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Notable Orcadians
Around the Orkney Peat-Fires

The Rev. John Gerard

One wild blustering night many winters ago a number of neighbours had gathered around a rousing peat-fire in the Herston district of South Ronaldshay. The conversation, as was quite natural, brought up the name of the Rev. John Gerard. One of the company, looking across the fire at old Watty Sinclair, asked that worthy whether he knew this once famous minister.

Slowly laying aside his pipe, and gazing at his questioner with open-eyed amazement at his ignorance (whether assumed or otherwise we need not stay to inquire), Watty exclaimed— “ Did I know Mr Gerard? Man, you might as well have asked if I know my own wife or my own bairns. A more sensible question would have been, Is there anybody in South Ronald-shay or in Orkney, that has not heard of him?”

It was quite plain that Watty was very much out of temper because such ignorance had been imputed to him. He had well-nigh worshipped Mr Gerard in life, and now that the eccentric old minister was gathered to his fathers, Watty would gladly have transformed him into an Orkney saint.

Mansie Louttit, who was a man of tact, and was well aware of his old friend’s peculiarities, mildly suggested that it would be well if the rising generation knew more of Mr Gerard than they did; and he was sure there was no one in Orkney better fitted to give that gentleman’s biography than Watty Sinclair.

This bit of flattery somewhat mollified Watty, and, as he was pressed by all present to tell the story of Mr Gerard’s life-work in the county, he cleared his throat, and began : —

“Well, Mr Gerard came to Orkney in 1814, and for about fifteen years after was the only minister in South Ronaldshay and Burray. I think his parents were poor people, for he told me himself that the first money he earned was in herding cattle, and that he had to trim rushes for oily lamps to get possession of a pen-knife, when he was quite a child. But I know very little of his early history. However, I will say this without fear of contradiction, that he was the best known minister in Orkney in his day. He was a good bit of a wag, and, as you know, the people in every parish in the county have something funny to relate regarding him. Judged by his sayings alone—and it is well to remember that he sometimes got credit for remarks be never made—it might be thought that he was a wild uncultivated man; but those who knew him best—both Churchmen and Dissenters—will admit that he was a Christian and a gentleman. He was certainly a terror to evil-doers, but he was very gentle and kind to children. There is no doubt he was odd in everything he did, and I for one could scarcely look in his face at any time without laughing. Some of his illustrations were so coarse that they are not fit to be printed; but he always used these for the attainment of a good object. At a time when temperance was at a discount, Mr Gerard vehemently denounced the drinking customs of the people, and was a prominent member of the first temperance society formed in Orkney. He was an enthusiastic musician, and did much to stimulate a taste for music in the county. When be came to the parish the singing in his church was very bad, and in describing it to a friend, he said— "A man had a book, and a man sang, but horrible was the music!* To remedy this state of matters he taught music classes in the different districts of his extensive parish, and in this way effected a great improvement in congregational singing. In connection with these classes he composed lines to be sung with the two different metres. The long metre was as follows: —

‘Music religious thoughts inspires,
And kindles in us pure desires,
Gives pleasure to a well-tuned mind,
The most exalted and refined.’

The common metre was : —

‘Come let us sing the tune of French—
The second measure low—
The third extendeth very high,
And the fourth down, down, doth go.’

“His originality and eccentricity of character will serve as a monument to him as durable as stone. He was a man of warm affection and upright principle, and while his piety would compare favourably with the professions of our modern clergy, his quaint and humorous traits of character and singular strength of intellect, marked him out as perhaps the most rare and gifted clergyman in Orkney during his generation.

“Mr Gerard gave so freely of his means to poor people, that he often ran short of change. On one occasion he had employed a rat-catcher, but was unable to pay him. He therefore presented him with a note in the following terms, to be delivered to Mr Thomas Budge of Brough: —‘ Manse, 13th August, 1849.—Dear Sir,—The bearer, William Duff, has this day given my large family of rats their last supper ! I have not 3s to pay him. Keep this as your receipt, and give the poor man 3s to help him over the Firth.—Yours truly, John Gerard.’“ Writing to Mr John Allan, Burwick, under date 16th March, 1846, Mr Gerard said: —‘This wandering tuner has come back upon me and has taken my piano to pieces, without asking leave. I had 9 bawbees, that is all! For mercy to a poor sinner give 60 bawbees, and charge me.’ The tuner certified that he had received payment from Mr Allan as follows: —

‘Received the above (not in bawbees), but as good, say in silver, and a passage to Huna.— James Davie, jr.’

“Writing to a solicitor in Edinburgh in December, 1842, Mr Gerard incidentally gives a glimpse of his parish work. He says: —‘I have many letters to write and answer every week. The duty of such a parish is more than mortal man can perform. The number of sick and distressed is very great. They value my quackery. If I shall refuse to prescribe they are directed to the best doctors in haste. I tell them plainly their danger. Thus they say if I do no good in such cases, they are confident I shall do them no harm. All for nothing—no matter for some pounds spent in drugs—I get their blessing. . . . My heart is warm as it was sixty years ago. Cut off sixty years and I am just entering my teens. I am coming into the region of feeling. ... I am feeling for an everlasting life in a clearer state of existence. All with whom I have lived are objects of my concern. What do I owe them ? What neglect of duty to them ? What atonement and compensation can I make where I may have wronged any of them? What are they now? Where shall I meet them, and what shall our future residence together be? .... If you hear the roar of ridicule against the doctrine just ask these questions—Tell me the limits of the powers of darkness P Tell me the connection of the world of spirits with our souls?’

“In another letter to the same correspondent, Mr Grerard not only referred to his critics, but dealt with a suggestion which had been made to him to print some of his writings. He said: — ‘To the malignant and unfeeling critic my letters are the subject of bitter sarcasm, and are denounced as oddities—wild and extravagant effusions. There are reasons for this. . . .

I was twenty-five years of age when I finished at Marischall College, and therefore ought to bring with me more than the giddy boy who began a short curriculum at thirteen. Now, I often hit off an idea suggested by something taught and remembered that few know or feel. This is the subject of sport to the ignorant and would-be critic. My intimate acquaintance with my Bible from early days, and accurate study of theology, enable me to say some things that will never fail to please the person who has thought seriously for eternity. Some of my friends (perhaps flatterers) have advised me to publish some of my thoughts, and said they would sell. I have a peculiar horror to appearing in print, and therefore I have never said that I will do this. Perhaps I may venture a little bookie at a shilling, for the following reasons : —I taught twenty-eight years in four parochial schools; I have been forty-two years a preacher, and that from sixty-five pulpits from Edinburgh to the ends of Orkney, and had the charge of two parishes twenty-eight years—Arbuthnot and this parish—and I preached almost constantly in Aberdeen thirteen years, where many thousands heard me in the different churches there. Thousands knew me, but I knew neither their names nor occupations. Now, many of all these might venture a shilling to see what I would say. Yea, if my age and infirmities and duties to my parish would permit me to extend my best thoughts, my posterity would have a kinder motive than curiosity for reading them, and the partiality of an old scholar, a well-wisher, and a parishioner, might be inclined to buy and read from a kind motive, too V

“It will thus be seen,” continued Watty, “that Mr Gerard knew quite well his sayings were much discussed and criticised. Writing to a correspondent three years before he died (in 1847), he said—'I feel keenly, and express myself strongly. It is true that some have been pleased with these effusions, but colder writers have declared them extravagant nonsense/ Some people might think that his queer sayings were delivered on the spur of the moment; but I incline to the belief that Mr Gerard’s ideas were the outcome of serious thought. It is well known to you all that when he had to deliver a funeral discourse, he was in the habit of writing, as a marginal note, opposite a pathetic passage where he wished to shed tears, the expressive words, ‘Greet here!’

“Mr Gerard died in 1850,” added Watty with a sigh, at the same time suspiciously blowing his nose and rubbing away the moisture which had gathered in the corners of his eyes.“ I followed his remains to the North Churchyard, South Ronaldshay. The inscription on his tombstone is as follows:—‘In memory of Jane Craig, wife of Rev. John Gerard, who died 30th January, 1837; and of the Rev. John Gerard, minister of South Ronaldshay and Burray, who died 2nd October, 1850, in the 85th year of his age, the 45th year of his ministry, and the 36th of his incumbency!

“Mr Gerard’s son was educated for the ministry, but lie only preached once or twice. He was offered his father’s charge in 1850, but he declined the call.”

When Watty concluded his narrative as given above, one of the younger members of the company suggested that he might relate some of the humorous anecdotes regarding Mr Gerard, which he was known to have collected from time to time.

“No, no,” replied Watty. “The 4 amers must he raked ’ now, but if we were to begin with these reminiscences it would be time to yoke to-morrow morning before we got through with them. However, if you care to come across to my house this night week, I will try and oblige you.”

Taking this broad hint that it was time to go, the company separated, resolving, however, to accept the invitation so freely given by their old friend, Watty Sinclair.

The news soon spread over the parish that Watty Sinclair was going to give reminiscences of Mr Gerard, with the result that nearly every family in the district was represented when we next gathered around his peat-fire. Watty had on his spectacles, which was the best token he could have given that he was in a good mood. After pipes had been filled, the weather discussed, and Mrs Sinclair’s home-brewn ale had been sampled, Watty was invited to tell some stories regarding Mr Gerard.

“Well,” said Watty, “as yon all know, Mr Gerard was very quick in the temper, and as the habits and customs of the people then were very different from what they are now, he was often at variance with his parishioners. He was much annoyed with his neighbours’ sheep and pigs roaming about the glebe. After giving due notice, he bought a gun and a mould for making leaden bullets, and shot several of the straying animals. This led to bad feeling on both sides, and Mr Gerard used to describe the owners of the offending animals as stupid brutes and devils! He once shot a pig and sent for the owner to come and take it away. Not knowing that the beast was dead, the owner asked Mr Gerard what he had to pay, and was blandly told there was no charge, because the pig had promised if it were taken away this time, it would never come back again!”

“Man,” said Robbie Matches, “that puts me in mind of a story I have heard my father telling. A gentleman who was travelling through Orkney came to South Ronaldshay, and happening to call at the Manse, he got such a kind reception that he remained for several days. He had the use of a horse to ride through the island, and a man to show him the sights in the various districts. One evening Mr Gerard asked his visitor to draw his chair up to the fire, as he was going to ask him a question. 'You have been travelling a good deal among my parishioners,’ said Mr Gerard, 'and talking with them. Now, tell me honestly, do you think I am popular?’ 'No,’ replied the visitor. 'To tell you the truth, you are very unpopular.’ 'Ah, I knew it,’ retorted Mr Gerard; 'but did they tell you the reason why?’ 'No.’ 'Well, it is just because I am honest and tell them the truth. There is another parish that belongs to me besides this one. Pugh! I don’t care a button for them—they are a set of poor ignorant creatures. I never preach a regular sermon there, but just take one of the commandments, and moralise on it for a time. I have a good few half-sensible decent bodies in the North Parish, but some are very ignorant and unreasonable. The other Sabbath, as I was on my way to the South Kirk, I saw one of my neighbour’s sheep in the identical park that I had forbidden them to enter, so I asked my man Willie to help me down off my pony, which he did. I then told him to catch the creature, which he also did, when I took out my knife and cut its jugular vein, leaving it to bleed to death, that the people might see it as they went to the kirk.’”

"Did you ever hear what Mr Gerard said to the joiner about Mrs Gerard when he was getting a little onthonse built?” asked old Mansie Budge, taking a hearty pinch of snuff, and quietly chuckling at the evident annoyance which his question had caused.

“Oh, yes!" replied Watty Sinclair, “but you should understand that this is scarcely a fitting anecdote for the present occasion,” giving a knowing look in the direction of the lasses, who were busily engaged at a spinning wheel outside the circle which surrounded the fire. “However, I will tell you a better story. You all know that if a girl is baptised in the same water after a boy, she will be sure to sport whiskers before she dies. Well, Mr Gerard once told me something in this connection which is worth repeating. ‘ You know/ said he, ‘ that the inhabitants of the island over there (Burray?) are awfully prolific. They would have me dance over every now and then to baptise their bairns, but I let it be till it comes to the matter of ten or a dozen, and then do it all at once. The last time I was across, there was a large assembly of them in a barn. A table and a basin of water having been provided, a woman brought forward a bonnie wee mannie on his feet, and I baptised him and put them to their seats. I said to the next woman, ‘ bring forward your wean/ but she sat still. You should know that there is a midwife in the island named Lizzie Strachan, who has a motherly care over all the bairns she takes to the world. She came forward and said—‘You’re no’ gaun tae bapteeze this lassie oot o’ the same water as the boy, or it’ll be a living disgrace to her a’ her life.’ I answered — ‘I am a minister of the Kirk of Scotland, come here to administer one of its most solemn ordinances, an’ if ye dinna lat me bapteeze this lassie oot o’ the same water, I’ll bapteeze you, ye auld limmer that ye are.’ Without giving her time to answer, I threw the basin of water in her face, came down to the shore, and crossed over here. That is eighteen weeks ago, and I haven’t been there since.”

“Mr Gerard seems to have been very severe on the women,” said Gilbert Tomison, as he for the first time took part in the discussion. “On one occasion there was a lady staying at the Manse, and, as she was hospitably entertained, she appeared to be in no hurry to leave. One morning at breakfast Mr Gerard asked her if she read her Bible, to which she replied that she did. Mr Gerard then asked if she had ever read the 17th verse of the 25th chapter of Proverbs. Her reply was that she probably had, but that she could not remember the words at that moment. ‘Ah, well,’ said Mr Gerard, ‘you should read it now.’ She apparently acted on her host’s advice, for she took the hint, and left the manse at once.”

“Ah,” said Mansie Budge, again breaking in upon the conversation, “Mr Gerard said some very queer things about the women. Do you remember the kind of under-apparel he advised them to wear?”

“Man, Mansie,” replied Watty Sinclair, “I wonder how it is that you can only recall what is nasty, and can never give us anything that’s funny? As you all know, Mr Gerard was something of a poet, Well, he sent a piece of cloth to a tailor to get it made into a coat. The tailor was hard up for money, and yet he could not get time to make the garment. At last he sent asking Mr Gerard for an advance of a few shillings, when he received a reply in the following terms: —

‘Lazy Johnnie Cumming, make my coat,
For I hae siller, and thu has not;
Thu has my measure, and, as I said,
Mak my coat and thu’ll be paid.'

Bobbie Duncan was now seen overhauling the contents of a large pocket-book. At last he produced a sheet of paper, yellow with age, which he reverently spread out on his knee. “Here,” said he, “is a letter written by Mr Gerard. It seems that the bank agents at Kirkwall and Stromness had questioned the signature of Mr Gerard, which appeared on a cheque tendered as payment for a debt. *Manse of South Ronaldshay, 12th May, 1838.—Dear Sir,—Some fifty years ago the walls of the houses in Aberdeen were overlaid with large sheets with this inscription—‘ Wonders! Wonders!! Wonders!!! and wonders to be seen in the microscope of Dr. Caterfelto. Truly I add wonders! wonders!! wonders!!! and double wonders!!!! and one wonder more at the doubt of my much-loved friend J B about my writing my name. . . .

It was upon the first of May,
I’ll not forget th’ eventful day,
I signed the bill with great good will,
And am your humble servant still,—
John Gerard coarse,
John Gerard fine,
John Gerard with mine eyes dead shut.”

“I have as good a piece about Mr Gerard as that,” said Jamie Cumming anxious to contribute his share to the anecdotes. “Once Mr Gerard was invited to assist at the Communion services in St. Magnus Cathedral, and the reply he sent was as follows : —

‘I joy’d when to the House of God,
Go up they said to me,
And soon within St. Magnus' pile,
Gerard shall standing be.’”

“As you all know,” resumed old Watty Sinclair, rubbing his spectacles, “ n former times there was very little opportunity of advertising meetings in country districts. On one occasion the Rev. Walter Weir, who was then minister of Walls, was to preach at South Ronaldshay, and Mr Gerard was anxious that his parishioners should know this. He hit upon a novel expedient for advertising the fact. On the day before the sermon was to be delivered, he entered the parish school with his quick shuffling gait, and without once lifting his head to look at either master or pupils, walked right up to the desk. Here he gravely took off his hat, and shouted—

‘Sound the trumpet, blow the horn,
Walter Weir’s to preach the morn.’

Without another word he marched out of the school as he had entered it. As might have been expected, an intimation made in this sensational manner soon spread over the whole parish, and Mr Gerard accomplished his object.” “Here’s a story,” said Mansie Budge “which you will surely not object to. When Mr Gerard was in the middle of his discourse one day in his own church, two dogs fell a-fighting. The beadle rose to put them out, but Mr Gerard, who was an interested spectator, shouted, to the amusement of the congregation—

*Let them alane, Tammas, let them alane,
I’ll wager ye twopence the brown ane will gain!’”

“Aye, that’s a better one,” was Watty Sinclair’s comment upon it. Continuing he said—“One day Mr Gerard came up to my father with a long face, and said—‘Watty, there is a ghost up at the manse! My father expressed doubts on the matter. ‘Well/ said Mr Gerard, ‘ when my wife went into the meal girnal to-day she found a ghost. There was nothing in it!’ Mr Gerard liked this joke so well that he repeated it to the factor at Graemeshall—writing to that gentleman in similar terms to let him know that he required a supply of oatmeal.”

“Sometimes at meetings of his session,” said Robbie Matches, “Mr Gerard lost his temper, as I suppose you have all heard, and on these occasions he made things pretty hot for those who tried to thwart him. At the close of a heated discussion in the session one night an elder put on his long silk hat to leave the meeting. This gave so much offence to Mr Gerard that he took hold of the hat, pulled it down over the offending elder’s nose, and kept the brim of the ruined head-gear as a memento of the scuffle. You may rely on the truth of that story, for my father, who saw it, told me all about it.”

Meantime Watty Sinclair was engaged hunting through a drawer of the dresser, and when he returned to the fire-side he had with him a bundle of papers, neatly rolled up, and carefully fastened with a cord. Slowly opening the roll, Watty said—“A parishioner got into trouble once for doing a little smuggling, and on asking for a certificate from Mr Gerard to give to the Justices who were to try him, he received a letter in the following terms, dated ‘Manse of South Ronaldshay, May 21, 1846:—The bearer Donald Symison, aged 66, has been my near neighbour these thirty-one years—quietly and soberly an example to any farmer in my widespread parish. I am grieved that his fine feelings of generosity to his thirsty kind neighbours in the yearly day of joy in cutting his peats tempted him to make a little malt! He bids me say for him that he is a poor man, and not fit to stand any operation. I join in his desire, and confidently hope that his honourable judges will cut off neither leg nor finger, and that he shall return to us sound in life and limb.—So hopes and prays John Gerard, minister.’

"That shows that Mr Gerard’s heart was in the right place,” said Mansie Budge, “and I will now give you another instance of the same kind. As you all know, he was very severe on drunkards. Well, one of the members of his congregation had been before the Session several times for this offence, and at last Mr Gerard lost all patience with him. He got into a passion, and what do you think he likened a drunkard to?”

“Come, come, Mansie,” cried Watty excitedly, “that’s not a fit story for the present company. You can keep that one till the first time you are down at the public house in the Hope, and you will then have a suitable audience.”

Watty Sinclair seemed very angry at Mansie Budge for having alluded to the anecdote regarding the drunkard; but after getting a friendly pinch of snuff from Bobbie Matches’ mull he was persuaded to give another story. He said—‘ ‘Preaching in his own church one day on the rich man and Lazarus, Mr Gerard gravely told his hearers that there was plenty of evidence in the Bible that the rich man had been buried”; but, he added, “ the same cannot be said of poor Lazarus. The fact is, I believe the unfortunate fellow was eaten up, rump and stump, by the dogs that caught the crumbs which fell from the table of the rich man! ”

“On another occasion,” said Gilbert Tomison, “Mr Gerard was holding forth on the text —‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ He said it was not always easy to obey a commandment of that kind. For instance, how could he be expected to be on good terms with the laird of -, seeing that gentleman had come up to the manse six months ago for a 'caisie,’ which he had not yet returned. The laird referred to took this broad hint, and returned the article next day.”

"Mr Gerard was grand in prayer,” said Watty Sinclair. “Well, when the late James Craig was rector of the Kirkwall Grammar School, Mr Gerard paid that institution a visit, and after examining the children on religious knowledge, engaged in prayer, in which he put up the following petition:—‘We pray thee, 0 Lord, that Thy grace may stick to the hearts of Craig’s boys like butter to bere bannocks! ’ I can assure you that no scholar who heard that prayer ever forgot it.”

“I tell you what it is, lads,” declared Mansie Budge, “I don’t deny that Mr Gerard was capital at prayer, but I know he was also a very keen sportsman. He was asked to preach at Orphir at a Sacramental preparatory service. When crossing from South Ronaldshay his boat got becalmed, and it was past the hour of meeting before the minister hove in sight. That no time might be lost the office-bearers resolved that they should proceed with the introductory services themselves, so that the preacher would be able to commence his sermon immediately on his arrival. Even when the prayer, praise, and reading lesson were over, however, Mr Gerard had not put in an appearance, so that two of the elders went out to-ascertain the cause of the delay. As they proceeded along the burn which ran down past the church towards the sea, they saw a man stripped to the trousers, plunging out and in the water in the most ludicrous fashion. But when they got nearer, and found Mr Gerard divested of boots, stockings, coat, vest and hat, they were considerably astonished. They explained that the congregation had been waiting his arrival for nearly an hour. ‘Oh, it’s all right,’ was Mr Gerard’s reply. ‘I saw a nest of wild ducks in the burn, and I thought it would be a pity to let them escape. I have seven of them in my hat, but there’s one little deevil here yet, which I must catch before I go up to the church.’ And he did get it, before he was prevailed upon to go and preach his sermon!”

“Aye, that’s better,” was Watty Sinclair’s complimentary comment on the above. “That reminds me of a story regarding Mr Gerard and the Orphir Kirk. Our old minister was preaching there on a Sacramental occasion—it was on a Monday, the day of thanksgiving. Dogs, some of them very decent brutes, had not then given up the habit of attending kirk, and a little band of curs had found a seat on the stone-paved passage which ran up through the middle of the building. During the sermon a snarling was beard, and still louder snarling. Mr Gerard at last lost all patience, and looking down to tbe beadle said—‘John, pray, do put out these dogs. I cannot get on, they make such a din.’ Mr Gerard sat down, and the people, some of them not very devout, waited with amusement till the profane dogs were dismissed. In a similar case, but in a different parish, the following is said to have taken place. The beadle-policeman sternly eyeing an intruder dog, addressed him thus— ‘Come oot, here, ye lang, hungry scoonral, ye dinna belang to oor congregation ava!’”

“I need not tell you,” said Mansie Budge, “that Mr Gerard had a mechanical turn of mind, but his saw got so blunt he could not use it. He therefore took it to a joiner to get it sharpened. The tradesman did the job to Mr Gerard’s entire satisfaction, but he absolutely refused to take any payment for the work. ‘ Weel, weel,’ said Mr Gerard to the joiner, ‘you are a young man, and who knows but you may yet have to stand before the session, and if you have the good fortune to come before mine, I will remember the sharpening of the saw!’”

“Ah, he was a wonderful man, was Mr Gerard,” replied Robbie Matches. “He was of a most generous disposition. No beggar was ever turned away from his door, and I have heard it said of him that he was so ready in assisting his more needy neighbours, that he often crippled himself. One day he met two strangers near his manse, and on ascertaining that they came from a neighbouring island, he said he was sure they were sadly in need of refreshment. After a little conversation he invited them to his house to enjoy his hospitality. When the tea was put on the table, Mr Gerard thus addressed his guests:—‘Now, my men, I know that you must be hungry after such a long journey, so you can be spreading the butter on your bread, whilst I am asking a blessing, and that will save time!”

“What I liked best about Mr Gerard,” said Watty Sinclair, “was his ready tongue. On one occasion he had to attend a meeting of Presbytery at Kirkwall for the purpose of hearing the trials of a young probationer under call. Though a snowstorm was raging, the members of Presbytery were certain that Mr Gerard would attend, and they resolved to await his arrival. Occasionally messengers were sent out to have a look in the direction of the Holm Road, in the hope of descrying their absent brother. At length the probationer took his turn, and when he came back reported that he saw someone coming along the road with his head wrapped up in shawls, and bestriding an old horse, which reminded him of nothing so much as Balaam and his ass. This was duly reported to Mr Gerard when he arrived at the Cathedral, but to the surprise of all present, he paid no attention to the offending probationer. Subsequently, however, when the young minister flourished a large number of testimonials in the face of the Presbytery, and these were passed along to Mr Gerard, that gentleman flung them from him with the remark—‘Tak’ them awa’. We all know that dirty bairns require many cloths!’55 “ Mr Gerard was a plain body himself,” said Eobbie Matches, “ and could not stand anything that was uppish, such as a big display of starched linen. Well, amongst the candidates for the Firth Kirk at one time was a masher student, who spoke with a strong Cockney twang, though he had probably never been nearer London than myself. One day this young masher met Mr Gerard, and asked him what his chance was of getting the presentation. Mr Gerard pointed to a tree and a pig in the vicinity. ‘ Do you see these?’ asked Mr Gerard. ‘Yes,’ was the reply. ‘Well, there is as much chance of that pig climbing up that tree tail foremost, and whistling 'Maggie Lauder,’ as there is of you becoming minister of the Parish Kirk of Firth!’ ”

“That story,” said Mansie Budge, “reminds me of a discussion that Mr Gerard had with the Presbytery, as to whether anything could be nasty and yet not sinful. Do you remember how Mr Gerard proved that some things could be nasty and not sinful?”

“Tuts, tuts,” replied Watty Sinclair, “it’s queer that you always want to discuss that class of stories: but I’ll not have that one told in my house.”

Mansie thereupon collapsed, and Robbie Matches took advantage of the lull in the conversation to continue—“Mr Gerard was one day preaching to his own congregation on charity, and told them that they grudged to drop a penny in the plate for the poor, or give a sixpence to the Lord, but that they would go away down to the Hope and give a dirty drunken old Highland piper there a shilling to play that abominable tune, ‘He’s ower the Hills and Far Awa’!’—illustrating the remark by walking round the pulpit, pretending he was playing the bagpipes.”

“Aye, Mr Gerard was indeed very queer in the pulpit,” said Mansie Budge. “I suppose you all remember the time when his son preached two Sabbaths in succession from the same text, and what a surprise we got on the third Snnday when Mr Gerard announced the very same words for his discourse. His introduction explained everything, however. He said he wanted to clear away the fog that Johnnie had thrown around the text, and to explain that youth’s babblings. It was an awful thing for a father to do to a son, and it ended the ministerial career of the latter. But,” continued Mansie, “ our old minister said some very sly things. When the Rev. Andrew White came to be M.P. minister here, he caused quite a flutter amongst the ladies of his congregation. He was unmarried, and got many presents from them. Mr Gerard hearing of this, said—‘Well, if the Lord was only half as fond of me as the lasses are of Andrew White, I would not be long here.” “I remember that fine,” said Watty Sinclair, “and it gave us all a hearty laugh. You all know,” continued Watty, “that Mr Gerard had no sympathy with the Disruption movement. Well, just before the Disruption in 1843, an old college companion wrote him asking him if he intended leaving the Establishment. ‘Do you think,’ replied Mr Gerard, *that I am such a stupid as to come out, after all the trouble I had to get in?’”

“Our old minister had quite as little sympathy with the Voluntary movement,” said Robbie Matches. “I remember hearing that the late Mr M‘Guffie, the first TJ.P. minister located in South Ronaldshay, gave Mr Gerard the loan of an expensive book on the Voluntary controversy, and when it was returned to him he was considerably annoyed to find that it had been freely marked along the margin of the leaves. He therefore wrote a sharp note of complaint to Mr Gerard, when he received the following quaint reply: —'Dost thou well to be angry, Peter.—J. Gerard!’”

“That,” continued Robbie, “reminds me of another story which I may give you when I am at it. The Rev. Mr Miller, who succeeded the Rev. Mr M’Gufhe just referred to, announced on one occasion that he intended to preach in the school-house on a certain day. Mr Gerard hearing of this, and thinking he ought to have been consulted before the parish school was used for such a purpose, advertised a meeting for the same hour and place. He was a little late in arriving, and by that time Mr Miller had commenced the service. When he entered the room, however, Mr Miller at once intimated that he hoped Mr Gerard would continue the service, and forthwith left the desk. Mr Gerard had gone to the school-house prepared to stick up for what he considered his rights, but, appreciating the kindly spirit of his opponent, and not to be outdone in a display of courtesy, he insisted that Mr Miller, being the younger man, should deliver the sermon. This arrangement was ultimately agreed to, and after the service Mr Miller dined with Mr Gerard at the Manse, and thus commenced a friendship that was only broken by death!’

“Look here, lads,” said Mansie Budge, “I think I must tell you what Mr Gerard considered the best qualities for a wife. When he used to visit Kirkwall, nothing pleased him so much as to meet with a few young men who were studying music, for the purpose of hearing them sing. Addressing this musical class one night, he said he supposed they would all be on the look-out for a wife, and he therefore gave them directions for securing a suitable one. The great qualities to be looked for in a good wife all commenced with a “p,” and were five in number. The first was the personage. He was sure none of them would care to marry an old hag as ugly as sin! The next quality was parentage. They should look out for a woman with respectable parents, for few people would like to marry the daughter of a hangman! He coupled the next two qualities together, which were piety and prudence. These two graces did not always go together, for a young woman might be pious and lack prudence. He once heard of a young man who had the chance of a wife who was pious but not prudent, and another who was prudent but not pious. The poor fellow found it so difficult to decide which was the better, he sought the advice of his minister on the matter, who counselled him to take the prudent wife. The young man, however, preferred the pious one, and shortly after the marriage he confessed to the minister that he had made a mistake, for her piety had been scattered to the four winds of heaven, and she had turned out a regular Tartarean! Mr Gerard’s own advice was that if the choice lay between piety and prudence, the latter should be preferred. The last quality he would advise them to look for was patrimony. This was not absolutely indispensable for their happiness in married life, but they would find it to be far more enjoyable than poverty.”

“As you remember,” interrupted Watty Sinclair, “our minister was sometimes peculiar in his manner to visitors. The two sons of a Free Church minister went to stay with Mr Gerard shortly after the Disruption. Their father had been an intimate acquaintance of Mr Gerard’s prior to 1843, so that they were very heartily entertained whilst they were residing at the South Eonaldshay Manse. When they were about to leave, they were very effusive in their thanks, and their host did not like this. Getting them outside the door, he said—"Gang awa’ liame, ye perjured villains. Ye cam’ here to get some fun oot o’ old Gerard, but I’m thinking he has got ye ootside noo, an’ he’ll keep ye there?”

“I have heard my father saying,” said Eobbie Matches, that on one occasion Mr Gerard when returning from the General Assembly, took the overland route. When he arrived at Wick, he called upon the parish minister there, a Mr Phin. He was told that Mr Phin was engaged, and could not see him. Mr Gerard was not to be put off in this fashion, and said he would wait the convenience of Mr Phin. He was ushered into a dirty, poorly-furnished apartment and was kept waiting there for a long time. When at last Mr Phin made his appearance, there was nothing in the garb of the visitor to indicate that he was a minister, and he treated Mr Gerard with some gruffness for having disturbed him. Mr Gerard then opened out on the Wick parson, by asking him why he put his visitors into a scullery, meanly furnished with an old black painted chair, and a broken-down three-legged table. He gave it as his opinion, that no minister of the Established Church should treat people in such a fashion. ‘Why, for anything you knew,’ added Mr Gerard, ‘I might have been one of your own parishioners, wanting you to go and minister to a dying friend, but before you could have got to him, the breath would probably have been out of him.’ ‘And who is it that dares use such language to me?’ pompously asked the Wick minister. ‘It is your neighbour minister from South Ronald-shay/ was the prompt reply. Mr Gerard’s fame had, of course, spread to Herringopolis, and he was at once invited upstairs to partake of the hospitality of the Manse. The invitation, however, was not accepted; but the Rev. Mr Phin laid to heart the advice given him, and is said to have treated his visitors in a very different manner ever after.”

“I will now tell you the only other story I know about Mr Gerard,” said Mansie Budge, as he began to fill his pipe. “A parishioner called on our minister one day and informed him that some person had entered his barn, and had stolen a quantity of his corn. At that time ministers were credited with powers which they never claimed to possess, and Mr Gerard was not at all surprised when he was requested to find out the thief. He promised he would do it. On the following Sabbath, in the course of his intimations, in which he expatiated on all the gossip of the previous week, he intimated to his congregation that John-of house had had some corn taken out of his barn on such and such a day, that the thief was in the church, and that if he did not immediately rise, take up his hat, and walk out of the building, he would expose him before the whole congregation ! The culprit was so much taken by surprise by the suddenness of the accusation, and was so frightened at the threat, that he actually obeyed the order, and walked out of the church!”

“Well, lads,” said Watty Sinclair, “I commenced these yarns to-night, and I will finish them. I have heard it said that when the first United Presbyterian Church was in course of erection in South Ronaldshay, and before the roof was got on, a terrific storm arose, which blew down one of the gables of the building. Upon this news being communicated to Mr Gerard next day he remarked—‘The deil and I used to pull on opposite ends of the rope, but it seems that we have been pulling together last night!’ Our old minister,” added Watty, “could not help saying those queer things; but he was a faithful pastor, and a loving and steadfast friend. May it be ours to imitate what was best in his character, and may we all die loved and respected as he was.”

As Watty concluded, there was a tremor in his voice that gave, evidence of how keen his feelings were on the loss of his old pastor; and when the party broke up, the “Good-Nights” were subdued, showing that the company, including Mansie Budge, were all in sympathy with him.

Charles W. Heddle

Some winters ago a number of merchants and travellers were storm-stayed at Sanday. They had taken up their quarters at the hotel near the pier. The snow was falling so thickly that it was out of the question to attempt work. Everything outside was as bleak as could be imagined. The sea could be heard dashing in upon the shore, but it could not be seen. The windows were so frosted and bespattered with snow, as to act as an effectual blind, so that land and ocean were hidden from view.

But inside they were perfectly happy. They had a blazing fire, and several members of the company possessed a large store of anecdotes of all kinds. After studying the visitors’ book, they began to talk of eminent Orcadians, such as Dr. Baikie, the African traveller; Dr. Leask, the theologian; David Vedder, the poet; and Samuel Laing, the financier and politician.

A Kirkwall Town Councillor, who had hitherto taken no part in the discussion, at length said he would tell a story which was not generally known, regarding an Orcadian millionaire.

"1 suppose,” said he, that you have all heard of Charles W. Heddle, the merchant prince; but I am sure none of you know that, by a will dated November 27, 1888, he left the residue of his estate to the town of Kirkwall, which was estimated to amount to nearly half a million sterling.

“Mr Heddle came from a remarkable stock on the paternal side. His grandfather, Mr John Heddle, was in 1T88 appointed Town Clerk of Kirkwall, an office which he held for a long period. Nineteen years previously, when quite a young man, he had set up business in the Burgh as a lawyer, and in that capacity fought and won a great battle for the working classes.

“At that time the Kirkwall Magistrates forced tradesmen to leave their work and act as soldiers on special occasions, such as the great Lammas Fair. In the year 1T69, the Municipal authorities, who were all wealthy traders, called out the Lammas Guard to clear the streets of stranger merchants, because they considered that these people, by underselling them, were destroying their business.

“The working classes looked upon this move as oppressive, and some of the guard refused to act. These were promptly apprehended and put into prison. Mr John Heddle took up their case, carried it to the Court of Session, and succeeded in freeing the people from such military services in all time coming.

“During this conflict the Magistrates showed great hostility to Mr Heddle, and described him as the son of a tradesman, who had come as a firebrand in their midst, to stir up strife and trouble. However, his ability was so conspicuous that the Magistrates, nineteen years later, appointed him Town Clerk of the Burgh.

“Dr. John Heddle, a son of the Town Clerk, and father of the subject of my narrative, was a very distinguished officer, was Inspector-General pf Fleets and Hospitals in his day, and captured Goree and Senegal from the French almost single-handed.

“Charles W. Heddle, the son of the last-named gentleman, though born in West Africa, was sent home to be educated, first at Kirkwall, and subsequently at Edinburgh Academy. Some old people still alive remember him quite well. He had all the pluck of both his father and his grandfather, and was the hero of many a schoolboy fight. With his companions he was a great favourite, ow'ing to the daring which he showed under all circumstances. His favourite amusement was to sail boats in the Peerie Sea, and be was so successful in getting out to the holm there before his companions that he was dubbed the ‘ Prince of the Holmie ’—(Prince of Dahomey).

“Having inherited some money from his father, and getting an advance from Mr Robert Heddle, lie proceeded to Sierra Leone. When there he partly made a new trade, and partly picked up the threads of one from which his uncle, Mr Robert Heddle, had retired.

“Charles Heddle might be described as half a native of Africa, so that he was well able to stand the climate, and he made money very rapidly. His uncle, whilst in Africa, had accumulated a sum of ,£90,000; but Charles was able to remain out much longer, and when h$ retired, his fortune was probably little less than a million sterling.

“People going out to Africa from Orkney were always warmly welcomed and generously assisted by Charles Heddle; but unfortunately most of them were unable to stand the climate (though Sierra Leone itself is now comparatively healthy), and usually either died or had to come home exhausted by malarial fever.

“In passing, I may mention that it was in Charles Heddle’s house at Sierra Leone that Dr. Baikie, the African traveller, died on 12th December, 1864, he having taken coast fever on coming down from the healthy country far up the Niger. As showing the adventurous spirit of Orcadians, it is also worth recalling that Charles Heddle, a brother of Mr J. G. Moodie-Heddle of Melsetter, when being sent home from Africa ill of fever some years ago, died on board ship at Cape de Yerde Islands, just as another brother, Robert Heddle, passed outward bound to New Zealand.

“When Charles Heddle retired from business he found that he was unable to stand the London fog, or the cold further north, so that he went to live in France, where he purchased a palatial residence. Whilst there he made a will in which quite a number of bequests were set forth, and the deed concluded —‘If my aforesaid adopted son, John Francis Caille Heddle, should die without lawful issue, I bequeath the residue of my estate in trust to the Provost and Magistrates of the Burgh of Kirkwall, in the county of Orkney, Scotland, for the time being, to be applied and expended to the improvement and better endowment of the existing charitable and educational institutions of the said Burgh of Kirkwall, or in the erection and endowment of such others as may be deemed and considered needful and necessary.’

“That will, as I have already stated, was dated 27th November, 1888, but some time subsequently Mr Heddle made the acquaintance of a French-Canadian lady, whom he married. Regarding this lady very little is known, but she is represented as having been only about twenty-three years of age, whilst her husband was a man of between seventy and eighty.

After this marriage a new will was made, by which most of the fortune was transferred to the young wife, and a small sum was left to the 'adopted son,’ John F. C. Heddle.

“Shortly afterwards Charles Heddle died, and it is said that the widow presented the ‘ adopted son ’ with £120,000.

“Some of the beneficiaries under the 1888 will contested the deed in favour of the widow, in the French courts, but were unsuccessful.

“The Magistrates of Kirkwall employed a London lawyer to watch the case on their behalf while it was being tried in France, but as their interest in the will only became active in the event of John F. C. Heddle dying without issue, they did not really become parties to the suit.

“The upshot of the trial was a great disappointment to the Town Council of Kirkwall, for the interest on the residue of the estate would not only have been sufficient to have paid off all the debt of the Burgh, but would have freed the residents from taxes in all time coming.”

When the Town Councillor concluded his narrative, a Kirkwall merchant, who formed one of the company, laid aside his pipe, at which he had been vigorously puffing, and said he would give the story of

Sandy Burgess

“From a merchant prince to poor Sandy Burgess, one of the characters of Kirkwall,” he continued, “ is a big leap. The one died in affluence, the other in abject poverty, but the pauper will probably be remembered by the inhabitants of Kirkwall long after the other is forgotten.

“Early in the present century, the father of Sandy Burgess, who was then a member of the Ninth Boyal Veteran Battalion, was located in Kirkwall for some time, and after he was pensioned oft he returned here, got married, and settled down in the place.

“Sandy Burgess was one of the children of the marriage. When he left school he was apprenticed to a tailor, but he could not settle down to the bench. He had a great love for horses, and when quite a young lad he could make the boast that there was not an animal in Orkney that could throw him.

“Probably his best days were when he acted as groom or stableman at Berstane for the late Mr William Balfour, and at that time he was a regular dandy. He could sport a yellow waistcoat, long hat, and a very stylishly-cut coat. Got up in this rig, he used to cause quite a flutter in the United Presbyterian Church on Sundays as he entered it.

“Sandy was possessed of a pretty crop of curly hair, of which he was justly proud, and nothing pleased him so much as to be flattered regarding it. When he left his situation at Berstane, he went about idle for some time, till the then proprietor of the “Orcadian” newspaper found some employment for him. For a year or two Sandy helped to ink the “Orcadian” every week, filling in his odd time by doing clerical work—he being a good penman.

“He could never be taught, however, that a newspaper, to be of any value, had to be issued with clock-like regularity. If, for instance, the Queen’s Birthday and the day of publication came on together, Sandy’s loyalty to Her Majesty was too strong to allow him to work at the paper, and he might be depended upon to make his appearance in the printing office, with long hat and yellow waist-coat, smelling badly of rum—which, by the way was his favourite drink. This was his usual mode of indicating that he had struck work, and neither persuasion nor threats had any effect upon him under such circumstances. The paper might be published fifty-two times in a year, hut Her Majesty’s Birthday could only be celebrated once annually, and Sandy therefore gave himself up to drinking rum and singing comic songs for twelve hours at least.

“In August, 1856, the Prince of Orange visited Orkney. That was a great day for Sandy. Dressed up in a borrowed suit, and with his long curls fluttering in the breeze, he looked a perfect masher. The cause of his get-up was that he had been fixed upon as the jehu that should drive His Royal Highness out to the Standing Stones of Stenness.

“When the supreme moment arrived for starting, Sandy handled the whip with such science as to call forth a tremendous cheer from the crowd, for the people were really delighted that he had been selected for the honour. The Prince, innocently thinking that he was the object of the ovation, bowed his acknowledgments, which greatly added to the hilarity of the onlookers.

“In after 3^ears if Sandy heard anyone praising the horsemanship of an opponent, his usual reply was—‘Aye, he may be a very great man, but who drove the Prince of Orange when he was in Orkney?’ And the withering look which generally accompanied this question was amply sufficient to silence anyone who tried to slight Sandy by making unfavourable contrasts.

"With the children he was a great favourite. Nothing pleased him better than to have a band of youngsters round him singing songs to them. ‘Any Old Shoes to Mend 5 was his masterpiece, and lie could do it so well that he actually carried off a prize by rendering it at a public competition.

“He was a splendid mimic. He was in the habit of imitating an old woman at her spinning-wheel with such realism that it was worth going a journey to witness the performance. Pretending he was turning a wheel he would sit crooning an old Orkney air, and all at once would stop, order the cat out of the way, chastise it for meddling with the wool, just as an old woman might be supposed to do, and then catch up the refrain at the exact bar where he was supposed to have been interrupted. The whole thing was so naturally done, and the asides which he indulged in were really so humourous, that those who have witnessed the performance will not soon forget it.

“Sandy’s great failing was, as I have already indicated, a love of rum, and when he was employed as a driver, he had to be closely watched. He had an immense store of old-world anecdotes, and there was scarcely a farmhouse which he passed which did not recall some interesting story or another to his mind. It therefore naturally followed that before his destination was reached, he succeeded in making such a favourable impression upon his employers that he would probably be rewarded with a handsome tip to get refreshments for himself whilst he was waiting for the return journey. Under such circumstances he invariably went to the bad. When the travellers were ready to start it was generally difficult to find Sandy; or, if he was got, more than likely he would have a crowd of children round him delighting them with a comic song, such as ‘ Tillie-Tillie-Arum/ or ‘ The Nice Little Town that We Live in/ and he himself so far gone in drink that he would be unable to manage the horse that was under his charge.

“Notwithstanding Sandy’s delinquencies in this respect, however, he was rarely reported for misconduct; indeed, he was rather in demand than otherwise, and it was only when overtaken by old age that he left his situation as driver.

“In his latter years he picked up a precarious living by making himself generally useful about the Castle Hotel, brushing boots, plucking hens, and running messages. This is the sort of work he was performing when the fourth centenary of the erection of Kirkwall into a royal burgh was celebrated. Sandy, who was dressed up in all the grandeur which had distinguished him in former years, took part in the procession of trades, riding on a pony, and carrying in his arms a large turkey, which was intended to intimate to all and sundry that he was then hen-plucker for the burgh. The fowl was alive, and did not appreciate the honour done to it. Sandy, in acknowledging the cheers of the populace, let loose his hold on its neck, and his nose carried the marks of the turkey’s bill for many a day afterwards.

“As long as Mrs Eoss remained in the Castle Hotel, Sandy had a good friend who took care that he was fed and kept in clothing. When she left the place, however, he became ill-off. He was one of those quiet, harmless, inoffensive creatures who would rather starve than tell that he was needful, and he was never known to beg. In his latter days he seemed to shun the public gaze, and it must be confessed that he was somewhat neglected. On 8th June, 1888, he was found lying in a stable at Castle Street, apparently in a dying condition. Though the hour was late, the Inspector of Poor was communicated with, and poor old Sandy was conveyed to the poorhouse that same night. He gradually sank, and on the 20th of the same month he breathed his last. His age, I believe, was about sixty-five years.”

A tall, slender farmer, who had been an interested listener to the two previous sketches, volunteered to give the story of

George Taylor

“George Taylor,” said he, “was a poor Kirkwall boy, who rose from the lowest rung in the ladder, to one of the very highest positions in the British army. The story of his life, you will all agree with me, reads like a romance. He started his career as a message boy to Mr Urquhart, tailor, Kirkwall, about the end of the eighteenth century.

“The Urquharts were well known in their day, though there is not one of the family now remaining in Kirkwall. The great John Urquhart was a man who stood 6 feet 3 inches in his stocking soles, and he was the first to cut English cloth in the capital of Orkney. But he had an untimely end. In trying to protect Mr Shireff, the then Sheriff-Substitute of Orkney, during an election riot, in 1832, he was butted so severely on the back that he died three days afterwards.

“Evidently George Taylor did not find the work here to his taste, for he left Mr Urquhart’s employment and proceeded to Melsetter, where he was engaged as a clerk in the estate office. Whilst there his penmanship attracted the attention of Dr Barry, the author of the ‘History of Orkney' Dr. Barry’s caligraphy was bad, and that gentleman asked young Taylor to copy out his work, and to make it ready for the printer, a request which was gladly complied with.

“When the book was finished, Dr Barry submitted the MS. to Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, to get his opinion of the work. The beautiful writing was much admired by Sir John (who happened to be on board a man-of-war vessel which was then lying at Longhope.) Sir John asked to see young Taylor, and was so much impressed by his appearance that he offered him a commission in the Caithness and Ross-shire Fencibles, which was at once accepted.

“Four years later George Taylor had saved a little money, and he bought a commission in the ranks, the sum paid being £400. He passed his examination with such credit that he was advanced from ensign to lieutenant, and was told that if he would raise a company of twenty-six men in his native county, he would be gazetted as a captain.

“Thereupon he went to Kirkwall, and succeeded in getting fourteen men to join the ranks, and at Longhope, and in other districts in Orkney, he soon secured the additional number of recruits.

“He was then made a captain in the 29th regiment, where he became a great favourite with the Colonel, Sir Francis Wilder. About this time the young captain fell in love with a Miss Phillip, who was a sister of the Colonel's wife.

“As Miss Phillip was a wealthy young lady, and as George Taylor was poor, the lovers seemed to have their doubts as to whether her father would agree to the match. They accordingly got married without consulting the bride’s father; hut next day they waited upon him and told him what they had done. To their surprise he expressed himself as quite satisfied with the match, and made a handsome settlement upon the daughter.

“Subsequently Taylor was sent out to Canada, where he had several brilliant engagements with the French, in one of which he was severely wounded in the thigh. Whilst there he bought a large estate.

“There were three children of this marriage —one son and two daughters. The son was educated for the ministry, hut died at an early age, before he got an appointment. One of the daughters lived till about middle age, whilst the third nearly reached three score and ten before she died. This one married a Frenchman, and visited Orkney twice with her husband for the purpose of seeing her cousins—Mr Francis Taylor, at one time tenant of Howe, and his sister, Miss Taylor.

“This lady got the half of the Canadian estate already referred to, and when she died a few years ago, she left it to Mr Francis Taylor and his sister.

“I have seen a picture of George Taylor, taken about the time that he was married. He was then a young man of prepossessing appearance, more like a poet than a warrior, and reminded me very much of Lord Byron.

“Very good,” was the approving comment of the company, which so pleased the farmer that he said he would now give them the story of

William and James Cumming

“The subjects of this sketch,” said he, were brothers, and the present occupants of Sebay have descended from the same family. They were both educated at the Kirkwall Grammar School, and at that time lived at Grainbank, but subsequently their parents removed to Lingro.

“The boys being clever, and residing on the Graemeshall estate, it was quite natural that Admiral Graeme should take a fancy to them. William, who was a splendid linguist, when quite a young man became connected with an important wine firm in London, and was sent all over the Continent to buy for the house.

“He happened to be in Spain or Portugal during the Peninsular War, and in the course of his travels rendered important services to the commissariat department of the British Army. Some officers had been sent out to gather stores, but they were so badly up in the language that the natives could not make out what they wanted. When in this dilemma, young Cumming came on the scene, and helped the officers to make their purchases.

“These gentlemen were so well pleased with his services that they insisted he should return with them to headquarters, where he was introduced to the Iron Duke. Up to this time the working of the commissariat department had been giving Wellington much anxiety, and when he saw that William Cumming was thoroughly conversant with the language of the people, he urged him to accept the management of that branch of the service.

“After a little persuasion Cumming took up the work, and he performed it so satisfactorily that he became a favourite with the Duke, and was handsomely rewarded after the war was over. Indeed, when he returned to London, he had the honour of being presented to the Royal Family.

“Afterwards he married a young lady belonging to the north of England, who had a fortune of £30,000 a year.

“The other brother was, by the influence of Admiral Grseme, appointed a purser in the Navy. During one of the many encounters which took place about that period between the British Fleet and that of France, James Cum-ming had the misfortune to be captured by the enemy. He was conveyed to France, and was kept in prison there for seven years. He once made an attempt to escape, which ended in failure. The fact is, that in jumping from the walls of the jail, he fell and broke his leg.

“After the war was over, he was set at liberty, and rejoined the navy. Subsequently he bought Quanterness, and built a residence there, but he entered the house too soon after it was finished, and he was found dead in bed next, morning.

“His heir, Major Cumming, is still alive, and owns Quanterness.”

The late Mr Duncan MacLean, who left Kirkwall in boyhood, in course of time joined the Navy, and for years led a thrilling life of adventure, finishing up as editor of the “Boston Traveller,” shortly before he died furnished us "Quanterness has now passed out of the Cumming family." with the following particulars regarding the Cumming family: —

“In your sketch of this family you did not say anything about the third brother, and although I was cow-boy in the family myself about a year, I have forgotten his name, if I ever knew it. He, too, had the ‘ open sight,’ and it was said that it was a ghostly vision which made him insane. Personally he was a picture of manly grandeur; stood over six feet high, broad shouldered, dark complexioned, and eyes that seemed to blaze with intellectual light. His constant companion was a white bull-dog, which had been given to him by his brother, the purser. When the ‘dark spirit5 was upon him, he walked backwards and forwards in a small paved yard near the house, playing the most dismal sounds upon the bagpipes. His two maiden sisters managed the farm, and managed it well, also taking care of him. Sometimes I tried to approach him, but without speaking a word he scowled me from him; I never heard him utter a word to anyone. I saw his brother, the purser, who had served in the Navy; and I remember that he left a copy of 'Falconer’s Shipwreck,’ which I read with wonder and delight. This family has also passed away.”

“That reminds me,” said the Town Councillor, “of the story of a Kirkwall boy, named

Robert Smith

“About the close of the last, or beginning of the present, century, some vessels belonging to the British Eleet anchored in Kirkwall bay, and a number of the officers came ashore, expressing a desire to go out and see the Standing Stones of Stenness.

“There were no carriages in Orkney in those days, hut the tenant of Lingro had a drove of Shetland ponies which he offered to give the officers on hire, and a bare-footed hoy named Robert Smith, son of Andrew Smith, retired shipmaster, was sent off to act as guide to the strangers.

“The Standing Stones having been visited, the officers then crossed over to the parish churchyard, where they spent some time trying to decipher and translate the Latin inscriptions on the tombstones. They were not very successful in this work, however, and their bare-footed guide, who was only about fifteen years of age, was rather horrified to find that the officers in the navy stumbled in translating phrases which to him had no difficulty. At last he offered to assist them, and caused quite a sensation amongst the strangers by rendering the Latin into English with a freedom that showed he had a good grasp of the language.

“The Admiral (I have been unable to get his name) at once took a liking to the uncouth lad, and on the return journey to Kirkwall made a companion of him. Upon examining the youth, he found that he had got a good sound education, and was specially well up in navigation and languages.

“Subsequently the admiral called on Smith’s father, told him his boy was far too smart to be wasting his time in Kirkwall, and offered to take him on board his ship and to treat him as if he were his own son.

“Young Smith urged his father to close with the handsome offer, which he at length did.

“Two days afterwards Robert Smith was installed in the Admiral’s cabin as his private secretary. He did not take to life at sea, however, and a few years later, by the influence of the Admiral, he got into the civil service.

“He now showed such ability in the discharge of his duties, that his promotion was rapid, and he finished his career as British Consul at Rome.”

Another well-known farmer from the West Mainland said he would give a short sketch of

Mansie o' Beglow

“Mansie,55 said he, “was a Birsay character, well known in his day. One who knew him well says she ‘ Never kent him speakin5 lees or evil o’ onybody5; but all the same he delighted to air the fictions of his imagination. He was a romancer before the age of cheap books or periodic literature, else he might have written his novels after the manner of Marryat. But times were unfavourable, likewise circumstances. ‘ Chill penury repressed his noble rage,5 and thus he was but a romancer in words—an oral novelist—his audience, any neighbour who cared to listen to ‘ his marvellous stories happ5d by land or sea,5 or perhaps the herd-boys who followed their calling on the banks of the Burn o5 Kerse, which flowed below the house and croft of Beglow.

“Mansie, like Malcolm and a few other Orcadians, was of a martial spirit, and shared in ‘ the emotions of the spirit-stirring time 5 in which he lived. He used to say that he had been enlisted twice, and his detractors replied that if he had gone to the army a third time he would have been hung.

“When setting forth his war-like exploits he has been heard to relate that in some south-country ports he saw men enlisting on one side of a war-ship, going away for a little, and then returning to the other side, where they again joined the service, thus obtaining two bounties! He asserted that he had been at ‘ the taakin’ o’ the Hock ’ (Gibraltar). A neighbour on one occasion was cruel enough to point out to Mansie that that event took place before he was born, which at length caused the old romancer to lay aside that particular fiction.

“Mansie claimed that he had been in the ‘ Nor-Wast,’ where he had ‘ shafted his nieve in the face of Wilson, a gigantic governor who lived there, and threatened to bane-briss him.’ When he was in those cold regions he declared he ‘ saw ae man knock aff anither man’s heid, but he just clapped hid on again. Hid happened, however, to be put on the wrang way—the face ahint—but railly he lived a good while after hid.’

“His naval exploits, as set forth by himself, were rather startling. ‘Oor ship,’ said he, ‘was engaged in action ae day, when a ball tore a piece oot o’ the side o’ my waistcoat, and anither carried off the croon o’ my hat.’ ‘ Ay, boy,’ he would add in telling his story, ‘there were hard clods fleein’ then. This is the sober truth.’

“Alas, like Sir Walter Scott, a physical infirmity incapacitated him from serving. He had a weak arm, and thus he could not, save in imagination, fight ‘ for George the Third and glory/ He could not indulge in

‘His set intent and purpose stony,
To ’list and fight for George,
And make minced meat of Bony.’

“When the present Mr Spence of Overhist, Birsay, was a young lad out on the hill ‘flaying moor' Beglow, who was passing on his way home from Evie, stopped and told the youngster that he was ‘ knivellin’ i’ the heid o’ his grandmither.’ “ Times must have been good at the whale fishing when Mansie made his voyage to the ‘ Straits/ as witness the following story told by himself: —‘ Ae time I wnr at the Straits we hed a great fishing. I wur three days i’ the hould mither naked, bailing ap oil. Everything was fill o’ oil, even the captain’s buits, they wur fill! I had three guineas an’ a guinea that year’—that is, three certain and one for each fish or number of fish caught.

“Another .time Mansie was out shooting along the Loch of Beaquoy, when according to his own account he shot—I forget how many moor-lie'ns—and having forgot the ramrod, he fired it off: at the same time. But hear his own words: —‘The ramrod gaed in the loch, an’ speeted ap three trouts. An’ wi’ the force the gun gaed afi, I fell back ower on a hare, and killed her, too!’

“Another time he was pursued in the quaking bog of Clumpsmoss by the bull of Eastabist. But Mansie was not, of course, to be outdone by ‘nowte bestial/ He dodged the bull until be got one of the ‘ eyes ’—that is, open boles filled with mud and water—between him and the bull. The bull then charged at Mansie, fell in the ‘eye' Mansie, of course, coming away victorious. But the mad animal sank to rise no more; and such was his fury that, according to Mansie’s report of tbe campaign, ‘be beard him boglan till the last point o’ the tail gaed oot o’ sight!’

“Poor Beglow bas now been asleep for many years in the bosom of his “Grandmither” Earth, but it will be long before be is forgotten in his native parish. His anecdotes are repeated still, and if any one in Birsay is given to ‘aarling' be is pretty certain to receive the title of ‘Beglow.’”

The old farmer, who told those interesting stories about George Taylor and tbe Cummings, tben said be bad heard an old tradition worth repeating about

Brown o’ Hackland

“In tbe days when Earl Patrick Stewart held sway in Orkney, feats of strength were tbe great pastime of tbe people. When tbe Earl was in residence at tbe Birsay Palace, bis retainers, on high holidays, gathered out on the green fronting his mansions, and engaged in athletic sports. On those occasions the natives were allowed to look on, bnt they were never asked to take part in any of the games.

“One day the Earl’s followers were thus engaged, and amongst the amusements indulged in was putting the stone. Such an ovation was given to the victor, that one of the onlookers offered to produce two men in the parish, either of whom would throw the stone further than had been done that day.

“This statement was treated with derision by the 'ferry-loupers,’ and they demanded that the names of these native champions should be given. Louttit of Nettletar and Brown o’ Hackland were the names of the chosen men.

*During the hub-hub which ensued, Earl Patrick came on the scene himself, and ordered a messenger to be at once sent off on horseback to bring the nearest man, who was Brown of Hackland. When the champion was found, he was engaged winnowing. He told the messenger to return, and that he would follow on foot when he got through with his job.

“Brown was not only strong of arm, but swift of limb, and he caused some little excitement at the Palace by arriving there as quickly as the man on horseback, though he managed this by crossing fields and leaping fences.

“At the first throw Brown put the stone a yard or two further than any of the Earl’s retainers had been able to do—a feat which was rewarded with rounds of cheering by the admiring natives. None of the Earl’s men could be induced to try and beat such a throw, whereupon Brown was asked if he could put the stone further, and if so, how far. He replied that he would show them how far he could really put it if the Earl would free him from any damage that might be done. Upon getting this assurance he sent the stone forward with such force that it went right through one of the windows of the Palace, destroying goods inside to the value of several pounds. The fact that this story has been handed down from generation to generation, for hundreds of years, shows how proud the natives were of Brown o’ Hackland and his big throw.”

“That reminds me,” said the West Mainland farmer, “of the story of

Magnus Johnston of Overbist, Birsag

“When Magnus Johnston occupied the farm of Overbist, Birsay (about one hundred years ago), the family was rather unfortunate, and one of his sons disappeared in a most mysterious way. This son was the teacher and precentor at Evie, and one day he crossed oyer to Hundland, Birsay, to see a friend. He admired some hooks, played a tune or two on a fiddle, and then said he was going out for a short walk. He never returned.

“A most careful search was made for him in all directions, hut no trace of him could be got. Days lengthened into weeks, and though the search was unflaggingly kept up, nothing could be learned regarding the fate of the missing man.

“At length Magnus Spence of Skelday had a most marvellous dream, in which he saw and conversed with the long-lost teacher and precentor. Spence demanded that Johnstone should tell him why he remained away from his friends, and where he might now be found. To the first question Johnstone gave no reply, but said his body was lying so many fathoms deep oft the Evie coast.

“This strange dream was repeated from mouth to mouth all over the parish, and such credence was given to it that the search for the missing man was at once given up.

“Another peculiar occurrence in connection with the disappearance of the man was then made public. One day Johnstone’s mother and aunt had been seen coming along the hill-dyke from the westward, by the missing man’s father. When the two women were some distance from the house, the father saw a third person join them, whom he by-and-bye recognised as his lost son.

“When the women came up to Overbist, they were alone, and they stoutly declared that they had never seen a third person. They also reported that they had been unable to get any news of the son. ‘ And there never will be any,’ was the reply of the father, for he was convinced that he had just seen the young man’s ‘ gonfor ’ or ghost.

“Now for the sequel. Some years afterwards, when one or two antiquarians were digging in the Knowe of Burgar, Evie, they came upon the skeleton of a human body. There were sufficient indications to prove that the corpse had not been there many years, but no residenter in the parish could remember a burial at that particular place.

“Five years later a death-bed confession made by a farmer in Rousay, threw considerable light on the strange transaction. The story of the Rousay man was to the effect that he had found the body of Johnstone on the shore at Evie; that he had taken a watch and five pounds off it, and that to keep his crime from being detected, he had hidden the remains in the Knowe of Burgar.

‘‘Whatever the rising generation may think of the dream, and the 4 gonfor/ there can be no question but that those who took part in the search believed implicitly in both, and the finding of the body, followed by the confession of the Rousay man, at least showed that Johnstone had been in the sea off the Evie coast.”

"I would like now,” continued the West Mainland farmer, “when I am at it, to give you a bit of traditionary lore regarding

Sir William Ballantine and Spence of Kirbuster.

“Sir William Ballantine of Stenness was famous in his day as a swordsman, and for having the stoutest wife in the county. It is related of his good lady that she once went to a feast in a small cot-house in Evie, where she had a name-son. The door was so narrow that it was with difficulty she got into the house, and after the dinner was over the jambs had to be taken away before she could get out!

“Her husband, Sir William Ballantine, or, as he was more familiarly known, ‘ Stennis/ once did a good turn to the people of Orkney. A swaggering bully had come to the county, and had challenged any man in the place to engage in a duel with him—the weapons to be swords.

“Stennis came forward as the champion for Orkney, and he handled the sword with such effect that he easily conquered the ‘ferry-louper.’ This victory was so popular with the Kirkwall gentry that they wanted to redeem Stennis’ estates, which were then sunk in debt. But he was too haughty and proud to receive any such help as an acknowledgment of his prowess.

“Spence of Kirbuster, thinking that too much was being made of the swordmanship of Stennis challenged that champion to combat in Broad Street, Kirkwall. The challenge was promptly accepted.

“Before the fight came off, Kirbuster asked his aunt to make his “ dead sark,” as he was afraid he would be killed. The probability is that Kirbuster had sent out the challenge when he was in his cups, and that when in his sober senses he began to repent his rash conduct. However, it turned out that he had little reason to fear, for he succeeded in disarming Stennis, and threw his sword on the top of the ‘ Tow-buith.’

“The version of this duel, as given by the Spences, is as follows : —When Kirbuster spoke to his aunt about his ‘ dead sark ’ he was merely joking. She told him to stop at home, and not to go to the place of meeting. He, however, scoffed at such a proposal. The honour of the duellist and the Spences was at stake. After he had fenced with Stennis for some time, for the purpose of showing what he could do, he made a ‘canny’ stroke, neatly carving off one of the wrist-buttons of his opponent’s shirt. He then told Stennis to look out, as he might take off the neck button next. After this he disarmed Stennis.

“Poor Kirbuster, instead of getting his debt paid in acknowledgment of his prowess, had his property seized by ‘ the Scotch Earl ’ for a debt of £60.”

“Talking about the West Mainland people,” said a traveller, “recalls to mind the case of

George Mowat, of Estabist, Birsay

“A sad story is told of this young man. He was apprenticed as a sailor, and his qualities as a seaman were so pronounced that, when quite a lad, he was appointed mate. Shortly after this, however, his ship was lost in Enhallow Sound, and the whole crew went down with it, excepting one hoy.

“It seems that there were some lady passengers on board the vessel, and George Mowat had fallen in love with one of them. If he had cared for his own life only, he could easily have reached the shore, as he was an expert swimmer. But he tried to rescue his sweetheart, and other ladies having also clung to him, the whole sank.

“The disaster took place so close to the shore that the people on Enhallow might without difficulty have rescued the crew and passengers by throwing out ropes to them, but they were too much occupied in endeavouring to secure the cargo for their own use, to give any aid to the drowning sailors and passengers.

“Two explanations may be given of this heartless conduct. There was the old superstitious fear that if help were given to drowning people, it brought disease and disaster to the succourers; and it has also to be remembered that the event occurred at a time when food was so scarce in the county that the shores were divided amongst the inhabitants that they might gather the ebb-meat and dulse at low water, and thus be saved from starvation.

“Those bodies which came ashore at Enhallow from the wreck were promptly stripped, even the ladies’ silk dresses being wrenched away from the waist.

"Afterwards the bodies were conveyed across the Sound, and buried in a group in Evie churchyard—the place being still pointed out there. George Mowat’s father, however, spent a barrel of oil in getting his son’s body exhumed and transferred to the burying-ground at Birsay.

“I may add that a curious story is told about this George Mowat’s brother. He also was a sailor, and one day when he was passing through the streets of Liverpool, he was accosted by a woman, who desired him to go into a house near by. Curious to know what was in the wind he went. No sooner had his fair companion got him in, however, than she tried to leave the house, endeavouring to lock the door behind her. John Mowat did not like the look that matters had now assumed. He said he was quite agreeable to wait the return of the woman if she desired to make any message, but he absolutely refused to allow the door to be locked on him.

“His fair companion had to accept those terms, and when she left him alone, he began examining the room. To his horror he found a man’s body stowed away in a corner. This circumstance was so suspicious that he thought it was now time to be moving. As he was hurrying up the street, he saw the woman walking with a policeman, and, as he passed, he heard her say—‘ I left him in the house.’

“This remark led him to believe that the woman wished to saddle the crime upon him, but he never heard anything further of the affair, though he felt grateful that he had got so easy out of what might have been a nasty scrape.”

“Now,” said the West Mainland farmer, “I will give you my last story—and it is regarding a character which none of you ever saw, but with whose name you must all be familiar—I refer to

Mansie o’ Harra

“There can be no question about Mansie’s originality, and the present lairds of Harray talk as familiarly about the old man as if they had all known him, yet he must have been called to his rest before most of them were born. Mansie was brimful of mother-wit. At church or at market, whenever he met his neighbours, he had something droll to say, and the fact that some of the stories told regarding him have been handed down through several generations, speaks volumes for the impression which his wit made upon contemporaries.

“It is told of Mansie that on one occasion he went to Stromness to sell a cow. His wife, Betty, to make sure that she got the money, accompanied her husband to the market. By-and-bye the animal was sold—the price fixed upon being four guineas. Betty heard the bargain struck, so that there seemed but little chance of Mansie getting as much off the transaction as would ‘ wet his whistle/ Mansie, however, was too resourceful to be done out of his dram. Taking the dealer aside, he whispered in the ear of that worthy that Betty could not distinguish the difference between a guinea note and a pound note, and that it would suit him best to have payment made in paper of the latter denomination. When he got the four pound notes Betty at once pounced upon them and made off to put them out of the reach of her husband. ‘Man' said Mansie to the dealer, ‘isn’t that grand. The coast is clear, so we’ll awa doon to the public and melt the four shillings. Betty will get a bonnie surprise when she meets me roarin’ fu’!’

“Mansie had a son who was a seaman on board a Davis Strait whale-fishing ship. On one occasion this vessel put into Stromness, and on the news reaching Harray, Mansie travelled into town in order to see his son. On reaching Stromness he procured a small boat and pulled off to the vessel. Getting alongside he hailed the ship, when a man looked over the rail and asked what he wanted. ‘ Oh,’ replied Mansie, ‘ ye needna been in sic a hurry, and corned up through the lum! Ye could hae opened the door; but I cam’ tae speer for me son.’ It was at once seen that Mansie was a character, so that he was taken on board, and was prevailed upon to stay till next morning. During the night a strong gale arose, which made the ship roll and pitch rather heavily. In the morning Mansie came on deck, and was walking backwards and forwards, when he espied two or three small boats fastened astern. ‘ Weel, weel/ said he, ‘ it’s nae winder the puir crature was in pain, an’ keeked aboot in the nicht, as she did. See whit she has calved?

“On another occasion Mansie was in Stromness with his old mare. On leaving the town he noticed some fishermen putting boiling tar on their boat. Mansie enquired what they were doing that for, and was told that it was to make the boat ‘ run.’ ‘I wish ye wid only pit some o’t on me auld mare, an’ see if hid widna’ mak’ her rin/ said Mansie. One of the men then dipped the ‘ mop ’ in the boiling tar, and dashed it on the mare, when the animal immediately bolted, throwing Mansie into the ditch. Mansie had got a severe shaking by the fall, and was not in the best of humour when he arose. After travelling along the road for some distance he came upon his old mare lying dead on the roadside—her teeth being tightly closed, and her lips slightly open. On seeing this, Mansie apparently thought the mare was laughing at him, for he lifted his stick, and belaboured the dead animal, at the same time exclaiming—‘Ah, ye auld jade! will ye lie there an’ laugh at me noo, after pitchin’ me in the ditch, an’ trying to kill me?’

“The most humorous stories regarding Mansie, however, are those which are best forgotten, and I am not going to give any of these. Those which I have just been relating will suffice to show, in a general way, what sort of man he was.”

By the time all the foregoing stories had been discussed, bed-time had arrived, and though the gale continued unabated, the company retired to rest in the best of spirits, feeling they had spent a very enjoyable evening.

One winter night not long ago some neighbours gathered at Claybraes, in the East Mainland; and, as usually happens on such occasions, they began to exchange reminiscences of the past. Old Tammie Tait the tailor, who is famed as a story-teller, commenced the proceedings by giving a biographical sketch of

Donald Levach.

“This worthy,” said Tammie, “was not born in Orkney. He was well known throughout the islands, however, and spent the greater part of his life here, so that it may fairly be claimed for him that, if not an Orcadian by birth, he was so at least by adoption. Donald was a native of Halkirk, Caithness. When a youth he learned the tailoring trade, but he did not work very long at it, leaving it to become a book-canvasser for the firm of Messrs Blackie & Son, Glasgow. It was in this capacity, and while he was quite a young man, that he came to Orkney (landing in South Eonaldshay from Huna)—being the pioneer canvasser for the firm of Messrs Blackie & Son in the county—and he continued in this employment till he died. He proved a most successful canvasser, and might have been well off had it not been for his one great failing—a love of whisky—for I must admit that he periodically went on the spree. He had in his youth received little or no education, and he used to say that ‘ the only school-book ever bought for Tonald was a Caracher/ But Donald made up his mind to get rid of this disadvantage. He laboured hard to improve himself. He was a great reader, chiefly of standard works, and he closely studied human nature. Having a very retentive memory, he soon gathered a large store of general information. But it is such a short time since he passed away, that it is unnecessary for me to enlarge on these points, as you all knew Donald well.

“Gaelic being his native language, he invariably used T in place of D, P instead of B, etc., at the commencement of words. He was ready witted, quick in repartee, and his jokes were all original. He had two half brothers, one a minister, the other a hotel keeper, and he used to say, ‘I have two prothers, they both deal with spirits, but it is different kinds—one is trying to save men, the other to destroy them.’

“I once heard him say, in a tailor’s shop in School Place, Kirkwall—‘ I have a prother ten feet high !’ This called forth the sneering comment—‘ 0, Donald, that will do,’ to which Donald replied—‘ Well, you are a man that will reason, aren’t you? Two halfs make a whole, don’t they?’ ‘Yes,’ admitted his opponent. ‘ Well, then,’ continued Donald, ‘ I have two half prothers, and I am sure each of them is over five feet high, so that will surely make one prother ten feet high !’

“Donald used to tell with much gusto how he sold a Free Church woman a Bible. Entering the house shortly after the Disruption, the woman was very severe in her animadversions on the Established Church, and could talk of nothing but the evil deeds of the Intrusionists. At length Donald said—‘ My good woman, would you buy a Free Kirk Bible ?’ Of course she would. So Donald sold her a Bible, and on leaving told her to be sure and read very carefully 1 Cor. xiii., and advised her to try to live up to it.

“One J M had subscribed for a commentary on the Bible, and after taking a a few of the parts, wished to get rid of his obligation. He therefore offered to sell Donald the parts cheap. Donald, however, did not look with favour at the proposal. Addressing the young man, he said—‘ John, have you ever read your Bible?’ ‘A little,’ was the reply. ‘Well,’ continued Donald, ‘have you ever found the passage, Puy the truth, and sell it not?’ ‘ I think not/ said John. ‘ Then go home and read till you find it, and act up to it?’ was Donald’s advice.

Once he was in a shop in Stromness rather the worse of whisky, when an elder of one of the churches came in. Donald turned to him and said, ‘ Will you puy a pook?’ ‘What are you selling—spectacles?’ queried the elder. ‘Pooks' cried Donald; ‘the Pible—the best of pooks.'* ‘ I consider that a man who sells the Bible/ said the elder, ‘ ought to be a decent, respectable party, and not one who makes a fool of himself with whisky/ to which Donald promptly replied, ‘ Do you ever read your Pible?’ ‘Yes' said the elder. ‘Well' continued Donald, with scathing indignation, ‘did you ever read that among the Jews the raven was counted an unclean bird, and yet she fed the holy prophet Elijah?’

“Once he was in Mr Leith’s tailor shop in St. Margaret’s Hope, when the Rev. Mr Edgar, then U.P. minister of South Ronaldshay, entered and commenced to lecture him on the evils of using intoxicating liquors. Donald mildly suggested that the parson would be as well employed looking after some of his own members. But the minister still continuing his well-meant remonstrances, Donald exclaimed—‘Do you see Gaan Petrie’s shed out there?’ pointing to a boat-carpenter’s shop; ‘ your church is just like that shed—open at both ends—ready to receive anything that comes in, but they can as easily get out by the other end.’

“One day a former postmaster of Kirkwall, and another gentleman, were standing in front of the Old Post Office, when they saw Donald strolling up the street. Thinking to have some sport at the expense of the Highlandman, they waited till he came up. The postmaster then accosted him. ‘ Well, Donald, we were disputing, and thought, perhaps you could set us right. You know that in Orkney the United Presbyterian denomination is predominant. Now, Caithness is a much larger county than Orkney. How is it that in all Caithness there is only one small U.P. congregation ?’ Donald placed his finger on the side of his nose, as he was in the habit of doing when studying, and replied— ‘ Well, sir, there are not so many tammed scoondrals in the whole County of Caithness as would make one fair-sized U.P. congregation !’ His interrogrator was so nonplussed that he bolted into the Post Office, leaving Donald and the other gentleman standing in the middle of the street, while the bystanders were convulsed with laughter.

“I have already indicated that Donald was a little too fond of whisky. He knew his weakness, and sometimes made strenuous efforts to resist the temptation—only one of which I shall relate. Having been on the spree in Stromness, he left and proceeded to a house outside the town, where he stopped till he got sober. At last he set out for Kirkwall, to reach which he would naturally have to pass through Finstown, where there was at that time at least one public house, and one shebeen right in his road. Donald, knowing his weakness, was afraid to risk the temptation, there being, as he used to say, ‘ lions in the way ’; so he went up through Germiston, Stenness, crossed the hill of Heddle, came down near the old Firth Manse, took the old Stromness road, and thus got into Kirkwall, without encountering ‘ the lions ’ he was afraid to face. He was strictly honest and very conscientious. Often when drinking, after his money ran out, he would borrow from anyone who would lend him, and when he could get no more, he would go to the publicans, who rarely refused to give him liquor on ( tick/ As soon as he got sober and commenced to work, the first money he earned went to pay the debts thus contracted, he often denying himself the necessaries of life to get this accomplished. I used to say to him that I did not consider he had any right, legal or moral, to refund those men who sold him liquor without money when they saw the state he was in, as they were conferring no favour on him; but his answer always was— ‘ all true; but I went into them—they did not come out to me/ ”

John Anderson, a canny-going old farmer, over whose head some four-score summers had passed, said he would tell them the story of

Geordie Gaudie.

He said he had often heard old people tell it, but the best account he knew of was that of Mr Duncan MacLean, a native of Kirkwall, who had been in the Navy, and who had risen to the proud position of being editor of the “Boston Traveller!’

“Most of you know that Geordy Gaudie was a noted tramp seventy years ago. He was about five feet eight inches high, weighed at least two hundred pounds, well-proportioned, with red hair sprinkled with grey; bushy whiskers and beard; with an open, manly caste of countenance, and large expressive blue eyes. In his youth he must have been one of the best-looking men of his day. He wore a Scotch cap, a brown monkey jacket, and was trim in his rig throughout.

“He wandered aimlessly over the islands, rarely remaining more than a day in one place. Occasionally he turned up in Kirkwall, took a look at the shipping, visited the Auld Kirk, lingered lovingly in the graveyard, and among the ruins of the Earl’s Palace. The boys, who were always on hand for a “lark” with odd characters, rarely troubled him, for he was genial and kind, and when spoken to answered courteously but briefly, for he was a man of few words. The boys having learned that he detested the sight of money, especially silver coins, occasionally offered him a sixpence; then he sprang at them in wrath, and they were soon non est.

“He was a native of North Ronaldshay, where he had a brother and a sister, well-to-do folks, with whom he lived when out of kelter, and who were very kind to him, for they had shared his prosperity when in luck. When a boy be entered tbe Royal Navy, at a time when ‘ gold chains and wooden legs ’ were served out; tbe gold to tbe officers, tbe wood to tbe shellbacks. Shortly after the peace of 1815 he returned to Orkney and became a wanderer, but even his brother and sister knew not why.

“Many years afterwards, when serving in the Navy myself, I became shipmate with a man who knew him well in his prime, then one of the most dashing, daring, and handsome men afloat. He had served with Nelson in the battle of St. Yincent, at the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar, and on board the Pallas frigate, under Lord Cochrane, when he burned the French fleet in Basque Roads. Most of the time he was a quarter-master; belonged to Nelson’s barge, and had been complimented by Lady Hamilton as the finest-looking fellow in the great Admiral’s barge. Nelson, himself a rare specimen of manly beauty, had his barge and gig manned with the best-looking men in his ship.

“Geordy, having an excellent character, received employment in Portsmouth dockyard, which assured him a good living while able to work, and a pension when invalided. He had been lucky in prize-money and saving of his wages, so that he had over one thousand pounds on hand when he left the sea. His life, for a plain, unlettered man, had thus far been a complete success; lie knew his duty and did it man-fashion. The old saying, ‘ never call a man lucky until he is under ground/ was painfully illustrated in his case. Unfortunately he fell in love with a beautiful girl (all bad girls are beautiful, according to the novelists, who know everything), and Geordy’s turned out one of the number. She was the daughter of a shipmate, pious after a fashion, and bore an unblemished character. They were married, and lived lovingly together for a whole year, until she had obtained control of his money, then she disappeared, money and all. He did not make any outcry, but sold his furniture, paid what little he owed, resigned his place in the dockyard, packed up his clothes, and came to the home of his brother and sister, where he left his chest and clothing, and some fifty pounds in money obtained from the sale of his furniture and the last instalment of his wages. He remained about a week at home, and then took to wandering. Wherever he brought up at night, he was kindly received and hospitably entertained. He seemed to know by instinct where to go. During the warm months of summer he slept in the fields, and was sure to receive something to eat when he was hungry. When the whalemen came to Stromness to complete their crews, he boarded them, had a draw of the clay and a glass or two of grog, for he seemed to love the men of the sea, and little children, though he was never seen to smile. No doubt regarding money as the cause of his bad luck, he literally abhorred the very sight of it. When his clothes were worn out, and he felt that he needed to refit ship, he came home, but never remained longer than a few days. I think he was still wandering in 1828 when I left Kirkwall; but he is no doubt now in heaven, for the last old shell who was sent to the other place could not get in; it was chock full, and land sinners were sitting with their legs out of the windows. Like an omnibus, in which there is always room for ‘ one more/ it is to be hoped that this faithless rib is that one.”

Mansie Bews said he would like to tell them about the greatest town-crier and town-piper that Kirkwall ever had—

Jamie Wallace.

“Those who knew this famous town-crier,” said Mansie, “ say that he had a strong, clear, trumpet-like voice, and made his announcements with so much lung power that he could be heard from a great distance. His worst fault was that he took a dram, and on these occasions he was not very choice in his language. But with all his faults in these respects, he seems to have been a great favourite with the inhabitants. He was the last official piper of Kirkwall, and, every morning for many years, he, with the stirring strains of his pipes, called from their slumbers the horny-handed sons of toil. One morning, however, the pipes were silent, and the news spread that Wallace had fallen from a cart near New England, the previous evening, and had broken his neck. The loss of the piper was felt to be a great one, and many times were the Council coaxed to fill up the vacant office. The municipal rulers, however, were obdurate, and no successor was appointed; but Wallace is embalmed in the memory of many as ‘ a piper of renown.’ ”

Another member of the company, old Donald MacLean, said—

“This honest man, from the time I first knew him until I left Kirkwall, every morning, except Sunday, played his pipes through the main street. One morning he would begin at the upper end, and the next at the quay, so that all should have their fair share of his music, which was designed to call the toilers to work. He was not only a talented player, but a man of spiritual endowments. He was in open communication with ghosts long before the ‘ Kochester-Knockings ’ of New York, but never made merchandize of his gifts. At will he could ‘call up spirits from the vasty deep' and they would come and tell him all he wished to know. I think he also rang the town bell nightly at eight o’clock. It was only when the ‘ cockles of his heart ’ were warm with whisky, and a very little water, for the water at that time was not good, that he was eloquent about the glories of the good place, and the dismal darkness and despair of the other place, and the condition of their denizens. . . . He prided himself on his descent from the heroic Wallace, and though his occupation was humble, he said the name should never be dishonoured in his person.

“A local poet and admirer of Jamie Wallace wrote the following elegy on him: —

“Kirkwallians, list’ to what I tell;
He’s gone from you who bore the hell;
He’s gone, whose notes awoke the morn,
And to his narrow house he’s borne.

“St. Magnus still may tell the time,
But he’ll not now prolong the chime;
No more will Jamie take his round:
For low he lies beneath the ground.

“He had his faults, but let them rest;
Faults stick to characters the best;
Of this I’m sure that Kirkwall town
Has lost a Piper of renown.”

Around the Orkney Peat-Fires
Being Sketches of Notable Orcadians, Sauggling Anecdotes, Stories of the Press-Gang and Witch and Other Stories (third edition) compiled by W. R. Mackintosh (1914) (pdf)

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