Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Crawford's Sair Strait.
In a year after the departure of the clan, the clachans of Crawford and Traquare had lost almost all traces of their old pastoral character. The coal pit had been opened, and great iron furnaces built almost at its mouth. Things had gone well with Crawford; the seam had proved to be unusually rich; and, though the iron had been found, not on his land, but on the extreme edge of Blair, he was quite satisfied. Farquharson had struck hands with him over it, and the Blair iron ore went to the Crawford furnaces to be smelted into pig iron.
Crawford had grown younger in the ardent life he had been leading. No one would have taken him to be fifty-five years old. He hardly thought of the past; he only told himself that he had never been as strong and clear-headed and full of endurance, and that it was probable he had yet nearly half a century before him. What could he not accomplish in that time?
But in every earthly success there is a Mordecai sitting in its gate, and Colin was the uncomfortable feature in the laird's splendid hopes. He had lounged heartlessly to and from the works; the steady, mechanical routine of the new life oppressed him, and he had a thorough dislike for the new order of men with whom he had to come in contact. The young Crawfords had followed him about the hills with an almost canine affection and admiration. To them he was always "the young laird." These sturdy Ayrshire and Galloway men had an old covenanting rebelliousness about them. They disputed even with Dominie Tallisker on church government; they sang Robert Burns' most democratic songs in Crawford's very presence.
Then Colin contrasted them physically with the great fellows he had been accustomed to see striding over the hills, and he despised the forms stunted by working in low seams and unhealthy vapors and the faces white for lack of sunshine and grimy with the all-pervading coal dust. The giants who toiled in leather masks and leather suits before the furnaces suited his taste better. When he watched them moving about amid the din and flames and white-hot metal, he thought of Vulcan and Mount AEtna, and thus threw over them the enchantments of the old Roman age. But in their real life the men disappointed him. They were vulgar and quarrelsome; the poorest Highland gillie had a vein of poetry in his nature, but these iron-workers were painfully matter of fact; they could not even understand a courtesy unless it took the shape of a glass of whiskey.
It was evident to the laird that the new life was very distasteful to his heir; it was evident to the dominie that it was developing the worst sides of Colin's character. Something of this he pointed out to Helen one morning. Helen and he had lately become great friends, indeed, they were co-workers together in all the new labors which the dominie's conscience had set him. The laird had been too busy and anxious about other matters to interfere as yet with this alliance, but he promised himself he would do so very soon. Helen Crawford was not going to nurse sick babies and sew for all the old women in the clachan much longer. And the night-school! This was particularly offensive to him. Some of the new men had gone there, and Crawford was sure he was in some way defrauded by it. He thought it impossible to work in the day and study an hour at night. In some way he suffered by it.
"If they werna in the schoolroom they would be in the Change House," Tallisker had argued.
But the laird thought in his heart that the whiskey would be more to his advantage than the books. Yet he did not like to say so; there was something in the dominie's face which restrained him. He had opened the subject in that blustering way which always hides the white feather somewhere beneath it, and Tallisker had answered with a solemn severity,
"Crawford, it seems to be your wark to mak money; it is mine to save souls. Our roads are sae far apart we arena likely to run against each other, if we dinna try to."
"But I don't like the way you are doing your wark; that is all, dominie."
"Mammon never did like God's ways. There is a vera old disagreement between them. A man has a right to consider his ain welfare, Crawford, but it shouldna be mair than the twa tables o' the law to him."
Now Tallisker was one of those ministers who bear their great commission in their faces. There was something almost imperial about the man when he took his stand by the humblest altar of his duty. Crawford had intended at this very time to speak positively on the subject of his own workers to Tallisker. But when he looked at the dark face, set and solemn and full of an irresistible authority, he was compelled to keep silence. A dim fear that Tallisker would say something to him which would make him uncomfortable crept into his heart. It was better that both the dominie and conscience should be quiet at present.
Still he could not refrain from saying,
"You hae set yoursel' a task you'll ne'er win over, dominie. You could as easy mak Ben-Cruchan cross the valley and sit down by Ben-Appin as mak Gael and Lowlander call each other brothers."
"We are told, Crawford, that mountains may be moved by faith; why not, then, by love? I am a servant o' God. I dinna think it any presumption to expect impossibilities."
Still it must be acknowledged that Tallisker looked on the situation as a difficult one. The new workers to a man disapproved of the Established Church of Scotland. Perhaps of all classes of laborers Scotch colliers are the most theoretically democratic and the most practically indifferent in matters of religion. Every one of them had relief and secession arguments ready for use, and they used them chiefly as an excuse for not attending Tallisker's ministry. When conscience is used as an excuse, or as a weapon for wounding, it is amazing how tender it becomes. It pleased these Lowland workers to assert a religious freedom beyond that of the dominie and the shepherd Gael around them. And if men wish to quarrel, and can give their quarrel a religious basis, they secure a tolerance and a respect which their own characters would not give them. Tallisker might pooh-pooh sectional or political differences, but he was himself far too scrupulous to regard with indifference the smallest theological hesitation.
One day as he was walking up the clachan pondering these things, he noticed before him a Highland shepherd driving a flock to the hills. There was a party of colliers sitting around the Change House; they were the night-gang, and having had their sleep and their breakfast, were now smoking and drinking away the few hours left of their rest. Anything offering the chance of amusement was acceptable, and Jim Armstrong, a saucy, bullying fellow from the Lonsdale mines, who had great confidence in his Cumberland wrestling tricks, thought he saw in the placid indifference of the shepherd a good opportunity for bravado.
"Sawnie, ye needna pass the Change House because we are here. We'll no hurt you, man."
The shepherd was as one who heard not.
Then followed an epithet that no Highlander can hear unmoved, and the man paused and put his hand under his plaid. Tallisker saw the movement and quickened his steps. The word was repeated, with the scornful laugh of the group to enforce it. The shepherd called his dog--
"Keeper, you tak the sheep to the Cruchan corrie, and dinna let are o' them stray."
The dumb creature looked in his face assentingly, and with a sharp bark took the flock charge. Then the shepherd walked up to the group, and Jim Armstrong rose to meet him.
"Nae dirks," said an old man quietly; "tak your hands like men."
Before the speech was over they were clinched in a grasp which meant gigantic strength on one side, and a good deal of practical bruising science on the other. But before there was an opportunity of testing the quality of either the dominie was between the men. He threw them apart like children, and held each of them at arm's length, almost as a father might separate two fighting schoolboys. The group watching could not refrain a shout of enthusiasm, and old Tony Musgrave jumped to his feet and threw his pipe and his cap in the air.
"Dugald," said the dominie to the shepherd, "go your ways to your sheep. I'll hae nae fighting in my parish.
"Jim Armstrong, you thrawart bully you, dinna think you are the only man that kens Cumberland cantrips. I could fling you mysel' before you could tell your own name;" and as if to prove his words, he raised an immense stone, that few men could have lifted, and with apparent ease flung it over his right shoulder. A shout of astonishment greeted the exploit, and Tony Musgrave--whose keen, satirical ill-will had hitherto been Tallisker's greatest annoyance--came frankly forward and said, "Dominie, you are a guid fellow! Will you tak some beer wi' me?"
Tallisker did not hesitate a moment.
"Thank you, Tony. If it be a drink o' good-will, I'll tak it gladly."
But he was not inclined to prolong the scene; the interference had been forced upon him. It had been the only way to stop a quarrel which there would have been no healing if blood had once been shed. Yet he was keenly alive to the dignity of his office, and resumed it in the next moment. Indeed, the drinking of the glass of good-will together was rather a ceremonial than a convivial affair. Perhaps that also was the best. The men were silent and respectful, and for the first time lifted their caps with a hearty courtesy to Tallisker when he left them.
"Weel! Wonders never cease!" said Jim Armstrong scornfully. "To see Tony Musgrave hobnobbing wi' a black-coat! The deil must 'a' had a spasm o' laughing."
"Let the deil laugh," said Tony, with a snap of his grimy fingers. Then, after a moment's pause, he added, "Lads, I heard this morning that the dominie's wheat was spoiling, because he couldna get help to cut it. I laughed when I heard it; I didna ken the man then. I'm going to-morrow to cut the dominie's wheat; which o' you will go wi' me?"
"I!" and "I!" and "I!" was the hearty response; and so next day Traquare saw a strange sight--a dozen colliers in a field of wheat, making a real holiday of cutting the grain and binding the sheaves, so that before the next Sabbath it had all been brought safely home.