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The Long Glen
Chapter XIX - An Luadhadh

The snow was lying deep when, on a December day, the face of which was hidden by white cranreuch haze, Ewan and Diarmad went up the hill to look after their fathers' sheep. They searched the gullies and highest corries for animals which might have been overtaken by the sudden snow-storm. But no smoored victims were found ; and having gathered stragglers, and left the whole flock where the long heather could be reached with the least nose-digging trouble to the hungry animals, and where bushy banks and rocky duns broke the bitter blast, they descended on the house of Ewan's father, Seumas Cameron, who was also called "Ciotach," because he was left-handed.

It was not the Ciotach's dwelling-house the young men entered first, although they were certainly ready enough for a good kail and potato dinner after their hard day's work in the snow. Ewan, who was in the habit for years of teasing his friend about his unaccountable shyness towards the younger portion of the other sex, beguiled Diarmad, before he suspected a snare, into the cart-shed, from which on this day the carts were banished, because a luadhadh or blanket fulling was on hand. The wide entrance of the shed was veiled like a tabernacle with webs fresh from the loom and the wash-tubs.

As soon as he was drawn within the screen the victim of bashtulness understood the ordeal before him, and saw there was no retreat. In fact, next minute a dozen bare-armed maidens, led by a fun-loving widow and a fat, merry spinster on the wrong side of fifty, closed upon him and laid him helplessly on the blanket web which they were fulling on the cliath of wattles. On each side of the cliath they ranged themselves, and began drawing the web back and forward—time being kept by a chorus song. This wattle rubbing, with due help from soap and water, gave the blankets thickness and softness, and the bleaching was afterwards perfected on the heather and thyme bordering a mountain burn.

In vain did the captive struggle to get free. The blanket moved swiftly back and forward with its sides well held up and over, whenever he made the least attempt to tumble off the cliath. He knew the ordeal would be prolonged until the wattles rubbed him into a state of wholesale soreness, unless he captured one of his tormentors and kissed her on the cliath before them all. The merry spinster was custodian of his head, and the widow fairly fettered his feet by a fold of the web. He was entitled to have his arms free.

"Come now," said the spinster, whose name was Marie Chiar, "let us sing the luinneag of Duncan Ban of the songs"—and off she started with:—

"Togamaid fonn air luadh a chlolain; Gabhaidh sinn ceol as orain mhatha. Ho ro gun togain," &c.

Although profane songs were much condemned by the spiritual guides of the Glen, at least ten musical maiden voices, aided by Ewan's deep bass, took up the chorus after every two lines of recitative crooned by the spinster.

Till of late years the Glen folk had been always accustomed to sing chorus songs at all kinds of common work, such as shearing, reaping, waulking, &c. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century revivalists, who afterward by turns gathered and split up their converts into small bands of sectaries—the pioneers of Highland dissent— scowled blackly at profane music, and banned without compunction the amusements of unsanctified times. Evangelical kirk ministers and their male and female disciples followed in the footsteps of the older Separatists —although there was no love between them—and sweepingly condemned "old world vanities." They succeeded to a large extent in silencing the living voice of the Celtic Muse by decidedly black-marking every person who dared to produce a poetical effusion which did not assume the form of a hymn embodying extreme Calvinistic doctrines, and threatening sinners with eternal dippings in brimstone. But the Celtic passion for poetry and music was too strong to be altogether suppressed. It smouldered on, and ever and anon flashed up into rebellious flames.

Diarmad did not know it at the time, but a fact it was, that his tormentors were made ripe for mischief by having been themselves tormented by holy women and deprived of luadhadh hilarity during the fore-part of the day. When Ewan and Diarmad appeared among them they gladly and defiantly seized upon the chance for instituting the fun proper to a waulking bee.

Merrily was the web with the captive therein tossed from side to side of the cliath and lifted and lowered in harmony with the chorus. And having got over the first surprise, and found it vain to struggle for liberty by getting off the cliath, the victim endured his droll ordeal so quietly that the spinster, occupied with her song, relaxed her vigilance, and inadvertently came within the reach of his free arms. So it came to pass that the croon stopped in the middle of a word, because in a moment the spinster lost both voice and legs. With a sudden spring and strong tug the captive had pulled her on the cliath as the hostage for his liberation. But, after an instant of struggling and wriggling, Marie neatly escaped from his hands, and tumbled over the other side of the cliath like an elastic ball, while vigorous preventive means kept Diarmad from tumbling along with her. While, amidst laughter and gleej Ewan's young sister, Jessie Cameron, was helping the spinster to her feet, she suddenly lost her own. In the twinkling of an eye she was the captive's hostage, and, being slim and safely graspable, Diarmad earned his liberation, and became a free brother of the luadhadh guild. Ewan vigorously declared that his bashful friend had now got his footing among the women, and would never be put on by any of them ever more.

No sooner were Diarmad and Jessie off the cliath than the troop of girls, headed by their commanders, lifted Ewan with a mighty effort off his feet, and laid him triumphantly on the groaning cliath. The croon and chorus recommenced, and as Ewan was not immediately successful in catching the captive he wanted, the fun was at its best when a little neat middle-aged woman's face, surmounted by a fringe of short grey curls and a very white currachd, peeped with a highly scandalised expression through the outer screen. The face and appurtenances belonged to Ealag of Craig, who had, by mishap, given Diarmad, at the minister's peat-making, words concerning the worship of Baal in high places. Poor Ealag! that slip gave her no end of vexation, for when she heard about the scandal of Dun-an-teine she had to shut her mouth as a party implicated, and to keep the Elder Claon from stirring in the matter by letting him know indirectly that there was a charge of worshipping the Old Serpent to be made against himself by the rebellious sinners, if he gave them the smallest provocation.

When the face and appurtenances pierced the veil, the spinster, in spite of clear conscience and sound heart hushed her croon, and evidently quailed before the reporteress of the holy conclave. The girls, drooping long eyelashes and shaking loose locks into the semblance of order, put on a " Let us worship God " face as quickly, if not as naturally, as possible. Ewan, lying in the blanket with a foregone determination to make Mary Macintyre and none other his hostage, did not immediately perceive the efficient cause by which the roaring fun was interrupted. But, lifting up his now unobstructed head, his eyes fell on the vision that pierced the veil, and he ejaculated in a whisper, which reached further than he intended, "An Trotag Thrabhach air m' anam." The Sandpiper on my soul.

The nickname used by Ewan was that by which little Ealag was generally called behind her back by the foolish young people, who made up for severe repression before the directors of life doctrine and conversation, by some private irreverence of speech. It was a nickname that admirably suited Ealag's bobbing-and-trotting ways, and her prying inquisitiveness. Among those with whom she now liked to associate, and for whom she performed con amove the onerous duties of newsgatherer, detective, and sentinel, the Effectual Calling of poor Ealag was cruelly doubted. No valid proof could be adduced that she had ever gone visibly through the settled orthodox process of conversion. Her best claim, such as it was, arose from her being the daughter of an elder whose hoary head went down to the grave in honour and peace, and of a sister who was a conspicuous proof of revival grace, and who died not long ago in the odour of sanctity. Something might be said for Ealag on the ground of her willing services to the good cause; but as the merits of good works without faith were reprobated as a snare of the Devil, the less said on that head the better. The young graceless people, who looked upon Ealag as the spy and tale-bearer of the " unco guid," had no doubt whatever that for mischief and storytelling she would have to undergo severe after-death purifications. But that was not at all Ealag's own opinion. She worked so zealously in her vocation that she thought if she sometimes made out corrupt human nature to be a little worse than the reality, the error of judgment, being on the safe side, was one which zeal converted into a merit. In her small corner of the earth the Trotag had in fact made herself so busily important that the pious people themselves would hardly dare to quarrel with her if they felt ever so much disposed. Her face was not long nor sad. She did not groan a bit, but she, on the contrary, found no little enjoyment in the detected or suspected sins of others, and even in the flaws and shortcomings of the "unco guid " themselves. At church she paid small attention to the sermon because she was fully occupied in watching young men and women to see if speaking glances passed between them. She was by no means consciously given to falsehood. Her power among the good was indeed chiefly derived from the general correctness of her observations and the shrewdness of her surmises. She seemed by supernatural telephone to hear the smallest whisper of bashful love breathed hastily into a lassie's ear, and, according to Ewan Mor's opinion, she could see behind as well as before her, and her eye could pierce the thickest darkness as easily as a rifle ball a thin board. She was a restless creature, who trotted and bobbed from house to house brimful of gossip, which rapidly gathered in volume and variety as the ambulation proceeded. As she knew everything, she was not ignorant of course that she was called Trotag behind her back. The nickname irritated her ten times more than any doubt about her Effectual Calling. Ewan's ejaculation reached her ear, and it made her very angry.

"And this is the way you are going on?" said Ealag, lifting hands and eyes in solemn protestation, and imitating the tone of a celebrated Revivalist of the North. "This is the way you take the advice of those entitled to advise, and who in my own hearing this day warned you against the vanities, and worse than vanities, of luadhadh games, and romps, which the Kirk has condemned, along with penny-bridals, dancing balls, and other evil gatherings by which religion used to be dishonoured and immortal souls to be ruined. And, oh ! is it not the shame to see a woman older than myself, and, like myself, a single woman, too, standing at the head of the cliath, while there is at the other end------"Trotag suddenly reined in, for she knew the widow did not fear her, and now that she took in the whole situation, she felt a little afraid of the widow ripping up the vanities of her own youth, and a kinship tie, to which she was as true as steel, made her also very unwilling to quarrel with Diarmad, scorner and worshipper of Baal as he might be.

"And what wouldst thou say of me?" echoed the widow, with arms akimbo and a cloud upon her usually sunny face.

There was no reply, and the widow went on—"I ask Diarmad, because he is learned in the knowledge of books, whether the old fun and luinneag are not better at a luadhadh than psalm-singing and the cold kail of old sermons made hot again? To me the gloom of your new religion —for it was not the religion of our youths I am sure—seem as much out of place at a luadhadh as dancing in a church, or singing a coronach at a wedding."

"And to me also," said Diarmad promptly. "Why should Death and the Grave and the Worm be always thrust upon us? Surely the wise man wisely said there is a time for everything."

"In the midst of life there is death, Diarmad." "In the midst of death there is life, Ealag." "Thou art in my opinion becoming a downright heretic." "Well, you see, Ealag, I don't think you quite understand my meaning, and to be frank with you, I don't care the snap of my fingers for your opinion of my opinions."

"It is not from thee that I should like to hear the words of scorning. For in this country, after thy father, art not thou the head of my kith and kin?"

"Well, Ealag, that is true. But you must not push me hard ; for if it should fall to me to lay your head in the grave, it is on a sharp stone I may place it if you provoke me too far in your lifetime."

Diarmad laughed, and so did the others. Trotag softened visibly under the touch of clanship, but still she turned away, saying, with a frown at the quailing spinster, "I must tell the people who sent me what you are doing." Diarmad turned after her, declaring he would go with her and speak for himself.

"The pigs are through the warp," said Ewan, giving his head a dolorous shake. "Who may be in the house, Jessie?"

"The elder, who was to come for his wife, will be there by this time."

"Pooh! the elder's wife is right enough, and he is good himself for an elder. Any more?"

"Oh! dear, yes. Annie of Dalmore and Kirsty of Strone, and Meg of Camus have been about all day—the more the pity!"

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Ewan in downright consternation, for female saints, next to ghosts, were the beings he most dreaded and avoided. "Goodness gracious ! all the woman holiness of the parish. Trotag in a rage and Diarmad having the mire chatha (battle fury) on him ! As sure as death there will be a dreadful hullabaloo."

Trotag will not like the stone under her head," said the widow. "It is Diarmad who knows how to deal with her."

"I thought he was always right shy and bashful till to-day," observed Mary Macintyre, giving Jessie and the old spinster an eye-shot right and left.

"Ha!" said Ewan, "you girls never understood him at all till to-day, just because you could so easily make him blush, the silly frllow. I got him in here without letting on that there was a luadhadh, just to get that foolish bashful-ness rubbed of."

"And the cliath has rubbed it off beautifully," remarked the old spinster, now recovering from the effect of the vision that pierced the veil.

Ewan was advised to go into the house to his dinner, and to bring back a faithful report of the proceedings. But although half-famished, he declined to venture in until there was time for the storm to burst and blow over. He proposed that, as the pigs were through the warp, they should resume the luadhadh song and game, so as to have compensation for inevitable exhortations and rebukes. This reasonable proposal was no sooner made than carried out ; and Ewan, who never tried to leave the cliath when the Trotag interlude gave him the opportunity, was long tossed about and jeered at before he was allowed to capture and kiss Mary Macintyre, in accordance with his secret intention from the beginning—which, indeed, was as well understood as if he had printed it in capital letters.

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