Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Ruined Mailing of Honeywalls

"By the wee birchen corries lie patches of green,
Where gardens and bare-headed bairnies have been,
But the huts now are rickles of stones nettle-grown,
And the once human homes, e'en their names are unknown.

Oh hearts to the hills of old memory true!
In the land of your love there are mourners for you.

For, the stillness they feel o'er the wilderness spread
Is not Nature's own silence, but that of the dead;
E'en the lone piping plover, and small corrie burn,
Seem sighing for those that will never return."

"NO—THEY WILL NEVER RETURN!" SAID the minister, as he sat in the sunshine of an October afternoon by the great tree that overshadows the ruined mailing of Honeywalls.

He had a large white paper in his hand. It had come by the morning post, and he had been in a dwam of distress ever since. For it was an official return from the headquarters of the Kirk, with a long series of questions about the population of the parish, the membership of the kirk, the number of schools for the young, the siller and the stipend, and a whole clanjamfrey of statistics which raised alarm in the soul of this man whose lot had been cast in those silent, wind-blown places where the Kingdom of God is as a grain of mustard seed.

But though the minister had small equipment for the mathematics of the Kingdom, he had been blessed with an understanding heart, a poet's eye, and a hungry love for the souls of the plain men and women whom God had given to him.

The white paper, he knew, would be welcomed in the great kirks of the city, where the office-bearers would fill in the money columns with a stound of pride, smiling to themselves when the figures ran into thousands.

But in Fairshiels there are no statistics. And although the minister sought eagerly for something with which to make a brave show opposite the questions, he could only find a few unprintable visions.

He saw, first of all, his own kirk, lit with lamps and candles to illumine the darkness for but sixty or seventy worshipping men and women and bairns, who stood up with an old-world reverence to sing the psalms, while the ghosts of their forebears haunted them in crowds from the shadows of the high-pitched roof. And then he saw an old, cleanly built man in spectacles poring over a little money-column notebook, bound in worn yellow sheepskin, as he made up the year's offerings in his lamp-lit kitchen with a very scratchy pen.

That was the order of the present-day kirk in Fairshiels.

And then, as his eye fell on the ruins of Honeywalls before him, steeped in the mellow autumn sun, other visions of other days began to crowd upon him, one after another, until in the dead silence of the sunlit fields he could have wept at the thought of the generations that were gone.

He saw an old bent woman, dressed in a poke bonnet and a Paisley shawl, creeping out of the door of Honeywalls into the trim garden on a summer Sabbath morn long, long ago. She stooped down and plucked a sprig of appleringie and placed it in her Bible. Then she folded her snow-white kerchief over the Holy Book. It was old Grizzel Spence.

The Paisley shawl had been a gift from the Laird. For was she not the Laird's own foster-mother? Now she lived within the policy of Hamilton Hall with John Spence, her son, who kept the gardens and the great holly hedges that were the pride of the ancient place. The central chimneys of the great house rose but a stone's-throw behind the hedges, and the scent of the honeysuckle which smothered the cottage walls —and indeed had given it the name of Honeywalls— drugged the warm airs of the Sabbath morn like the fragrance of incense.

One after the other John Spence's bairns trooped out into the cottage garden dressed in their kirk-going clothes. Then John Spence himself, in his hodden-grey homespun, with his wife in her best bombazine, marshalled the little army of worshippers, and three generations from one humble roof-tree set off for the kirk that could be seen standing on the brow of the hill fornent the clachan of Fairshiels.

Again the vision changed, and he saw the great white-walled Hall itself, sleeping in the sun, with its two square gardens surrounded by immense holly hedges. In one of them stood an ancient sundial of chiselled stone within a cloistered pleasaunce where four grassy walks met. York and Lancaster roses nodded in the heat about the house at every corner, and an old stone draw-well, covered with sweetbrier, stood in the grass before the door. Mounting the steep flight of steps, he passed through the square hall and went slowly up the beautiful polished cedar staircase, to wander at will through the wainscoted rooms. Some were hung with dull green tapestries, on one of which a picture of St. Paul shaking the viper from his hand into the fire was dimly woven. Here, a great fresco of fighting figures adorned a wall; there, Italian landscapes were painted on the panellings. Round about the old grates were quaint Dutch tiles, one set of which set forth the story of Joseph and his brethren. And from an upper window he looked out and saw a bell hung in curiously wrought ironwork aboveagate-way leading to an inner courtyard, whereon were engraven the initials and date: T.H.—1745. It had been erected by the Laird, Thomas Hamilton, in the very year that Bonny Prince Charlie took lunch over yonder with young Anderson of Whitburgh, who led the Jacobite army by a way he knew through the morass at Prestonpans.

And now, on this old-time Sabbath morn, the Laird passed out of the doorway and down the steps with his only daughter, little Elizabeth Hamilton. Who could have foretold that after many years this little lass would set aside the wishes of her father and ride off with her cousin, John Dalrymple, to be wed in the wood at Cranstoun downby!

But on this Sabbath morn the little lady went tripping along in a Leghorn hat, a high-waisted gown of sprigged muslin with a sash and frill, and a pair of silver buckled shoes very kenspeckle. Her hand was in her father's, and when they passed through the policy gate on the great London road, the country folk were already flocking to the preaching in the old kirk on the brae.

Some walked in friendly coteries of twos and threes, the women kilting their coats carefully on the dusty road, the men striding slowly on with sheep-dogs trotting at their heels, while here and there a cart came rumbling along, full of old feeble folks and little bairns. Others—the thrifty ones—who had crossed the hill on the moor with bare, bootless feet, sat down on the mossy banks and put on their shoes and stockings with modest care before entering the village.

And when, at last, a white-haired minister, in black gown and gloves and snowy bands, stood up to preach, the kirk was crowded with men, women, and bairns, some even sitting on the seat-backs or standing in the passage about the doors for want of space—four hundred souls, singing Bangor or Eastgate; while the sound of the psalm floated out at the open kirk doors, and startled the cushies on the great ash trees where they sat dovering in their noontide sleep.

It was all in the heartsome long ago, when the London and Lauder and Edinburgh coaches ran merrily one after the other up and down the turnpike, and the little farm towns were full of happy families, and the country blacksmiths and thatchers and snabs were all throng with work, and the spinning wheels were taken out on the summer afternoons by eident housewives, who spun all the wool for the goodman's coats and the little bairns' trews. The meal mills of Soutra and Sleepy Hollow, and the barley mill at Saltoun; the great crowded inn of Fairshiels, where many horses champed the bit in stable and yard; the summer milkings on the high green hill pastures, and the cosy collogues round hundreds of kitchen fires in winter-time—all that happy bustle of a crowded countryside is gone. We hear tell of it now only from a few old done folks who dander about the doors in fine weather and live on the memory of dead things. To hear them speak is like listening to the plaintive, far-away sough of an old Scots song.

All this the minister knew. All these things he saw in a vision as he sat by the ruined gables of Honey-walls in the sun.

"No—they will never return."

For where the pleasant policy of Hamilton Hall had been, with its gardens and trees and ancient hedges, was now one unbroken expanse of green pasture-lands, where the nibbling of sheep was the only sound. Honeywalls alone, of all that ancient retainership, remains—a mere rickle of grey walls, thatchless, roofless, forlorn. The curious may come to trace the site of the old Hall, but no trace has been left behind. Gone is the Laird, gone are the cottages, ruined stands the farm at East Parks, ruined the steading at East Mains. No coaches ply merrily with the sound of winding horns on the wide vacant road, and a silence, like the stillness of death, reigns at Honeywalls this tranquil October day.

In the Hinmost Days

Far away in many a great city men and women were jostling one another to get a living. Their forego bears had tilled these very fields, and they themselves, now old and grey, had been born in these little homesteads. But they heard the call of the world. They rose up and took the bend of the road that is aye supposed to lead to fortune. They left the old simplicities of Honeywalls. Some of them found what they went out to seek, and some lost all that they had. But to-day some of their grandchildren are dreeing out a huddled existence in narrow streets where the clean winds never blow, and the blessed sunlight of God struggles down through the befogged airs, ashamed, as it enters the window of many a grimy room where the children of the poor are crying for bread.

But the quiet October sun went down in a mist of gold behind Honeywalls and the sheepfolds and the little hamlet across the fields.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus