Baron of Bucklivie,|
May the foul fiend drive ye,
And a’ to pieces rive ye,
For building sic a town,
Where there’s neither horse meat, nor man’s meat, nor a chair to sit down.
Scottish Popular Rhymes on a bad Inn.
The descent, however, still continued, turned, winded, left the more open heaths, and got into steeper ravines, which promised soon to lead us to the banks of some brook or river, and ultimately made good their presage. We found ourselves at length on the bank of a stream, which rather resembled one of my native English rivers than those I had hitherto seen in Scotland. It was narrow, deep, still, and silent; although the imperfect light, as it gleamed on its placid waters, showed also that we were now among the lofty mountains which formed its cradle. “That’s the Forth,” said the Bailie, with an air of reverence, which I have observed the Scotch usually pay to their distinguished rivers. The Clyde, the Tweed, the Forth, the Spey, are usually named by those who dwell on their banks with a sort of respect and pride, and I have known duels occasioned by any word of disparagement. I cannot say I have the least quarrel with this sort of harmless enthusiasm. I received my friend’s communication with the importance which he seemed to think appertained to it. In fact, I was not a little pleased, after so long and dull a journey, to approach a region which promised to engage the imagination. My faithful squire, Andrew, did not seem to be quite of the same opinion, for he received the solemn information, “That is the Forth,” with a “Umph!—an he had said that’s the public-house, it wad hae been mair to the purpose.”
The Forth, however, as far as the imperfect light permitted me to judge, seemed to merit the admiration of those who claimed an interest in its stream. A beautiful eminence of the most regular round shape, and clothed with copsewood of hazels, mountain-ash, and dwarf-oak, intermixed with a few magnificent old trees, which, rising above the underwood, exposed their forked and bared branches to the silver moonshine, seemed to protect the sources from which the river sprung. If I could trust the tale of my companion, which, while professing to disbelieve every word of it, he told under his breath, and with an air of something like intimidation, this hill, so regularly formed, so richly verdant, and garlanded with such a beautiful variety of ancient trees and thriving copsewood, was held by the neighbourhood to contain, within its unseen caverns, the palaces of the fairies—a race of airy beings, who formed an intermediate class between men and demons, and who, if not positively malignant to humanity, were yet to be avoided and feared, on account of their capricious, vindictive, and irritable disposition.1
“They ca’ them,” said Mr. Jarvie, in a whisper, “Daoine Schie,—whilk signifies, as I understand, men of peace; meaning thereby to make their gudewill. And we may e’en as weel ca’ them that too, Mr. Osbaldistone, for there’s nae gude in speaking ill o’ the laird within his ain bounds.” But he added presently after, on seeing one or two lights which twinkled before us, “It’s deceits o’ Satan, after a’, and I fearna to say it—for we are near the manse now, and yonder are the lights in the Clachan of Aberfoil.”
I own I was well pleased at the circumstance to which Mr. Jarvie alluded; not so much that it set his tongue at liberty, in his opinion, with all safety to declare his real sentiments with respect to the Daoine Schie, or fairies, as that it promised some hours’ repose to ourselves and our horses, of which, after a ride of fifty miles and upwards, both stood in some need.
We crossed the infant Forth by an old-fashioned stone bridge, very high and very narrow. My conductor, however, informed me, that to get through this deep and important stream, and to clear all its tributary dependencies, the general pass from the Highlands to the southward lay by what was called the Fords of Frew, at all times deep and difficult of passage, and often altogether unfordable. Beneath these fords, there was no pass of general resort until so far east as the bridge of Stirling; so that the river of Forth forms a defensible line between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, from its source nearly to the Firth, or inlet of the ocean, in which it terminates. The subsequent events which we witnessed led me to recall with attention what the shrewdness of Bailie Jarvie suggested in his proverbial expression, that “Forth bridles the wild Highlandman.”
About half a mile’s riding, after we crossed the bridge, placed us at the door of the public-house where we were to pass the evening. It was a hovel rather worse than better than that in which we had dined; but its little windows were lighted up, voices were heard from within, and all intimated a prospect of food and shelter, to which we were by no means indifferent. Andrew was the first to observe that there was a peeled willow-wand placed across the half-open door of the little inn. He hung back and advised us not to enter. “For,” said Andrew, “some of their chiefs and grit men are birling at the usquebaugh in by there, and dinna want to be disturbed; and the least we’ll get, if we gang ramstam in on them, will be a broken head, to learn us better havings, if we dinna come by the length of a cauld dirk in our wame, whilk is just as likely.”
I looked at the Bailie, who acknowledged, in a whisper, “that the gowk had some reason for singing, ance in the year.”
Meantime a staring half-clad wench or two came out of the inn and the neighbouring cottages, on hearing the sound of our horses’ feet. No one bade us welcome, nor did any one offer to take our horses, from which we had alighted; and to our various inquiries, the hopeless response of “Ha niel Sassenach,” was the only answer we could extract. The Bailie, however, found (in his experience) a way to make them speak English. “If I gie ye a bawbee,” said he to an urchin of about ten years old, with a fragment of a tattered plaid about him, “will you understand Sassenach?”
“Ay, ay, that will I,” replied the brat, in very decent English. “Then gang and tell your mammy, my man, there’s twa Sassenach gentlemen come to speak wi’ her.”
The landlady presently appeared, with a lighted piece of split fir blazing in her hand. The turpentine in this species of torch (which is generally dug from out the turf-bogs) makes it blaze and sparkle readily, so that it is often used in the Highlands in lieu of candles. On this occasion such a torch illuminated the wild and anxious features of a female, pale, thin, and rather above the usual size, whose soiled and ragged dress, though aided by a plaid or tartan screen, barely served the purposes of decency, and certainly not those of comfort. Her black hair, which escaped in uncombed elf-locks from under her coif, as well as the strange and embarrassed look with which she regarded us, gave me the idea of a witch disturbed in the midst of her unlawful rites. She plainly refused to admit us into the house. We remonstrated anxiously, and pleaded the length of our journey, the state of our horses, and the certainty that there was not another place where we could be received nearer than Callander, which the Bailie stated to be seven Scots miles distant. How many these may exactly amount to in English measurement, I have never been able to ascertain, but I think the double ratio may be pretty safely taken as a medium computation. The obdurate hostess treated our expostulation with contempt. “Better gang farther than fare waur,” she said, speaking the Scottish Lowland dialect, and being indeed a native of the Lennox district—“Her house was taen up wi’ them wadna like to be intruded on wi’ strangers. She didna ken wha mair might be there—red-coats, it might be, frae the garrison.” (These last words she spoke under her breath, and with very strong emphasis.) “The night,” she said, “was fair abune head—a night amang the heather wad caller our bloods—we might sleep in our claes, as mony a gude blade does in the scabbard—there wasna muckle flowmoss in the shaw, if we took up our quarters right, and we might pit up our horses to the hill, naebody wad say naething against it.”
“But, my good woman,” said I, while the Bailie groaned and remained undecided, “it is six hours since we dined, and we have not taken a morsel since. I am positively dying with hunger, and I have no taste for taking up my abode supperless among these mountains of yours. I positively must enter; and make the best apology you can to your guests for adding a stranger or two to their number. Andrew, you will see the horses put up.”
The Hecate looked at me with surprise, and then ejaculated—“A wilfu’ man will hae his way—them that will to Cupar maun to Cupar!—To see thae English belly-gods! he has had ae fu’ meal the day already, and he’ll venture life and liberty, rather than he’ll want a het supper! Set roasted beef and pudding on the opposite side o’ the pit o’ Tophet, and an Englishman will mak a spang at it—But I wash my hands o’t—Follow me sir” (to Andrew), “and I’se show ye where to pit the beasts.”
I own I was somewhat dismayed at my landlady’s expressions, which seemed to be ominous of some approaching danger. I did not, however, choose to shrink back after having declared my resolution, and accordingly I boldly entered the house; and after narrowly escaping breaking my shins over a turf back and a salting tub, which stood on either side of the narrow exterior passage, I opened a crazy half-decayed door, constructed not of plank, but of wicker, and, followed by the Bailie, entered into the principal apartment of this Scottish caravansary.
The interior presented a view which seemed singular enough to southern eyes. The fire, fed with blazing turf and branches of dried wood, blazed merrily in the centre; but the smoke, having no means to escape but through a hole in the roof, eddied round the rafters of the cottage, and hung in sable folds at the height of about five feet from the floor. The space beneath was kept pretty clear by innumerable currents of air which rushed towards the fire from the broken panel of basket-work which served as a door—from two square holes, designed as ostensible windows, through one of which was thrust a plaid, and through the other a tattered great-coat—and moreover, through various less distinguishable apertures in the walls of the tenement, which, being built of round stones and turf, cemented by mud, let in the atmosphere at innumerable crevices.
At an old oaken table, adjoining to the fire, sat three men, guests apparently, whom it was impossible to regard with indifference. Two were in the Highland dress; the one, a little dark-complexioned man, with a lively, quick, and irritable expression of features, wore the trews, or close pantaloons wove out of a sort of chequered stocking stuff. The Bailie whispered me, that “he behoved to be a man of some consequence, for that naebody but their Duinhe’wassels wore the trews—they were ill to weave exactly to their Highland pleasure.”
The other mountaineer was a very tall, strong man, with a quantity of reddish hair, freckled face, high cheek-bones, and long chin—a sort of caricature of the national features of Scotland. The tartan which he wore differed from that of his companion, as it had much more scarlet in it, whereas the shades of black and dark-green predominated in the chequers of the other. The third, who sate at the same table, was in the Lowland dress,—a bold, stout-looking man, with a cast of military daring in his eye and manner, his riding-dress showily and profusely laced, and his cocked hat of formidable dimensions. His hanger and a pair of pistols lay on the table before him. Each of the Highlanders had their naked dirks stuck upright in the board beside him,—an emblem, I was afterwards informed, but surely a strange one, that their computation was not to be interrupted by any brawl. A mighty pewter measure, containing about an English quart of usquebaugh, a liquor nearly as strong as brandy, which the Highlanders distil from malt, and drink undiluted in excessive quantities, was placed before these worthies. A broken glass, with a wooden foot, served as a drinking cup to the whole party, and circulated with a rapidity, which, considering the potency of the liquor, seemed absolutely marvellous. These men spoke loudly and eagerly together, sometimes in Gaelic, at other times in English. Another Highlander, wrapt in his plaid, reclined on the floor, his head resting on a stone, from which it was only separated by a wisp of straw, and slept or seemed to sleep, without attending to what was going on around him, He also was probably a stranger, for he lay in full dress, and accoutred with the sword and target, the usual arms of his countrymen when on a journey. Cribs there were of different dimensions beside the walls, formed, some of fractured boards, some of shattered wicker-work or plaited boughs, in which slumbered the family of the house, men, women, and children, their places of repose only concealed by the dusky wreaths of vapour which arose above, below, and around them.
Our entrance was made so quietly, and the carousers I have described were so eagerly engaged in their discussions, that we escaped their notice for a minute or two. But I observed the Highlander who lay beside the fire raise himself on his elbow as we entered, and, drawing his plaid over the lower part of his face, fix his look on us for a few seconds, after which he resumed his recumbent posture, and seemed again to betake himself to the repose which our entrance had interrupted,
We advanced to the fire, which was an agreeable spectacle after our late ride, during the chillness of an autumn evening among the mountains, and first attracted the attention of the guests who had preceded us, by calling for the landlady. She approached, looking doubtfully and timidly, now at us, now at the other party, and returned a hesitating and doubtful answer to our request to have something to eat.
“She didna ken,” she said, “she wasna sure there was onything in the house,” and then modified her refusal with the qualification—“that is, onything fit for the like of us.”
I assured her we were indifferent to the quality of our supper; and looking round for the means of accommodation, which were not easily to be found, I arranged an old hen-coop as a seat for Mr. Jarvie, and turned down a broken tub to serve for my own. Andrew Fairservice entered presently afterwards, and took a place in silence behind our backs. The natives, as I may call them, continued staring at us with an air as if confounded by our assurance, and we, at least I myself, disguised as well as we could, under an appearance of indifference, any secret anxiety we might feel concerning the mode in which we were to be received by those whose privacy we had disturbed.
At length, the lesser Highlander, addressing himself to me said, in very good English, and in a tone of great haughtiness, “Ye make yourself at home, sir, I see.”
“I usually do so,” I replied, “when I come into a house of public entertainment.”
“And did she na see,” said the taller man, “by the white wand at the door, that gentlemans had taken up the public-house on their ain business?”
“I do not pretend to understand the customs of this country but I am yet to learn,” I replied, “how three persons should be entitled to exclude all other travellers from the only place of shelter and refreshment for miles round.”
“There’s nae reason for’t, gentlemen,” said the Bailie; “we mean nae offence—but there’s neither law nor reason for’t; but as far as a stoup o’ gude brandy wad make up the quarrel, we, being peaceable folk, wad be willing.”
“Damn your brandy, sir!” said the Lowlander, adjusting his cocked hat fiercely upon his head; “we desire neither your brandy nor your company,” and up he rose from his seat. His companions also arose, muttering to each other, drawing up their plaids, and snorting and snuffing the air after the mariner of their countrymen when working themselves into a passion.
“I tauld ye what wad come, gentlemen,” said the landlady, “an ye wad hae been tauld:—get awa’ wi’ ye out o’ my house, and make nae disturbance here—there’s nae gentleman be disturbed at Jeanie MacAlpine’s an she can hinder. A wheen idle English loons, gaun about the country under cloud o’ night, and disturbing honest peaceable gentlemen that are drinking their drap drink at the fireside!”
At another time I should have thought of the old Latin adage,
But I had not any time for classical quotation, for there was obviously a fray about to ensue, at which, feeling myself indiginant at the inhospitable insolence with which I was treated, I was totally indifferent, unless on the Bailie’s account, whose person and qualities were ill qualified for such an adventure. I started up, however, on seeing the others rise, and dropped my cloak from my shoulders, that I might be ready to stand on the defensive.
“We are three to three,” said the lesser Highlander, glancing his eyes at our party: “if ye be pretty men, draw!” and unsheathing his broadsword, he advanced on me. I put myself in a posture of defence, and aware of the superiority of my weapon, a rapier or small-sword, was little afraid of the issue of the contest. The Bailie behaved with unexpected mettle. As he saw the gigantic Highlander confront him with his weapon drawn, he tugged for a second or two at the hilt of his shabble, as he called it; but finding it loth to quit the sheath, to which it had long been secured by rust and disuse, he seized, as a substitute, on the red-hot coulter of a plough which had been employed in arranging the fire by way of a poker, and brandished it with such effect, that at the first pass he set the Highlander’s plaid on fire, and compelled him to keep a respectful distance till he could get it extinguished. Andrew, on the contrary, who ought to have faced the Lowland champion, had, I grieve to say it, vanished at the very commencement of the fray. But his antagonist, crying “Fair play, fair play!” seemed courteously disposed to take no share in the scuffle. Thus we commenced our rencontre on fair terms as to numbers. My own aim was, to possess myself, if possible, of my antagonist’s weapon; but I was deterred from closing, for fear of the dirk which he held in his left hand, and used in parrying the thrusts of my rapier. Meantime the Bailie, notwithstanding the success of his first onset, was sorely bested. The weight of his weapon, the corpulence of his person, the very effervescence of his own passions, were rapidly exhausting both his strength and his breath, and he was almost at the mercy of his antagonist, when up started the sleeping Highlander from the floor on which he reclined, with his naked sword and target in his hand, and threw himself between the discomfited magistrate and his assailant, exclaiming, “Her nainsell has eaten the town pread at the Cross o’ Glasgow, and py her troth she’ll fight for Bailie Sharvie at the Clachan of Aberfoil—tat will she e’en!” And seconding his words with deeds, this unexpected auxiliary made his sword whistle about the ears of his tall countryman, who, nothing abashed, returned his blows with interest. But being both accoutred with round targets made of wood, studded with brass, and covered with leather, with which they readily parried each other’s strokes, their combat was attended with much more noise and clatter than serious risk of damage. It appeared, indeed, that there was more of bravado than of serious attempt to do us any injury; for the Lowland gentleman, who, as I mentioned, had stood aside for want of an antagonist when the brawl commenced, was now pleased to act the part of moderator and peacemaker.
“Hand your hands! haud your hands!—eneugh done!—eneugh done! the quarrel’s no mortal. The strange gentlemen have shown themselves men of honour, and gien reasonable satisfaction. I’ll stand on mine honour as kittle as ony man, but I hate unnecessary bloodshed.”
It was not, of course, my wish to protract the fray—my adversary seemed equally disposed to sheathe his sword—the Bailie, gasping for breath, might be considered as hors de combat, and our two sword-and-buckler men gave up their contest with as much indifference as they had entered into it.
“And now,” said the worthy gentleman who acted as umpire, “let us drink and gree like honest fellows—The house will haud us a’. I propose that this good little gentleman, that seems sair forfoughen, as I may say, in this tuilzie, shall send for a tass o’ brandy and I’ll pay for another, by way of archilowe,2 and then we’ll birl our bawbees a’ round about, like brethren.”
“And fa’s to pay my new ponnie plaid,” said the larger Highlander, “wi’ a hole burnt in’t ane might put a kail-pat through? Saw ever onybody a decent gentleman fight wi’ a firebrand before?”
“Let that be nae hinderance,” said the Bailie, who had now recovered his breath, and was at once disposed to enjoy the triumph of having behaved with spirit, and avoid the necessity of again resorting to such hard and doubtful arbitrament—“Gin I hae broken the head,” he said, “I sall find the plaister. A new plaid sall ye hae, and o’ the best—your ain clan-colours, man,—an ye will tell me where it can be sent t’ye frae Glasco.”
“I needna name my clan—I am of a king’s clan, as is weel ken’d,” said the Highlander; “but ye may tak a bit o’ the plaid—figh! she smells like a singit sheep’s head!—and that’ll learn ye the sett—and a gentleman, that’s a cousin o’ my ain, that carries eggs doun frae Glencroe, will ca’ for’t about Martimas, an ye will tell her where ye bide. But, honest gentleman, neist time ye fight, an ye hae ony respect for your athversary, let it be wi’ your sword, man, since ye wear ane, and no wi’ thae het culters and fireprands, like a wild Indian.”
“Conscience!” replied the Bailie, “every man maun do as he dow. My sword hasna seen the light since Bothwell Brigg, when my father that’s dead and gane, ware it; and I kenna weel if it was forthcoming then either, for the battle was o’ the briefest—At ony rate, it’s glued to the scabbard now beyond my power to part them; and, finding that, I e’en grippit at the first thing I could make a fend wi’. I trow my fighting days is done, though I like ill to take the scorn, for a’ that.—But where’s the honest lad that tuik my quarrel on himself sae frankly?—I’se bestow a gill o’ aqua-vitæ on him, an I suld never ca’ for anither.”
The champion for whom he looked around was, however, no longer to be seen. He had escaped unobserved by the Bailie, immediately when the brawl was ended, yet not before I had recognised, in his wild features and shaggy red hair, our acquaintance Dougal, the fugitive turnkey of the Glasgow jail. I communicated this observation in a whisper to the Bailie, who answered in the same tone, “Weel, weel,—I see that him that ye ken o’ said very right; there is some glimmering o’ common sense about that creature Dougal; I maun see and think o’ something will do him some gude.”
Thus saying, he sat down, and fetching one or two deep aspirations, by way of recovering his breath, called to the landlady—“I think, Luckie, now that I find that there’s nae hole in my wame, whilk I had muckle reason to doubt frae the doings o’ your house, I wad be the better o’ something to pit intill’t.”
The dame, who was all officiousness so soon as the storm had blown over, immediately undertook to broil something comfortable for our supper. Indeed, nothing surprised me more, in the course of the whole matter, than the extreme calmness with which she and her household seemed to regard the martial tumult that had taken place. The good woman was only heard to call to some of her assistants—“Steek the door! steek the door! kill or be killed, let naebody pass out till they hae paid the lawin.” And as for the slumberers in those lairs by the wall, which served the family for beds, they only raised their shirtless bodies to look at the fray, ejaculated, “Oigh! oigh!” in the tone suitable to their respective sex and ages, and were, I believe, fast asleep again, ere our swords were well returned to their scabbards.
Our landlady, however, now made a great bustle to get some victuals ready, and, to my surprise, very soon began to prepare for us in the frying-pan a savoury mess of venison collops, which she dressed in a manner that might well satisfy hungry men, if not epicures. In the meantime the brandy was placed on the table, to which the Highlanders, however partial to their native strong waters, showed no objection, but much the contrary; and the Lowland gentleman, after the first cup had passed round, became desirous to know our profession, and the object of our journey.
“We are bits o’ Glasgow bodies, if it please your honour,” said the Bailie, with an affectation of great humility, “travelling to Stirling to get in some siller that is awing us.”
I was so silly as to feel a little disconcerted at the unassuming account which he chose to give of us; but I recollected my promise to be silent, and allow the Bailie to manage the matter his own way. And really, when I recollected, Will, that I had not only brought the honest man a long journey from home, which even in itself had been some inconvenience (if I were to judge from the obvious pain and reluctance with which he took his seat, or arose from it), but had also put him within a hair’s-breadth of the loss of his life, I could hardly refuse him such a compliment. The spokesman of the other party, snuffing up his breath through his nose, repeated the words with a sort of sneer;—“You Glasgow tradesfolks hae naething to do but to gang frae the tae end o’ the west o’ Scotland to the ither, to plague honest folks that may chance to be awee ahint the hand, like me.”
“If our debtors were a’ sic honest gentlemen as I believe you to be, Garschattachin,” replied the Bailie, “conscience! we might save ourselves a labour, for they wad come to seek us.”
“Eh! what! how!” exclaimed the person whom he had addressed,—“as I shall live by bread (not forgetting beef and brandy), it’s my auld friend Nicol Jarvie, the best man that ever counted doun merks on a band till a distressed gentleman. Were ye na coming up my way?—were ye na coming up the Endrick to Garschattachin?”
“Troth no, Maister Galbraith,” replied the Bailie, “I had other eggs on the spit—and I thought ye wad be saying I cam to look about the annual rent that’s due on the bit heritable band that’s between us.”
“Damn the annual rent!” said the laird, with an appearance of great heartiness—“Deil a word o’ business will you or I speak, now that ye’re so near my country. To see how a trot-cosey and a joseph can disguise a man—that I suldna ken my auld feal friend the deacon!”
“The Bailie, if ye please,” resumed my companion; “but I ken what gars ye mistak—the band was granted to my father that’s happy, and he was deacon; but his name was Nicol as weel as mine. I dinna mind that there’s been a payment of principal sum or annual rent on it in my day, and doubtless that has made the mistake.”
“Weel, the devil take the mistake and all that occasioned it!” replied Mr. Galbraith. “But I am glad ye are a bailie. Gentlemen, fill a brimmer—this is my excellent friend, Bailie Nicol Jarvie’s health—I ken’d him and his father these twenty years. Are ye a’ cleared kelty aff?—Fill anither. Here’s to his being sune provost—I say provost—Lord Provost Nicol Jarvie!—and them that affirms there’s a man walks the Hie-street o’ Glasgow that’s fitter for the office, they will do weel not to let me, Duncan Galbraith of Garschattachin, hear them say sae—that’s all.” And therewith Duncan Galbraith martially cocked his hat, and placed it on one side of his head with an air of defiance.
The brandy was probably the best recommendation of there complimentary toasts to the two Highlanders, who drank them without appearing anxious to comprehend their purport. They commenced a conversation with Mr. Galbraith in Gaelic, which he talked with perfect fluency, being, as I afterwards learned, a near neighbour to the Highlands.
“I ken’d that Scant-o’-grace weel eneugh frae the very outset,” said the Bailie, in a whisper to me; “but when blude was warm, and swords were out at ony rate, wha kens what way he might hae thought o’ paying his debts? it will be lang or he does it in common form. But he’s an honest lad, and has a warm heart too; he disna come often to the Cross o’ Glasgow, but mony a buck and blackcock he sends us doun frae the hills. And I can want my siller weel eneugh. My father the deacon had a great regard for the family of Garschattachin.”
Supper being now nearly ready, I looked round for Andrew Fairservice; but that trusty follower had not been seen by any one since the beginning of the rencontre. The hostess, however, said that she believed our servant had gone into the stable, and offered to light me to the place, saying that “no entreaties of the bairns or hers could make him give any answer; and that truly she caredna to gang into the stable herself at this hour. She was a lone woman, and it was weel ken’d how the Brownie of Ben-ye-gask guided the gudewife of Ardnagowan; and it was aye judged there was a Brownie in our stable, which was just what garr’d me gie ower keeping an hostler.”
As, however, she lighted me towards the miserable hovel into which they had crammed our unlucky steeds, to regale themselves on hay, every fibre of which was as thick as an ordinary goose-quill, she plainly showed me that she had another reason for drawing me aside from the company than that which her words implied. “Read that,” she said, slipping a piece of paper into my hand, as we arrived at the door of the shed; “I bless God I am rid o’t. Between sogers and Saxons, and caterans and cattle-lifters, and hership and bluidshed, an honest woman wad live quieter in hell than on the Hieland line.”
So saying, she put the pine-torch into my hand, and returned into the house.
1. The lakes and precipices amidst which the Avon-Dhu, or River Forth, has its birth, are still, according to popular tradition, haunted by the Elfin people, the most peculiar, but most pleasing, of the creations of Celtic superstitions. The opinions entertained about these beings are much the same with those of the Irish, so exquisitely well narrated by Mr. Crofton Croker. An eminently beautiful little conical hill, near the eastern extremity of the valley of Aberfoil, is supposed to be one of their peculiar haunts, and is the scene which awakens, in Andrew Fairservice, the terror of their power. It is remarkable, that two successive clergymen of this parish of Aberfoil have employed themselves in writing about this fairy superstition. The eldest of these was Robert Kirke, a man of some talents, who translated the Psalms into Gaelic verse. He had formerly been minister at the neighbouring parish of Balquhidder, and died at Aberfoil in 1688, at the early age of forty-two.
He was author of the Secret Commonwealth, which was printed after his death in 1691—(an edition which I have never seen)—and was reprinted in Edinburgh, 1815. This is a work concerning the fairy people, in whose existence Mr. Kirke appears to have been a devout believer. He describes them with the usual powers and qualities ascribed to such beings in Highland tradition.
But what is sufficiently singular, the Rev. Robert Kirke, author of the said treatise, is believed himself to have been taken away by the fairies,—in revenge, perhaps, for having let in too much light upon the secrets of their commonwealth. We learn this catastrophe from the information of his successor, the late amiable and learned Dr. Patrick Grahame, also minister at Aberfoil, who, in his Sketches of Perthshire, has not forgotten to touch upon the Daoine Schie, or men of peace.
The Rev. Robert Kirke was, it seems, walking upon a little eminence to the west of the present manse, which is still held a Dun Shie, or fairy mound, when he sunk down, in what seemed to mortals a fit, and was supposed to be dead. This, however, was not his real fate.
“Mr. Kirke was the near relation of Graham of Duchray, the ancestor of the present General Graham Stirling. Shortly after his funeral, he appeared, in the dress in which he had sunk down, to a medical relation of his own, and of Duchray. ‘Go,’ said he to him, ‘to my cousin Duchray, and tell him that I am not dead. I fell down in a swoon, and was carried into Fairyland, where I now am. Tell him, that when he and my friends are assembled at the baptism of my child (for he had left his wife pregnant), I will appear in the room, and that if he throws the knife which he holds in his hand over my head, I will be released and restored to human society.’ The man, it seems, neglected, for some time, to deliver the message. Mr. Kirke appeared to him a second time, threatening to haunt him night and day till he executed his commission, which at length he did. The time of the baptism arrived. They were seated at table; the figure of Mr. Kirke entered, but the Laird of Duchray, by some unaccountable fatality, neglected to perform the prescribed ceremony. Mr. Kirke retired by another door, and was seen no wore. It is firmly believed that he is, at this day, in Fairyland.”—(Sketches of Perthshire, p. 254.)
[The treatise by Robert Kirke, here mentioned, was written in the year 1691, but not printed till 1815.] [back]