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

The Long Glen
Chapter IX - Sneezing Sunday

JOHN, who was called "Og," or "young," at seventy-five, because his father before him was also named John, and as long as their lives ran concurrently, it was necessary to distinguish father and son by the epithets "old" and "young," began his story without further pressing :—

"Well, friend of the sword, this is just it. My grandson Shonnie, who had just turned eight by some months, did a mischievous thing, when we least expected it, to us old caries who on common Sundays sit all about the communion table, because we like to have plenty room for our stiff limbs and sticks. It was such a trick, and all so simple, too, as we never heard the like of; and oh! what a scandal it created in the whole parish!"

"John the Soldier's and Donald the Sailor's great spree was nothing to it," observed Calum, with a laugh that went round.

"Air m'anam, then it must be the wonderful thing altogether," commented the soldier.

Iain Og—"Indeed, that thou mayst safely swear."

The seanairean were struggling to keep themselves from breaking out with an interrupting chorus of laughter.

Iain Og—"Now, then, keep quiet and serious all of you> if you can, and don't set me off, nor Calum, who, as you may see, is firmly tying up his mouth, he ! he ! he ! Bother it, I must set to it right. Shonnie, the little fellow, likes to poke his nose into everything right or wrong. So one day his mother was using the strong red pepper for cooking or curing, and he must, when her back is turned, go and poke his nose into that. And a sad state he got himself into, sneezing, shaking, laughing, crying, raging, all at once. And his mother, much as she likes him, was so vexed that she caught him, and nearly cuffed the wee remaining bit of breath out of him. As soon as I saw him getting green-red in the face, and his eyes starting out of their sockets, I got up and rescued the laddie from further punishment. He got into good breath and good humour quicker than one could believe. His mother soon forgot all about the red pepper. So did I. As the upshot proved, so did not Shonnie. Next time I went to church, the wickedness of the laddie was made manifest. It so happened I was in a hurry to leave with the old mother (grandmother) that morning, and that, contrary to custom—a thing on which the young ceard1 could not have reckoned—my week day snuff-box remained in my waistcoat pocket, while I put my horn, as usual, in the breast-pocket of my Sunday cota-mor.2 If I took any pinches on the way and during the forepart of the service, I must have taken them from the week-day box ; for it was only after the Beurla (English) sermon was finished, and the shooting gentry, with their stuck-up servants, had gone away, that the sore scandal arose."

Duncan Ban—"It was well the Sasunnach people were gone, whatever; for it is the much scoffing they would have had about us."

Iain Og—"When the Gaelic prayer and psalm were over, and the minister was reading the text, we old men settled ourselves in our places to listen to the sermon, and, taking a good pinch myself to begin with, I sent my Sunday horn on the round. And our noses were surely hungry enough by that time, although Calum's silver box had been once or twice on the round during the English service. Quickly went the horn from man to man. But it did not get back to me again before I was sneezing just out of all moderation ; and the others, too, were following as fast as whirlwind my evil example. During the first round or two of sneezes, I suspected no trick. I only thought the snuff was wonderfully alive, and that I must have taken wonderfully large pinches of it. But when I went on sneezing like mad, and saw the others in the same way, I could no longer doubt that a sneezing devil was in full possession of us. Then Shonnie and his red pepper flashed like lightning on my memory. I looked round for my horn to save new victims if I could, being myself, as Shonnie said to the elder, when he asked him what length he was on with his questions, ' far past redemption.' Five or six other carles were then sneezing as hard as myself, -while more were just beginning. My eyes were almost blinded, but I managed to catch sight of the bewitched horn in the hand of Seumas Liath, the father of the Session, to whom Rob Macarthur had handed it over the passage. And for .sure, Seumas does not at all snuff on week days, but we well know he likes a wee pinch out of a neighbour's box on Sunday to keep him awake, more especially if the sermon be heavy or the day be hot arid drowsy, as Sneezing Sunday happened to be. I feared greatly a pinch of the peppered snuff, however moderate, would harm Seumas, not so much in health as in reputation, since all the new lights pretend rather to look down upon him, as if from higher places in the sky. So I rose at once to go out, and, in passing, I snatched the horn from his hand, just when he had tapped the lid, and was opening it for his wee pinch. I got out, I don't know how, for I was a blind sneezing earthquake, and, sitting down on the nearest mound, went on, I don't know how long, shaking and sneezing as if going to pieces, and finding the obair far from easy. All the others who had touched the bewitched horn followed me out in twos and threes ; and we shook and sneezed together on the bank by the wall till a child <:ould bind us fast with the pith of rushes."

John the Soldier—"If I live to see pension day I'll xdrink Shonnie's health next to the Hero of Barrosa's."

Calum—"Iain Og has not told the whole of the scandal. When he took the horn out of Seumas Liath's hand—and it was Seumas who was the astonished man—the lid of it, as he has said already, was open, and he snatched the horn with a jerk which caused the bewitched snuff to fly out and over the pious women, who always sit behind the pew of the elders, and groan for other people's sins. And the pious women sneezed like mad; and they fanned themselves with their cambric kerchiefs, and that spread the biting dust into the air, for it was the much of it that fell on the poor pious women. And it reached the precentor in his desk, and he sneezed as loud as a trumpet. And all the elders joined in the luinneag (chorus), and it was considered a miracle that the minister himself escaped."

Duncan Ban—"Ho ! ho ! ho ! It was a sight to see elders, precentor, and the female props of the pulpit, all sneezing as if for life, and deil take the hindmost. Never was such a dirdum since the stag, with its branchy antlers, dispersed old Dominie Macarthur's congregation on the Iollaraig."

Calum—"Never, for sure. I was the last of the old men's pannan (band) to get out, because, look you, my good dog Bran, which cannot be kept from going to church whatever I do, believed, the amadan, that the people about were doing me wrong, since he saw me sneezing and wiping my eyes. With this smuain (idea) in his head, Bran rushed here, there, and everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, through the whole church, barking for a declared enemy. The great fear fell on me he would in no time begin biting legs and arms, and tearing women's bonnets. So, from the necessity of the case, and to get him right away, 1 put two fingers in my mouth and whistled three as loud whistles as I could give. I forgot for the moment the place and the day, but,. with the danger before my eyes, I think I would have done it all the same if I remembered both. Bran was not to be trifled with whatever ; but the whistling just crowned the scandal of Sneezing Sunday."

John the Soldier—"It must have been the rarest scandal ever heard of."

Omnes—"It was rare good, ho ! ho ! ho !"

John the Soldier—"And where was Shonnie? I hope he saw the fun."

Iain Og—"Thou mayst safely swear that. He was in the breast of the loft, looking on as if butter would not melt in his mouth; and I am told he never laughed once until Calum whistled for Bran. That was more than he could resist, for Bran and he are great friends."

Calum—"Aye, that they are."

Iain Og—"His mother was sitting beside him ; and this time she never suspected his wickedness, although she puts on him many a blame, and often calls him a naughty boy spoiled by his seanair—which, there is fear upon me, is not the breadth of the world away from the truth."

John the Soldier—"What happened afterwards? I hope you were not too severe on Shonnie, although no doubt he deserved to be 'court-martialed.'"

Iain Og—"Well, then, when we all got home I was that put out, nobody dared speak to me. But just when my son was to begin the reading, and when all were gathered round the teallach (ingle), with their Bibles in their hands, I looked at Shonnie, and asked—' Didst thou put thy mother's strong red pepper into my Sunday snaoisean horn?' The laddie replied readily, and it angered me to see his lips twisting for laughter—'Yes, old father, that I did.' With that his mother gets up and takes out the pepper box, and lo ! there was not a pinch of the red pepper in it. He had put the whole lot—and it was not a small one—into my Sunday horn. You may be sure his mother was shocked, and that she said — remembering my former interference—she now hoped I should let him be properly punished, or do it myself. My son said the same, and yet it was clear to be seen that it was hard for him to keep from laughing, although the open Bible was on his knee waiting for the reading. As it was the Sabbath, nothing more passed that night. In the morning, when I was thinking whatever to do, Shonnie came to me before them all and said—' I must be whipt by father or you ; and I wish to be whipt by yourself, old father.'"

John the Soldier—"He is a laddie that knows what he is about."

Iain Og—"Aye, indeed, above the common. His father and mother said the whipping must be very real, and must take place there and then. My son handed me his long razor strap, as nasty and harsh a piece of tough leather as could well be cut out of a horse's hide. I took it, and asked Shonnie if he was not very sorry for what he had done, and very much ashamed of himself for the scandal he had caused ? "

John the Soldier—"I'll be bound, he replied like a truthful little man."

Iain Og—"Aye, that he did. Instead of blubbering, and sneaking, and seeking to lessen punishment, he replied —'I am not a bit really sorry at all, at all, old father. And that is the truth ; for oh, it was so funny ! You must whip me right hard, because I can't be a bit sorry.' With that the little fellow broke out into screams of merriment, which so raised my corruption that I seized on him, and whipt him, until his very mother, who is uncommonly hard on Shonnie, said it was enough. It was the sore heart that whipping gave me too. But at the end of it, although Shonnie's cheeks were wet with silent tears, there was the ghost of a merry twinkle in his eye, and a faint smile on his lips."

John the Soldier—"The boy is a true young laoch (hero)."

One of the Seanairean—"Tell the soldier what Shonnie did at the questioning."

Iain Og—"Oh, that was the laddie's peace-offering. The minister and the elders—each elder in his district—were going round, as they do every year, to try the people in Bible knowledge and the Book of Questions (Shorter Catechism) ; and soon after Sneezing Sunday, it came to the turn of our baile. So we gathered, young and old, in Do'ull Chalum's empty barn, and, after prayer and praise, the questioning began. I was sitting with the Dalveich old mother (grandmother) on one side of me, and Shonnie on the other. When the minister put her question to the Dalveich old mother, she just looked at him, nodded her head, and moved her hand to signify that she passed it on like the bad penny. And the minister, who is not hard on old people, said nothing, but looked at ine for the answer. And I was preparing to give the answer, quite right, too, when the word was taken out of my mouth by Shonnie, who, in his clear young voice, gave the answer as if reading it from a printed book, without stop or slip. I thought much wonder of this, and was much vexed likewise; but the minister passed on to the person after Shonnie, without making any remark. When the meeting was skailing and all the women, children, and young men were passing out, while we, the few old men of the baile, were stopping to have a drop of whisky with the minister out of my son's bottle, I seized Shonnie, when passing me, and asked— 'Why, then, didst thou do it whatever?' And, giving a bit turn of the eye, he said—' Because you should be let off. like the Dalveich old mother, who is a deal younger, and because of Sneezing Sunday, too.' I told this to the minister and the others when we were taking our drop, lest I should be thought to have forgotten the Book of Questions, and to have put Shonnie up to answer for me. And the minister laughed right heartily; for he is not the gloomy man, at all, but the good fellow, all and entirely, although he may be too fierce about Non-Intrusion, and perhaps a thought too strict about small gleanings of worldly pleasures that were thought no harm of in former times."

Duncan Ban—"No doubt, the minister is a good sincere man, and the right fine fellow, too, when following his own bent. But it is to the noisy and foolish party he has made himself over. Aye, they have exalted the little men, and, worse still, the little women ; and these puffed-up imps master their masters, and, far from taking to the innocent employment of making a rope of sand, it is busy they are overturning the Kirk, and bringing all to confusion."

John the Soldier—"My nephew Alastair tells me there is a prospect of your soon losing the minister."

Duncan Ban—"For sure there is. He went last summer to preach at communions in the far North, and the outcome of it is that he is now offered a parish there, which has, they say, nearly three times the stipend of ours. But I was going to tell something which happened at the questioning of our baile. Among the company of us gathered in Angus Beg's large cearna (kitchen) was John the Drover. Now, before the minister came round, it was well known John was striving hard to learn his questions; and, indeed, he strove hard also many a time before. But for the Book of Questions, John's memory is not worth a dadum,1 although for songs and the head-marks of beasts, it is just the best memory in the whole county. As evil luck would have it, the minister asked John one of the petition questions at the very end of the book. This was a surprise, and a hard one too, for John had placed himself at the top end of the settle, hoping the minister would begin at the beginning, and ask him a question from the fore part of the book, for he thought he could pretty safely swim as far as Effectual Calling. So, when the minister began at the other end of the company, and, on at last coming to him, asked a question from the very end of the book, John lost grip of the reply altogether, and felt wronged, and angry besides. But a dauntless carle is the old drover. He would not give up without trying to say what he thought should be something near the answer. At last, when he saw the minister's face clouding, and the young people wanting sore to be allowed to laugh out, he said he could not just then mind the answer, and he shut his mouth, hoping the minister would pass on to the next without more ado. But that the minister did not do. He stopped to exhort and rebuke John in severe words. Then John fairly spoke up, saying he had more to do with cattle than questions in his youth, and that now, however much he tried to learn, his memory would not keep its grip. 'But, John,' said the minister, looking black, 'I fear it is the will rather than the memory which is at fault. I am quite sure thou couldst easily learn a new song.' 'Of course I could,' replied John, 'were it as long as Bendorain, and with great pleasure too. Songs glide into my memory like water into a linn. But questions are not like songs. They are jumbly things without rhyme or tune, reason or sweetness. Yet I could learn one question, and keep grip of it, if you only told beforehand what question you wished to ask. But, come what may, I'll never malt my brains any more by the whole Book of Questions at a stretch.' After that the minister was glad to pass on to the next."

Calum—"And John the Drover was right to refuse to let himself be harried and shown up before young folk."

Iain Og—"So he was; but I am thinking it is time for us to be now taking our ways home."

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