Evening in the Wee Bit Hoosie
W HEN he was out of sight, Jean brought in the washing and then it was time to get supper. Alan helped set the table and kept the fire bright under the pot, while Jock fed the hens and brought in the eggs; and when the Shepherd and Tam returned from the hills, you can imagine how surprised they were to find three children waiting for them instead of two. At supper the Shepherd had to be told all the adventures of the day and how it happened that Alan was wearing the kilts, and by the time it was over you would have thought they had known each other all their lives. While Jean cleared away the dishes, the Shepherd drew his chair to the fire and beckoned Alan to him.
"Come here, laddie," he said, "and give us a look at your plaidie. It's been lying there in the kist, and I've not seen a sight of it since I was a lad. It's the Campbell plaid, ye ken, and I mind once when I was a lad I was on my way home from the kirk and a hare crossed my path. It's ill luck for a hare to cross your path, and fine I proved it. I clean forgot it was the Sabbath and louped the dyke after him. My kiltie caught on a stone, and there I was hanging upside down. My father loosed me, but my kiltie was torn and I had to go to bed without my supper for breaking the Sabbath."
"Is the hole there yet?" asked Jean.
"Na, na," said the Shepherd. "You didn't think your grandmother was such a thriftless wifie as that! She mended the hole so that you could never find where it had been."
He examined fold after fold carefully. "There, now," he exclaimed at last, "if you want to see mending that would make you proud to wear it, look at that."
Jean and Jock stuck their heads over his shoulder, and Alan twisted himself nearly in two trying to see his own back.
"We have a plaid a good deal like this," said Alan, looking closely at the pattern. "My mother's name was McGregor, but she has relations named Campbell."
"Are you really a Scotch body, then?" cried Robin with new interest in Alan. "I thought you were an English boy."
"I live in London," Alan answered, "but my mother's people are all Scotch, and she loves Scotland. That's one reason why she sent me up here to be with Eppie McLean."
"Losh, mannie," cried the Shepherd, "if you have Campbell relatives and your mother's name was McGregor, it's likely you are a descendant from old Rob Roy himself, and if so, we're all kinsmen. Inversnaid, where Rob Roy's cave is, is but a few miles from here, and it was in this very country that he hid himself among rocks and caves, giving to the poor with his left hand what he took from the rich with his right. Well, well, laddie, the old clans are scattered now, but blood is thicker than water still, and you're welcome to the fireside of your kinsman!
"Is he really a relation?" cried Jean and Jock eagerly.
"Well," said the Scotchman cautiously, "I'm not saying he is precisely, but I'm not saying he is not, either. The Campbells and the McGregors have lived in these parts for better than two hundred years, and it's not likely that Alan could lay claim to both names and be no relation at all. If there were still clans, as there used to be in the old days, we'd all belong to the same one, and that I do not doubt."
"I'm sure I'd like that," said Alan, and Jock was so delighted with his new relative that he stood on his head in the middle of the floor to express his feelings. When the excitement had died down a bit, Alan drew his stool up beside the Shepherd's knee and said: "Won't you please tell us about Rob Roy, Cousin Campbell? If he's an ancestor of mine, I ought to know more about him."
"Oh, do, Father," echoed the Twins, planting their stools beside the other knee. Even Tam was interested. He sat on the hearth in front of the Shepherd, looking up into his face as if he understood every word.
The Shepherd gazed thoughtfully into the fire for a moment; then he said: "I can tell you what my grandsire told me, and he got it from his grandsire, so it must be true. In the beginning Rob Roy was as staunch a man as any, and held his own property, like other gentlemen. Craig Royston was the name of his place, and fine and proud he was of it, too. He was a gey shrewd man in the cattle-dealing, and his neighbor, the Duke of Montrose, thinking to benefit his own estate, lent Rob money to set him up in the trade. There was a pawky rascal named McDonald who was partner to Rob, and didn't he run away with the money, leaving Rob in debt to the Duke and nothing to pay him with? The Duke foreclosed on Rob at once, and took away Craig Royston and added it to his own estate. You can well believe that Rob was not the man to take such dealings with patience. If the Duke had not been so hasty, Rob would more than likely have got hold of McDonald and made him pay either out of his purse or out of his skin, but he did neither the one nor the other. Instead he left his home and took his clan with him into the mountains and became the terror of the whole country-side."
"Wasn't he a good man?" asked Jean, gazing at her father with round eyes.
"Well," said the Shepherd, "not just what you'd call pious, maybe, and it cannot be said that he was aye regular at the kirk. It's true he never forgot an enemy, but he never forgot a kindness either and was loyal and true to them that were true to him."
"What did he do when they weren't true to him?" asked Jock.
"He made them wish they had been," replied the Shepherd mildly.
"But what made the Duke of Montrose take away Craig Royston?" asked Jock. "Didn't he have a great big place of his own?"
"Aye," answered Robin, "but what difference does that make?" The more land he had, the more land he wanted, the same as other lairds. Be that as it may, Craig Royston was certainly taken away from Rob, and a bitter man it made of him."
"Why, it's just like ourselves and the Auld Laird," cried Jean. "He's going to take away our home from us!"
"It's not just the same, little woman," said the Shepherd, laying his big brown hand on Jean's small one on his knee. "But the loss of it hurts just the same. Rob Roy loved Craig Royston no better than we love this wee bit hoosie."
"But why must you go, then?" asked Alan, his eyes shining with interest and sympathy.
"You see, lad," answered the Shepherd, "it's like the tale of the dog in the manger. The Auld Laird will neither use the land nor let us." He explained about the lease, and when he had finished, Alan said, "But what will you do when you leave this place?"
"I'm spiering the same question myself," answered the Shepherd. "As yet I dinna ken."
"I tell you what," shouted Jock, springing to his feet and knocking over his stool, "Why don't we live in the caves the way Rob Roy did? If the Crumpets and all the people who have to give up their homes should band together in a clan and hide themselves in the glen, the Auld Laird could send all the Mr. Craigies and Angus Niels in the world after us and they'd never get us!"
The Shepherd smiled and shook his head. "The time for that has gone by," he said sadly. "Na, na, we must just submit. But one thing I do know, and that is, we'll not seek a place with the Laird of Kinross. They say he will let his land to none but members of the Established Church, and I'll not give up my religion for any man—not if I'm forever walking the world!"
"But come, now," he went on, seeing them downcast, "you all have faces on you as long as a summer Sabbath. Cheer up, and I'll tell you a tale my grandfather told me of the water cow of Loch Leven. You mind the song says, 'The Campbells are coming from bonnie Loch Leven.' Well, it was around that loch that the Campbells pastured their cattle. One day when my grandsire was a young lad he was playing with some other children on the pastures near the shore, when all of a sudden what should they see among their own cows but a fine young dun-colored heifer without any horns. She was lying by herself on the green grass, chewing her cud and looking so gentle and pretty that the children played around her without fear. They wound a wreath of daisies and put it on her neck, and then they got on her back. The cow stretched out longer and longer to make room for them until they were all on her back except my grandsire. Then all of a sudden the dun cow rose up, first on her hind legs, tipping the children all forward, and then on her forelegs tipping them all backward, yet no one fell off at all, and when she was up on her feet, didn't she start straight away for the deep waters of the loch? The children screamed and tried to get off her back, but no matter how hard they tried, there they stuck. My grandsire ran screaming up toward them, and put up his hand to pull them down, and his finger touched the dun cow's back! Now never believe me, if his finger didn't stick so he could not pull it away, and by that he knew the dun heifer for a water cow and that she had bewitched the children. He was being dragged along with them toward the water, when all of a sudden he slipped out his knife and with one blow chopped off his own finger and he was wanting that finger till the day of his death."
"What became of the others?" gasped Alan, his black eyes glowing like coals.
"They went on the dun cow's back into the lake, and the water closed over them and they were never seen again," said the Shepherd, "and that's the end of the tale."
While the Shepherd talked, the twilight had deepened into darkness, the fire had died down, and the corners of the room were filled with mysterious tricky shadows that danced with the flickering flames on the hearth. Jean looked fearfully over her shoulder. There was a creepy feeling in the back of her neck, and Jock's eyes were as round as door-knobs. The Shepherd laughed at them.
"Good children have little to fear from the fairy folk," he said. "Come, now, your eyes are fair sticking out of your heads. I'll give you a skirl on the bagpipes if Jeanie'll bring them from the closet. Jock, stir up the fire, and Alan, give your clothes a turn and see if they are drying."
The children ran to do these errands, and in a moment the fire was flaming gayly up the chimney, chasing the murky shadows out of the corners and making the room bright and cheerful again, while the Shepherd, tucking the bag under his arm, stirred the echoes on old Ben Vane with the wild strains of "Bonnie Doon" and "Over the Water to Charlie." At last he struck up the music of the Highland Fling, and the three children sprang to the middle of the floor and danced the wild Scotch dance together.
Just as the fun was at its height, and Alan, looking very handsome in his kilts, was doing the heel and toe with great energy, there came a loud rap at the door. Instantly everything stopped, just as short as Cinderella's ball did when the clock struck twelve, and the Shepherd, laying aside his bagpipes, opened the door. There stood a man with a bundle on his arm. "Eppie McLean sent these clothes to the lad," he said, handing the bundle to the Shepherd, "and he's to come back along with me." Alan took the bundle, thanked the man, and disappeared with Jock into "the room," where he changed his clothes, returning the kilts, with regret, to Jock. "I've had just a grand day," he said to Jean and the Shepherd as he shook hands and took leave of them in the kitchen afterward. "I'll be back to‑morrow for my clothes."
"Come back and play then," said Jock. When he was gone, Jean folded the kilts away in the closet again. "He's a fine braw laddie," said the Shepherd.
"Aye," said Jock. "He had two suits of clothes, one as good as the other, but he was not proud."
"I wonder what his father's work is," said Jean.
"He never spoke of his father at all, just his mother," said Jock, and at that moment the wag-at-the-wall clock struck nine.
"Havers!" said Jean. "Look at the hour, Jock Campbell! Get you to your bed."