The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich/I

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A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Nunc formosissimus annus
Ite meæ felix quondam pecus, ite camenæ.


I

Socii cratera coronant.

It was the afternoon; and the sports were now at the ending.
Long had the stone been put, tree cast, and thrown the hammer;
Up the perpendicular hill, Sir Hector so called it,
Eight stout gillies had run, with speed and agility wondrous;
Run too the course on the level had been; the leaping was over:
Last in the show of dress, a novelty recently added,
Noble ladies their prizes adjudged for costume that was perfect,
Turning the clansmen about, as they stood with upraised elbows;
Bowing their eye-glassed brows, and fingering kilt and sporran.
It was four of the clock, and the sports were come to the ending,
Therefore the Oxford party went off to adorn for the dinner.
Be it recorded in song who was first, who last, in dressing.
Hope was first, black-tied, white-waistcoated, simple, His Honour;
For the postman made out he was heir to the earldom of Ilay
(Being the younger son of the younger brother, the Colonel),
Treated him therefore with special respect; doffed bonnet, and ever,
Called him His Honour: His Honour he therefore was at the cottage;
Always His Honour at least, sometimes the Viscount of Day.
Hope was first, His Honour, and next to His Honour the Tutor.
Still more plain the Tutor, the grave man, nicknamed Adam,
White-tied, clerical, silent, with antique square-cut waistcoat
Formal, unchanged, of black cloth, but with sense and feeling beneath it;
Skilful in Ethics and Logic, in Pindar and Poets unrivalled;
Shady in Latin, said Lindsay, but topping in Plays and Aldrich.
Somewhat more splendid in dress, in a waistcoat work of a lady,
Lindsay succeeded; the lively, the cheery, cigar-loving Lindsay,
Lindsay the ready of speech, the Piper, the Dialectician,
This was his title from Adam because of the words he invented,
Who in three weeks had created a dialect new for the party;
This was his title from Adam, but mostly they called him the Piper.
Lindsay succeeded, the lively, the cheery, cigar-loving Lindsay.
Hewson and Hobbes were down at the matutine bathing; of course too
Arthur, the bather of bathers, par excellence, Audley by surname,
Arthur they called him for love and for euphony; they had been bathing,
Where in the morning was custom, where over a ledge of granite
Into a granite basin the amber torrent descended,
Only a step from the cottage, the road and larches between them.
Hewson and Hobbes followed quick upon Adam; on them followed Arthur.
Airlie descended the last, effulgent as god of Olympus;
Blue, perceptibly blue, was the coat that had white silk facings,
Waistcoat blue, coral-buttoned, the white tie finely adjusted,
Coral moreover the studs on a shirt as of crochet of women
When the fourwheel for ten minutes already had stood at the gateway,
He, like a god, came leaving his ample Olympian chamber.
And in the fourwheel they drove to the place of the clansmen’s meeting.
So in the fourwheel they came; and Donald the innkeeper showed them
Up to the barn where the dinner should be. Four tables were in it;
Two at the top and the bottom, a little upraised from the level,
These for Chairman and Croupier, and gentry fit to be with them,
Two lengthways in the midst for keeper and gillie and peasant.
Here were clansmen many in kilt and bonnet assembled,
Keepers a dozen at least; the Marquis’s targeted gillies;
Pipers five or six, among them the young one, the drunkard;
Many with silver brooches, and some with those brilliant crystals
Found amid granite-dust on the frosty scalp of the Cairn-Gorm;
But with snuff-boxes all, and all of them using the boxes.
Here too were Catholic Priest, and Established Minister standing;
Catholic Priest; for many still clung to the Ancient Worship,
And Sir Hector’s father himself had built them a chapel;
So stood Priest and Minister, near to each other, but silent,
One to say grace before, the other after the dinner.
Hither anon too came the shrewd, ever-ciphering Factor,
Hither anon the Attaché, the Guardsman mute and stately,
Hither from lodge and bothie in all the adjoining shootings
Members of Parliament many, forgetful of votes and blue-books,
Here, amid heathery hills, upon beast and bird of the forest
Venting the murderous spleen of the endless Railway Committee.
Hither the Marquis of Ayr, and Dalgarnish Earl and Croupier,
And at their side, amid murmurs of welcome, long-looked-for, himself too
Eager, the grey, but boy-hearted Sir Hector, the Chief and the Chairman.
Then was the dinner served, and the Minister prayed for a blessing,
And to the viands before them with knife and with fork they beset them
Venison, the red and the roe, with mutton; and grouse succeeding;
Such was the feast, with whisky of course, and at top and bottom
Small decanters of sherry, not overchoice, for the gentry.
So to the viands before them with laughter and chat they beset them.
And, when on flesh and on fowl had appetite duly been sated,
Up rose the Catholic Priest and returned God thanks for the dinner.
Then on all tables were set black bottles of well-mixed toddy,
And, with the bottles and glasses before them, they sat, digesting,
Talking, enjoying, but chiefly awaiting the toasts and speeches.

Spare me, O great Recollection! for words to the task were unequal,
Spare me, O mistress of Song! nor bid me remember minutely
All that was said and done o’er the well-mixed tempting toddy;
How were healths proposed and drunk ‘with all the honours,’
Glasses and bonnets waving, and three-times-three thrice over,
Queen, and Prince, and Army, and Landlords all, and Keepers;
Bid me not, grammar defying, repeat from grammar-defiers
Long constructions strange and plusquam-Thucydidean;
Tell how, as sudden torrent in time of speat in the mountain
Hurries six ways at once, and takes at last to the roughest,
Or as the practised rider at Astley’s or Franconi’s
Skilfully, boldly bestrides many steeds at once in the gallop,
Crossing from this to that, with one leg here, one yonder,
So, less skilful, but equally bold, and wild as the torrent,
All through sentences six at a time, unsuspecting of syntax,
Hurried the lively good-will and garrulous tale of Sir Hector.
Left to oblivion be it, the memory, faithful as ever,
How the Marquis of Ayr, with wonderful gesticulation,
Floundering on through game and mess-room recollections,
Gossip of neighbouring forest, praise of targeted gillies,
Anticipation of royal visit, skits at pedestrians,
Swore he would never abandon his country, nor give up deer-stalking;
How, too, more brief, and plainer, in spite of the Gaelic accent,
Highland peasants gave courteous answer to flattering nobles.
Two orations alone the memorial song will render;
For at the banquet’s close spake thus the lively Sir Hector,
Somewhat husky with praises exuberant, often repeated,
Pleasant to him and to them, of the gallant Highland soldiers
Whom he erst led in the fight; something husky, but ready, though weary,
Up to them rose and spoke the grey but gladsome chieftain:
Fill up your glasses, my friends, once more, With all the honours!
There was a toast I forgot, which our gallant Highland homes have
Always welcomed the stranger, delighted, I may say, to see such
Fine young men at my table My friends! are you ready? the Strangers.
Gentlemen, here are your healths, and I wish you With all the honours!
So he said, and the cheers ensued, and all the honours,
All our Collegians were bowed to, the Attaché detecting His Honour,
Guardsman moving to Arthur, and Marquis sidling to Airlie,
And the small Piper below getting up and nodding to Lindsay.
But, while the healths were being drunk, was much tribulation and trouble,
Nodding and beckoning across, observed of Attaché and Guardsman
Adam wouldn’t speak, indeed it was certain he couldn’t;
Hewson could, and would if they wished; Philip Hewson a poet,
Hewson a radical hot, hating lords and scorning ladies,
Silent mostly, but often reviling in fire and fury
Feudal tenures, mercantile lords, competition and bishops,
Liveries, armorial bearings, amongst other matters the Game-laws
He could speak, and was asked to by Adam; but Lindsay aloud cried,
(Whisky was hot in his brain,) Confound it, no, not Hewson,
A’nt he cock-sure to bring in his eternal political humbug?
However, so it must be, and after due pause of silence,
Waving his hand to Lindsay, and smiling oddly to Adam,
Up to them rose and spoke the poet and radical Hewson.
I am, I think, perhaps the most perfect stranger present.
I have not, as have some of my friends, in my veins some tincture,
Some few ounces of Scottish blood; no, nothing like it.
I am therefore perhaps the fittest to answer and thank you.
So I thank you, sir, for myself and for my companions,
Heartily thank you all for this unexpected greeting,
All the more welcome, as showing you do not account us intruders,
Are not unwilling to see the north and the south forgather.
And, surely, seldom have Scotch and English more thoroughly mingled;
Scarcely with warmer hearts, and clearer feeling of manhood,
Even in tourney, and foray, and fray, and regular battle,
Where the life and the strength came out in the tug and tussle,
Scarcely, where man met man, and soul encountered with soul, as
Close as do the bodies and twining limbs of the wrestlers,
When for a final bout are a day’s two champions mated,
In the grand old times of bows, and bills, and claymores,
At the old Flodden-field or Bannockburn or Culloden.
(And he paused a moment, for breath, and because of some cheering,)
We are the better friends, I fancy, for that old fighting,
Better friends, inasmuch as we know each other the better,
We can now shake hands without pretending or shuffling.
On this passage followed a great tornado of cheering,
Tables were rapped, feet stamped, a glass or two got broken
He, ere the cheers died wholly away, and while still there was stamping,
Added, in altered voice, with a smile, his doubtful conclusion.
I have, however, less claim than others perhaps to this honour,
For, let me say, I am neither game-keeper, nor game-preserver.
So he said, and sat down, but his satire had not been taken.
Only the men, who were all on their legs as concerned in the thanking,
Were a trifle confused, but mostly sat down without laughing;
Lindsay alone, close-facing the chair, shook his fist at the speaker.
Only a Liberal member, away at the end of the table,
Started, remembering sadly the cry of a coming election,
Only the Attaché glanced at the Guardsman, who twirled his moustachio,
Only the Marquis faced round, but, not quite clear of the meaning,
Joined with the joyous Sir Hector, who lustily beat on the table.
And soon after the chairman arose, and the feast was over:
Now should the barn be cleared and forthwith adorned for the dancing,
And, to make way for this purpose, the tutor and pupils retiring
Were by the chieftain addressed and invited to come to the castle.
But ere the door-way they quitted, a thin man clad as the Saxon,
Trouser and cap and jacket of homespun blue, hand-woven,
Singled out, and said with determined accent, to Hewson,.
Touching his arm: Young man, if ye pass through the Braes o’ Lochaber,
See by the loch-side ye come to the Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.