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The Long Glen
Chapter XXVII - Duncan Nam Mogan

WHEN Calum and Duncan Ban arrived at Conversation Bench, they found the three Seanairean and Iain Og—the last looking very feeble—already assembled ; and in front of them, placed comfortably on the nave of a broken cart wheel, sat a little grey man in a grey cloak, and with grey mogain, or cloth wrappings, on his feet, instead of brogues. Two little crutches lay by his side ; and he was in the act of holding forth, as vigorous action of head and hand clearly testified, when the newcomers first caught sight of him.

"Aye, aye," observed Calum to his companion, "the body has come betimes for the Free Kirk communion."

"For sure," was the reply, "the gathering would not be right without Janet Ghorach and Duncan nam Mogan."

"Well, Janet crossed the hill on Thursday, and here is Duncan son of Do'ull Caol" (Donald the Thin).

"Has the creature gone out with the rest?"

"You may safely give your word for that."

"I wish them joy of his company."

Calum laughed, for the cripple's personal cleanliness was not thought to be as much above suspicion as his piety. It was well known that at a meeting of the sisterhood, previous to a former communion, Ealag, the pink of tidiness herself, strongly advocated that Duncan, with cloak, mogain, and all, should be handed over to fit caretakers, to be thoroughly scrubbed and purified as regarded the outer man. Meg of Camus said, in excuse for him, that he was clean within ; whereupon Ealag answered sharply, " that he should then turn his inside out." But the scrubbing was not carried out.

Duncan, son of the thin sire, was born into the world with feet not simply clubbed, hut so twisted out of all similitude to ordinary human pedestals, that between the pair of them they had not a single inch of flat bottom, to be planted on the ground. They were all edges and toes where edges and toes should not be, and what ought to have been the sole leather formed a spiral belt to bind them tightly in their exceeding deformity. For such feet no brogues could be fashioned; and on such feet it was impossible to move about or even stand without crutches. But Duncan was to the manner born ; and summer and •winter he cruised through a wide district of the Highlands with crutches for horses, and piety for a profession. In summer he was the cuckoo bird of the popular ministers who went about to a round of communions; and at that time, by getting many "lifts" no doubt, the celerity of his movements astonishingly increased. There was not a morsel of malice in the body's composition, and he seldom spoke an unkindly word, even of the blackest Moderates. He also looked upon himself rather as a satellite of ministers, than as one having a vocation to speak words in season or out of season to the sinners he encountered perpetually. Still, he now and then ventured, when opportunities offered, to sing hymns of wrath and judgment, and to declaim fragments of passionate revival sermons to old women, about whose spiritual condition he privately entertained the gravest misgivings.

The cripple had now subsisted on piety and the charity of hospitality—he was no meal-poke beggar—for fully forty years. No cares in regard to either present or future life troubled him. His faith made him happy, and much disposed to sing like a lark, in spire of his poverty and physical disadvantages. He did not feel that he was an idle, useless cumberer of the ground. Nor, in truth, was he often idle. No person of his age had ever heard more sermons. He was always diligently working out his own salvation, with much exercise of his bit of mind, and poor pair of twisted feet. Something also required to be put down to his credit for the gentle efforts he made to shove old people into the narrow road. At communion field preachings he invariably stationed himself directly in front of the tent, and if he felt pleased and edified with the sermon, threw his head a little on one side, like a grey-clad bird of paradise. If he found there was no life or flavour about the discourse he looked down with supreme solemnity on his twisted feet, as if contemplating in a fascinated manner their extraordinary imperfections. Duncan indeed was a minister guager, whose grey head and grey cloak most young ministers disliked to see before them ; and whose trained instinct of judgment was believed in by many people, chiefly, perhaps, because he possessed a wonderful memory, and could repeat, years afterwards, long portions of sermons that pleased him, while sermons that pleased him not escaped at once through the holes of his memory, like water through a sieve.

"And from what airt art thou now come, O pilgrim of the crutches?"

"Soon after the Assembly I went down Cheywich to the border of the Galldachd. On turning back I spent many days in the Strath of the Eagle, where Aobhar Dhe (the cause of God) is prospering bonnily."

"What dost thou mean by that?" asked Duncan Ban.

"I just mean that mostly all the people have joined the Free Kirk with hearts uplifted, and that they are freely bringing their silver and gold, like the Israelites of old, as gifts to the altar. Oh ! it is a season of outpouring and miracle!"

"For sure, if miracles are beginning anew one will be effected on such a vessel of holiness as thyself. I'll soon expect to hear that thou hast thrown away thy crutches and mogain, and that thy feet are beautiful on the topmost pinnacle of Ben Lomond, dancing a thanksgiving reel with the agility of a bounding roe. But come, come, thou art not the bad body either. It is natural thou shouldst be a son of the rock (echo) to thy teachers, who are mistaken good men mostly; but I doubt some of them are self-seeking rogues too. Go on to my house. Thou'lt get thy bit food, and a shake-down in the barn as usual, although thou hast gone to the wrong side of the hedge with the many ; and although I'll stick to the Kirk of my fathers to the end, desolate as she is to-day in this Glen and many other places."

Iain Og—"If he'll go to your house he'll find Janet Ghorach there before him. I have seen her not two hours ago take that direction."

Duncan nam Mogan—"Oh, thou man of hospitality (to Duncan Ban), I thank you much, but I must seek shelter elsewhere. The mad woman makes me tremble."

One of the Seanairean—"Come to our house and welcome. Janet never comes near. She says there is the blood of an old feud between our people and her people. But that is all her madness."

Duncan nam Mogan—"Thank you much; and, indeed, it is time I should be moving, for it is tired I feel after the long lang."

Calum—"But what fell out between thee and Janet ? Was there not the rumour going that she put thee in fear of thy life?"

Duncan nam Mogan—"She did that for sure. Oh! she must have a leannan sith.1 It is possessed by an evil spirit, I fear me, the poor woman must be."

Calum—"Well, in truth, before she ever got the bee of madness in her head at all, her natural ordinary spirit was pretty rampageous. But few women could beat her at the wheel, or any kind of work."

Iain Og—"Did she not want thee to dance on a trencher, and without thy crutches too?"

Duncan nam Mogan—"For sure she did, and on the Sabbath day itself! I was resting in Mungo Breac's2 house by the loch side. Mungo and his wife left the house in my care while they went to the evening sermon. I could not go myself, because the forenoon travel to the kirk and back had quite tired me, the roads being so wet and miry. And when I was left in the house my lone, because they were so wet, I took the mogain off my feet, and placed them by the side of the fire. And crooning bits of hymns, and going over verses, I was thinking of the New Jerusalem and its everlasting joys, when the mad woman came in from the road ; and without a word of Christian greeting she seized upon me where I sat, saying she would put my crooked feet straight, and make me dance on a trencher. As evil luck would have it, there was the very large wooden trencher standing by the end of the aumry, on which Mungo's wife makes her sausages and puddings. Janet saw it, seized upon it, and placed it in the middle of the cearna floor. Then she took me under the arms like a baby, and placing my feet on the trencher, she jumped me up and down, bidding me dance like a good child, and singing a foolish nursing song while shaking and threatening me. I was that frightened, I almost forgot to pray to the Lord in my heart. But without His knowledge not even a sparrow can fall to the ground. I believe help was given me ; for without crutches or support, the mad woman standing over me with outspread arms, I really stood for a gliff on my feet on that sycamore tree trencher. That pacified her a great deal. She said I was beginning to be a good bairn, and I might rest a while before taking my first lesson in dancing."

Duncan Ran—"Janet nearly accomplished a miracle. But how didst thou get out of her hands? It was the terrible trouble thou wert in, for sure."

Duncan nam Mogan—"You must know Mungo's house is near the loch, and the highway passes close to the door. When she relieved me for drawing breath, before making me dance—and it was through the sword dance, nothing else, that she meant to put me, and she got long sharp knives to do for swords—I thought it was near time for the good walkers to be coming back from the evening service. I spoke her fair, wishing to gain time, and she was going through her ceileirean, never heeding that it was the Sabbath of the Lord. She was also telling me that if I danced with smeddum, she would next teach me to fly. Oh ! but it was surely an evil spirit that had possession of her, and it was my heart that quaked with fear. With my grey cloak, she said, I was sure to become a big gull, which could fly over the sea without bounds, and bring back sgeul (news) from the world behind the sun. So with her neonachas (folly), and speaking her fair, the time slipped by without her taking notice of it; and when I heard the sound of voices and footsteps, I skelloched with all my might, and she, not guessing what it was for, said—' Why, its a crane thou art going to be.' Praise to the Lord, who sent me rescue in my strait! The people passing by heard my scream, and rushed into the house. She could do no more than take me up in her oxter, squeezing me like a pipe-bag, before the rescuers took hold of her. Then she fled from the house screaming, as if for sure the evil spirit possessing her bewailed the loss of prey. But it is moving on I must be, and so blessing be with you all."

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