Hugh Miller: Autobiography (6)

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    I found my companion in charge of the cart with our tools, baiting at an inn a little beyond Contin; but there was no sign of the carter; and we were informed by the innkeeper, to whom he was well known, that we might have to wait for him all day, and perhaps not see him at night.  Click-clack—a name expressive of the carter's fluency as a talker, by which he was oftener designated than by the one in the parish register—might no doubt have purposed in the morning joining us at an early hour, but that was when he was sober; and what his intention might be now, said the innkeeper, when in all probability he was drunk, no living man could say.  This was rather startling intelligence to men who had a long journey through a rough country before them; and my comrade—a lad a year or two older than myself, but still an apprentice—added to my dismay by telling me he had been sure from the first there was something wrong with Click-Clack, and that his master had secured his services, not from choice, but simply because, having thoughtlessly become surety for him at a sale for the price of a horse, and being left to pay for the animal, he had now employed him, in the hope of getting himself reimbursed.  I resolved, however, on waiting for the carter until the last moment after which it would be possible for us to reach out ultimate stage without perilously encroaching on the night; and, taking it for granted that he would not very soon join us, I set out for a neighbouring hill, which commands an extensive view, to take note of the main features of a district with which I had formed, during the two previous years, not a few interesting associations, and to dry my wetted clothes in the breeze and the sun.  The old tower of Fairburn formed one of the most striking objects in the prospect; and the eye expatiated beyond from where the gneiss region begins, on a tract of broken hill and brown moor, uncheered by a single green field of human dwelling.  There are traditions that, in their very peculiarity, and remoteness from the tract of ordinary invention, give evidence of their truth; and I now called up a tradition, which I owed to my friend the maniac, respecting the manner in which the Mackenzies of Fairburn and the Chisholms of Strathglass had divided this barren tract between them.  It had lain, from the first settlement of the country, an unappropriated waste, and neither proprietor could tell where his own lands terminated, or those of his neighbour began; but finding that the want of a proper line of demarcation led to quarrels between their herdsmen when baiting in their summer shielings [66] with their cattle, they agreed to have the tract divided.  The age of land surveyors had not yet come; but, selecting two old women of seventy-five, they sent them out at the same hour, to meet among the hills, the one from Fairburn Tower, and the other from Erchless Castle, after first binding themselves to accept their place of meeting as the point, at which to set up the boundary-stone of the two properties.  The women, attended by a bevy of competent witnesses, journeyed as if for life and death; but the Fairburn woman, who was the laird's foster-mother, either more zealous or more active than the Chisholm one, travelled nearly two miles for her one; and when they came in sight of each other in the waste, it was far from the fields of Fairburn, and comparatively at no great distance from those of the Chisholm.  It is not easy knowing why they should have regarded one another in the light of enemies; but at a mile's distance their flagging pace quickened into a run, and, meeting at a narrow rivulet, they would fain had fought; but lacking, in their utter exhaustion, strength for fighting and breath for scolding, they could only seat themselves on the opposite banks, and girn at one another across the stream.  George Cruikshank has had at times worse subjects for his pencil.  It is, I believe, Landor, in one of his "imaginary conversations," who makes a Highland laird inform Adam Smith that, desirous to ascertain, in some sort of conceivable degree, the size of his property, he had placed a line of pipers around it, each at such a distance from his nearest neighbour that he could barely catch the sound of his bagpipe; and that from the number of pipers required he was able to form an approximate estimate of the extent of his estate.  And here, in a Highland tradition, genuine at least as such, are we introduced to an expedient of the kind scarce less ludicrous or indequate than that which Landor must, in one of his humorous moods, have merely imagined.

    I returned to the inn at the hour from which, as I have said, it would be possible for us, and not more than possible, to complete our day's journey; and finding, as I had anticipated, no trace of Click-Clack, we set off without him.  Our way led us through long moory straths, with here and there a blue lake and birch wood, and here and there a group of dingy cottages and of irregular fields; but the general scenery was that of the prevailing schistose gneiss of the Scotch Highlands, in which rounded confluent hills stand up over long withdrawing valleys, and imposing rather from its bare and lonely expansiveness, than from aught bold or striking in its features.  The district had been opened up only a few seasons previous by the Parliamentary road over which we travelled, and was at that time little known to the tourist; and the thirty years which have since passed have in some respects considerably changed it, as they have done the Highlands generally.  Most of the cottages, when I last journeyed the way, were represented by but broken ruins, and the fields by mossy patches that remained green amid the waste.  I marked at one spot an extraordinary group of oak trees, in the last stage of decay, which would have attracted notice from their great bulk and size in even the forests of England.  The largest of the group lay rotting upon the ground—a black, doddered shell, fully six feet in diameter, but hollow as a tar-barrel; while the others, some four or five in number, stood up around it, totally divested of all their larger boughs, but green with leaves, that, from the minuteness of the twigs on which they grew, wrapped them around like close-fitting mantles.  Their period of "tree-ship"—to borrow a phrase from Cowper—must have extended far into the obscure past of Highland history—to a time, I doubt not, when not a few of the adjacent pear mosses still lived as forests, and when some of the neighbouring clans—Frasers, Bissets, and Chisholms—had, at least under the existing names (French and Saxon in their derivation), not yet begun to be.  Ere we reached the solitary inn of Auchen-nasheen—a true Highland clachan of the ancient type, the night had fallen dark and stormy for a night in June; and a grey mist which had been descending for hours along the hills—blotting off their brown summits bit by bit, as an artist might his pencilled hills with a piece of India rubber, but which, methodical in its encroachments, had preserved in its advances a perfect horizontality of line—had broken into a heavy, continuous rain.  As, however, the fair weather had lasted us till we were within a mile of our journey's end, we were only partially wet on our arrival, and soon succeeded in drying ourselves in front of a noble turf fire.  My comrade would fain have solaced himself, after our weary journey, with something nice.  He held that a Highland inn should be able to furnish at least a bit of mutton-ham or a cut of dried salmon, and ordered a few slices first of ham, and then of salmon; but his orders served merely to perplex the landlord and his wife, whose stores seemed to consist of only oatmeal and whisky; and, coming down in his expectations and demands, and intimating that he was very hungry, and that anything edible would do, we heard the landlady inform, with evident satisfaction, a red-armed wench, dressed in blue plaiding, that "the lads would take porridge."  The porridge was accordingly prepared; and, when engaged in discussing this familiar viand, a little before midnight—for we had arrived late—a tall Highlander entered the inn, dropping like a mill-wheel.  He was charged, he said, with messages to the landlord, and to two mason lads in the inn, from a forlorn carter with whom he had travelled about twenty miles, but who, knocked up by the "drap drink " and a pair of bad shoes, had been compelled to shelter for the night in a cottage about seven miles short of Auchen-nasheen.  The carter's message to the landlord was simply to the effect that the two mason lads having stolen his horse and cart, he instructed him to detain his property for him until he himself should come up in the morning.  As for his message to the lads, said the Highlander, "it was no meikle worth gain o'er again; but if we liked to buckle on a' the Gaelic curses to a' the English ones, it would be something like that."

    We were awakened next morning by a tremendous hubbub in the adjoining apartment.  "It is Click-Clack the carter," said my comrade: "oh, what shall we do?"  We leaped up; and getting into our clothes in doubly-quick time, set ourselves to reconnoitre through the crannies of a deal partition, and saw the carter standing in the middle of the next room, storming furiously, and the landlord, a smooth-spoken, little old man, striving hard to conciliate him.  Click-Clack was a rough-looking fellow, turned of forty, of about five feet ten, with a black unshaven beard, like a shoe-brush stuck under his nose, which was red as a coal, and attired in a sadly-breached suit of Aberdeen grey, topped by a brimless hat, that had been borrowed, apparently, from some obliging scare-crow.  I measured him in person and expression; and, deeming myself his match, even unassisted by my comrade, on whose discretion I could calculate with more certainty than on his valour, I entered the apartment, and taxed him with gross dereliction of duty.  He had left as to drive his horse and cart for a whole day, and had broken, for the sake of his wretched indulgence in the public-house, his engagement with our master; and I would report him to a certainty.  The carter turned upon me with the fierceness of a wild beast; but, first catching his eye, as I would that of a maniac, I set my face very near his, and he calmed down in a moment.  He could not help being late, he said; he had reached the inn at Contin not an hour after we had left it; and it was really very hard to have to travel a long day's journey in such bad shoes.  We accepted his apology; and, ordering the landlord to bring in half a mutchkin of whisky, the storm blew by.  The morning, like the previous night had been thick and rainy; but it gradually cleared up as the day rose; and after breakfast we set out together along a broken footpath, never before traversed by horse and cart.  We passed a solitary lake, on whose shores the only human dwelling was a dark turf shieling, at which, however, Click-Clack ascertained there was whisky to be sold; and then entered upon a tract of scenery wholly different in its composition and character from that through which our journey had previously lain.

    There runs along the west coast of Scotland, from the island of Rum to the immediate neighbourhood of Cape Wrath, a formation, laid down by Macculloch, in his Geological Map of the Kingdom, as Old Red Sandstone, [67] but which underlies formations deemed primary—two of these of quartz rock, and a third of that unfossiliferous limestone in which the huge Cave of Smoo is hollowed, and to which the Assynt marbles belong.  The system, which, taken as a whole—quartz-rock, lime, and sandstone—corresponds bed for bed with the Lower Old Red of the east coast, and is probably a highly metamorhpic example of that great deposit, exhibits its fullest development in Assynt, where all its four component beds are present.  In the tract on which we now entered, it presents only two of these—the lower quartz-rock, and the underlying red sandstone; but whenever any of its members appear, they present unique features—marks of enormous denudation, and a bold style of landscape altogether its own; and, in now entering upon it for the first time, I was much impressed by its extraordinary character.  Loch Maree, one of the wildest of our Highland lakes, and at this time scarce at all known to the tourist, owes to it all that is peculiar in its appearance—its tall pyramidal quartz mountains, that rise at one stride, steep, and well-nigh as naked as the old Pyramids, from nearly the level of the sea, to heights on which at midsummer the snows of winter gleam white in streaks and patches; and a picturesque sandstone tract of precipitous hills, which flanks its western shore, and bore at this period the remains of one of the old pine forests.  A continuous wall of gneiss mountains, that runs along the eastern side of the lake, sinks sheer into its brown depths, save at one point, where a level tract, half-encircled by precipices, is occupied by fields and copsewood, and bears in the midst a white mansion-house; the blue expanse of the lake greatly broadens in its lower reaches; and a group of partially submerged hillocks, that resemble the forest-covered ones on its western shores, but are of lower altitude, rise over its waters, and form a miniature archipelago, grey with lichened stone, and bosky with birch and hazel.  Finding at the head of the loch that no horse and cart had ever forced their way along its sides, we had to hire a boat for the transport of at least cart and baggage; and when the boatmen were getting ready for the voyage, which was, with the characteristic dilatoriness of the district, a work of hours, we baited at the clachan of Kinlochewe—a humble Highland inn, like that in which we had passed the night.  The name—that of an old farm which stretches out along the head or upper end of the Loch Maree—has a remarkable etymology: it means simply the head of Loch Ewe—the salt-water loch into which the waters of Loch Maree empty themselves by a river little more than a mile in length, and whose present head is some sixteen or twenty miles distant from the farm which bears its name. Ere that last elevation of the land, however, to which our country owes the level marginal strip that stretches between the present coast-line and the ancient one, the sea must have found its way to the old farm. Loch Maree (Mary's Loch), [68] a name evidently of mediæval origin, would then have existed as a prolongation of the marine Loch Ewe, and Kinlochewe would have actually been what the compound words signify—the head of Loch Ewe.  There seems to be reason for holding that, ere the latest elevation of the land took place in our island, it had received its first human inhabitants—rude savages, who employed tools and weapons of stone, and fashioned canoes out of single logs of wood.  Are we to accept etymologies such as the instanced one—and there are several such in the Highlands—as good, in evidence that these aboriginal savages were of the Celtic race, and that Gaelic was spoken in Scotland at a time when its strips of grassy links, and the sites of many of its seaport towns, such as Leith, Greenock, Musselburgh, and Cromarty, existed as oozy sea-beaches, covered twice every day by the waters of the ocean?

    It was a delightful evening—still, breathless, clear—as we swept slowly across the broad breast of Loch Maree; and the red light of sinking sun fell on many a sweet wild recess, amid the labyrinth of islands purple with heath, and overhung by the birch and mountain-ash; or slanted along the broken glades of the ancient forest; or lighted up into a blush the pale stony faces of the tall pyramidal hills.  A boat bearing a wedding party was crossing the lake to the white house on the opposite side, and a piper stationed in the bows, was discoursing sweet music, that, softened by distance, and caught up by the echoes of the rocks, resembled no strain I had ever heard from the bagpipe before.  Even the boatmen rested on their oars, and I had just enough of Gaelic to know that they were remarking how very beautiful it was.  "I wish," said my comrade, "you understood these men: they have a great many curious stories about the loch, that I am sure you would like.  See you that large island?  It is Island-Maree.  There is, they tell me, an old burying-ground on it, in which the Danes used to bury long ages ago, and whose ancient tomb-stones no man can read.  And yon other island beside it is famous as the place in which the good people meet, every year to make submission to their queen.  There is they say, a little loch in the island, and an other little island in the loch; and it is under a tree on that inner island that the queen sits and gathers kain [69] for the Evil One.  They tell me that, for certain, the fairies have not left this part of the country yet."  We landed, a little after sunset, at the point from which our road led across the hills to the sea-side, but found that the carter had not yet come up; and at length, despairing of his appearance, and unable to carry off his cart and the luggage with us, as we had succeeded in bringing off cart, horse, and luggage on the previous day, we were preparing to take up our night's lodging under the shelter of an overhanging crag, when we heard him coming soliloquizing through the wood, in a manner worthy of his name, as if he were not one, but twenty carters.  "What a perfect shame of a country!" he exclaimed—"perfect shame!  Road for a horse, forsooth!—more like a turnpike stair.  And not a feed of corn for the poor beast; and not a public-house atween this and Kinlochewe; and not a drop of whisky: perfect, perfect shame of a country!"  On his coming up in apparently very bad humour, we found him disposed to transfer the shame of the country to our shoulders.  What sort of people were we, he asked, to travel in such a land without whisky!  Whisky, however, there was none to produce: there was no whisky nearer, we told him, than the public-house at the sea-side, where we proposed spending the night; and, of course, the sooner we got there the better.  And after assisting him to harness his horse, we set off in the darkening twilight, amid the hills.  Rough grey rocks, and little blue lochans, edged with flags, and mottled in their season with water-lilies, glimmered dim and uncertain in the imperfect light as we passed; but ere we reached the inn of Flowerdale in Gairloch, every object stood out clear, though cold, in the increscent light of morning; and a few light streaks of cloud, poised in the east over the unrisen sun, were gradually exchanging their gleam of pale bronze for a deep flush of mingled blood and fire.

    After the refreshment of a few hours' sleep and a tolerable breakfast, we set out for the scene of our labours, which lay on the sea-shore, about two miles further to the north and west; and were shown an outhouse—one of a square of dilapidated offices—which we might fit up, we were told, for our barrack.  The building had been originally what is known on the north-western coast of Scotland, with its ever-weeping climate, as a hay-barn; but it was now merely a roof-covered tank of green stagnant water, about three-quarters of a foot in depth, which had oozed through the walls from an over-gorged pond in the adjacent court, that in a tract of recent rains had overflowed its banks, and not yet subsided.  Our new house did look exceedingly, like a beaver-dam, with this disadvantageous difference, that no expedient of diving could bring us to better chambers on the other side of the wall.  My comrade, setting himself to sound the abyss with his stick, sung out in sailor style, "three feet water in the hold."  Click-Clack broke into a rage: "That a dwelling for human creatures!" he said. "If I was to put my horse intil't, poor beast! the very hoofs would rot off him in less than a week.  Are we eels or puddocks, [70] that we are sent to live in a loch?"  Marking, however, a narrow portion of the ridge which dammed up the waters of the neighbouring pool, whence our domicile derived its supply, I set myself to cut it across, and had soon the satisfaction of seeing the general surface lowered fully a foot, and the floor of our future dwelling laid bare.  Click-Clack, gathering courage as he saw the waters ebbing away, seized a shovel, and soon showed us the value of his many years' practice in the labours of the stable; and then, despatching him for a few cart-loads of a dry shell-sand from the shore, which I had marked by the way as suitable for mixing with our lime, we had soon for our tank of green water a fine white floor.  "Man wants but little here below," especially in a mason's barrack.  There were two square openings in the apartment, neither of them furnished with frame or glass; but the one we filled up with stone, and an old unglazed frame, which, with the assistance of a base and border of turf I succeeded in fitting into the other, gave at least an air of respectability to the place.  Boulder stones, capped with pieces of mossy turf, served us for seats; and we had soon a comfortable peat fire blazing against the gable; but we were still sadly in want of a bed; the fundamental damp of the floor was, we saw, fast gaining on the sand; and it would be neither comfortable nor safe to spread our dried grass and blankets over it.  My comrade went out to see whether the place did not furnish materials enough of any kind to make a bedstead, and soon returned in triumph, dragging after him a pair of harrows which he placed side by side in a snug corner beside the fire, with of course the teeth downwards.  A good Catholic, prepared to win heaven for himself by a judicious use of sharp points, might have preferred having them turned the other way; but my comrade was an enlightened Protestant; and besides, like Goldsmith's sailor, he loved to lie soft.  The second piece of luck was mine.  I found lying unclaimed in the yard an old barn-door, which a recent gale had blown from off its hinges; and by placing it above the harrows, and driving a row of stakes around it into the floor, to keep the outer sleeper from rolling off—for the wall served to secure the position of the inner one—we succeeded in constructing, by our joint efforts, a luxurious bed.  There was but one serious drawback on its comforts: the roof overhead was bad, and there was an obstinate drop, that used, during every shower which fell in the season of sleep, to make a dead set at my face, and try me at times with the water torture of the old story, mayhap half a dozen times in the course of a single night.

    Our barrack fairly fitted up, I set out with my comrade, whose knowledge of Gaelic enabled him to act as my interpreter, to a neighbouring group of cottages, to secure a labourer for the work of the morrow.  The evening was now beginning to darken; but there was still light enough to show me that the little fields I passed though on my way resembled very much those of Liliput, as described by Gulliver.  They were, however, though equally small, greatly more irregular, and had peculiarities, too, altogether their own.  The land had originally been stony; and as it showed, according to the Highland phrase, its "bare bones through its skin"—large bosses of the rock beneath coming here and there to the surface—the Highlanders had gathered the stones in great pyramidal heaps on the bare bosses; and so very numerous were these in some of the fields, that they looked as if some malignant sorcerer had, in the time of harvest, converted all their shocks into stone.  On approaching the cottage of our future labourer, I was attracted by a door of very peculiar construction that lay against the wall.  It had been brought from the ancient pine forest on the western bank of Loch Maree, and was formed of the roots of trees so curiously interlaced by nature, that when cut out of the soil, which it had covered over like a piece of network, it remained firmly together, and now formed a door which the mere imitator of the rustic might in vain attempt to rival.  We entered the cottage, and plunging downwards two feet or so, found ourselves upon the dunghill of the establishment, which in this part of the country usually occupied at the time an ante-chamber which corresponded to that occupied by the cattle a few years earlier, in the midland districts of Sutherland.  Groping in this foul outer chamber though a stifling atmosphere of smoke, we came to an inner door raised to the level of the soil outside, through which a red umbry gleam escaped into the darkness; and, climbing into the inner apartment, we found ourselves in the presence of the inmates of the mansion.  The fire, as in the cottage of my Sutherlandshire relative, was placed in the middle of the floor: the master of the mansion, a red-haired, strongly-built Highlander, of the middle size and age, with his son, a boy of twelve, sat on the one side; his wife, who, though not much turned of thirty, had the haggard, drooping cheeks, hollow eyes, and pale, sallow complexion of old age, sat on the other.  We broke our business to the Highlander through my companion—for, save a few words caught up at school by the boy, there was no English in the household—and found him disposed to entertain it favourably.  A large pot of potatoes hung suspended over the fire, under a dense ceiling of smoke; and he hospitably invited us to wait supper, which, as our dinner had consisted of but a piece of dry oaten cake, we willingly did.  As the conversation went on, I became conscious that it turned upon myself, and that I was an object of profound commiseration to the inmates of the cottage.  "What," I inquired of my companion, "are these kind people pitying me so very much for?"  "For your want of Gaelic, to be sure.  How can a man get on in the world that wants Gaelic?"  "But do not they themselves," I asked, "want English?"  "O yes," he said, "but what does that signify?  What is the use of English in Gairloch?"  The potatoes with a little ground salt, and much unbroken hunger as sauce, ate remarkably well.  Our host regretted that he had no fish to offer us; but a tract of rough weather had kept him from sea, and he had just exhausted his previous supply; and as for bread, he had used up the last of his grain crop a little after Christmas, and had been living, with his family, on potatoes, with fish when he could get them, ever since.

    Thirty years have now passed since I shared in the Highlander's evening meal, and during the first twenty of these, the use of the potato—unknown in the Highlands a century before—greatly increased.  I have been told by my maternal grandfather, that about the year 1740, when he was a boy of about eight or nine years of age, the head-gardener, at Balnagown Castle used, in his occasional visits to Cromarty, to bring him in his pocket, as great rarities, some three or four potatoes; and that it was not until some fifteen or twenty years after this time that he saw potatoes reared in fields in any part of the Northern Highlands.  But, once fairly employed as food, every season saw a greater breadth of them laid down.  In the North-western Highlands, in especial, the use of these roots increased from the year 1801 to the year 1846 nearly a hundredfold, and came at length to form, as in Ireland, not merely the staple, but in some localities almost the only food of the people; and when destroyed by disease in the latter year, famine immediately ensued in both Ireland and the Highlands.  A writer in the Witness, whose letter had the effect of bring that respectable paper under the eye of Mr Punch, represented the Irish famine as a direct judgment on the Maynooth Endowment; while another writer, a member of the Peace Association—whose letter did not find its way into the Witness, though it reached the editor—challenged the decision on the ground that the Scotch Highlanders, who were greatly opposed to Maynooth, suffered from the infliction nearly as much as the Irish themselves, and that the offence punished must have been surely some one of which both Highlanders and Irish had been guilty in common.  He, however, had found out, he said, what the crime visited actually was.  Both the Irish and Highland famines were judgments upon the people for their great homicidal efficiency as soldiers of the wars of the empire—an efficiency which, as he truly remarked, was almost equally characteristic of both nations.  For my own part, I have been unable hitherto to see the steps which conduct to such profound conclusions; and am content simply to hold, that the superintending Providence who communicated to man a calculating, foreseeing nature, does occasionally get angry with him, and inflict judgments upon him, when, instead of exercising his faculties he sinks to a level lower than his own, and becomes content, like some of the inferior animals, to live on a single root.

    There are two periods favourable to observation—an early and a late one.  A fresh eye detects external traits and peculiarities among a people, seen for the first time, which disappear as they become familiar; but it is not until after repeated opportunities of study, and a prolonged acquaintanceship, that internal characteristics and conditions begin to be rightly known.  During the first fortnight of my residence in this remote district, I was more impressed than at a later stage by certain peculiarities of manner and appearance in the inhabitants.  Dr Johnson remarked that he found fewer very tall or very short men among the people of the Hebrides than in England: I was now struck by a similiar mediocrity of size among the Highlanders of Western Ross; five-sixths of the grown men seemed to average between five feet seven and five feet nine inches in height, and either tall or short men I found comparatively rare.  The Highlanders of the eastern coast were, on the contrary, at that period, mayhap still, very various of stature—some of them exceedingly diminutive, others of great bulk and height; and, as might be seen in the congregations of the pariah churches removed by but a few miles, there were marked differences in this respect between the people of contiguous districts—certain tracts of plain or valley producing larger races than others.  I was inclined to believe at the time that the middle-sized Highlanders of the west coast were a less mixed race than the unequally-sized Highlanders of the east: I at least found corresponding inequalities among the higher-born Highland families, that, as shown by their genealogies, blended the Norman and Saxon with the Celtic blood; and as the unequally-sized Highland race bordered on that Scandinavian one which fringes the greater part of the eastern coast of Scotland, I inferred that there had been a similar blending of blood among them.  I have since seen, in Gustav Kombst's Ethnographic Map of the British Islands, the difference which I at this time but inferred, indicated by a different shade of colour, and a different name.  The Highlanders of the east coast Kombst terms "Scandinavian-Gaelic;" those of the west, "Gaelic-Scandinavian-Gaelic,"—names indicative, of course, of the proportions in which he holds that they possess the Celtic blood.  Disparity of bulk and size appears to be one of the consequences of a mixture of races; nor does the induced inequality seem restricted to the physical framework.  Minds of large calibre, and possessed of the kingly faculty, come first into view, in our history, among the fused tribes, just as of old it was the mixed marriages that first produced the giants.  The difference in size which I remarked in particular districts of the Scandinavian-Gaelic region, separated, in some instances, by but a ridge of hills or an expanse of moor, must have been a result of the old clan divisions, and is said to have marked the clans themselves very strongly.  Some of them were of a greatly more robust, and some of a slimmer type, than others.

    I was struck by another peculiarity in the west coast Highlanders.  I found the men in general greatly better-looking than the women, and that in middle life they bore their years much more lightly.  The females seemed old and haggard at a period when the males were still comparatively fresh and robust.  I am not sure whether the remark may not in some degree apply to Highlanders generally.  The "rugged form " and "harsher features," which, according to Sir Walter, "mark the mountain band," accord worse with the female than with the male countenance and figure.  But I at least found this discrepancy in the appearance of the sexes greatly more marked on the west than on the eastern coast; and saw only too much reason to conclude, that it was owing in great part to the disproportionately large share of crushing labour laid, in the district, in accordance with the practice of a barbarous time, on the weaker frame of the female.  There is, however, a style of female loveliness occasionally though rarely exemplified in the Highlands, which far transcends the Saxon or Scandinavian type.  It is manifested usually in extreme youth—at least between the fourteenth and eighteenth year; and its effect we find happily indicated by Wordsworth—who seems to have met with a characteristic specimen—in his lines to a Highland girl.  He describes her as possessing as her "dower," "a very shower of beauty."  Further, however, he describes her as very young.


Twice seven consenting years had shed
Their utmost bounty on her head.


I was, besides, struck at this time by finding, that while almost all the young lads under twenty with whom I came in contact had at least a smattering of English, I found only a single Highlander turned of forty with whom I could exchange a word.  The exceptional Highlander was, however, a curiosity in his way.  He seemed to have a natural turn for acquiring languages, and had derived his English, not from conversation, but, in the midst of a Gaelic-speaking people, from the study of the Scriptures in our common English version.  His application of Bible language to ordinary subjects told at times with rather ludicrous effect.  Upon inquiring of him, on one occasion, regarding a young man whom we wished to employ as an extra labourer, he described him in exactly the words in which David is described in the chapter that records the combat with Goliath, as "but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance;" and on asking where he thought we could get a few loads of water-rolled pebbles for causewaying a floor, he directed us to the bed of a neighbouring rivulet, where we might "choose us," he said, "smooth stones out of the brook."  He spoke with great deliberation, translating evidently his Gaelic thinking, as he went on, into scriptural English.


 
CHAPTER XIII.


                            A man of glee
    With hair of glittering grey,
As blythe a man as you could see
    On a spring holiday.—W
ORDSWORTH.


THERE existed at this time no geological map of Scotland.  Macculloch's did not appear until about six or seven years after (in 1829 or 1830), and Sedgwick and Murchison's interesting sketch of the northern formations [71] not until at least five years after (1828).  And so, on setting out on the morning after that of my arrival, to provide stones for our future erection, I found myself in a terra incognita, new to the quarrier, and unknown to the geologist.  Most of the stratified primary rocks make but indifferent building materials; and in the immediate neighbourhood of our work I could find only one of the worst of the class—the schistose gneiss.  On consulting, however, the scenery of the district, I marked that at a certain point both shores of the open sea-loch on whose margin we were situated suddenly changed their character.  The abrupt rugged hills of gneiss that, viewed from an eminence, resembled a tumbling sea, suddenly sank into low brown promontories, unbroken by ravines, and whose eminences were mere flat swellings; and in the hope of finding some change of formation coincident with the change of scenery, I set out with my comrade for the nearest point at which the broken outline passed into the rectilinear or merely undulatory one.  But though I did expect a change, it was not without some degree of surprise that, immediately after passing the point of junction, I found myself in a district of red sandstone.  It was a hard, compact, dark-coloured stone, but dressed readily to pick and hammer, and made excellent corner-stones and ashlar; and it would have furnished us with even hewn work for our building, had not our employer, unacquainted, like every one else at the time, with the mineral capabilities of the locality, brought his hewing stone in a sloop, at no small expense, through the Caledonian Canal, from one of the quarries of Moray—a circuitous voyage of more than two hundred miles.

    Immediately beside where we opened our quarry, there was a little solitary shieling: it was well-nigh such an edifice as I used to erect when a boy—some eight or ten feet in length, and of so humble an altitude, that, when standing erect in the midst, I could lay my hand on the roof-tree.  A heath-bed occupied one of the corners; a few grey embers were smouldering in the middle of the floor; a pot lay beside them, ready for use, half-filled with cockles and razor-fish, the spoils of the morning ebb; and a cog of milk occupied a small shelf that projected from the gable above.  Such were the contents of the shieling.  Its only inmate, a lively little old man, sat outside, at once tending a few cows grouped on the moor, and employed in stripping with a pocket-knife, long slender filaments from off a piece of moss fir; and as he wrought and watched, he crooned a Gaelic song, not very musically mayhap, but, like the happy song of the humble-bee, there was perfect content in every tone.  He had a great many curious questions to ask in his native Gaelic, of my comrade, regarding our employment and our employer; and when satisfied, he began, I perceived, like the Highlander of the previous evening, to express very profound commiseration for me.  "Is that man also pitying me?" I asked.  "O yes, very much," was the reply: "he does not at all see how you are to live in Gairloch without Gaelic."  I was reminded by the sheiling and its happy inmate, of one of my father's experiences, as communicated to me by Uncle James.  In the course of a protracted kelp voyage among the Hebrides, he had landed in his boat, before entering one of the sounds of the Long Island, to procure a pilot, but found in the fisherman's cottage on which he had directed his course, only the fisherman's wife—a young creature of not more than eighteen—engaged in nursing her child, and singing a Gaelic song, in tones expressive of a light heart, till the rocks rang again.  A heath bed, a pot of baked clay, of native manufacture, fashioned by the hand, and a heap of fish newly caught, seemed to constitute the only wealth of the cottage; but its mistress was, notwithstanding, one of the happiest of women; and deeply did she commiserate the poor sailors, and earnestly wish for the return of her husband, that he might assist them in their perplexity.  The husband at length appeared.  "Oh," he asked, after the first greeting, "have you any salt?"  "Plenty," said the master; "and you, I see, from your supply of fresh fish, want it very much; but come, pilot us through the sound, and you shall have as much salt as you require."  And so the vessel got a pilot, and the fisherman got salt; but never did my father forget the light-hearted song of the happy mistress of that poor Highland cottage.  It was one of the palpable characteristics of our Scottish Highlanders, for at least the first thirty years of the century, that they were contented enough, as a people, to find more to pity than to envy in the condition of their neighbours; and I remember that at this time, and for years after, I used to deem the trait a good one.  I have now, however, my doubts on the subject, and am not quite sure whether a content so general as to be national may not, in certain circumstances, be rather a vice than a virtue.  It is certainly no virtue when it has the effect of arresting either individuals or peoples in their course of development; and is perilously allied to great suffering, when the men who exemplify it are so thoroughly happy amid the mediocrities of the present, that they fail to make provision for the contingencies of the future.

    We were joined in about a fortnight by the other workmen from the Low country, and I resigned my temporary charge (save that I still retained the time-book in my master's behalf) into the hands of an ancient mason, remarkable over the north of Scotland for his skill as an operative, and who, though he was now turned of sixty, was still able to build and hew considerably more than the youngest and most active man in the squad.  He was at this time the only survivor of three brothers, all masons, and all not merely first-class workmen, but of a class to which, at least to the north of the Grampians, only they themselves belonged, and very considerably in advance of the first.  And on the removal of the second of the three brothers to the south of Scotland, it was found that, amid the stonecutters of Glasgow, David Fraser held relatively the same place that he had done among those of the north.  I have been told by Mr Kenneth Matheson—a gentleman well known as a master-builder in the west of Scotland—that in erecting some hanging stairs of polished stone, ornamented in front and at the outer edge by the common fillet and torus, his ordinary workmen used to complete for him their one step a-piece per day and David Fraser his three steps, finished equally well.  It is easily conceivable how, in the higher walks of art, one man should excel a thousand—nay, how he should have neither competitor when living, nor successor when dead.  The English gentleman, who, after the death of Canova, asked a surviving brother of the sculptor whether he purposed carrying on Canova's business, found that he had achieved in the query an unintentional joke.  But in the commoner avocations there appear no such differences between man and man; and it may seem strange how, in ordinary stone-cutting, one man could thus perform the work of three.  My acquaintance with old John Fraser showed me how very much the ability depended on a natural faculty.  John's strength had never been above the average of that of Scotchmen, and it was now considerably reduced; nor did his mallet deal more or heavier blows than that of the common workman.  He had, however, an extraordinary power of conceiving of the finished piece of work, as lying within the rude stone from which it was his business to disinter it; and while ordinary stone-cutters had to repeat and re-repeat their lines and draughts, and had in this way virtually to give to their work several surfaces in detail ere they reached the true one, old John cut upon the true figure at once, and made one surface serve for all.  In building, too, he exercised a similar power: he hammer-dressed his stones with fewer strokes than other workmen, and in fitting the interspaces between stones already laid, always picked from out of the heap at his feet the stone that exactly fitted the place; while other operatives busied themselves in picking up stones that were too small or too large; or, if they set themselves to reduce the too large ones, reduced them too little or too much, and had to fit and fit again.  Whether building or hewing, John never seemed in a hurry.  He has been seen, when far advanced in life, working very leisurely as became his years, on the one side of a wall, and two stout young fellows building against him on the other side—toiling, apparently, twice harder than he, but the old man always contriving to keep a little a-head of them both.

    David Fraser I never saw; but as a hewer he was said considerably to excel even his brother John.  On hearing that it had been remarked among a party of Edinburgh masons, that, though regarded, as the first of Glasgow stone-cutters, he would find in the eastern capital at least his equals, he attired himself most uncouthly, in a long-tailed coat of tartan, and, looking to the life the untamed, untaught, conceited little Celt, he presented himself on Monday morning, armed with a letter of introduction from a Glasgow builder, before the foreman of an Edinburgh squad of masons engaged upon one of the finer buildings at that time in the course of erection.  The letter specified neither his qualifications nor his name: it had been written merely to secure for him the necessary employment, and the necessary employment it did secure.  The better workmen of the party were engaged, on his arrival, in hewing columns, each of which was deemed sufficient work for a week; and David was asked, somewhat incredulously, by the foreman, "if he could hew?"  "O yes, he thought he could hew."  "Could he hew columns such as these?"  "O yes, he thought he could hew columns such as these." A mass of stone in which a possible column lay hid, was accordingly placed before David, not under cover of the shed, which was already occupied by workmen, but, agreeably to David's own request, directly in front of it, where he might be seen by all, and where he straightway commenced a most extraordinary course of antics.  Buttoning his long tartan coat fast around him, he would first look along the stone from the one end, anon from the other, and then examine it in front and rear; or, quitting it altogether for the time, he would take up his stand beside the other workmen, and, after looking at them with great attention, return and give it a few taps with the mallet, in a style evidently imitative of theirs, but monstrously a caricature.  The shed all that day resounded with roars of laughter; and the only thoroughly grave man on the ground was he who occasioned the mirth of all the others.  Next morning David again buttoned his coat; but he got on much better this day than the former: he was less awkward and less idle, though not less observant than before: and he succeeded ere evening in tracing, in workman-like fashion, a few draughts along the future column.  He was evidently greatly improving.  On the morning of Wednesday he threw off his coat; and it was seen that, though by no means in a hurry, he was seriously at work.  There were no more jokes or laughter; and it was whispered in the evening that the strange Highlander had made astonishing progress during the day.  By the middle of Thursday he had made up for his two days' trifling, and was abreast of the other workmen; before night he was afar head of them; and ere the evening of Friday, when they had still a full day's work on each of their columns, David's was completed in a style that defied criticism; and, his tartan coat again buttoned around him, he sat resting himself beside it.  The foreman went out and greeted him.  "Well," he said, "you have beaten us all: you certainly can hew!"  "Yes," said David; "I thought I could hew columns.  Did the other men take much more than a week to learn?"  "Come, come, David Fraser," replied the foreman; "we all guess who you are: you have had your joke out; and now, I suppose, we must give you your week's wages, and let you away."  "Yes," said David; "work waits for me in Glasgow; but I just thought it might be well to know how you hewed on this east side of the country."

    John Fraser was a shrewd, sarcastic old man, much liked, however, by his brother workmen; though his severe sayings—which, never accompanied by any ill-nature, were always tolerated in the barrack—did both himself and them occasional harm when repeated outside.  To men who have to live for months together on oatmeal and salt, the difference between porridge with and porridge without milk is a very great difference indeed, both in point of salutariness and comfort; and I had succeeded in securing, on the ordinary terms, ere the arrival of John, what was termed a set [72] of skimmed milk [73] from the wife of the gentleman at whose dwelling-house we were engaged in working.  The skimmed milk was, however, by no means good: it was thin, blue, and sour; and we received it without complaint only because we knew that, according to the poet, it was "better just than want aye," and that there was no other dairy in that part of the country.  But old John was less prudent; and, taking the dairy-maid to task in his quiet ironical style, he began by expressing wonder and regret that a grand lady like her mistress should be unable to distinguish the difference between milk and wine.  The maid indignantly denied the fact in toto: her mistress, she said, did know the difference.  "O no," replied John; "wine always gets better the longer it is kept, and milk always the worse; but your mistress, not knowing the difference, keeps her milk very long, in order to make it better, and makes it so very bad in consequence, that there are some days we can scarce eat it at all."  The dairy-maid bridled up, and, communicating the remark to her mistress, we were told next morning that we might go for our milk to the next dairy, if we pleased, but that we would get none from her.  And so, for four months thereafter, we had to do penance for the joke, on that not very luxurious viand "dry porridge."  The pleasures of the table had occupied but small space amid the very scanty enjoyments of our barrack even before, and they were now so considerably reduced, that I could have almost wished at mealtimes that—like the inhabitants of the moon, as described by Baron Munchausen—I could open up a port-hole in my side, and lay in at once provisions enough for a fortnight; but the infliction told considerably more on our constitutions than on our appetites; and we all became subject to small but very painful boils in the muscular parts of the body—a species of disease which seems to be scarce less certainly attendant on the exclusive use of oatmeal, than sea-scurvy on the exclusive use of salt meat.  Old John, however, though in a certain sense the author of our calamity, escaped all censure, while a double portion fell to the share of the gentleman's wife.

    I never met a man possessed of a more thoroughly mathematical head than this ancient mason.  I know not that he ever saw a copy of Euclid; but the principles of the work seemed to lie as self-evident truths in his mind.  In the ability, too, of drawing shrewd inferences from natural phenomena, old John Fraser excelled all the other untaught men I ever knew.  Until my acquaintance with him commenced, I had been accustomed to hear the removal of what was widely known in the north of Scotland as "the travelled stone of Petty," [74] attributed to super natural agency.  An enormous boulder had been carried in the night-time by the fairies, it was said, from its resting place on the sea-beach, into the middle of a little bay—a journey of several hundred feet; but old John, though he had not been on the spot at the time, at once inferred that it had been carried, not by the fairies, but by a thick cake of ice, considerable enough, when firmly clasped round it, to float it away.  He had seen, he told me, stones of considerable size floated off by ice on the shore opposite his cottage, in the upper reaches of the Cromarty Firth: ice was an agent that sometimes "walked off with great stones;" whereas he had no evidence whatever that the fairies had any powers that way; and so he accepted the agent which he knew, as the true one in the removal of the travelled stone, and not the hypothetical agents of which he knew nothing.  Such was the natural philosophy of old John; and in this special instance geologic science has since fully confirmed his decision.  He was chiefly a favourite among us, however, from his even and cheerful temper, and his ability of telling humorous stories, that used to set the barrack in a roar, and in which he never spared himself, if the exhibition of a weakness or absurdity gave but point to the fun.  His narrative of a visit to Inverness, which he had made when an apprentice lad, to see a sheep-stealer hung, and his description of the terrors of a night-journey back, in which he fancied he saw men waving in the wind on almost every tree, till on reaching his solitary barrack he was utterly prostrated by the apparition of his own great-coat suspended from a pin, has oftener than once convulsed us with laughter.  But John's humorous confessions, based as they always were on a strong good sense, that always saw the early folly in its most ludicrous aspect, never lowered him in our eyes.  Of his wonderful skill as a workman, much was incommunicable; but it was at least something to know the principles on which he directed the operations of what a phrenologist would perhaps term his extraordinary faculties of form and size; and so I recognise old John as one of not the least useful nor able of my many teachers.  Some of his professional lessons were of a kind which the south and east country masons would be the better for knowing.  In that rainy district of Scotland of which we at this time occupied the central tract, rubble walls built in the ordinary style leak like the bad roofs of other parts of the country; and mansion houses constructed within its precincts by qualified workmen from Edinburgh and Glasgow have been found to admit the water in such torrents as to be uninhabitable, until their more exposed walls had been slated over like their roofs.  Old John, however, always succeeded in building water-tight walls.  Departing from the ordinary rule of the builder elsewhere, and which on the east coast of Scotland he himself always respected, he slightly elevated the under beds of his stones, instead of laying them, as usual, on the dead level; while along the edges of their upper beds he struck off a small rude champer; and by these simple contrivances, the rain, though driven with violence against his work, coursed in streams along its face, without entering into the interior and soaking through.

    For about six weeks we had magnificent weather—clear, sunny skies, and calm seas; and I greatly enjoyed my evening rambles amid the hills, or along the sea-shore.  I was struck, in these walks, by the amazing abundance of the wild flowers which covered the natural meadows and lower hill-slopes—an abundance, as I have since remarked, equally characteristic of both the northern and western islands of Scotland.  The lower slopes of Gairloch, of western Sutherland, of Orkney, and of the northern Hebrides generally—though, for the purposes of the agriculturist, vegetation languishes, and wheat is never reared—are by many degrees richer in wild flowers than the fat loamy meadows of England.  They resemble gaudy pieces of carpeting, as abundant in petals as in leaves.  Little of the rare is to be detected in these meadows, save, perhaps, that in those of the western Sutherland a few Alpine plants may be found at a greatly lower level than elsewhere in Britain; but the vast profusion of blossoms borne by species common to almost every other part of the kingdom, imparts to them an apparently novel character.  We may detect, I am inclined to think, in this singular floral profusion, the operation of a law not less influential in the animal than the vegetable world, which, when hardship presses upon the life of the individual shrub or quadruped, so as to threaten its vitality, renders it fruitful on behalf of its species.  I have seen the principle strikingly exemplified in the common tobacco plant, when reared in a northern country, in the open air.  Year after year it continued to degenerate, and to exhibit a smaller leaf and shorter stem, until the successors of what in the first year of trial had been vigorous plants, of some three to four feet in height, had in the sixth or eighth become mere weeds, of scarce as many inches.  But while the as yet undegenerate plant had merely borne atop a few florets, which produced a small quantity of exceedingly minute seeds, the stunted weed, its descendant, was so thickly covered over in its season with its pale yellow bells, as to present the appearance of a nosegay; and the seeds produced were not only bulkier in the mass, but also individually of much greater size.  The tobacco had grown productive in proportion as it had degenerated.  In the common scurvy-grass, too—remarkable, with some other plants for taking its place among both the productions of our Alpine heights and of our sea-shores—it will be found that, in proportion as its habitat proves ungenial, and its leaves and stems become dwarfish and thin, its little white cruciform flowers increase, till, in localities where it barely exists, as if on the edge of extinction, we find the entire plant forming a dense bundle of seed vessels, each charged to the full with seed.  And in the gay meadows of Gairloch and Orkney, crowded with a vegetation that approaches its northern limit of production, we detect what seems to be the same principle chronically operative; and hence, it would seem, their extraordinary gaiety.  Their richly blossoming plants are the poor productive Irish of the vegetable world; for Doubleday seems quite in the right in holding that the law extends to not only the inferior animals, but to our own species also.  The lean, ill-fed cow and rabbit rear, it has been long known, a greatly more numerous progeny than the same animals when well cared for and fat; and every horse and cattle breeder knows that to over-feed his animals proves a sure mode of rendering them sterile.  The sheep, if tolerably well pastured, brings forth only a single lamb at a birth; but if half-starved and lean, the chances are that it may bring forth two or three.  And so it is also with the greatly higher human race.  Place them in circumstances of degradation and hardship so extreme as almost to threaten their existence as individuals, and they increase, as if in behalf of the species, with a rapidity without precedent in circumstances of greater comfort.  The aristocratic families of a country are continually running out; and it requires frequent creations to keep up the House of Lords; whereas our poorer people seem increasing in more than the arithmetical ratio.  In Skye, though fully two-thirds of the population emigrated early in the latter half of the last century, a single generation had scarce passed ere the gap was completely filled; and miserable Ireland, as it existed ere the famine, would have been of itself sufficient, had the human family no other breeding-place, to people in a few ages the world.  Here, too, in close neighbourhood with the flower-covered meadows, were there miserable cottages that were swarming with children—cottages in which, for nearly the half of every twelvemonth the cereals were unknown as food, and whose over-toiled female inmates did all the domestic work, and more than half the work of the little fields outside.

    How exquisitely the sun sets in a clear, calm, summer evening over the blue Hebrides!  Within less than a mile of our barrack, there rose a tall hill, whose bold summit commanded all the Western Isles, from Sleat in Skye, to the Butt of the Lewis.  To the south lay the trap [75] islands; to the north and west, the gneiss ones.  They formed, however, seen from this hill, one great group, which, just as the sun had sunk, and sea and sky were so equally bathed in gold as to exhibit on the horizon no dividing line, seemed in their transparent purple—darker or lighter according to the distance—a group of lovely clouds, that, though moveless in the calm, the first light breeze might sweep away.  Even the flat promontories of sandstone, which, like outstretched arms, enclosed the outer reaches of the foreground—promontories edged with low red cliffs, and covered with brown heath—used to borrow at these times, from the soft yellow beam, a beauty not their own.  Amid the inequalities of the gneiss region within—a region more broken and precipitous, but of humbler altitude, than the great gneiss tract of the midland Highlands—the chequered light and shade lay, as the sun declined, in strongly contrasted patches, that betrayed the abrupt inequalities of the ground, and bore, when all around was warm, tinted, and bright, a hue of cold neutral grey; while immediately over and beyond this rough sombre base there rose two noble pyramids of red sandstone, about two thousand feet in height, that used to flare to the setting sun in bright crimson. and whose nearly horizontal strata, deeply scored along the lines, like courses of ashlar in an ancient wall, added to the mural effect communicated by their bare fronts and steep rectilinear outlines.  These tall pyramids form the terminal members, towards the south, of an extraordinary group of sandstone hills, of denudation unique in the British islands, to which I have already referred, and which extends from the northern boundary of Assynt to near Applecross.  But though I formed at this time my first acquaintance with the group, it was not until many years after that I had an opportunity of determining the relations of their component beds to each other, and to the fundamental rocks of the country.

    At times my walks were directed along the sea-shore. Naturalists well know how much the western coasts of Scotland differ in their productions from its eastern ones; but it was a difference wholly new to me at this time; and though my limited knowledge enabled me to detect it in but comparatively few particulars, I found it no uninteresting task to trace it for myself in even these few. I was first attracted by one of the larger sea-weeds Himanthalia lorea [76]—with its cup-shaped disc and long thong-like receptacles—which I found very abundant on the rocks here, but which I had never seen in the upper reaches of the Moray Firth, and which is by no means very common on any portion of the east coast.  From the sea-weeds I passed to the shells, among which I detected not only a difference in the proportions in which the various species occurred, but also species that were new to me—such as a shell, not rare in Gairloch, Nassa reticulata, [77] but rarely if ever seen in the Moray or Cromarty Firths; and three other shells which I saw here for the first time, Trochus umbilicatus, Trochus magus [78] and Pecten niveus. [79]  I found, too, that the common edible oyster, ostrea edulis, which on the east coast lies always in comparatively deep water, is sometimes found in the Gairloch, as, for instance, in the little bay opposite the Flowerdale, in beds laid bare by the ebb of stream-tides.  It is always interesting to come unexpectedly either upon a new species or a striking peculiarity in an old one; and I deemed it a curious and suggestive fact that there should be British shells still restricted to our western shores, and that have not yet made their way into the German Ocean, along the coasts of either extremity of the island.  Are we to infer that they are shells of more recent origin than the widely-diffused ones? or are they merely feebler in their reproductive powers? and is the German Ocean, as some of our geologists hold, a comparatively modern sea, into which only the hardier mollusca of rapid increase have yet made their way?  Further, I found that the true fishes differ considerably in the group on the opposite sides of the island.  The haddock and whiting are greatly more common on the east coast: the hake and horse mackerel very much more abundant on the west.  Even where the species are the same on both sides, the varieties are different.  The herring of the west coast is a short, thick, richly-flavoured fish, greatly superior to the large lean variety so abundant on the east; whereas the west coast cod are large-headed, thin-bodied, pale-coloured, fishes, inferior, even in their best season, to the darker-coloured; small-headed variety of the east.  In no respect do the two coasts differ more, or at least to the north of the Grampians, than in the transparency of the water.  The bottom is rarely seen on the east coast at a depth of more than twenty feet, and not often at more than twelve; whereas on the west I have seen it very distinctly, during a tract of dry weather, at a depth of sixty or seventy feet.  The handles of the spears used in Gairloch in spearing flat fish and the common edible crab (Cancer Pagurus), are sometimes five-and-twenty feet in length—a length which might in vain be given to spear-handles upon the east coast, seeing that there, at such a depth of water, flat fish or crab was never yet seen from the surface.

    Deceived by this transparency, I have plunged oftener than once over head and ears when bathing among the rocks, in pools where I had confidently expected to find footing.  From a rock that rose abrupt as a wall from the low-water level of stream tides to a little above the line of flood, I occasionally amused myself, when the evenings were calm, in practising the Indian method of diving—that in which the diver carries a weight with him, to facilitate his sinking, and keep him steadily at the bottom.  I used to select an oblong-shaped stone, of sixteen or eighteen pounds' weight, but thin enough to be easily held in one hand; and after grasping it fast, and quitting the rock edge, I would in a second or two find myself on the grey pebble-strewed ooze beneath, some twelve or fifteen feet from the surface, where I found I could steadily remain, picking up any small objects I chanced to select, until, breath failing, I quitted my hold of the stone.  And then two or three seconds more were always sufficient to bring me to the surface again.  There are many descriptions, in the works of the poets, of submarine scenery, but it is always scenery such as may be seen by an eye looking down into the water—not by an eye enveloped in it—and very different from that with which I now became acquainted.  I found that in these hasty trips to the bottom I could distinguish masses and colours, but that I always failed to determine outlines.  The minuter objects—pebbles, shells, and the smaller bunches of sea-weed—always assumed the circular form; the larger, such as detached rocks, and patches of sand, appeared as if described by irregular curves.  The dingy gneiss rock rose behind and over me like a dark cloud, thickly dotted with minute circular spots of soiled white—the aspect assumed, as seen through the water, by the numerous specimens of univalve shells (Purpura lapillus [80] and Patella vulgata [81]) with which it was speckled; beneath, the irregular floor seemed covered by a carpet that somewhat resembled in the pattern a piece of marbled paper, save that the circular or oval patches of which it was composed, and which had as their nuclei, stones, rocks, shell-fish, bunches of fuci, and fronds of laminaria, were greatly larger.  There spread around a misty groundwork of green intensely deep along its horizon, but comparatively light overhead, in its middle sky, which had always its prodigy—wonderful circlets of light, that went widening outwards, and with whose delicate green there mingled occasional flashes of pale crimson.  Such was the striking though somewhat meagre scenery of a sea-bottom in Gairloch, as seen by a human eye submerged in from two to three fathoms of water.

    There still continued to linger in this primitive district, at the time, several curious arts and implements, that had long become obsolete in most other parts of the Highlands, and of which the remains, if found in England or the Low country, would have been regarded by the antiquary as belonging to very remote periods.  During the previous winter I had read a little work descriptive of an ancient ship, supposed to be Danish, which had been dug out of the slit of an English river, and which, among other marks of antiquity, exhibited seams caulked with moss—a peculiarity which had set at fault, it was said, the modern ship-carpenter, in the chronology of his art, as he was unaware that there had ever been a time when moss was used for such a purpose.  On visiting, however, a boat-yard at Gairloch, I found the Highland builder engaged in laying a layer of dried moss, steeped in tar, along one of his seams, and learned that such had been the practice of boat-carpenters in that locality from time immemorial.  I have said that the little old Highlander of the solitary shieling, whom we met on first commencing our quarrying labours beside his hut, was engaged in stripping with a pocket-knife long slender filaments from off a piece of moss-fir.  He was employed in preparing these ligneous fibres for the manufacture of a primitive kind of cordage, in large use among the fishermen, and which possessed a strength and flexibility that could scarce have been expected from materials of such venerable age and rigidity as the roots and trunks of ancient trees, that had been locked up in the peat mosses of the district for mayhap a thousand years.  Like the ordinary cordage of the rope-maker, it consisted of three strands, and was employed for haulsers, the cork-bauks of herring-nets, and the lacing of sails.  Most of the sails themselves were made, not of canvas, but of a woollen stuff, the thread of which, greatly harder and stouter than that of common plaid, had been spun on the distaff and spindle.  As hemp and flax must have been as rare commodities of old in the western Highlands, and the Hebrides generally, as they both were thirty years ago in Gairloch, whereas moss-fir must have been abundant, and sheep, however coarse their fleeces, common enough, it seems not improbable that the old Highland fleets that fought in the "Battle of the Bloody Bay," [82] or that, in troublous times, when Donald quarrelled with the king, ravaged the coasts of Arran and Ayrshire, may have been equipped with similar sails and cordage.  Scott describes the fleet of the "Lord of the Isles," in the days of the Bruce, as consisting of "proud galleys," "streamered with silk and tricked with gold."  I suspect he would have approved himself a truer antiquary, though mayhap worse poet, had he described it as composed of very rude carvels, caulked with moss, furnished with sails of dun-coloured woollen stuff still redolent of the oil, and rigged out with brown cordage formed of the twisted fibres of moss-fir.  The distaff and spindle was still, as I have said, in extensive use in the district.  In a scattered village in the neighbourhood of our barrack, in which all the adult females were ceaselessly engaged in the manufacture of yarn, there was not a single spinning-wheel.  Nor, though all its cottages had their little pieces of tillage, did it boast its horse or plough.  The cottars turned up the soil with the old Highland implement, the cass-chron; [83] and the necessary manure was carried to the fields in spring, and the produce brought home in autumn, on the backs of the women, in square wicker-work panniers with slip-bottoms.  How these poor Highland women did toil!  I have paused amid my labours under the hot sun, to watch them as they passed, bending under their load of peat or manure, and at the same time twirling the spindle as they crept long, and drawing out the never-ending thread from the distaff stuck in their girdles.  Their appearance in most cases betrayed their life of hardship.  I scarce saw a Gairloch woman of the humbler class turned of thirty, who was not thin sallow, and prematurely old.  The men, their husbands and brothers, were by no means worn out with hard work.  I have seen them, time after time, sunning themselves on a mossy bank, when the females were thus engaged; and used, with my brother-workmen—who were themselves Celts, but of the industrious hard-working type—to feel sufficiently indignant at the lazy fellows.  But the arrangement which gave them rest, and their wives and sisters hard labour, seemed to be as much the off-spring of a remote age as the woollen sails and the moss fir cordage.  Several other ancient practices and implements had at this time just disappeared from the district.  A good mealmill of the modern construction had superseded, not a generation before, several small mills with horizontal water wheels, of that rude antique type which first supplanted the still more ancient handmill.  These horizontal mills still exist, however—at least they did so only two years ago—in the gneiss region of Assynt.  The antiquary sometimes forgets that, tested by his special rules for determining periods, several ages may be found contemporary in contiguous districts of the same country, I am old enough to have seen the handmill at work in the north of Scotland; and the traveller into the Highlands of western Sutherland might have witnessed the horizontal mill in action only two years ago.  But to the remains of either, if dug out of the mosses or sand-hills of the southern counties, we would assign an antiquity of centuries.  In the same way, the unglazed earthen pipkin, fashioned by the hand without the assistance of the potter's wheel, is held to belong to the "bronze and atone periods" of the antiquary; and yet my friend of the Doocot Cave, when minister of Small Isles, found the remains of one of these pipkins in the famous charnel cave [84] of Eigg, which belonged to an age not earlier than that of Mary, and more probably pertained to that of her son James; and I have since learned, that in the southern portions of the Long Island, this same hand-moulded pottery [85] of the bronze period has been fashioned for domestic use during the early part of the present century.  A chapter devoted to these lingering, or only recently departed, arts of the primitive ages, would be a curious one; but I fear the time for writing it is now well-nigh past.  My few facts on the subject may serve to show that, even as late as the year 1823, some three days' journey into the Highlands might be regarded as analogous in some respects to a journey into the past of some three or four centuries.  But even since that comparatively recent period the Highlands have greatly changed.

    After some six or eight weeks of warm sunny days and lovely evenings, there came on a dreary tract of rainy weather, with strong westerly gales; and for three months together, while there was scarce a day that had not its shower, some days had half-a-dozen.  Gairloch occupies, as I have said, exactly the focus of that great curve of annual rain which, impinging on our western shores from the Atlantic, extends from the north of Assynt to the south of Mull, and exhibits on the rain-gauge an average of thirty-five yearly inches—an average very considerably above the medium quantity that falls in any other part of Great Britian, save a small tract at the Land's End, included in a southern curve of equal fall.  The rain-fall of this year, however, must have stood very considerably above even this high average; and the corn crops of the poor Highlanders soon began to testify to the fact.  There had been a larger than ordinary promise during the fine weather; but in the danker hollows the lodged oats and barley now lay rotting on the ground, or, on the more exposed heights, stood up, shorn of the ears, as mere naked spikes of straw.  The potatoes, too, had become soft and watery, and must have formed but indifferent food to the poor Highlanders, condemned, even in better seasons, to feed upon them during the greater part of the year, and now thrown upon them almost exclusively by the failure of the corn crop.  The cottars of the neighbouring village were on other accounts in more than usually depressed circumstances at the time. Each family paid to the laird for its patch of corn land, and the pasturage of a wide upland moor, on which each kept three cows a-piece, a small yearly rent of three pounds.  The males were all fishermen as well as crofters; and, small as the rent was, they derived their only means of paying it from the sea—chiefly, indeed, from the herring fishery—which, everywhere an uncertain and precarious source of supply, is more so here than in most other places on the north-western coasts of Scotland.  And as for three years together the herring fishing had failed in the Loch, they had been unable, term after term, to meet with the laird, and were now three years in arrears.  Fortunately for them, he was a humane, sensible man, comfortable enough in his circumstances to have, what Highland proprietors often have not, the complete command of his own affairs; but they all felt that their cattle were their own only by sufferance, and so long as he forbore urging his claims against them; and they entertained but little hope of ultimate extrication.  I saw among these poor men much of that indolence of which the country has heard not a little; and could not doubt, from the peculiar aspects in which it presented itself, that it was, as I have said, a long-derived hereditary indolence, in which their fathers and grandfathers had indulged for centuries.  But there was certainly little in their circumstances to lead to the formation of new habits of industry.  Even a previously industrious people, were they to be located within the great north-western curve of thirty-five inch rain, to raise corn and potatoes for the autumnal storms to blast, and to fish in the laird's behalf herrings that year after year refused to come to be caught, would, I suspect, in a short time get nearly as indolent as themselves.  And certainly, judging from the contrast which my brother-workmen presented to these Highlanders of the west coast, the indolence which we saw, and for which my comrades had no tolerance whatever, could scarce be described as inherently Celtic.  I myself was the only genuine Lowlander of our party.  John Fraser, who, though turned of sixty, would have laid or hewn stone for stone with the most diligent Saxon mason in Britain or elsewhere, was a true Celt of the Scandinavian-Gaelic variety; and all our other masons—Macdonalds, M'Leods, and Mackays, hard-working men, who were content to toil from season to season, and all day long—were true Celts also.  But they had been bred on the eastern border of the Highlands, in a sandstone district, where they had the opportunity of acquiring a trade, and of securing in the working season regular well-remunerated employment; and so they had developed into industrious, skilled mechanics, of at least the ordinary efficiency.  There are other things much more deeply in fault as producing causes of the indolence of the west-coast Highlander than his Celtic blood.

    On finishing the dwelling-house upon which we had been engaged, nearly one-half the workmen quitted the squad for the low country, and the remainder removed to the neighbourhood of the inn at which we had spent our first night, or rather morning, in the place, to build a kitchen and store-room for the inn-keeper.  Among the others, we lost the society of Click-Clack, who had been a continual source of amusement and annoyance to us in the barrack all the season long.  We soon found that he was regarded by the Highlanders in our neighbourhood with feelings of the intensest horror and dread: they had learned somehow that he used to be seen in the low country flitting suspiciously at nights about churchyards, and was suspected of being a resurrectionist; and not one of the ghouls or vampires of eastern story could have been more feared or hated in the regions which they were believed to infest, than a resurrectionist in the Western Highlands.  Click-Clack had certainly a trick of wandering about at nights; and not unfrequently did he bring, on his return from some nocturnal ramble, dead bodies with him into the barrack; but they were invariably the dead bodies of cod, gurnard, and hake.  I know not where his fishing-bank lay, or what bait he employed; but I observed that almost all the fish which he caught were ready dried and salted.  Old John Fraser was not without suspicion that there were occasional interferences on the part of the carter with the integrity of our meal-barrel; and I have seen the old man smoothing the surface of the meal just before quitting the barrack for his work, and inscribing upon it with his knife-point the important moral injunction, "Thou shalt not steal," in such a way as to render it impossible to break the commandment within the precincts of the barrel, without, at the same time, effacing some of its characters.  And these once effaced, Click-Clack, as he was no writer himself, and had no assistant or confidant, could not have re-inscribed.  Ere quitting us for the low country, I bargained with him that he should carry my blanket in his cart to Conon-side, and gave him a shilling and a dram in advance, as pay for the service.  He carried it, however, no further than the next inn, where, pledging it for a second shilling and second dram, he left me to relieve it as I passed.  Poor Click-Clack, though one of the cleverest of his class, was decidedly half-witted; and I may remark, as at least curious, that though I have known idiocy in its unmixed state united to great honesty, and capable of disinterested attachment, I never yet knew one of the half-witted caste who was not selfish and a rogue.

    We were unlucky in our barracks this season.  Ere completing our first piece of work, we had to quit the hay-barn, our earliest dwelling, to make way for the proprietor's hay, and to shelter in a cow-house, where, as the place had no chimney, we were nearly suffocated by smoke; and we now found the inn-keeper, our new employer, speculating, like the magistrates in Joe Miller, on the practicability of lodging us in a building, the materials of which were to be used in erecting the one which we were engaged to build.  We did our best to solve the problem, by hanging up at the end of the doomed hovel—which had been a salt-store in its day, and was in damp weather ever sweating salt-water—a hanging partition of mats, that somewhat resembled the curtain of a barn-theatre; and, making our beds within, we began pulling down piecemeal, as the materials were required, that part of the erection which lay outside.  We had very nearly unhoused ourselves ere our work was finished; and the chill blasts of October, especially when they blew in at the open end of our dwelling, rendered it as uncomfortable as a shallow cave in an exposed rock-front.  My boyish experiences, however, among the rocks of Cromarty, constituted no bad preparation for such a life, and I roughed it out at least as well as any of my comrades.  The day had so contracted, that night always fell upon our unfinished labours, and I had no evening walks; but there was a delightful gneiss island, of about thirty acres in extent, and nearly two miles away, to which I used to be occasionally despatched to quarry lintels and corner stones, and where work had all the charms of play; and the quiet Sabbaths were all my own.  So long as the laird and his family were at the mansion-house of Flowerdale—at least four months of every year—there was an English service in the parish church; but I had come to the place this season before the laird, and now remained in it after he had gone away, and there was no English service for me.  And so I usually spent my Sabbaths all alone, in the noble Flowerdale woods, now bright under their dark hillsides, in the autumnal tints, and remarkable for the great height and bulk of their ash trees, and of a few detached firs, that spoke, in their venerable massiveness, of former centuries.  The clear, calm mornings, when the gossamer went sailing in long grey films along the retired glades of the wood, and the straggling sunlight fell on the crimson and orange mushroom, as it sprang up amid the dank grass, and under thickly-leaved boughs of scarlet and gold, I deemed peculiarly delightful.  For one who had neither home nor church, the autumnal woods formed by much a preferable Sabbath haunt to a shallow cave, dropping brine, unprovided with chair or table, and whose only furniture consisted of two rude bedsteads of undressed slabs, that bore atop two blankets a-piece, and a heap of straw.  Sabbath-walking in parties, and especially in the neighbourhood of our large towns, is always a frivolous, and often a very bad thing; but lonely Sabbath-walks in a rural district—walks such as the poet Graham describes—are not necessarily bad; and the Sabbatarians who urge that in all cases, men, when not in the church on Sabbath, ought to be in their dwellings, must know very little indeed of the "huts where poor men lie."  In the mason's barrack, or the farm-servant's bothy, it is often impossible to enjoy the quiet of the Sabbath: the circumstances necessary to its enjoyment must be sought in the open air, amid the recesses of some thick wood, or along the banks of some unfrequented river, or on the brown wastes of some solitary moor.
 
    We had completed all our work ere Hallowday, and, after a journey of nearly three days, I found myself once more at home, with the leisure of the long happy winter before me.  I still look back on the experiences of this year with a feeling of interest.  I had seen in my boyhood, in the interior of Sutherland, the Highlanders living in that condition of comparative comfort which they enjoyed from shortly after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745, and the abolition of the hereditary jurisdictions, till the beginning of the present century, and in some localities for ten or twelve years later.  And here again I saw them in a condition—the effect mainly of the introduction of the extensive sheep-farm system into the interior of the country—which has since become general over almost the entire Highlands, and of which the result may be seen in the annual famines.  The population, formerly spread pretty equally over the country, now exists as a miserable selvedge stretched along its shores, dependent in most cases on precarious fisheries, that prove remunerative for a year or two, and disastrous for mayhap half-a-dozen; and, able barely to subsist when most successful, a failure in the potato crop, or in the expected return of the herring shoals, at once reduces them to starvation.  The grand difference between the circumstances of the people of the Highlands in the better time and the worse may be summed up in the one important vocable—capital.  The Highlander was never wealthy: the inhabitants of a wild mountainous district, formed of the primary rocks, never are.  But he possessed, on the average, his six, or eight or ten head of cattle, and his small flock of sheep; and when, as sometimes happened in the high-lying districts, the corn-crop turned out a failure, the sale of a few cattle or sheep more than served to clear scores with the landlord, and enabled him to purchase his winter and spring supply of meal in the Lowlands.  He was thus a capitalist, and possessed the capitalist's peculiar advantage of not "living from hand to mouth," but on an accumulated fund, which always stood between him and absolute want, though not between him and positive hardship, and which enabled him to rest, during a year of scarcity, on his own resources, instead of throwing himself on the charity of his Lowland neighbours.  Nay, in what were emphatically termed "the dear years" of the beginning of the present and latter half of the past century, the humble people of the Lowlands, especially our Lowland mechanics and labourers, suffered more than the crofters and small farmers of the Highlands, and this mainly from the circumstance, that as the failure of the crops which induced the scarcity was a corn failure, not a failure of grass and pasture, the humbler Highlanders had sheep and cattle, which continued to supply them with food and raiment; while the humbler Lowlanders, depending on corn almost exclusively, and accustomed to deal with the draper for their articles of clothing, were reduced by the high price of provisions to great straits.  There took place, however, about the beginning of the century, a mighty change, coincident with, and, to a certain extent, an effect of, the wars of the first French Revolution.  The price of provisions rose in England and the Lowlands, and with the price of provisions, the rent of land.  The Highland proprietor naturally enough set himself to determine how his rental also was to be increased; and, as a consequence of the conclusion at which he arrived, the sheep-farm and clearance system began.  Many thousand Highlanders, ejected from their snug holdings, employed their little capital in emigrating to Canada and the States; and there, in most cases, the little capital increased, and a rude plenty continues to be enjoyed by their descendants.  Many thousands more, however, fell down upon the coasts of the country, and, on moss-covered moors or bare promontories, ill suited to repay the labours of the agriculturist, commenced a sort of amphibious life as crofters and fishermen.  And, located on an ungenial soil, and prosecuting with but indifferent skill a precarious trade, their little capital dribbled out of their hands, and they became the poorest of men.  Meanwhile, in some parts of the Highlands and Islands a busy commerce sprang up, which employed—much to the profit of the landlords—many thousands of the inhabitants.  The kelp manufacture rendered inhospitable islets and tracts of bleak rocky shore, rich in sea-weed, of as much value to the proprietors as the best land in Scotland; and, under the impetus given by full employment, and, if not ample, at least remunerative pay, population increased.  Suddenly, however, Free Trade, in its first approaches, destroyed the trade in kelp; and then the discovery of a cheap mode of manufacturing soda out of common salt secured its ruin beyond the power of legislation to retrieve.  Both the people and landlords experienced in the kelp districts the evils which a ruined commerce always leaves behind it.  Old Highland families disappeared from amid the aristocracy and landowners of Scotland; and the population of extensive islands and sea-boards of the country, from being no more than adequate, suddenly became oppressively redundant.  It required, however, another drop to make the full cup run over.  The potatoes had become, as I have shown, the staple food of the Highlander; and when, in 1846, the potato-blight came on, the people, most of them previously stripped of their little capitals, and divested of their employment, were deprived of their food, and ruined at a blow.  The same stroke which did little more than slightly impinge on the comforts of the people of the Lowlands, utterly prostrated the Highlanders; and ever since, the sufferings of famine have become chronic along the bleak shores and rugged islands of at least the north-western portion of our country.  Nor is it perhaps the worst part of the evil that takes the form of clamorous want: so heavily have the famines borne on a class which were not absolutely the poor when they came on, that they are absolutely the poor now; they have dissipated the last remains of capital possessed by the people of the Highlands.


 
CHAPTER XIV.


Edina!  Scotia's darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and towers!—B
URNS.


THERE had occurred a sad accident among the Cromarty rocks this season, when I was labouring in Gairloch, which, from the circumstance that it had nearly taken place in my own person about five years before, a good deal impressed me on my return.  A few hundred yards from the very bad road which I had assisted old Johnstone of the Forty-Second in constructing, there is a tall inaccessible precipice of ferruginous gneiss, that from time immemorial down to this period had furnished a secure nestling-place to a pair of ravens—the only birds of their species that frequented the rocks of the Hill.  Year after year, regularly as the breeding season came round, the ravens used to make their appearance, and enter on possession of their hereditary home: they had done so for a hundred years, to a certainty—some said, for a much longer time; and as there existed a tradition in the place that the nest had once been robbed of its young birds by a bold climber, I paid it a visit one morning, in order to determine whether I could not rob it too.  There was no getting up to it from below: the precipice, more inaccessible for about a hundred feet from its base than a castle wall, overhung the shore; but it seemed not impracticable from above; and, coming gradually down upon it, availing myself, as I crept along, of every little protuberance and hollow, I at length stood within six or eight feet of the young birds.  From that point, however, a smooth shelf, without projection or cavity, descended to an angle of about forty to the nest, and terminated abruptly, without ledge or margin, in the overhanging precipice.  Have I not, I asked crept along a roof of even a steeper slope than that of the shelf?  Why not, in like manner, creep along it to the nest, where there is firm footing?  I had actually stretched out my naked foot to take the first step when I observed, as the sun suddenly broke out from behind a cloud, that the light glistened on the smooth surface.  It was incrusted over by a thin layer of chlorite, [86] slippery as the mixture of soap and grease that the ship-carpenter spreads over his slips on the morning of a launch.  I at once saw there was an element of danger in the way, on which I had at first failed to calculate; and so, relinquishing the attempt as hopeless, I returned by the path I had come, and thought no more of robbing the raven's nest.  It was, however, again attempted this season but with tragic results, by a young lad from Sutherland, named Mackay, who had previously approved his skill as a cragsman in his native county, and several times secured the reward given by an Agricultural Society for the destruction of young birds of prey. As the incident was related to me, he had approached the nest by the path which I had selected; he had paused where I had paused, and even for a longer time; and then, venturing forward, he no sooner committed himself to the treacherous chlorite, than, losing footing as if on a steep sheet of ice, he shot right over the precipice. Falling sheer for the first fifty feet or so without touching the rock, he was then turned full round by a protuberance against which he had glanced, and, descending for the lower half of the way head foremost, and dashing with tremendous force among the smooth sea-stones below, his brains were scattered over an area of from ten to twelve square yards in extent.  His only companion—an ignorant Irish lad—had to gather up the fragments of his head in a napkin.

    I now felt that, save for the gleam of the sun on the glistening chlorite—seen not a moment too soon—I should probably have been substituted as the victim for poor Mackay, and that he, warned by my fate, would in all likelihood have escaped.  And though I knew it might be asked, Why the interposition of a Providence to save you, when he was left to perish?  I did feel that I did not owe my escape merely to my acquaintance with chlorite and its properties.  For the full development of the moral instincts of our nature, one may lead a life by much too quiet and too secure: a sprinkling in one's lot of sudden perils and hair-breadth escapes is, I am convinced, more wholesome, if positive superstition be avoided, than a total absence of danger.  For my own part, though I have, I trust, ever believed in the doctrine of a particular Providence, it has been always some narrow escape that has given me my best evidences of the vitality and strength of the belief within.  It has ever been the touch of danger that has rendered it emotional.  A few years after this time, when stooping forward to examine an opening fissure in a rock front, at which I was engaged in quarrying, a stone, detached from above by a sudden gust of wind, brushed so closely past my head as to beat down the projecting front of my bonnet, and then dented into a deep hollow the sward at my feet.  There was nothing that was not perfectly natural in the occurrence; but the gush of acknowledgment that burst spontaneously from my heart would have set at nought the scepticism which should have held that there was no Providence in it.  On another occasion, I paused for some time, when examining a cave of the old-coast line, directly under its low-browed roof of Old Red conglomerate, as little aware of the presence of danger as if I had been standing under the dome of St. Paul's; but when I next passed the way, the roof had fallen, and a mass, huge enough to have given me at once death and burial, cumbered the spot which I had occupied.  On yet another occasion, I clambered a few yards down a precipice, to examine some crab-apple trees, which, springing from a turret-like projection of the rock, far from gardens and nurseries, had every mark of being indigenous; and then, climbing up among the branches, I shook them in a manner that must have exerted no small leverage power on the outjet beneath, to possess myself of some of the fruit, as the native apples of Scotland.  On my descent, I marked, without much thinking of the matter, an apparently recent crack running between the outjet and the body of the precipice.  I found, however, cause enough to think of it on my return, scarce a month after; for then both outjet and trees lay broken and fractured on the beach more than a hundred feet below.  With such momentum had even the slimmer twigs been dashed against the sea-pebbles, that they stuck out from under more than a hundred tons of fallen rock, divested of the bark on their under sides, as if peeled by the hand.  And what I felt on all these occasions was, I believe, not more in accordance with the nature of man as an instinct of the moral faculty, than in agreement with that provision of the Divine Government under which a sparrow falleth not without permission.  There perhaps never was a time in which the doctrine of a particular Providence was more questioned and doubted than in the present; and yet the scepticism which obtains regarding it seems to be very much a scepticism of effort, conjured up by toiling intellects, in a quiet age, and among the easy classes; while the belief which, partially and for the time, it overshadows, lies safely entrenched all the while amid the fastnesses of the unalterable nature of man.  When danger comes to touch it, it will spring up in its old proportions; nay, so indigenous is it to the human heart, that if it will not take its cultivated form as a belief in Providence, it will to a certainty take to it its wild form as a belief in Fate or Destiny.  Of a doctrine so fundamentally important that there can be no religion without it, God himself seems to have taken care when he moulded the human heart.

    The raven no longer builds among the rocks of the Hill of Cromarty; and I saw many years ago its last pair of eagles.  This last noble bird was not a unfrequent visitor at the Sutors early in the present century.  I still remember scaring it from its perch on the southern side of the hill, as day was drawing to a close, when the tall precipices amid which it had lodged lay deep in the shade; and vividly recollect how picturesquely it used to catch the red gleam of evening on its plumage of warm brown, as, sailing outwards over the calm sea many hundred feet below, it emerged from under the shadow of the cliffs into the sunshine.  Uncle James once shot a very large eagle beneath one of the loftiest precipices of the southern Sutor; and, swimming out through the surf to recover its body—for it had dropped dead into the sea—he kept its skin for many years as a trophy. [87]  But eagles are now no longer to be seen or shot on the Sutors or their neighbourhood.  The badger, too—one of perhaps the oldest inhabitants of the country, for it seems to have been contemporary with the extinct elephants and hyænas of the Pleistocene [88] periods—has become greatly less common on their steep sides than in the days of my boyhood; and both the fox and otter are less frequently seen.  It is not uninteresting to mark with the eye of the geologist, how palpably in the course of a single lifetime—still nearly twenty years short of the term fixed by the Psalmist—these wild animals have been posting on in Scotland to that extinction which overtook, within its precincts, during the human period, the bear, the beaver, and the wolf, and of which the past history of the globe, as inscribed on its rocks, furnishes so strong a record.

    Winter passed in the usual pursuits; and I commenced the working season of a new year by assisting my old master to inclose with a stone wall a little bit of ground, which he had bought on speculation, but had failed in getting feued out for buildings.  My services, however, were gratuitous—given merely to eke out the rather indifferent bargain that the old man had been able to drive in his own behalf for my labours as an apprentice; and when our job was finished, it became necessary that I should look out for employment of a more profitable character.  There was not much doing in the north; but work promised to be abundant in the great towns of the south: the disastrous building mania of 1824-25 had just begun, and, after some little hesitation I resolved on trying whether I could not make my way as a mechanic among the stone-cutters of Edinburgh—perhaps the most skilful in their profession in the world.  I was, besides, desirous to get rid of a little property in Leith, which had cost the family great annoyance, and not a little money, but from which, so long as the nominal proprietor was a minor, we could not shake ourselves loose.  It was a house on the Coal-hill, or rather the self-contained ground-floor of a house, which had fallen to my father through the death of a relative, so immediately before his own death that he had not entered upon possession.  It was burdened with legacies to the amount of nearly two hundred pounds; but then the yearly rent amounted to twenty-four pounds; and my mother, acting on the advice of friends, and deeming the investment a good one, had no sooner recovered the insurance-money of my father's vessel from the underwriter, than she handed the greater part of it to the legatees, and took possession of the property in my behalf.  Alas! never was there a more unfortunate inheritance or worse investment.  It had been let as a public-house and tap-room, and been the scene of a somewhat rough, and, I daresay, not very respectable, but yet profitable trade; but no sooner had it become mine than, in consequence of some alterations in the harbour, the greater part of the shipping that used to lie at the Coal-hill removed to a lower reach; the tap-room business suddenly fell off; and the rent sank, during the course of one twelvemonth, from twenty-four to twelve pounds.  And then in its sear and wintry state, the unhappy house came to be inhabited by a series of miserable tenants, who, though they sanguinely engaged to pay the twelve pounds, never paid them.  I still remember the brief, curt letters from our agent, the late Mr Veitch, town-clerk of Leith, that never failed to fill my mother with terror and dismay, and very much resembled, in at least the narrative parts jottings by the poet Crabbe, for some projected poem on the profligate poor.  Two of our tenants made moonlight flittings just on the eve of the term; and though the little furniture which they left behind them was duly rouped at the cross, such was the inevitable expense of the transaction, that none of the proceeds of the sale reached Cromarty.  The house was next inhabited by a stout female, who kept a certain description of lady-lodgers; and for the first half-year she paid the rent most conscientiously; but the authorities interfering, there was another house found for her and her ladies in the neighbourhood of the Calton, and the rent of the second half-year remained unpaid.  And as the house lost, in consequence of her occupation, the modicum of character which it had previously retained, it lay for five years wholly untenanted, save by a mischievous spirit—the ghost, it was said, of a murdered gentleman, whose throat had been cut in an inner apartment by the ladies, and his body flung by night into the deep mud of the harbour.  The ghost was, however, at length detected by the police, couching in the form of one of the ladies themselves, on a lair of straw in the corner of one of the rooms, and exorcised into Bridewell; and then the house came to be inhabited by a tenant who had both the will and the ability to pay.  One year's rent, however, had to be expended in repairs; and ere the next year passed, the heritors of the parish were rated for the erection of the magnificent parish church of North Leith, then in course of building, with its tall and graceful spire and classic portico; and as we had no one to state our case, our house was rated, not according to its reduced, but according to its original value.  And so the entire rental of the second year, with several pounds additional which I had to subtract from my hard-earned savings as a mason, were appropriated in behalf of the ecclesiastical Establishment of the country, by the builders of the church and spire.  I had attained my majority when lodging in the fragment of a salt storehouse in Gairloch; and, competent in the eye of the law to dispose of the house on the Coal-hill, I now hoped to find, if not a purchaser, at least some one foolish enough to take it off my hands for nothing.  I have since heard and read a good deal about the atrocious landlords of the poorer and less reputable sort of houses in our large towns, and have seen it asserted that, being a bad and selfish kind of people, they ought to be rigorously dealt with.  And so, I daresay, they ought; but at the same time I cannot forget, that I myself was one of these atrocious landlords from my fifth till nearly my twenty-second year, and that I could not possibly help it, and was very sorry for it.



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