathy slopes so pleasant to the eye of the grouse-shooter; while on the right hand the hills are abrupt and rocky, here and there broken by perilous corries, down which the hill-burns, swollen by the late rains, tumbled in innumerable waterfalls. Hot a tree to be seen, except a few birches on the banks of the brawling stream that coursed through the glen.

By-and-by the hills were closer and more picturesque, and gradually there came indications of the region being inhabited — a bit of pasture neatly enclosed, or a rustic bridge, and, at' last, the flagstaff on a projecting shoulder of the hill; round which we drove, and arrived at Ardenmohr. .

The Major was quietly smoking an Indian pipe, and sitting on the door-steps. He rose gladly, to receive us, and said he had heard the wheels long before we came up, everything being so still in the glen, and that he was nearly sure it must be our party. “How what about dinner?” he asked.

We had dined—voted tea—and went into the Lodge.

The Lodge is a good-sized building of no particular order of architecture, all rough granite, of a light blue colour, and, with its ample windows and ivy-covered walls, looks cheerful and homelike. There is no pretence to orthodox dining and drawing rooms. A long red-carpeted room, with two tall windows looking across the glen, does duty for the first: and it looks nice and orderly, in spite of its book-cases and sporting paraphernalia on the walls, and the .deer and tiger skins on the floor. The drawing-room is smaller, prevailing colours grey and pink, and contains a few articles of “virtue and bigotry,” as Mrs. Somebody calls them, and some sensible couches. Here we had tea, and then went out to inspect the kennels and offices. All satisfactory.

After having a stroll down the glen in the “gloamin’” and a quiet pipe, we went early to bed.

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