IT happened one day, gentlemen, that the Earl of Fife was travelling up this glen on his way over to his house of Mar Lodge in Braemar, and having stopped at Caochan-Seirceag over by yonder, he sent one of his people across the meadow here to tell Inchrory that he meant to honour him with a visit. The gentleman knocked at the door, was admitted by the goodwife, and ushered into Inchrory’s presence. He found him seated in his arm-chair in the position which he always occupied, that is, on the most comfortable side of the fire.
“Good day to you, Inchrory,” said the gentleman, bowing.
“The same to you sir,” said Inchrory, bowing his head very grandly and ceremoniously, but without stirring.
“My Lord the Earl of Fife, who is halting at Caochan-Seirceag, on his road to Braemar, has sent me over to tell you that he means to step aside from his way to visit you,” said the gentleman.
“Well, sir,” said Inchrory, proudly, “what of that? Tell him he is welcome.”
The gentleman, astonished with his reception, bowed and retired as an ambassador might have done from a royal presence.
“Well, sir,” said Lord Fife to him, after he had rejoined him, “is Inchrory at home?”
“He is at home, my Lord,” replied the gentleman; “but he is the surliest churl I ever came across.”
“As how?” demanded the Earl.
“Why, my Lord, the little wretch never rose from his chair,” replied the gentleman; and then he repeated the conversation he had had with Inchrory. “If your Lordship would take my counsel, you would e’en continue your journey and leave the bear to suck his own paws in his own den.”
“Why do you not flit1 that insolent fellow,” said Lord Fife to James MacGrigor of Pitiveach, his factor, who happened to be with him; “you are tacksman of this farm, and so you have it in your power to turn him out.”
“Why, my Lord,” replied MacGrigor, “he and his forbears2 have been there for generations; and, though he certainly is a great original, he is no bad fellow for all that.”
“So, so,” replied the Earl, laughing, “the fellow is an original, is he? Then I must see him. It is something to discover so great a potentate, holding his undisputed reign in wilds like these, so many miles from any other human dwelling. I must visit him directly.”
The fact was that the Earl had but recently become possessed of these Highland estates, and Inchrory looked upon him as a new man – a Lowlander – whom it was his duty, as it was very much his inclination, to despise; whilst the Earl, for his part, knowing that such was a feeling which naturally enough pervaded the minds of the Highlanders even on his own newly-acquired lands, was determined to do it away by using all manner of courtesy to everyone with whom he might come into contact. Above all things he felt that the opportunity which he now had of overcoming the prejudice of such a man as Inchrory was by no means to be lost. To Inchrory, therefore, he went without a moment’s delay, was admitted into the house, and ushered into the presence.
“Good day to you, Inchrory,” said the Earl, bowing.
“Good day to you, Lord Fife,” replied Inchrory, bowing with the same formality as formerly, but still keeping his seat. “Sit down, my Lord – sit down. Here is a chair beside me; for I always keep the benmost3 seat in my own house.”
“Very right, Inchrory,” said the Earl, smiling, and seating himself accordingly beside his host; “and a very comfortable seat it seems to be.”
“Very comfortable,” said Inchrory, setting himself more firmly into it; “and I hope that one is easy for your Lordship.”
“Very easy indeed,” said Lord Fife; “a long ride, such as I have had, would make a hard stone feel easy, and much more this chair beneath your hospitable roof of Inchrory and before your good fire in this bitter cold day.”
“Well, well, my Lord,” replied Inchrory, for the first time shaking the Earl heartily by the hand, and very much pleased with the familiar manner in which his visitor had so unexpectedly comported himself, – “well, all I can say is, that you are heartily welcome to it. Here, gudewife! Bring out the bottle. Lord Fife must taste Inchrory’s bottle; and bestir yourself, do you hear, and see what you can give his Lordship to eat.”
The whisky bottle was brought and Inchrory drank the Earl’s health, who without any ceremony hobernobbed with him in turn. Mutton, ham, cheese, broiled kipper salmon, bannocks and butter, were produced and put down promiscuously. The Earl ate like a hill farmer, and partook moderately of the whisky, which Inchrory swallowed in large and repeated bumpers to his Lordship’s good health. He talked loud and joyously, and the Earl familiarly humoured him to his full bent. They were the greatest friends in the world. The Earl particularly delighted Inchrory by praising, caressing, and feeding a great rough deer-hound, which, roused from his lair in front of the fire by the entrance of the eatables, put his long snout and cold nose into his Lordship’s hand, and craved his attention. But this dog had very nearly ruined all; for the Earl was so much taken with the animal that, having left the house after a very warm parting with Inchrory, he sent back his factor to him to offer to purchase the animal at any price.
“What!” cried Inchrory, drawing himself up in his chair, and looking thunderbolts, – “what! does Lord Fife take me for a dog-dealer? I would not sell my dog to any Lord in the land. I would not sell my dog to the King on the throne. Tell his Lordship I would as soon sell him my wife!”
“What a stupid fellow I am, Inchrory!” said the factor. “Did I say that it was the Earl that sent me? If I did, I was quite wrong. No! no! his lordship did no such thing. He only admired the dog so much, that he could speak of nothing else as he crossed the meadow to join his people. It was my mistake altogether. Hearing him admire your dog so much, I thought it would be a kind act from me to you, my old friend, just to ride back quietly, and give you a hint of it. ‘I thought I had the best dogs in all Scotland,’ said the Earl, ‘but that dog of Inchrory’s beats them all clean. He is worth them all put together. He is a prince among dogs, as his master is a prince among men. Where could you find a master worthy of such a dog but Inchrory himself – the best fellow I have met with in all this country.’ ”
“Did the Earl of Fife say that?” cried Inchrory, “Here, bring me a leash. Now,” added he, after having fastened it about the hound’s neck, “take hold of that, and lead the dog to the Earl, and tell him that Inchrory begs he will accept of him as a present.”
The Earl was delighted with the dog, as well as with the able conduct of his ambassador who brought him; and he was no sooner fairly established in his own house at Mar Lodge, than he sent an especial messenger over the hill to Inchrory, with a letter from himself, thanking him for his noble present, and requesting him to come and pay him a visit. Inchrory most graciously accepted the invitation; and the Earl took care to be prepared to give him a proper reception.
Inchrory, dressed in his best Highland costume, accoutred with sword, dirk, and pistols complete, mounted his long tailed garron, and rose over to Mar Lodge. When he arrived, two grooms of the Earl’s were ready, one to hold his horse’s head, and the other his stirrup while he dismounted, and he was ushered into the house by the house-steward, and through an alley of footmen, all richly attired in the Earl’s livery, till he was shown into the room where his Lordship was seated. Inchrory had never seen anything the least like this before. But he was too proud to manifest the smallest surprise – and holding up his head, he strode in with a dignified air, and took all this pomp as if it had belonged to him of course. The Earl was seated, amidst all his magnificence, in a great arm-chair next the fire, with an empty one placed at his left hand.
“Good day to you, Inchrory,” said the Earl to him as he entered, and at the same time nodding his head familiarly as he spoke, but without rising from his seat.
“Good day to you, my Lord,” said Inchrory, strutting forward like a turkey cock.
“Come away, and sit down beside me here, Inchrory,” said the Earl, “for I always keep the benmost seat in my own house.”
“Right! – right, my Lord!” said Inchrory, seating himself beside the Earl, and taking his hand and shaking it heartily, without any sort of ceremony; “you are quite right, my Lord; that is exactly my rule. Every man should have the benmost seat in his own house.”
“You see that Luath hath not forgotten you,” said the Earl, as the great dog was manifesting his joy at seeing his old master.
“By my faith you have him in good quarters here!” said Inchrory, observing that a quadruple fold of carpet had been spread for the animal close in front of the fire.
“The best I can give him, Inchrory,” said the Earl; “as, next to his late master, he deserves the best at my hands. Here, bring the bottle! Inchrory must taste the Earl of Fife’s bottle! And, do you hear, bring something for Inchrory to stay his hunger with after his long ride!”
Immediately, as if by magic, several footmen entered with a table covered with the richest viands and wine, which was placed close to Inchrory’s chair and that of the Earl. By especial order a bottle of whisky appeared among the other liquors.
“Here’s to ye, Inchrory!” said the Earl, after filling himself a glass of whisky, and drinking to his guest with a hearty shake of his hand. And, –
“Here’s to you, my Lord,” cried Inchrory, following his example in a bumper of the same liquor.
Inchrory had no reason to complain of his entertainment during the time he was at Mar Lodge. The Earl gave orders that everything should be done to please him; and the little man was highly pleased, and as proud as a peacock. Amongst other things, hunting parties were made in all directions through the neighbouring forests; and although these were by no means expressly got up for him, yet he was always brought so prominently forward on all such occasions, that in his pride, he believed, like the fly on the pillar, that the very world was moving for him, and for him alone.
It happened that a Tenchil, or a driving of the wood for game of all kinds, was one day held at Alnac. Inchrory was posted in a pass with Farquharson of Allargue and Grant of Burnside in Cromdale, who was one of Lord Fife’s factors. This last mentioned gentleman, having only arrived at Mar Lodge that morning, knew nothing of Inchrory personally, though Inchrory knew something of him. So that, whilst Farquharson, who was by this time well acquainted with Inchrory and all his peculiarities, was treating him with all that respect, which was at all times paid him by a universal agreement among Lord Fife’s friends then assembled as his guests, the little man was left quite unnoticed by Burnside, and treated by him as nobody. Inchrory was severely nettled at this apparently marked neglect on the part of Burnside towards him. As usual on such occasions, the people who had surrounded a large portion of the forest, gradually contracted their circle, and their shouts increasing, and the dogs beginning to range through the coverts, and to give tongue, game of all kinds came popping singly out through the different passes where the hunters were stationed. A short-legged, long-bodied, rough, cabbage-worm-looking terrier, of the true Highland breed, came yelping along towards the point where Burnside, Allargue, and Inchrory were posted near to each other. All was anxiety and eager anticipation. A hart of the first head was the least thing looked for. When, – lo and behold, out came an enormous wild-cat, the very tigger of our Highland woods. Burnside had a capital chance of him, but fired at him, and missed him. Inchrory immediately levelled his piece, and shot him dead.
“There’s at you, clowns of Cromdale!” cried Inchrory, leering most triumphantly and provokingly over his shoulder at Burnside.
“What do you mean by that, you rascal?” cried Burnside, firing up at this insult, and at the same time striding towards Inchrory with every possible demonstration of active hostility. “What do you mean by that, you little shrimp?”
“Sir,” said Inchrory, standing his ground boldly and proudly, “what do you mean? I know nothing of you; and it appears by your insolent manners, that you know nothing of me.”
“Stop, stop, gentlemen!” cried Allargue, running in between them; “the fault is mine for having neglected to introduce you to each other. Burnside, this is Inchrory, the particular friend of the Earl of Fife; – and, Inchrory, this is Burnside, also a particular friend of your friend, the Earl. This, I hope, is enough to put a stop to anything unpleasant between you.”
“Oh!” said Burnside, who had caught the intelligent wink of the eye which Allargue had secretly conveyed to him, whilst going through this pompous introduction, and who had heard enough of Inchrory to enable him to guess at the case and the character of the animal he had to deal with, as well as to pick up his cue as to the proper way in which he should treat him – “Oh, that is altogether another affair! Had I only known the person in whose company I had the good fortune to be, I should not have presumed to have fired a shot before him. But if I have said anything amiss, I am sure Inchrory will have the magnanimity to forgive me, seeing that I have been already sufficiently punished by the exhibition of bad gunning which I have unwittingly ventured to make in presence of him who is by all acknowledged to be the best marksman in Scotland.”
“Sir,” said Inchrory, rising full a couple of inches higher in his brogues, and coming forward to Burnside with extended palm, and with a manner full of dignified condescension, – “you are a gentleman of the first water! I beg you will forget and forgive any expression which in my ignorance I may have let fall, that may by chance have given you offence.”
“Sir, I am proud to shake hands with you,” said Burnside, advancing to give him a cordial squeeze.
“Sir,” said Inchrory with a proud air, but at the same time shaking him heartily by the hand, “any friend of my friend the Earl of Fife, is my friend. Henceforth, sir, I am your sworn friend.”
I daresay, gentlemen, I have given you enough of Inchrory to make you sufficiently well acquainted with his character. But I have yet one more anecdote of him, which I think brings it out more than all the others. His wife, Ealsach, was one morning occupied in tending the cattle at the shieling of Altanarroch. Lonely as you already know this place of Inchrory to be, its loneliness was nothing when compared to that of the shieling of Altanarroch, where even the cattle themselves could only exist for a month or two during the finest part of the year. Now, it happened that Ealsach, being in the family way, became extremely anxious and unhappy as her time of confinement approached, and her anxiety went on increasing daily, till at last she began to think it very expedient to go home to Inchrory. The distance was considerable, and the way rough enough in all conscience. But, having the spirit of a Highland woman within her, she set out boldly on foot, and arrived at Inchrory at an early hour in the morning. Her husband met her at the door of the house, where she looked for a kind welcome from him, and modestly signified the cause of her coming.
“Ha!” exclaimed he proudly, and with anger in his eye. “How is this that you come on foot? How dared tou to come home till I sent a horse for you, that you might travel as Inchrory’s wife ought to do?”
“No one saw how I came,” replied his wife meekly. “I met nothing but the moor-cocks and the pease-weeps on the hill.”
“No matter,” said Inchrory, “even the moor-cocks and the pease-weeps should not have it to say, that they saw the wife of Inchrory tramping home a-foot through the heather. Get thee back this moment every foot of the way to Altanarroch, that I may send for thee as Inchrory’s wife ought to be sent for.”
The poor woman knew that argument with him was useless. Without entering the house, therefore, she was compelled to turn her weary steps back to Altanarroch; and she was no sooner there, than a servant appeared, leading by the bridle a horse, having a saddle on its back covered with a green cloth, on which she was compelled to mount forthwith, in order to ride home over the barren and desert moors and mosses, in such style, as might satisfy the moor-cocks and the pease-weeps, that she was the wife of Inchrory.