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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter X

Bob's establishment in Say-na-Whair— His marriage—The kirking— Old customs observed in the Glen—Festivities—Amusements—Cock-fighting—Suicide in the Glen—The burial.

On the evening of a fine summer's day Bob's equipage was seen moving up the glen, and wives and children and all were alive to the circumstance. Bob had for a long time been a universal favourite, and was always hailed with a cordial welcome. Jock Cheap was off the field, his deceit and extortion having been fully discovered, and more especially after the violence he offered to Bob. Other pedlars, it is true, occasionally visited the place, but met with sparing encouragement. Bob's character was now established, and his business equally so. Indeed, he had been so prosperous that he was now resolved to resign the caravan and to set up an establishment in some village or town. His wandering life, though pleasant enough in summer, when roads and weather were good, was, in winter especially, a very disagreeable affair. Sometimes his progress was impeded by flooded waters which no bridges spanned; at other times he was retarded by deep snows, which imprisoned him in a farm steading for weeks together. All this was irksome; and although he paid nothing for his lodgings— he and the mule being welcome to free quarters, still he felt a debt of obligation which was not pleasant. This was now Bob's last visit to the glen in the shape of a travelling chapman. At this the cottars felt disappointed; but when he informed them that his establishment was to be in the neighbouring town of Say-na-Whair, they were content. In the town he had fixed on a suitable house in a public place, where everything was arranged for the goods within, and an appropriate signboard placed above the door without, intimating to all and sundry what wares were for disposal. Bob was as well known in the old burgh as in the country around, and there he was held in as high repute, so that very favourable anticipations were formed of the new merchant.

It took Bob many a weary journey with his caravan to the distant mercantile towns to fetch the wares necessary to furnish his new shop. This, however, Bob overcame, and managed the business in fair style, and set himself down at the very first snug and bien, and without a single farthing of debt. But Bob had not only secured a goodly stock of goods, but also a numerous class of customers, so that his shop became a sort of public resort.

A while after this, when his business was fully established, Bob resolved on having a wife, and the woman he fixed on for his partner in life was Marion, the surviving daughter of the worthy Saunders. An attachment had long subsisted between Bob and Marion; and, perhaps, there never was an attachment more pure and ardent. This was well known to Saunders and his virtuous spouse, and both heartily approved of the projected union. Marion's mother was a pattern of household management, and she inherited the tastes and habits of her honoured parent. Her piety was of the most decided kind, and she was regarded as an example to all the young women in the glen. Bob was not the only suitor. A young farmer—such as fanners were in those days, neither opulent nor very genteel—sought Marion's hand, but did not succeed; and others, of a better order still, looked on the old wright's daughter with a favourable eye. Bob, however, was the favourite, and to him she clung; and so the match was resolved on, and the union was to take place on a certain day not far distant. The marriage was to be held in Saunders's house, according to custom. A great ado was made in those times, in rural districts, on all marriage occasions. All the neighbours round were invited, for the wedding was what was termed a penny wedding. A private social wedding was in those days almost unknown, particularly in the landward parts. When the marriage knot was tied, the party sat down to a sumptuous entertainment provided by the bride's parents; and after this the whole company retired to a barn or some other spacious apartment for the purpose of social amusement, and especially for dancing; for without this a wedding was no wedding. A fiddler, and sometimes two, were present on these occasions. Their seat was an elevated bench at the end of the barn, where they had a full view of the entire party. Around a table which stood on the right of the musicians sat a company of douce, elderly people, and the more genteel guests who had condescended to honour the festival with their presence. On the table was placed a huge bowl, into which was emptied a bottle or two of strong whisky, with a proportionate quantity of boiling water and sugar. This was what was termed punch, a beverage common in those times, and long after. This was handed round the company in cups and glasses to man, woman, and child, and it was deemed unmannerly if all and every one did not partake. The consequence of this was that not a few became intoxicated and disorderly, and more especially as the dancing and deray was usually prolonged till midnight, and even till far on in the morning. Every one thought they had a right to swallow as much liquor as they could contain, because they paid for it. And their way of payment was this:—A person went round the barn and collected from the men so much white money to defray the general expense of the entertainment, and then another contribution was lifted for the payment of the fiddlers. Whatever remained after this was given to the bride as a sort of dowry. Weddings of this description were attended with many bad consequences, and the almost universal discontinuance of the practice is now found to be no small advantage.

On the following Sabbath what is called the kirking took place. All the friends on both sides met at the house of the newly-married pair, and accompanied them in procession to the church. The entrance of the party, in such cases, was usually after the general congregation had assembled. This was often no small trial to young persons, who were painfully subjected to the inquisitive stare of the whole audience.

Bob and Marion sojourned for many a long year in Say-ma-Whatr, and reared a numerous and well-doing family in highly prosperous circumstances.

Before noticing more at length than we hare yet done the superstitions notions entertained by the cottars, we may here say something of the times and old customs observed in the glen generally. These, to be sure, were not peculiar to the locality, for they were rather national than otherwise; yet there were certain districts in which old traditionary customs were more religiously adhered to. One important season was the celebration of New-Year's Day. The festivities with which this day was hailed were certainly of a very gross description; for if, even in our times, when much more refinement is supposed to exist, so great an amount of coarseness and debauchery prevails, what must have been the case three or four generations back? At such seasons drinking— and drinking to excess—was the universal practice. Every householder had his bottle of whisky prepared for the occasion, and every family expected a visit in the early morning from what was called the first fit—that is, the person whose foot was first on the threshold of the cottage with a bottle in his hand, out of which a full glass was to be drained, otherwise the rites of hospitality and friendship were understood to be ignored. These first fits were numerous, and the inmates of the cottages they invaded were plied with a series of draughts of strong drink even before they rose from their beds, so that not a few were quite intoxicated long before the dawn, and the fashion was continued, with short intervals, during the whole day. In this way the debauchery was almost universal; for even those of generally sober habits were led away with the prevailing custom, and thought it little harm. We have reason to congratulate ourselves that in our times, in the rural districts, the case is very different.

Hallowe'en and all the other seasons of festivity banded down either from Pagan or Popish times, were, in their turn, sedulously observed by the people of the glen. Births, baptisms, burials, and marriages were all then times of festal display, even as they are to a great extent in our time.

Their amusements differed little from those in the present day, so that it is not necessary to particularise them, only it may be observed that there was one amusement of a very cruel kind which we may specify, and that was cock-fighting, and that, too, on the floor of the parish school itself. On the day appointed for the competition the boys brought the fowls, which had been reared and trained at home for the combat which promised so much entertainment not only to the school children, but to a multitude of the population of the district who, having been so long accustomed to the scene, never suspected that there was even the slightest harm in it. The brutal exhibition, however, tended to harden the youthful feelings, and to superinduce a cruelty of disposition which, in many cases, might remain through life. The combative tendency of the youth of that period may, perchance, partly be traced to this disgusting practice—a practice now happily unknown.

We may here notice an incident which befel in the quiet history of the glen, of a very tragic nature. A person of a somewhat strange appearance had found his way into the glen, and, passing from door to door, he at last came to the farm-house of Muckle Carco, where he found quarters for the night. The people of the house to whose hospitality he was so kindly admitted, could not well understand their strange guest. There was something unaccountable about his aspect; and though they were no strangers to the varieties of mendicant character which they daily witnessed among the strolling beggars that infested the glen, yet there was something altogether mysterious about the man—at least so they thought. Sometimes they were inclined to laugh at him, sometimes to pity him, and sometimes to stand in awe of him. The children especially—those unerring physiognomists—when they surveyed his countenance, ran away in terror. His dormitory was the usual place assigned to mendicants, namely, an outhouse. The bed was spread on the floor, and consisted of a layer of soft and sweetly scented hay, or fresh straw, with a suitable covering of warm bed clothes. The man was conducted to his resting-place for the night, and there left alone in the dark. The door was locked—a precaution necessary to prevent an elopement, a circumstance which had frequently happened in the dark, when the bed clothes and other articles had been unceremoniously carried off, and the thief was far away before the day broke.

On opening the door of the outhouse, in the early corning, to peep in on the mendicant lodger, what1 was the surprise of the person, a female servant, to find the beggar man suspended from a rafter by the neck, and quite dead! She fled screaming from the spot, and all the inmates of the dwelling-house rushed out to ascertain what had befallen. One after another looked, and were horror-struck at the deed. A case of the kind had never hitherto been known in the glen; no tradition had ever handed down the perpetration of an act so atrocious. Many a striking death had occurred in the locality— some had been killed by a thunder-bolt on the hills, some had been smoored in the snow, some had perished in the flooded stream, and others, losing their way in the wooded ravine, had been found dead—all distressing enough— but nothing so terrific as this had ever startled the simple inhabitants of the glen.

At the time of this occurrence, it was a thing fully believed in the country places, that if a person who had thus suspended himself by his own act were, before he was cut down, accosted by a minister or godly elder, and interrogated respecting the foul deed, that he would actually speak, and tell out the whole tale, and also say in what department of the other world he had taken up his residence. All this, a hundred years ago, was in many rural districts firmly credited; and on this occasion the neighbours insisted on sending for a minister to put the customary questions. Saunders strongly disapproved of this, and clearly showed the absurdity of expecting that a dead man should speak, and that the popular belief on the subject was an outrage on common sense. But, notwithstanding his energetic remonstrance, the deeply-rooted superstitious notion impelled the people to follow the method proposed, and their determination would certainly have been carried into effect, had not two powerful men, despising the vulgar prejudice, entered the place, and without ceremony cut the rope and stretched the dead body of the maniac on the floor. This terminated the dispute.

But another consideration arose. Where was the body to be buried? In the times of which we are now speaking, the corpse of a suicide was not allowed a resting-place within the precincts of a churchyard. The hallowed ground of "God's acre" was not to be desecrated by such a polluted thing as the remains of a self-murderer. From Popish times the idea had come down that the burying-ground around a church was a sacred spot, because it had been consecrated by the Romish Church, so that all within its enclosure was holy. Accordingly, to admit the vile carcase of one who had terminated his life by his own hand, was not to be tolerated. A whole parish, in those days, would have risen up in the mass to prevent such an unheard of profanation. What, then, was to be done? The following plan was resorted to, and scrupulously followed through many successive generations, and the method adopted was this: that the dishonoured bodies of such unhappy persons were to be interred precise on the march between two lairds' lands or on the boundary line of two counties. Hence there is to be seen, till this day, the graves of suicides on the slope of the green Lowther hills, and exactly on the march between the counties of Lanark and Dumfries, in the neighbourhood of the mining villages on Leadhills and Wanlockhead. The graves are quite visible, and we suppose that the bones of the dead may be exhumed even now.

The dead body of this stranger, then, who had caused so much offence in the glen, and who had attached such a disgrace to it, was to be conveyed to the lonely Lowther heights, and there to be buried among the bones of fellow-suicides. Accordingly, an old hurdle was obtained, for nobody would lend a common cart for the purpose, in which the coffin was dragged for a number of long miles o'er moss and wold, and deposited in the place appointed.

The cottars felt themselves eased of an intolerable nuisance when the body was removed from their midst. The public opinion is now much changed regarding such occurrences, and mental derangement is now assigned as the cause of such melancholy incidents, and the gates of the churchyards are no longer barred against the interment of such persons. They are more to be pitied than blamed, for in their maniac state they cannot be regarded as responsible beings.

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