IN a grass-plot at the borders of many of
the Drumtochty gardens was a well that served for two or three neighboring
families. It would be eight or ten feet deep, and was covered by a large
flat stone that
level with the
ground. This stone had a hole in the middle, fourteen or fifteen inches in
diameter, and the hole was protected by a slab of wood. Water was drawn by
means of a pail with a rope attached. I think I never saw a man drawing or
carrying water except Auld Robbie Rober'son, who lived alone. It was woman's
work. Every day I noticed several of the women
burdened with their pails pass my lodgings on their way home from a well
next door. The husbands never thought of relieving their wives even when
their own day's labor was over and they were sitting smoking their pipes and
lazily visiting on the street walls. Nor did it apparently ever occur to the
women that the task was otherwise than distinctly theirs. Its preordained
character was not, however, as clear to me, and one day I started to draw a
pailful at the next-door well. "Granny," the shoemaker's mother, whose years
were more than fourscore, caught me in the act, and came hurrying out from
the house much shocked that I, a man, and a lodger at that, should attempt
such a thing. She took the rope from me and insisted on doing the work
Drawing water was not the only outdoor task which fell to
the lot of the women. In several instances a village family owned a cow, and
the housewife fed and milked it in the byre, and led it to and from pasture.
The pig-pen, too, was included in the feminine sphere, and when it needed
replenishing the woman thought nothing of walking off several miles and
bringing home a small porker in a bag slung over her shoulder.
I observed that at many of the houses the weekly washing
was done in the narrow hallways, no doubt owing to the overcrowded condition
of the small kitchens; but not a few women preferred to make the
task an open-air one. In that case the tubs were set up at
the back of the house, and near by a fire was started, and over it was hung
the big black pot in which was heated a supply of water. The drying which
followed the cleansing was sometimes accomplished by hanging the clothes on
lines, but more often they were spread on the grass or trailed over the
hedges. When the wash was taken in, the starched things were sorted out,
while the rest — the towels, underwear, and sheets — were carefully folded
and placed in a pile on the floor, and a cloth laid over them. On this pile
the housewife stood while she ironed the starched goods, and by the time she
had finished, the clothes beneath her feet were pressed so smooth that to
iron them would have been superfluous.
June was the most notable month of the washerwomen's year,
for that is the time of the " blanket-scouring." The work could be executed
after a fashion indoors, but the approved Scotch method is to put the
blankets in a tub and tramp them clean with bare feet, and it is essential
that there should be plenty of water and likewise plenty of elbow-room.
Therefore nearly every Drumtochty housewife seeks the burn in the Free Kirk
hollow when she feels inspired to undertake the blanket-washing. Usually two
neighbors combine in doing the work. A fire is built by the streamside, and
a great pot of water is suspended over it. Later
women trundle down several tubs on their rude barrows, and return for the
blankets, which they bring, loaded in great heaps on the barrows, with a
generous supply of soap-bars on top. When everything is ready, the workers
remove their shoes and stockings, step into the tubs, and tread and splash
the soapy water about with great energy. This tub dance is kept up, with
occasional intermissions to turn the blankets or add fresh water, until the
blankets are thoroughly clean. Now follows wringing — a hand-twisting
process in which two women work together. Then the blankets are spread on
the grass to dry. The whole operation seemed to me curiously primitive, but
by the Drumtochty folk it was considered the simplest, most natural, and
best way to do such work that could be devised, and they asked me with
wonder if we did not scour our blankets the same way in America.
One result of the outdoor toil which fell to the lot of
the village mothers was that they often had to leave their children to take
care of themselves. Even when the mothers were at home, the crowded
inconvenience of the living rooms made the house interior a poor place for
youthful amusement, and in fair weather the children for the most part
sought the street.
The road was gritty macadam, hard on shoes and harder
still on the toddlers' arms and shins, which the prevailing fashion in
British infant garments left bare.
Conditions did not
favor ideal cleanliness, and on days when they were not in school the
children were apt to accumulate dirt in a way that would make a respectable
pig ashamed of himself. The majority of them ran around barefooted and
bareheaded, and often were on the street or about the fields from early
morning till late evening. No doubt these long doses of outdoor air and
sunshine added materially to their hardiness, for as a rule they were
healthy and rosy-cheeked, and I wondered if there would not be more color in
the cheeks of our American children if they were turned loose in something
the same manner.
The Drumtochty children all hated to wear shoes, but there
were certain of the parents who thought that an unshod child lacked a little
of complete respectability. The shoemaker was one of these, and he told
Jamie, greatly to the latter's grief, not to go barefoot to school. Jamie
was in most ways faithful and obedient, but this was a trifle too much, and
often he was no sooner out of sight of the house than he slipped off his
shoes and hid them behind a dyke (stone wall). He would resume them when he
returned from school in the afternoon, and thus things continued until one
day he forgot where he had left them. He searched in vain, and had to come
home barefoot. As a consequence his father laid down the law more strictly
than ever, and Jamie appeared in school shod afterward.
For the mothers who lived in the front row of the village
the roadway playground was very well situated. It was always under their
eyes, and they were often stepping out to make sure the bairns were still in
sight, and perhaps to order them in if they were getting unruly or
quarrelsome. Sometimes the interference was for a lesser reason, as when my
landlady, observing Cathie stand still and try to get something from beneath
her clothing at the back of her neck, called out, "Coom here, Cathie, what's
the maitter wi' ye?"
"There's soomthin' doon ma neik," replied the little girl.
"Then coom into the hoose this minute," commanded her
mother. "It's like it's soom beast. I'll na hae ye pullin' at yer claes on
Just as she was starting off" with Cathie, she noticed a
little fellow standing somewhat aside from the others, with a handkerchief
bound about his face, and she paused to ask, "What's the maitter wi' your
"Ma haid's swulled wi' the buffets " (mumps), was the
"Coom, Cathie," exclaimed the shoemaker's wife, in greater
trepidation than ever ; "hurry, lass! Div ye no hear that? Buffets and
beasts too! Ye maun stay indoors wi' me!"
A stile in the stone wall, across the road, was the
source of a good deal of
pleasure to the younger children. No monkey ever got more enjoyment out of
the perch in his cage, or went through more antics on it, than these little
Scots did, on the stile opposite my window. When they tired of this, they
swung on the limbs of the plane trees that grew along the wall, or they went
for a ramble after flowers in the field beyond. Most of this field over the
wall had been ridged for "neeps," but it was cut in twain by a deep ravine
or "den" where grew thorny tangles of furze, and where, every June,
countless wild-rose bushes out-' stretched their slender arms, piled high
with blushing bloom. Indeed, the shrubbery and weeds grew so rankly that the
depths of the den were quite choked and impassable. The children liked to
roam around this ravine, and tumble on its sunny patches of grass, while
they sorted their flowers, or busied their tongues with their small chatter;
or, it may be, forgot all else in careering down a clay bank, where they had
worn a smooth, slippery slide.
The upper edge of the den, on one side, was rimmed with a
narrow path that led far down the brae, into the valley of the Tochty. Near
the stream, in an amphitheatre of grassy bluffs, was a bit of level meadow
where the men of Drumtochty were wont to play kites (quoits). Saturday was
the great day for the game, as the final afternoon of the week is a holiday
among Scotch artisans and
trades people, and a large part of the village men
were then free to use their time as they pleased. I had the chance to see a
match game one Saturday. It was between the local club of the clachan and
that of the neighboring hamlet of Netheraird. The Netheraird team arrived in
a brake at four o'clock: and was taken at once up to the inn. The horses
were put out, and the men all betook themselves to the bar, to get a dram. I
was told that without a dram it was impossible for a kiter to play. After a
liberal allowance of time for social chaffing and drinking at the public,
the players went rambling over the stile opposite the shoemaker's, and on
down the brae to the playground. The several circles of earth that were to
serve as targets had already been prepared, and in the centre of each of
these circles of freshly turned ground was an iron pin that barely projected
into sight. The players, when they pitched their kites, aimed for that pin.
When they were ready to begin in earnest, the men got off
their coats and vests, and groups of lookers-on gathered about each dirt
goal. Others, less intent, lay down on the near bank, where thickets of
broom spread away up the hill. At one time the threatening clouds rose
darkly in the west, and we had a spatter of rain; but this did not in the
least interrupt the game, and the shower quickly blew eastward and a
double rainbow came out of the disappearing storm. The
players were matched in groups of four, two on a side, and each of the
opponent couples had a coach. The coach was a man with a pencil in his hand,
and his pockets full of paper slips on which to keep tally. But the slips
were used mostly to guide the throwers. The coach sticks one up in the dirt
right by the pin, and shouts out, "Div ye see that paper? That's your spot
noo, lad. Be there for the life o' ye, Wullie!"
Wullie throws, and the coach, bending eagerly forward with
his hands on his knees, thinks the kite is coming all right, and shouts, "I
But the kite falls short, and the watcher jumps into the
air and waves his arms distractedly and says, "Ahh!" as though it was his
last gasp. "Ye're a fut too weak," he calls across the field. "Ye're lazy,
The other side now has a turn, and Wullie's coach subsides
into a watchful but calm spectator. Wullie, however, no sooner poises his
ring for a cast than the coach springs forward, all on fire with eager
intentness. He sets a fresh paper up in the dirt, puts his hands on each
side of it to make the spot exact, and says: "Noo, Wullie, dirty that paper.
There's plenty o' room here. Ye c'n dae it. Noo, be sure!"
The quoit comes flying through the air, and the
watcher leaps aside and makes a gesture of despair when it
strikes the farther edge of the circle. "Aw," he cries, "ye're strang, mon —
Oh, big a' thegither! For the love o' guidness, Wullie, pu' up!"
So the game goes on, each side as excited as if the fate
of the nation depended on their winning. But the excitement was superlative
only on the part of the coaches, for the players saved their energies for
careful pitching of the rings. As for the onlookers, they were in the main
quiet observers, most of the men judicially puffing at their pipes. No
ladies were present. Women do not attend games in the Scotch country, and
you see no one feminine either at quoits or at the favorite winter game of
At the conclusion of the contest all the players went up
to the inn, where the home club furnished a supper. The repast was simple
—just cold meat, bread, cookies, and a mug of beer apiece. But this was only
a preliminary. Treating was in order after the lunch had been disposed of,
songs were called for, and the merrymaking went on till the inn-closing time
at ten o'clock.
Perhaps the most important public event I witnessed in
Drumtochty was an evening political meeting in the schoolyard. When I
arrived I found standing at the roadside, close by the playground fence, a
van something like a very substantial gypsy wagon. It was painted in the
gayest of colors, and its
name, "The Thistle," was conspicuous in fancy letters on its
sides, while the British flag was flying from a pole hoisted on the front of
the car, giving the conveyance an agreeable air of patriotism. In this van
two men made their home and travelled through the country, months at a time,
distilling wisdom among the rural folk all along their route. The horse that
drew the van had been detached, and a platform had been let down over the
shafts. The speakers, two stout, red-faced men, who looked like hearty
eaters and hard drinkers, had descended from their domicile and were
conversing with a knot of farmers.
After a little, one of the orators requested such of the
audience as were loitering in the roadway or perched on adjoining stone
walls to go into the playground, where a number of backless benches from the
schoolroom were grouped to serve the assemblage for seats. There were thirty
or forty of us in all, mostly men and boys, but including two women and a
small girl. The meeting was rather an informal affair, and some of the
listeners had pipes lit and continued to puff at them from beginning to end.
First a chairman was elected, and the old farmer chosen stepped out, cane in
hand, and made a few rambling remarks intended to be introductory. Then one
of the red-faced men gave us a talk from the car platform over the dyke. He
sympathized with the farmers, who,
he declared, were
overtaxed, and he hoped and believed things would soon be remedied. The
second speaker said the same at more or less length, and then took up the
matter of disestablishing the Scotch church, which was a measure that he by
no means approved. The audience had found the overtaxation talk interesting
and much to its liking, but there were many dissenters present to whom the
speaker's opposition to disestablishment was not palatable. Presently a man
got up and said they wanted to hear about political matters — they hadn't
come there to hear about the kirks. This led to some sharp bandying, with
laughter and cheering from the audience. In the end the speaker went on in
his own way, and at the close of his peroration there were votes of thanks
all around, and applause, and promises on the part of the orators to come
again in the autumn. I cannot say that I had been much impressed by their
arguments, and I thought they were taken more seriously than they deserved.
Their chief talent was a certain fluency and aptitude for talking in public.
This saved them from dulness if it did not from shallowness, and I suppose
what they said had some effect.
These political speechmakers were the aristocrats of the
road, and probably would not acknowledge any kinship to the "tinkers," even
when the latter travelled in vans of the same type as theirs. Not all
however, for the term "tinker" was used to include all persons without a
fixed abode — gypsies, beggars, tramps, and pedlers. Of the many
representatives of these humble knights of the highway who visited
Drumtochty the gypsies were the best equipped and often carried a
considerable amount of merchandise. I recall one van so hung over and piled
up with basket-ware that hardly a glimpse was to be had of the original
vehicle. The structure towered aloft in a most astonishing and topheavy
manner. Its proprietor gave his energies to driving the horse, while his
wife, loaded with various chairs and flower-stands and other trappings, went
from house to house trying to make sales. A half-grown girl sat in the
doorway of the car with a baby of three weeks in her arms, and several other
children played around inside and out. I did not count these youngsters, but
the man told me he had eight children in all. He said he travelled all over
the island, and that he had a smaller cart that was following behind. I
looked inside the van and found it crowded with shelves and cupboards, used
for storage and sleeping space, with a few feet reserved in one corner for a
small open fireplace.
Often two or three of the tinkers known as "pack folk"
would pass through the place in a single day. They carried their personal
belongings and stock in trade on their backs, and I heard the village
in a moment
of humor refer to them as "commercial trivellers." At best they were
considered a nuisance, and at worst, when they were coarse and drunken, it
was decidedly unpleasant to find them within one's home gate. A man tramp
was likely to have a powerful odor of whiskey about him, and ten to one the
drink had made him the tramp he was. Late in the day he, with his pack and
an empty bottle, was very apt to be found lying by the roadside dead drunk.
He might even spend the night there in the ditch.
The line separating pedlers from beggars was a very
indistinct one, and the latter usually made some pretence of having the
vocation of the former, for begging pure and simple is unlawful. The women
were the most inveterate of the beggars. They never lacked a pitiful tale to
tell, and they had a whining, decrepit way at the door, not much in keeping
with the vigor one would fancy was required for the amount of walking they
did. In many instances the female tinker had a baby in her arms, half
supported from her shoulders by a shawl that was wound around both her and
the child. Besides the baby she would carry a bundle in one hand and a heavy
basket on her back, that in part at least contained goods for sale. Yet she
does not thus burden herself so much in the hope of profit as to keep within
the letter of the law, and though she goes through the form of attempting to
trade at each
is only by way of preface to her requests for "a drawing of tea," a bite to
eat, and a charitable penny or bit of silver. Certain of the men tramps
dispensed with the packs of notions altogether and lived by their wits; but
none of the tinkers was accounted especially dangerous or dishonest. Still,
"ye maun keep an eye open the whiles they're aroon."
One "gaein' aboot body" with whom I talked was a dirty old
woman who greeted me one day from a wayside heap of road metal (broken
stone) on which she was resting. She had been carrying a big bundle strapped
to her shoulders, but had loosened it for the moment. In addition she had
with her a dangling bunch of rabbit skins that she had taken in exchange
trades with farmers' wives. A wretched specimen of a shoe lay in her lap,
and I noticed that one of her feet had no covering save a frayed stocking.
She explained that the shoe was burst out and would keep slipping off, and
it was easier to take it along in her hand than it was to wear it. She said
she was only four weeks out of the poorhouse, where she had been laid up all
winter with her liver. She was hardly able to get about, but she would
rather do almost anything than bide in the workhouse; so she was trying to
earn a few pennies peddling with her pack. She had seven children. Some were
in Australia, some in South Africa, and one in America, and there was
another, a son, who had been "misfortunit, and had to
run awa'," and she did not know where he was. A daughter had married well
and was living in Aberdeen, and the daughter knew her mother's need, and so
did some of the other children, but none of them offered her help, and she
would rather die than ask it of them. She heaved a sigh, gave her nose a
dicht (wipe), took up the rabbit skins, and shifted her bundle up to her
shoulders. Then she rose stiffly from the stone heap, and I watched her
melancholy figure hobble away down the road.
Another tramp who interested me was a tall man with a
touch of the dandy in the tilt of his hat and the curl of his long mustache.
He said he was a clock-maker, and that he had been a soldier. He pulled back
his sleeve and showed an arm covered with blue tattooing. The man's son, a
slender, pinch-faced little boy, accompanied him, and bore a pack just like
his father's, only smaller. The man was a hard drinker, and one could not
but pity the lad tied to such a companion. The village people declared the
man "gaed the wee laddie great lickin's," which was the more distressing
because the boy seemed a quiet little fellow, and not at all vicious.
Toward the end of June there was a funeral in the clachan.
It was a day of rain, and my window in the shoemaker's parlor was blurred
with the drive of the storm, and the hills beyond the hollow where the
Tochty flowed were half misted from sight. The wind blew and
kept the branches of the row of trees across the road tossing, and made a
lonely sound about the eaves. I could hear the sparrows chirping forlornly
somewhere in the neighborhood of the dwellings, and now and then I saw a
gull flap down on one of the farm fields beyond the highway.
The funeral was that of an old man who had died two days
before, and this afternoon the men of the place put on their "Sabbath
blacks" and gathered about the door of the old man's dwelling. Not many of
them went inside, for the house was small and would accommodate few besides
the relatives. It stood on the lane that led up to the inn on the back row,
and a sombre hearse waited at the corner. When the short house service was
concluded, the men mourners prepared to walk to the grave. The hearse headed
the procession, and next came the clergyman in his shovel hat, closely
followed by the rest of the company. The weather was so wet that every one
carried umbrellas and wore waterproofs or overcoats, and thus the straggling
group wended its way down the road toward the burying-ground, a good mile
The bee expert of the village, known as "The Auld Lad,"
had stepped in at the shoemaker's to see the procession pass, and I said to
him it seemed too bad the funeral should come on so stormy a day; but he
thought it a good omen, and said it was an old saying in
"Happy is the bride that the sun shines on,
is the corp that the rain poors on."
In the Auld Kirk churchyard, which was the place of
interment for all the hamlet, stood a substantial stone shed that had been
pointed out to me as the "Deid Hoose." It occurred to me now to ask the Auld
Lad about this building. In response he told how, when he was a schoolboy,
"the students frae the medical colleges used to be liftin' the deid when
they were first buried."
For a long time the people all over Scotland watched each
newly made grave every night during several weeks. The watchers kept their
vigils in twos for the sake of company, and they always carried a " load gun
" with them, and, what was of hardly less consequence, a bottle of whiskey
to alleviate the cheer-lessness of their occupation. They usually stayed in
the church or a near house, looking out frequently, and going now and then
to the grave. The warmth of summer might sometimes tempt them to stand guard
outside, but "On a winter nicht it was cauld, mind ye," said the Auld Lad,
"aye, and they didna care to be exposit."
At last, to save this close watching of the graves,
the dead house was built. It had a floor of sand in which
the coffins were buried about two feet deep, to be taken up at the end of
five or six weeks for their final interment in the kirkyard.
This talk about the dead house led the Auld Lad to relate
the following bit of history. "There was a wuman," said he, "the wife o' a
meenister, and the nicht aifter she was buried what did the bedrel (sexton)
do but dig doon to the grave to get twa reengs he'd taken notice of on her
feenger. But when he got to the body, he couldna pu' the reengs aff the
feenger, and he was just cuttin' the feenger aff when the wuman turned in
her coffin, mon, and said, 'Oh dear !'
"Then she told the bedrel if he'd lat her oot, she'd never
tell on him; and the bedrel said he would ; and he helped her to the gate of
her hoose, and she went, all in her grave-clothes, and rappit on the door.
Her mon was inside, and he sayed, 'If ma wife wasna deid, I'd say that was
her rap;' and he opened the door, and he lat her in, and at the fricht o'
seein' her he fell richt ower backwards. But they brought him roond; and the
wuman lived sax years aifter that, and she had twa bairns, and one o' their
names was Ralph Erskine — and, mon, that's a true story ! "
About four o'clock of the day of the funeral the rain
suddenly ceased, and the dun cloud-mass overhead slid
away into the east and left clear sky and sunshine behind. By evening the
grass and earth were nearly dry, and the children were playing in the
roadway and climbing along the dykes. Women with babies in their arms, and
women without, stood at their gates, or their neighbor's gate, chatting, and
now and then a man enjoying a quiet pipe of tobacco made one in a group.