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The Parish of Longforgan
Chapter X. Three Longforgan Worthies

Mr. Henry Prain, whose forebears were in the village of Longforgan centuries ago, has furnished me with the following sketch of one or two of the village characters fifty, years ago. His paper is entitled "A Short Biographical Notice of Three Longforgan Worthies." He has also given me the use of other papers.

"Ina village, old as the days of Wallace, and honoured with a visit from him as he was running away from Dundee,—in this village, old - fashioned, badly - housed, yet pleasantly situated, lived and died my three Scotch Worthies. There they were from a little past the middle of last century until about the middle of the present.

"To give an idea of the particular place in the village where they lived, it is needful to tell something about the situation and shape of it.

The situation is most beautiful. It is set upon a crescent, at the east end of the Carse of Gowrie, extending four or five miles from south-east to north-west, and about the centre of the crescent, sloping towards the south, about a mile and a half north of the Tay, overlooking many long miles of that magnificent river and many broad acres of the flat Carse. On the other side of the river are to be seen the Fife hills, dotted with mansion-houses and woods, corn and pasture fields, villages and homesteads, from beyond Abernethy on the west to Tayport on the east. The shape of the village can hardly be described. It is more than half a mile long. The road between Dundee and Perth goes through it. On each side of the road, there is a row of houses so called; but, occasionally, a house or two turns at a right angle northward or southward. The houses were mostly thatched and mud-floored. Many of them have a step down from the road.

"But to the abodes of my heroines, Dumbie, Nelly, and Highland Jean. Oh for a photo of the three and of the huts in which they lived and died! Those three huts formed one row at the extreme east end of the village, on the north side of the road, six or seven yards from it, about thirty yards apart from the houses on the west side, and far away from any houses on the east side. Although the three houses were joined together, each had its own door, and one or two windows, or rather holes, small enough, but sufficient to let in plenty of air and some light. The houses were built with clay, mixed with land boulders for stones, thatched with straw, and floored with mud. The houses stood entirely free from all others, and were fully exposed to every blast that blew. When the wind was from the north or east, the wintry blasts were bitter and biting—pure and undisturbed from the Sidlaws; and when from the south or south-east, the wind was thin, keen, and without a break from the Bay of St. Andrews. The crevices in the walls rather invited, than prevented, the wind from entering. In big snowstorms, which came generally from the east or north-east, this isolated row had to bear the fury of the blast, which came sweeping over the bare landscape without interruption until it reached the huts wherein my three worthy maidens were sheltered. It was a glorious sight to see those hills of snow in their sparkling beauty, variety of size, curve, and taper-like ramparts of whitest alabaster surrounding and enveloping the three mounds. But to think of the three imprisoned inhabitants within! Once or twice they were so completely buried in the snow that only the chimney-tops could be seen, and a young man had to climb over the wreaths and call down the chimney to the person below, to knock on the back of the door in order that the men might know where to begin and dig them out.

"I should have mentioned that the employment of the villagers was mostly agricultural, weaving, and the spinning and pirn wheel. At that time most of the families had more or less land, and grew and manufactured their own flax. Latterly, as most of the small crofts were taken into large farms, and as hand spinning had been superseded by machinery, the employment was chiefly weaving, winding, and harvest work."

Nelly Johnstone and Highland Jean are the more interesting of the Worthies. We give Mr. Prain's sketch of each.

A. Nelly Johnstone.

Nelly lived in the middle house of the three, the door of which was rather low, but amply sufficient to admit Nelly. There was one window to the south, with a small curved tunnel at the side, through which the cat went in and out at its pleasure, and another window to the north. These two, with a big low vent, served to admit all the light there was in that lowly dwelling of one apartment, with its clay floor and small fireplace. That one room contained the machinery by which she earned her frugal livelihood, as well as her furniture. The machinery was a spinning-wheel and reel, a pirn-wheel and swifts. The furniture consisted chiefly of a close bedstead, the lids of which could be opened or shut at pleasure, a very big press with drawers at the bottom,—this article served for wardrobe and library,—a plate-rack, one or two old chests, a buffet stool for dining-table, and a large dresser, two chairs, and two or three small stools, an axe, and an old spade. Her garden was in two divisions. The portion at the back was used for growing potatoes and other vegetables; the portion before the door was a wilderness of every description of herbs, groundsel, marsh mallow, camomile, peppermint, etc. Around this garden there was a hedge of shrubs, appleringo, sweet brier, roses red and white, both wild and tame, bluebells and balm, etc. Nelly dealt greatly in herbs herself, and freely dispensed them to others, with her sage advice and directions as to how they should be used.

Nelly herself was a low-built, broad, bent body. She had a pleasant enough expression ; but, being near-sighted, had rather a peculiar look about the eyes. She never got the name of a witch. An herbster she was well known to be. . A good-flax spinner in the days when the spinning-wheel was used, a good canny pirn-winder, no very great shearer, but from these occupations she earned her sole livelihood for many a long year. With the bigger wages for harvest work, she paid her yearly rent of twenty-five shillings. Her average wage for pirn-winding was not more than two shillings a week. Her living was very plain indeed-.—the potatoes and vegetables which grew in her garden, some oatmeal, peppermint for tea, and treacle for sugar. Sometimes the neighbours gave her a bowl of broth, occasionally a loaf, which she took thankfully, but never with a hint of " Haste ye back." A penny from the Session she would not hear of, until over eighty.

Nelly's dress was as plain as her living. Like the dress of the Israelites in the wilderness, it never seemed to grow old. Her working dress was a short-gown, blue flannel petticoat, a checked apron, and thick sowback, tied on with a black ribbon. For meetings on week days she had a dark gown and black-and-white tartan shawl, and for Sabbath much the same. But one bonnet served for all occasions and all seasons. And such a bonnet for size and shape! There was material enough in it to make three or four of the bonnets worn nowadays. You had a long look under the dark shade before you could see her face. Add now the strong-built whalebone umbrella, the Bible, balm and appleringo folded in a white napkin. Umbrella under her arm, Bible in hand, thus equipped, you would have met Nelly every Sabbath morning, between eight and nine o'clock, summer and winter, on the road to the Chapelshade Kirk, Dundee, a distance of 6-J- miles. She worshipped in that church for many years before the Disruption of 1843, and for more than twenty years after that event in Chapelshade Free Church. In the early Sabbath mornings, you would have seen the smoke ascending from her chimney, and been sure that there was ascending also the incense of praise and thanksgiving.

Being born and brought up beside Nelly, and a great favourite with her from my boyhood, 1 could tell many a famous tale about her. She was humble and unassuming in her manner ; yet her influence, her conversation, and whole bearing were a great power for good in the village, especially among the young women, who were much given to frequent her lowly dwelling. She was a great reader, and had a wonderful stock of books—some volumes in black letter, all by orthodox authors, such as Flavel, Rutherford, Melville, Henderson, Bunyan, Boston, Baxter, the Erskines, Ralph and Ebenezer, etc. Above all, she read and studied the Bible.

In Nelly's time, tent preaching in rural districts was very common on sacramental occasions in summer, and she was in the habit of attending many of these great gatherings. I have known her travelling ten or twelve miles, if she had heard that a really good preacher was to be there, furnished with a bit of oaten cake, which she would sit down and eat by the side of some , spring or burn, after having given thanks. On this simple fare she supported herself unt"1 she returned, late in the evening, to kindle her fire and make a little supper for herself, refreshed with the spiritual food she had received. The long day's travel was never grudged, nor did she ever seem a bit the worse nor less able to be at work on Monday morning. In the tens of thousands of miles which she must have travelled to church, in the course of fifty or sixty years, she must have got many a drenching with rain and suffered the pelting of many a snowstorm and surly winter's blast, endured the sultry, oppressive heat of summer, and the chilly feeling of hoarfrost as she walked away in the dark wintry mornings, often a solitary wanderer on the road, by hedgerows and woods, sometimes overtaken by a thunderstorm. She spoke of being awestruck with the thought of hearing God's voice in the thunder, and seeing an emblem of His power in the darting lightning flash. Yet from all these dangers she escaped unscathed, and enjoyed unbroken health up to within a few years of her death, at the age of, at least, eighty-five.

Nelly was not only fond of hearing good preaching and going far to hear it, but she had a fine memory, and used it to hold the texts and heads and particulars of the sermons, and it gave her great pleasure to communicate what she had heard to those who visited her. Many a grand text and sermon she told over to me. Once, when hearing the account of an extraordinary sermon, I think by Parker, I nearly offended her. The text was about the twelve gates into the city in Revelation. She went on telling me what he said about the various gates we had to pass through. There was the gate of foreordination, the gate of adoption, the gate of regeneration, and so on and on with each of the twelve. When near the end, I was inclined to laugh, and said, "Would it not do if we got in at 'ony ane'?" She looked at me rather seriously, and said, "Oh, laddie!" but pardoned my ignorance.

Besides Nelly, there were in the village a few families belonging to the Seceders who had to go to a church west from Lochee—the Kirk of the Myre, and when it was shut, to the School-wynd, Dundee. But as Nelly belonged to the Established Church till 1843, was thought strange that she should go so far for preaching, and leave "the minister the Lord had sent to be over the parish." From the ignorant and indifferent she had some not very pleasant remarks to endure about wearing her shoes, etc. Nevertheless, she held on her own way to the end.

Among the distinctive features of Nelly's character were her cheerfulness and her sustained and regular attendance upon the worship of God, in private and public. In her lowly home she had erected an altar to the God of salvation, never to be neglected. Indeed, she lived and breathed in an atmosphere of devout and humble praise and thanksgiving. Visitors were never long in her house, until they felt they were on consecrated ground, although there had been no formal dedication with priestly mummeries. For a long time there was a weekly prayer meeting held in the village, and sometimes a mile or two out of it, when a suitable place for it was found. These meetings were held in private houses, as not even the schoolhouse was allowed for that purpose, the leaders of those meetings being chiefly elders belonging to Dissenting churches. Wherever these meetings were held, Nelly was always to be found among the worshippers. Neither distance nor weather was a barrier to her, for she in no way practised silver-slipper religion.

Nelly had a very strong Scotch feeling of independence. She was poor in money, but rich in cheerful contentment with her lot. She had never in all her life possessed at one time thirty shillings. But she had no beggarly spirit. As years beyond threescore and ten told that she was not so strong as she had once been, I tried several times to persuade her to take a little help from the Kirk Session, but she would not hear of it for years, until an illness came over her, when for some weeks she was unable to work. With a sorrowful heart and pitiful look she at last yielded to my suggestion ; but she said, "As the rent, twenty-five shillings, will be to pay, you will take the ten siblings I have laid past for it, and give it to them to help it." I said, " Not in the meantime, but I will think about it." I had to be very tender and careful as to what I said on the subject. She had not long received help from the Session, when a new source of income came, with overwhelming surprise, upon her. An old maiden lady in the village died and left Nell 19s. Whenever she got the news I was sent for. Never can I forget the earnest, anxious countenance with which she looked up and almost cried out, "O laddie, pray for me that I may be kcepit hummel. Fat can I do wi' a' that siller? Ye'll pay back the Session fat I've gotten," etc. I calmed her as best I could, and promised, but said we would wait a wee. Of course the paltry sum she got from the Session was given up. The sum £19, 19s. given her by the lady served her all the years she lived, and there were a few shillings of it in the house when she died at well upon ninety years.

The whole bearing of Nelly's long life was a power for the moral and spiritual well-being of more than one generation. Her religion was the natural outflow of her sanctified life. She was possessed with the Spirit of Christ. He dwelt in her richly by faith and the hope of glory, and these graces, ever working by love, made her religion feel just as natural as "the balmy breath of incense breathing morn." Hence her unruffled contentment, her constant cheerfulness, .and her great power for winning the confidence of, and her entire freedom to give faithfully, the needful counsel to each of her many callers in their varied circumstances, so that the remark was common that one never went in and came out from Nelly's, without feeling brighter and better for the visit. Her counsel or advice was so full of heart and earnest simplicity, that it went directly to the heart of the hearer. Often the language was very quaint, but always free from offence. To the young she would say, " Mind and aye do biddin'. The Bible doesna say, Obey good parents, but obey yer parents in the Lord." To young women she often said, " Noo, dinna speak back. Be aye civil, and though a thing be na pleasant, there's anither Master abune ye have to please, and He kens a' about it." When told that any of the lassies were to be married, she would say, " A weel, a weel. I hope they'll do the right gate thegither." She never joked much about marriage. The writer of these lines about Nelly will never forget one fine summer morning, more than fifty years ago, when busy at the warping-mill in an outhouse. Nelly, as her work required, came in with a bag of filled pirns to get empty pirns to fill. I stopped the mill in order to make the exchange. She said, "That's a bonnie mornin'. Ye've gotten up and able to be at yer wark. I hope ye hanna forgotten to gie thank for the mercies, though it were but three or four wirds." So saying, she went away with her pirns. But that sunny morning and those few words so kindly and tenderly spoken, have not been forgotten by me.

The lime drew nigh when Nelly had to bid farewell to all earthly concerns. She had no very lengthened nor severe illness. She was just " wear in' awa'," and she knew it. She knew also, long before, that her mansion above was fitted up and ready to be occupied.

B. Highland Jean.

Jean, in personal appearance, was unlike Nelly. She was fully medium height, and very strongly built, with a Highland lounge or bend in her shoulders, and a climb - mountain - like step in her walk; a rather masculine tone of voice, with a strong Gaelic accent. Some of these peculiarities she had acquired in her early youth, at the foot of Mount Blair, where she was born. She came down to the Lowlands when quite young. Jean's dress was made from the most durable material, meant to be suitable either for outdoor or indoor work, as far as possible fit for all kinds of work and all kinds of weather.

She was mostly employed at farm work, during summer and harvest. At all kinds of agricultural work she was a first-rate hand, and often had to do work that needed more than the strength of an ordinary female. In the winter-time, in her younger days, she spun flax, and sometimes a coarser sort of yarn as flax-spinning wore out. For many years before she died, her winter work was the pirn-wheel. Jean lived upon very plain food, indeed very coarse food. People, nowadays, would not believe if I were to tell about nettle kale, peppermint tea, and pease brose. Yet these, with bread baked with a little oatmeal, mixed with potatoes, were all well known, and often used for the support of Jean's robust health and strength.

Jean had often to go a good bit for out-work, and was early up in the morning, made ready her flagon with its mixture for dinner on the field, and was never too late for her work. She returned at night between seven and eight o'clock, made her supper, and prepared for bed with thanksgiving for the mercies of the day. I never knew Jean off work with sickness until her last, when she was over ninety years old.

Jean never was at any school, but she managed to learn to read. Her only book was the Bible, and it she knew well, especially the Psalms of David. These she not only knew, but could repeat to a great extent, and delighted to give quotations from them. She was a regular attender at the parish kirk. Her red plaid and black big bonnet were never missed on Sabbath, and among the first on the road was Jean. The parish kirk and the "minister sent by the Lord to be over the flock "were sacred institutions with Jean, and she blamed Nelly very much for not going to" oor ain kirk.

Jean's income was bigger than Nellie's. She was much stronger, and a good part of the year she wrought at farm work, and had from eight-pence to tenpence a day. At the harvest work, too, she made more money ; but putting all together, and one year with another, her average income was never more than four shillings or four-and-sixpence a week all her life. Her yearly rent was twenty-five shillings. Her clothes were coarse, strong, and well-cared for. Her living was of the plainest, her garden supplied a large portion of it; but a robust constitution, hard work, and a good deal of it outdoor, gave her almost unbroken good health. No doubt a thankful and contented mind did its share in the matter. Like Nelly, she had a noble, independent spirit, no beggarli-ness about her, nor complaints about weakness or want. The idea of taking anything from the Session she spurned ; and only at last, when the burden of fourscore years and ten was upon her, with a sorrowful sigh she agreed to take a little.

Jean was a born Highland soldier—a true heroine—fit for following Prince Charlie, as this story will prove. As I said, Jean's house was next to Nelly's, and joined with it. One night, shortly after Nelly had got the 19s. left her by the lady, a blackguard who had heard about it, thought that the money might be in the house, and that he could take it. Mistaking the one house for the other, he went to Jean's window after midnight, and made an attempt to get in. The window was small, and not fit to let a person in without a good deal of squeezing. Jean was in bed, but, startled with the noise, sprang to the floor, demanding who was there. By this time the cowardly rascal had his head in at the window, and was pressing hard to get his body in. That night Jean had gathered a bundle of sticks in the wood, and they were lying on the floor. In the dark, she felt among the sticks, and found a young birch tree with part of the root on it, making a fine club. With this strong weapon, in willing hands, Jean laid on. thud after thud, with a hech saying, "I'se pet ye out o' that, ye base blackguard ! " He was some time in drawing himself back, and Jean was not idle. The scoundrel got angry, and was determined to get in. Again and again he made attempts, but was met with the same hearty reception, until after a "lang fecht," as Jean said, "he gaed awa,' but I'se warrant no' wi' a hale head."

Poor creature, she sat up all night after the battle was over, watching, club in hand, for fear he would come back, for she said, "I needna ha' gaen to my bed, I was so forfochen." At the time this took place, Jean would be well over eighty, but she lived a good few years afterwards in health and strength, and pursued her ordinary labour.

There is a story connected with Jean's deathbed which I cannot leave out. It was so like her, especially like her manner of bringing in quotations from her favourite book, the Psalms, whenever she was pressed for an answer. All her life, Jean attended to her household affairs herself. No help from any other body was allowed. She was never particularly cleanly, and when she had been in bed for days,' things got worse. The neighbours who attended to give her food, or do any little thing, were only allowed to go so far. When they tried to get things put to rights, Jean's answer always was, " Och, it's braly." At last a deputation came to me, and asked me to go and speak to her about the business. When I went into the house, Jean was lying in her bed. A table stood before it, covered with various articles of crockery, prominent among them being a big black teapot. Below the table there were, I do not know how many things, along with pots and pans, which occupied the front seat. Before the table stood an old rickety chair, nearer the fireplace a buffet stool and one or two smaller ones, at the window stood the pirn-wheel and swifts. I ferreted my way to the foreside of the bed. I stood in danger of moving my hand for fear of the crockery, or my feet for fear of the pots. I asked very earnestly for her, sympathised with her, tried to bring in the cleaning-up, but failed, tried again, and got an evasive answer, "Och aye, but it's fine ; I should be tbankfu'." Again I urged the importance of cleaning up, for her health and comfort. But mark my answer, very pathetic and firm: "Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold."

Jean grew gradually worse and said nothing against the house-cleaning. She was very kindly attended to, and, in little more than a week after the above quotation from her favourite book, the Psalms, she joined her two neighbours, Dumbie and Nelly, in the auld kirkyard. She was ninety-four years of age when she died, having in a humble, honest, industrious, and honourable manner, fought life's battle.

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