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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XXXI

"Friends, No-man kills me; No-man in the hour
Of sleep oppresses me with fraudful power.

If no man hurt thee, but the hand divine
Inflict disease, it fits thee to resign."—Odyssey.

Some of the wildest and finest pieces of scenery in the neighbourhood of Cromarty, must be sought for in an upper comer of the parish, where it abuts on the one hand on the parish of Rosemarkie, and on the other on the Moray Firth. We may saunter in this direction over a lonely shore, overhung by picturesque crags of yellow sandstone, and roughened by so fantastic an arrangement of strata, that one might almost imagine the riblike bands, which project from the beach, portions of the skeleton of some huge antediluvian monster. No place can be more solitary, but no solitude more cheerful. The natural rampart, that rises more than a hundred yards over the shore, as if to shut us out from the world, sweeps towards the uplands in long grassy slopes and green mossy knolls ;—or juts out into abrupt and weathered crags, crusted with lichens and festooned with ivy;—or recedes into bosky hollows, roughened by the sloethom, the wild-rose, and the juniper. On the one hand, there is a profusion of the loveliest light and shadow—the softest colours'" and the most pleasing forms; on the other, the wide extent of the Moray Firth stretches out to the dim horizon, with all its veinlike currents and its undulating lines of coast; while before us we see far in the distance the blue vista of the great Caledonian valley, with its double wall of jagged and serrated hills; and directly in the opening the grey diminished spires of Inverness. We saunter onwards towards the west, over the pebbles and the shells, till where a mossy streamlet comes brattling from the hill; and see, on turning a sudden angle, the bank cleft to its base, as if to yield the waters a passage. ’Tis the entrance to a deeply-secluded dell, of exquisite though savage beauty; one of those hidden recesses of nature, in which she gratefully reserves the choicest of her sweets for the more zealous of her admirers; and mingles for them in her kindliest mood all that expands and delights the heart in the contemplation of the wild and beautiful, with all that gratifies it in the enjoyment of a happy novelty, in which pleasure comes so unlooked for, that neither hope nor imagination has had time to, strip it of a single charm.

We enter this singular recess along the bed of the stream, and find ourselves shut out, when we have advanced only a few paces, from well-nigh the entire face of nature and the whole works of man. A line of mural precipices rises on either hand —here advancing in gigantic columns, like those of an Egyptian portico—there receding into deep solitary recesses tapestried with ivy, and darkened by birch and hazel. The cliffs vary their outline at every step, as if assuming in succession all the various combinations of form which constitute the wild and the picturesque; and the pale yellow hue of the stone seems, when brightened by the sun, the very tint a painter would choose to heighten the effect of his shades, or to contrast most delicately with the luxuriant profusion of bushes and flowers that waves over every shelve and cranny. A colony of swallows have built from time immemorial in the hollows of one of the loftiest precipices; the fox and the badger harbour in the clefts of the steeper and more inaccessible banks. As we proceed, the dell becomes wilder and more deeply wooded, the stream frets and toils at our feet—here leaping over an opposing ridge, there struggling in a pool, yonder escaping to the light from under some broken fragment of cliff—there is a richer profusion of flowers; a thicker mantling of ivy and honeysuckle;—and, after passing a semicircular inflection of the bank, which, waving from summit to base with birch and hawthorn, seems suited to remind one of some vast amphitheatre on the morning of a triumph, we find the passage shut up by a perpendicular wall of rock about thirty feet in height, over which the stream precipitates itself in a slender column of foam into a dark mossy basin. The long arms of an intermingled clump of birches and hazels stretch half-way across, trebling with their shade the apparent depth of the pool, and heightening in an equal ratio the whole flicker of the cascade, and the effect of the little bright patches of foam which, flung from the rock, incessantly revolve on the eddy.

There is a natural connexion, it is said, between wild scenes and wild legends; and some of the traditions connected with this romantic and solitary dell illustrate the remark. Till a comparatively late period, it was known at many a winter fireside as a favourite haunt of the fairies, the most poetical of all our old tribes of spectres, and at one time one of the most popular. I have conversed with an old woman, one of the perished volumes of my library, who, when a very little girl, had seen myriads of them dancing as the sun was setting on the further edge of the dell; and with a still older man, who had the temerity to offer one of them a pinch of snuff at the foot of the cascade. Nearly a mile from where the ravine opens to the sea, it assumes a gentler and more pastoral character; the sides, no longer precipitous, descend towards the stream in green sloping banks; and a beaten path, which runs between Cromarty and Rosemarkie, winds down the one side and ascends the other. More than sixty years ago, one Donald Calder, a shopkeeper of Cromarty, was journeying by this path shortly after nightfall. The moon, at full, had just risen, but there was a silvery mist sleeping on the lower grounds that obscured the light, and the dell in all its extent was so overcharged by the vapour, that it seemed an immense overflooded river winding through the landscape. Donald had reached its further edge, and could hear the rush of the stream from the deep obscurity of the abyss below, when there rose from the opposite side a strain of the most delightful music he had ever heard. He stood and listened: the words of a song of such simple beauty, that they seemed, without effort on his part, to stamp themselves on his memory, came wafted on the music, and the chorus, in which a thousand tiny voices seemed to join, was a familiar address to himself. “He! Donald Calder! ho! Donald Calder!” There are none of my Navity acquaintance, thought Donald, who sing like that; “Wha can it be?” He descended into the cloud; but in passing the little stream the music ceased; and on reaching the spot on which the singers had seemed stationed, he saw only a bare bank sinking into a solitary moor, unvaried by either bush or hollow, or the slightest cover in which the musician could have lain concealed. He had hardly time, however, to estimate the marvels of the case when the music again struck up, but on the opposite side of the dell, and apparently from the very knoll on which he had so lately listened to it; the conviction that it could not be other than supernatural overpowered him, and he hurried homewards under the influence of a terror so extreme, that, unfortunately for our knowledge of fairy literature, it had the effect of obliterating from his memory every part of the song except the chorus. The sun rose as he reached Cromarty; and he found that, instead of having lingered at the edge of the dell for only a few minutes —and the time had seemed no longer—he had spent beside it the greater part of the night.

Above the lower cascade the lofty precipitous banks of the dell recede into a long elliptical hollow, which terminates at the upper extremity in a perpendicular precipice, half cleft to its base by a narrow chasm, out of which the little stream comes bounding in one adventurous leap to the bottom. A few birch and hazel bushes have anchored in the crannies of the rock, and darkened by their shade an immense rounded block of granite many tons in weight, which lies in front of the cascade. Immediately beside the huge mass, on a level grassy spot, which occupies the space between the receding bank and the stream, there stood about a century ago a meal-mill. It was a small and very rude erection, with an old-fashioned horizontal water-wheel, such as may still be met with in some places of the remote Highlands; and so inconsiderable was the power pf the machinery, that a burly farmer of the parish, whose bonnet a waggish neighbour had thrown between the stones, succeeded in arresting the whole with his shoulder until he had rescued his Kilmarnock. But the mill of Eathie was a celebrated mill notwithstanding. No one resided near it, nor were there many men in the country who would venture to approach it an hour after sunset; and there were nights when, though deserted by the miller, its wheels would be heard revolving as busily as ever they had done by day, and when one who had courage enough to reconnoitre it from the edge of the dell, might see little twinkling lights crossing and recrossing the windows in irregular but hasty succession, as if a busy multitude were employed within. On one occasion the miller, who had remained in it rather later than usual, was surprised to hear outside the neighing and champing of horses and the rattling of carts, and on going to the door he saw a long train of basket-woven vehicles laden with sacks, and drawn by shaggy little ponies of every diversity of form and colour.. The attendants were slim unearthly-looking creatures, about three feet in height, attired in grey, with red caps; and the whole seemed to have come out of a square opening in the opposite precipice. Strange to relate, the nearer figures seemed to be as much frightened at seeing the miller as the miller was at seeing them; but, on one of them uttering a shrill scream, the carts moved backwards into the opening, which shut over them like the curtain of a theatre as the last disappeared.

There lived in the adjoining parish of Rosemarkie, when the fame of the mill was at its highest, a wild unsettled fellow, named M‘Kechan. Had he been bom among the aristocracy of the country, he might have passed for nothing worse than a young man of spirit; and after sowing his wild oats among gentlemen of the turf and of the fancy, he would naturally have settled down into the shrewd political landlord, who, if no builder of churches himself, would be willing enough to exert the privilege of giving clergymen, exclusively of his own choosing, to such churches as had been built already. As a poor man, however, and the son of a poor man, Tam M‘Kechan seemed to bid pretty fair for the gallows; nor could he plead ignorance that such was the general opinion. He had been told so when a herd-boy; for it was no unusual matter for his master, a farmer of the parish, to find him stealing pease in the comer of one field, when the whole of his charge were ravaging the crops of another. He had been told so too when a sailor, ere he had broken his indentures and run away, when once caught among the casks and packages in the hold, ascertaining where the Geneva and the sweetmeats were stowed. And now that he was a drover and a horse-jockey, people, though they no longer told him so, for Tam had become dangerous, seemed as certain of the fact as ever. With all his roguery, however, when not much in liquor he was by no means a very disagreeable companion; few could match him at a song or the bagpipe, and though rather noisy in his cups, and somewhat quarrelsome, his company was a good deal courted by the bolder spirits of the parish, and among the rest by the miller. Tam had heard of the piebald horses and their ghostly attendants; but without more knowledge than fell to the share of his neighbours, he was a much greater sceptic, and after rallying the miller on his ingenuity and the prettiness of his fancy, he volunteered to spend a night at the mill, with no other companion than his pipes.

Preparatory to the trial the miller invited one of his neighbours, the young farmer of Eathie, that they might pass the early part of the evening with Tam ; but when, after an hour’s hard drinking, they rose to leave the cottage, the farmer, a kind-hearted lad, who was besides warmly attached to the jockey’s only sister, would fain have dissuaded him from the undertaking. “I’ve been thinking, Tam,” he said, “that flyte wi’ the miller as ye may, ye would better let the good people alone ;—or stay, sin’ ye are sae bent on playing the fule, I’ll e’en play it wi’ you ;—rax me my plaid; we’ll trim up the fire in the killogie thegether; an’ you will keep me in music.” “Na, Jock Hossack,” said Tam, “I maun keep my good music for the good people, it’s rather late to flinch now; but come to the bum-edge wi’ me the night, an’ to the mill as early in the morning as ye may ; an’ hark ye, tak a double caulker wi’ you.” He wrapt himself up closely in his plaid, took the pipes under his arm, and, accompanied by Jock and the miller, set out for the dell, into which, however, he insisted on descending alone. Before leaving the bank, his companions could see that he had succeeded in lighting up a fire in the mill, which gleamed through every bore and opening, and could hear the shrill notes of a pibroch mingling with the dash of the cascade.

The sun had risen high enough to look aslant into the dell, when Jock and the miller descended to the mill, and found the door lying wide open. All wa3 silent within ; the fire had sunk into a heap of white ashes, though there was a bundle of fagots untouched beside it, and the stool on which Tam had been seated lay overturned in front. But there were no traces of Tam, except that the miller picked up, beside the stool, a little flat-edged instrument, used by the unfortunate jockey in concealing the age of his horses by effacing the marks on their teeth, and that Jock Hossack found one of the drones of his pipes among the extinguished embers. Weeks passed away and there was still nothing heard of Tam; and as every one seemed to think it would be in vain to seek for him anywhere but in the place where he had been lost, Jock Hossack, whose marriage was vexatiously delayed in consequence of his strange disappearance, came to the resolution of unravelling the mystery, if possible, by passing a night in the mill.

For the first few hours he found the evening wear heavily away; the only sounds that reached him were the loud monotonous dashing of the cascade, and the duller rush of the stream as it swept past the mill-wheel. He piled up fuel on the fire till the flames rose half-way to the ceiling, and every beam and rafter stood out from the smoke as clearly as by day; and then yawning, as he thought how companionable a thing a good fire is, he longed for something to amuse him. A sudden cry rose from the further gable, accompanied by a flutter of wings, and one of the miller’s ducks, a fine plump bird came swooping down among the live embers. “Poor bird!” said Jock, “from the fox to the fire; I had almost forgotten that I wanted my supper.” He dashed the duck against the floor—plucked and embowelled it—and then, suspending the carcass by a string before the fire, began to twirl it round and round to the heat. The strong odoriferous fume had begun to fill the apartment, and the drippings to hiss and sputter among the embers, when a burst of music rose so suddenly from the green without, that Jock, who had been so engaged with the thoughts of his supper as almost to have forgotten the fairies, started half a yard from his seat. “That maun be Tam’s pipes,” he said; and giving a twirl to the duck he rose to a window. The moon, only a few days in her wane, was looking aslant into the dell, lighting the huge melancholy cliffs with their birches and hazels, and the white flickering descent of the cascade. The little level green on the margin of the stream lay more in the shade; but Jock could see that it was crowded with figures marvellously diminutive in stature, and that nearly one-half of them we/e engaged in dancing. It was enough for him, however, that the music was none of Tam’s making; and, leaving the little creatures to gambol undisturbed, he returned to the fire.

He had hardly resumed his seat when a low tap was heard at the door, and shortly after a second and a third. Jock sedulously turned his duck to the heat, and sat still. He had no wish for visitors, and determined on admitting none. The door, however, though firmly bolted, fell open of itself, and there entered one of the strangest-looking creatures he had ever seen. The figure was that of a man, but it was little more than three feet in height; and though the lace was as sallow and wrinkled as that of a person of eighty, the eye had the roguish sparkle and the limbs all the juvenile activity of fourteen. “What’s your name, man?” said the little thing, coming up to Jock, and peering into his face till its wild elfish features were within a few inches of his. “What’s your name?” “Mysel' an' Mysel',” —i. e., myself—said Jock, with a policy similar to that resorted to by Ulysses in the cave of the giant. “Ah, Mysel' an’ Mysel' I” rejoined the creature; u Mysel' an’ Mysel' I and what’s that you have got there, Mysel' an' Mysel' touching the duck as it spoke with the tip of its finger, and then transferring part of the scalding gravy to the cheek of Jock. Rather an unwarrantable liberty, thought the poor fellow, for so slight an acquaintance; the creature reiterated the question, and dabbed Jock’s other cheek with a larger and still more scalding application of the gravy. “What is it?” he exclaimed, losing in his anger all thought of consequences, and dashing the bird, with the full swing of his arm, against the face of his visitor, “It’s that!” The little creature, blinded and miserably burnt, screamed out in pain and terror till the roof rung again; the music ceased in a moment, and Jock Hossack had barely time to cover the fire with a fresh heap of fuel, which for a few seconds reduced the apartment to total darkness, when the crowd without came swarming like wasps* to every door and window of the mill. “Who did it, Sanachy—who did it?” was the query of a thousand voices at once. “Oh, ’twas Mysel' art Mysel',” said the creature; “ ’twas Mysel' an' Mysel'.” “And if it was yoursel’ and yoursel’, who, poor Sanachy,” replied his companions, “ can help that?” They still, however, clustered round the mill; the flames began to rise in long pointed columns through the smoke, and Jock Hossack had just given himself up for lost, when a cock crew outside the building, and after a sudden breeze had moaned for a few seconds among the cliffs and the bushes, and then sunk in the lower recesses of the dell, he found himself alone. He was married shortly after to the sister of the lost jockey, and never again saw the good people, or, what he regretted nearly as little, his unfortunate brother-in-law. There were some, however, who affirmed, that the latter had returned from fairyland seven years after his mysterious disappearance, and supported the assertion by the fact, that there was one Thomas M‘Kechan who suffered at Perth for sheep-stealing a few months after the expiry of the seventh year. .

One other tradition of the bum of Eathie, and I have done. But I need ran no risk of marring it in the telling. More fortunate than most of its contemporaries, it has been preserved by the muse of one of those forgotten poets of our country, who, thinking more of their subjects than of themselves, “ saved others’ names and left their own unsung.” And I have but to avail myself of his ballad.



“Whar hae ye been, my dochter deir,
I’ the cauld an’ the plashy weet?
There’s snaw i’ the faulds o’ your silken hair,
An’ bluid on your bonny feet.

There’s grief and fright, my dochter deir,
I’ the wand’rin’ blink o’ your ee;
An’ ye’re stayed arout i’ the sleet an’ the cauld
The livelang nicht frae me.”

“O mither deir ! mak’ ye my bed,
For my heart it’s Hichtin’ sair;
An’ oh ! gin I’ve vexed ye, mither deir,
I'll never vex ye mair.

I’ve Btayed arout the lang mirk nicht,
I’ the sleet an’ the plashy rain;
But, mither deir, mak’ ye my bed,
An’ I’ll ne’er gang out again.

An* oh, put by that maiden snood,
Whar nane may evir see;
For Jamie’s ta’en a richer joe,
An’ left but shame to me."

An’ she has made her dochter’s bed,
An’ her auld heart it was wae;
For as the lang mirk hours gaed by,
Her lassie wore away.

The dead wirk i’ her bonny hause
Was wirkin’ a’ that day an’ nicht;
An’ or the morning she was gane,
Wi’ the babe that nevir saw the licht.

The mither grat by her dochter’s bed,
An’ she has cursed curses three:
That he wha wrocht her deidly ill
Ane happy man mocht never be.


There was licht i’ the widow's lonesome shiel,
An’ licht i* the farmer’s ha’;
For the widow was sewin’ her dochter’s shroud.
An’ the bride’s folk dancin’ a’.

But aye or the tither reel was danced out,
The wae bridegroom begoud to tire;
An' a spale on the candil turn’d to the bride,
An' a coffin loup’d frae the fire.

An’ whan to the kirkin’ the twasome went
Sae trig, i’ the burrow’s toune below,
Their first feet as they left the kirk
Was the burial o’ Jamie’s joe.

Jamie he labourt air an’ late,
An* mickle carit for pleugh an’ kye;
But laigher aye he sank i’ the warl’
As the weary years gaed by.

His puir gudewife was dowie an’ wae;
His threesome bairns a grief to see—
The tane it was deaf, the tither blin’,
The third a lamiter like to be.

The bums were rinnin’ big wi* spate,
Lentron win’s blew gurly and snell;
Whan’Jamie cam to Cromartie town
Wi’ a cart o’ bear to selL

“O why do ye daidle so late i’ the toune,
Jamie, it’s time ye were boune to ride ?*
“It’s because that I dinna like to gang,
An’ I kenna how to bide.

Pic-mirk nicht it’s settin’ in
The wife at hame sita dowie and wae;
An’, Elder, I maunna bide i’ the toune,
An' I kenna how to gae.

It saw’d on my rigs or the drouchts cam on,
It milk’d i’ my byre or my kye did dee;
It follows me aye wharevir I gang,
An’ I see it now though ye canna see.”

“Gin it follows ye aye wharevir ye gang,
There’s anither Jamie that follows ye too;
An* gin that ye nevir wrangit the dead,
The dead will nevir be mastir o’ you.’*

Jamie he gripit the elder’s han»,
An’ syne he slackit the branks to ride.
An’ doun he gied to the Eathie bum;
But he nevir cam up on the ither side.

There’s a maisterless colly at Jamie’s door,
Eerie it manes to the wife arin.
There’s a gled an’ a craw on the Eathie crag,
And a broken corp at the fit o’ the linn.

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