Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Crawford's Sair Strait.
Alas, how often do Christ's words, "I come not to bring peace, but a sword," prove true. George Selwyn went away, but the seed he had dropped in this far-off corner of Scotland did not bring forth altogether the peaceable fruits of righteousness. In fact, as we have seen, it had scarcely begun to germinate before the laird and the dominie felt it to be a root of bitterness between them. For if Crawford knew anything he knew that Tallisker would never relinquish his new work, and perhaps if he yielded to any reasonable object Tallisker would stand by him in his project.
He did not force the emigration plan upon his notice. The summer was far advanced; it would be unjustifiable to send the clan to Canada at the beginning of winter. And, as it happened, the subject was opened with the dominie in a very favorable manner. They were returning from the moors one day and met a party of six men. They were evidently greatly depressed, but they lifted their bonnets readily to the chief. There was a hopeless, unhappy look about them that was very painful.
"You have been unsuccessful on the hills, Archie, I fear."
"There's few red deer left," said the man gloomily. "It used to be deer and men; it is sheep and dogs now."
After a painful silence the dominie said,
"Something ought to be done for those braw fellows. They canna ditch and delve like an Irish peasant. It would be like harnessing stags in a plough."
Then Crawford spoke cautiously of his intention, and to his delight the dominie approved it.
"I'll send them out in Read & Murray's best ships. I'll gie each head o' a family what you think right, Tallisker, and I'll put L100 in your hands for special cases o' help. And you will speak to the men and their wives for me, for it is a thing I canna bear to do."
But the men too listened eagerly to the proposition. They trusted the dominie, and they were weary of picking up a precarious living in hunting and fishing, and relying on the chief in emergencies. Their old feudal love and reverence still remained in a large measure, but they were quite sensible that everything had changed in their little world, and that they were out of tune with it. Some few of their number had made their way to India or Canada, and there was a vague dissatisfaction which only required a prospect of change to develop. As time went on, and the laird's plan for opening the coal beds on his estate got known, the men became impatient to be gone.
In the early part of March two large ships lay off the coast waiting for them, and they went in a body to Crawford Keep to bid the chief "farewell." It was a hard hour, after all, to Crawford. The great purpose that he had kept before his eyes for years was not at that moment sufficient. He had dressed himself in his full chieftain's suit to meet them. The eagle's feather in his Glengary gave to his great stature the last grace. The tartan and philibeg, the garters at his knee, the silver buckles at his shoulder, belt, and shoon, the jewelled mull and dirk, had all to these poor fellows in this last hour a proud and sad significance. As he stood on the steps to welcome them, the wind colored his handsome face and blew out the long black hair which fell curling on his shoulders.
Whatever they intended to say to him, when they thus saw him with young Colin by his side they were unable to say. They could only lift their bonnets in silence. The instincts and traditions of a thousand years were over them; he was at this moment the father and the chief of their deepest affection. One by one they advanced to him. He pressed the hands of all. Some of the older men--companions of his youth in play and sport--he kissed with a solemn tenderness. They went away silently as they came, but every heart was full and every eye was dim. There was a great feast for them in the clachan that night, but it was a sombre meeting, and the dominie's cheerful words of advice and comfort formed its gayest feature.
The next day was calm and clear. The women and children were safely on board soon after noon, and about four o'clock the long boats left the shore full of men. Tallisker was in the front one. As they pulled away he pointed silently to a steep crag on the shingly beach. The chief stood upon it. He waved his bonnet, and then the long-pent feelings of the clan found vent in one long, pitiful Gallic lament, O hon a rie! O hon a rie! For a few moments the boats lay at rest, no man was able to lift an oar. Suddenly Tallisker's clear, powerful voice touched the right chord. To the grand, plaintive melody of St. Mary's he began the 125th Psalm,
"They in the Lord that firmly trust shall be like Sion hill, Which at no time can be removed, but standeth ever still. As round about Jerusalem the mountains stand alway; The Lord his folk doth compass so from henceforth and for aye."
And thus singing together they passed from their old life into a new one.
Colin had been indignant and sorrowful over the whole affair. He and Helen were still young enough to regret the breaking of a tie which bound them to a life whose romance cast something like a glamour over the prosaic one of more modern times. Both would, in the unreasonableness of youthful sympathy, have willingly shared land and gold with their poor kinsmen; but in this respect Tallisker was with the laird.
"It was better," he said, "that the old feudal tie should be severed even by a thousand leagues of ocean. They were men and not bairns, and they could feel their ain feet;" and then he smiled as he remembered how naturally they had taken to self-dependence. For one night, in a conversation with the oldest men, he said, "Crawfords, ye'll hae to consider, as soon as you are gathered together in your new hame, the matter o' a dominie. Your little flock in the wilderness will need a shepherd, and the proper authorities maun be notified."
Then an old gray-headed man had answered firmly, "Dominie, we will elect our ain minister. We hae been heart and soul, every man o' us, with the Relief Kirk; but it is ill living in Rome and striving wi' the pope, and sae for the chief's sake and your sake we hae withheld our testimony. But we ken weel that even in Scotland the Kirk willna hirple along much farther wi' the State on her back, and in the wilderness, please God, we'll plant only a Free Kirk."
The dominie heard the resolve in silence, but to himself he said softly, "They'll do! They'll do! They'll be a bit upsetting at first, maybe, but they are queer folk that have nae failings."
A long parting is a great strain; it was a great relief when the ships had sailed quite out of sight. The laird with a light heart now turned to his new plans. No reproachful eyes and unhappy faces were there to damp his ardor. Everything promised well. The coal seam proved to be far richer than had been anticipated, and those expert in such matters said there were undoubted indications of the near presence of iron ore. Great furnaces began to loom up in Crawford's mental vision, and to cast splendid lustres across his future fortunes.
In a month after the departure of the clan, the little clachan of Traquare had greatly changed. Long rows of brick cottages, ugly and monotonous beyond description, had taken the place of the more picturesque sheilings. Men who seemed to measure everything in life with a two-foot rule were making roads and building jetties for coal-smacks to lie at. There was constant influx of strange men and women--men of stunted growth and white faces, and who had an insolent, swaggering air, intolerably vulgar when contrasted with the Doric simplicity and quiet gigantic manhood of the mountain shepherds.
The new workers were, however, mainly Lowland Scotchmen from the mining districts of Ayrshire. The dominie had set himself positively against the introduction of a popish element and an alien people; and in this position he had been warmly upheld by Farquharson and the neighboring proprietors. As it was, there was an antagonism likely to give him full employment. The Gael of the mountains regarded these Lowland "working bodies" with something of that disdain which a rich and cultivated man feels for kin, not only poor, but of contemptible nature and associations. The Gael was poor truly, but he held himself as of gentle birth. He had lived by his sword, or by the care of cattle, hunting, and fishing. Spades, hammers, and looms belonged to people of another kind.
Besides this great social gulf, there were political and religious ones still wider. That these differences were traditional, rather than real, made no distinction. Man have always fought as passionately for an idea as for a fact. But Dominie Tallisker was a man made for great requirements and great trusts. He took in the position with the eye of a general. He watched the two classes passing down the same streets as far apart as if separated by a continent, and he said, with a very positive look on his face, "These men are brethren and they ought to dwell in unity; and, God helping Dugald Tallisker, they will do it, yes, indeed, they will."