modest demesne of Whitehouse abuts upon the high road which, for the
best part of a mile, flanks the old royal chace of Cramond Regis, now a
country gentleman's spacious park, whereof the name has been altered by
an unpoetical generation into Barnton.
Whitehouse belonged of
old to the Knights Templars. On the suppression of the Order in the
fourteenth century, the lands were bestowed upon William Earl of
Douglas, who, in turn, granted them to James Sandilands, husband of his
sister Alianora, a lady who must be credited with extra-ordinary
attraction, physical or other, seeing that she married five husbands in
succession. From James Sandilands is descended the present Lord
Torphichen, twelfth baron in the creation of 1564, who retains the
superiority of Whitehouse, the reddendo, or annual feu-duty, being a
white rose. After passing through several hands, the property was
purchased by Mr. Mackay, the present owner, who has renovated and
enlarged the seventeenth century mansion with tasteful discretion.
The chief features of the
garden of Whitehouse are at their best, like daffodils, "before the
swallow dares." Nowhere else in Scotland, and only in one place in
England (Stocken Hall, Lincolnshire) have I seen such wealth of winter
aconite. A belt of trees round the garden is thickly carpeted with them;
they run through the ivy and grass, which sparkle with myriads of their
little golden cups and dainty green frills ; only the surrounding stone
walls and hard gravel paths suffice to keep them within limits.
It was a day of sullen
gusts and bitter snow showers when I visited Whitehouse; the lawn of
crocuses, which Miss Wilson has depicted so charmingly, was but a mass
of tightly closed purple cones, for the crocus is too careful of its
golden anthers and stigma to open except in full sunshine. To the
crocus, as to most herbs which hold their blooms erect, is given the
power of shutting out foul weather; but the winter aconite heeds neither
cold nor storm. Appearing above ground when the days are not long past
their shortest, it seems determined to enjoy every ray of light that it
can gather, before it obeys the law of its being, and goes to its long
sleep underground throughout the summer and autumn months. Certainly
that innumerable company of golden blossoms remains the one bright
memory of that unkindly February day.
It is a flower whereof
enough use is not made by country lovers. Perhaps we despise it for
being so cheap; you can get a thousand of its gnarled tubers for a few
shillings. But these require a little care in starting. Many people have
been disappointed at the result of planting out tubers in a dry state as
they come from a tradesman. They simply rot if they are set out in close
turf. The proper way to naturalise them is to grow them for a season in
rows in rather a sandy border; in the following spring, when the bloom
is fading, take them up carefully with as much soil as will stick to
them, and plant them where you would have them grow permanently. No
place is more favourable than a hollow wood of deciduous trees, where
the turf is not too dense. Here they will rapidly increase by seed and
offsets ; rabbits will not touch them, and the display will be something
to look forward to in the darkest time of the year. A newly introduced
species, Eranthis chicica, has been described as better than our old
friend hyemalis. I cannot see wherein is its superiority ; the frill,
instead of being bright grass green, has a bronze tint, undesirable at a
season when verdure is particularly to be coveted, and as yet the plant
is ten times the price of the other.
Unlike the aconite, it is
only in enclosed grounds like those of Whitehouse, where the accursed
rabbit comes not, that the crocus can obtain and maintain a footing.
Even so, the bulbs are often the prey of mice and voles ; but where
these charming flowers can hold their own, they increase rapidly and
provide a feast of colour every spring. A feast to which, as I was
grieved to notice a few days ago, some people show strange indifference.
On the outskirts of a small country town in south-western Scotland
stands an old grey house, surrounded by about an acre of garden and
pleasure-ground, upon which until twenty years ago, the owner used to
expend much care, planting therein many a choice shrub and herb. He died
; the property passed into other hands and the garden into neglect. But
the purple crocuses have taken possession of the whole turf, and, as I
passed that way one bright March morning all the enclosure was steeped
in Tyrian dye. All of it, except where a goat was tethered on the lawn ;
which beast had browsed everything bare within the radius of its rope
Surely, methought, the human retina is alike in all ranks and conditions
of men, except the colour-blind. Is there not one member of this
household who cares to prevent the marring of this exquisite display?
Matters are very
different at Whitehouse, where the crocuses have taken possession of
every available breadth of turf and are the pride and delight of the
family. Miss Wilson has chosen for her subject the spot where these
pretty flowers cluster thickly round an old sun-dial, which bears the
inscription, MR. DAVID STRACHAN, 1732, the name of a former owner of
Whitehouse. It might now be inscribed with a legend applicable alike to
the dial and the sunloving flowers—Horan non numero nisi serenas—"I take
no account of hours that are not sunny."
Like the dial, these
crocuses are no affair of yesterday. Who shall declare how many
generations of men have passed away since the original bulbs were
planted. Brought thither they must have been by hand, for, although the
purple Crocus vernus is admitted to the list of British plants, it is
not native to North Britain. Spring after spring, for an untold number
of years, they have multiplied and spread, covering the turf with their
imperial flush. It may be that King James V. in his incognito wanderings
may have noted the pretty flowers as he passed that way. For he had a
pretty adventure just outside this garden.
He was a monarch of many
fancies, some of which were highly offensive to Angus "Bell-the-Cat,"
and other haughty lords. Among these fancies, it was James's humour to
wander about the country disguised as a peasant, or, at best, a bonnet
laird. Thus, coming one day alone to the bridge of Cramond, he was beset
by a party of gypsies, who were for relieving him of the contents of his
pockets. All men went armed in those days, as constantly as do Albanians
and Montenegrins at the present; so the King out with his sword, and
running upon the steep and narrow bridge, managed to make good his
defence for a while. Yet numbers must have prevailed in the end; and it
was well for King James that a real husbandman, threshing corn in a barn
hard by, heard the cries for succour uttered by the counterfeit. This
man hurried up, flail in hand, and plied it to such good effect that the
robbers decamped. Then the peasant took the King, in whom he beheld but
one of his own class, into his house, brought him water and a towel to
wash away traces of the fray, and escorted him part of the way back to
Edinburgh. As they walked, the King asked for the name of his deliverer.
"John Howieson is my
name," was the reply, "and I am just a bondsman on the farm o' Braehead,
whilk belongs to the King o' Scots himsel'."
"Is there anything in the
world you would wish more than another for yourself?" asked the King.
"'Deed, if I was laird o'
the bit land I labour as a bondsman I'd be the blythest man in braid
Scotland. But what will your name and calling be, neebour?" enquired the
peasant in his turn.
"Oh," replied the King,
"I'm weel kent about the Palace o' Holyrood as the Gudeman o'
Ballen¬geich. I hae a small appointment in the palace, ye ken; and if ye
hae a mind to see within, I'll be proud to show ye round on Sabbath
nixtocum, and maybe ye'll get a bit guerdon for the gude service ye hae
dune me this day."
"Faith! I'd like that
fine," said John, and on the following Sunday presented himself at the
palace gate to enquire for the Gudeman o' Ballengeich. The King had
arranged for his admission, and received him dressed in the same rustic
disguise as before. Having shown John Howieson round the palace, he
asked him whether he would like to see the King. "Aye, that wad I,"
exclaimed John, "if nae offence be gi'en or ta'en. But 'hoo' will I ken
his grace amang the nobeelity?"
"Oh, you'll ken him fine,
John," replied the King, "for he'll be the only man covered amang them
Then the King brought his
guest to the great hall where were assembled many peers and officers of
state, bravely attired in silk and velvet of many hues, passmented with
gold and silver lace. John had on the best clothes he had, but felt
abashed amid so great splendour, and tried in vain. to distinguish the
"Wasna I having ye telt
that ye wad ken his grace by his going covered," said James.
John took another look
round the hall; then turned to his guide, saying:
"God, man it maun either
be you or me that's King o' Scots, for there's nane ither here carryin'
Then the secret came out,
followed by the promised guerdon, which was no less than a grant to John
Howieson and his descendants of the farm of Braehead, to be held of the
Crown for ever, on The title of "Majesty" was first assumed in England
by Henry VIII., and in Scotland was first applied to the monarch in
Queen Mary's reign. Some may be disposed to regret the change, holding
that grace is a more kingly attribute than majesty condition that the
owner should ever be ready to present a basin and ewer for the King to
wash his hands withal, either at Holyrood house or when crossing the
brig o' Cramond.
"Accordingly," says Sir
Walter Scott in the Tales of a Grandfather, "in the year 1822, when
George IV. came to Scotland, the descendant of John Howieson of Braehead,
who still possesses the estate which was given to his ancestor, appeared
at a solemn festival, and offered his Majesty water from a silver ewer,
that he might perform the service by which he held his lands."
Less seemly, but not less
characteristic of the social system of the sixteenth century, is another
memory connected with this place. The fourth Earl of Huntly, the great
champion of the Roman Church in Scotland, had a brother, Alexander
Gordon, who was Bishop-designate of Caithness from 1544 to 1548; elected
Archbishop of Glasgow in 1550, his title was disputed and he resigned
the see to the Pope in 1551. He was then created Archbishop of Athens, a
sinecure, and became Bishop of the Isles in 1553, which see be held till
1562 together with that of Galloway, whereof he acquired the
temporalities in 1559. He also held the abbacies of Tongland, Inchaffray
and Icolmkill—whence it may be inferred that he was a peculiarly
affluent prelate. He also showed sagacity in noting the signs of the
times, for he turned Protestant, being the only consecrated bishop who
joined the Lords of the Congregation at the Reformation.
"But what," exclaims the
perplexed reader, "has all this to do with the crocuses at Whitehouse?"
Only this, that the crocuses set a desultory mind astray among the
memories of Cramond, and, at the time when this astute pluralist was
attending the Court of Holyrood, there lived one David Logie at King's
Cramond. With David lived a fair daughter Barbara, whom Bishop Gordon
made his mistress, and had by her four sons, three of whom he succeeded
in getting made bishops. But in one thing he did not succeed, though he
tried hard. He never could get Barbara recognised as his wife, even
after his change of religion released him technically from his vow of