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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 10
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    TO THE PENTLAND HILLS.

    ON three sides of Edinburgh, the country slopes
    downward from the city, here to the sea, there to the fat
    farms of Haddington, there to the mineral fields of
    Linlithgow. On the south alone, it keeps rising until it
    not only out-tops the Castle but looks down on Arthur's
    Seat. The character of the neighbourhood is pretty
    strongly marked by a scarcity of hedges; by many stone
    walls of varying height; by a fair amount of timber, some
    of it well grown, but apt to be of a bushy, northern
    profile and poor in foliage; by here and there a little
    river, Esk or Leith or Almond, busily journeying in the
    bottom of its glen; and from almost every point, by a
    peep of the sea or the hills. There is no lack of
    variety, and yet most of the elements are common to all
    parts; and the southern district is alone distinguished
    by considerable summits and a wide view.

    From Boroughmuirhead, where the Scottish army
    encamped before Flodden, the road descends a long hill,
    at the bottom of which and just as it is preparing to
    mount upon the other side, it passes a toll-bar and
    issues at once into the open country. Even as I write
    these words, they are being antiquated in the progress of
    events, and the chisels are tinkling on a new row of
    houses. The builders have at length adventured beyond
    the toll which held them in respect so long, and proceed
    to career in these fresh pastures like a herd of colts
    turned loose. As Lord Beaconsfield proposed to hang an
    architect by way of stimulation, a man, looking on these
    doomed meads, imagines a similar example to deter the
    builders; for it seems as if it must come to an open
    fight at last to preserve a corner of green country
    unbedevilled. And here, appropriately enough, there
    stood in old days a crow-haunted gibbet, with two bodies
    hanged in chains. I used to be shown, when a child, a
    flat stone in the roadway to which the gibbet had been
    fixed. People of a willing fancy were persuaded, and
    sought to persuade others, that this stone was never dry.
    And no wonder, they would add, for the two men had only
    stolen fourpence between them.

    For about two miles the road climbs upwards, a long
    hot walk in summer time. You reach the summit at a place
    where four ways meet, beside the toll of Fairmilehead.
    The spot is breezy and agreeable both in name and aspect.
    The hills are close by across a valley: Kirk Yetton, with
    its long, upright scars visible as far as Fife, and
    Allermuir the tallest on this side with wood and tilled
    field running high upon their borders, and haunches all
    moulded into innumerable glens and shelvings and
    variegated with heather and fern. The air comes briskly
    and sweetly off the hills, pure from the elevation and
    rustically scented by the upland plants; and even at the
    toll, you may hear the curlew calling on its mate. At
    certain seasons, when the gulls desert their surfy
    forelands, the birds of sea and mountain hunt and scream
    together in the same field by Fairmilehead. The winged,
    wild things intermix their wheelings, the sea-birds skim
    the tree-tops and fish among the furrows of the plough.
    These little craft of air are at home in all the world,
    so long as they cruise in their own element; and, like
    sailors, ask but food and water from the shores they
    coast.

    Below, over a stream, the road passes Bow Bridge,
    now a dairy-farm, but once a distillery of whisky. It
    chanced, some time in the past century, that the
    distiller was on terms of good-fellowship with the
    visiting officer of excise. The latter was of an easy,
    friendly disposition, and a master of convivial arts.
    Now and again, he had to walk out of Edinburgh to measure
    the distiller's stock; and although it was agreeable to
    find his business lead him in a friend's direction, it
    was unfortunate that the friend should be a loser by his
    visits. Accordingly, when he got about the level of
    Fairmilehead, the gauger would take his flute, without
    which he never travelled, from his pocket, fit it
    together, and set manfully to playing, as if for his own
    delectation and inspired by the beauty of the scene. His
    favourite air, it seems, was 'Over the hills and far
    away.' At the first note, the distiller pricked his
    ears. A flute at Fairmilehead? and playing 'Over the
    hills and far away?' This must be his friendly enemy,
    the gauger. Instantly horses were harnessed, and sundry
    barrels of whisky were got upon a cart, driven at a
    gallop round Hill End, and buried in the mossy glen
    behind Kirk Yetton. In the same breath, you may be sure,
    a fat fowl was put to the fire, and the whitest napery
    prepared for the back parlour. A little after, the
    gauger, having had his fill of music for the moment, came
    strolling down with the most innocent air imaginable, and
    found the good people at Bow Bridge taken entirely
    unawares by his arrival, but none the less glad to see
    him. The distiller's liquor and the gauger's flute would
    combine to speed the moments of digestion; and when both
    were somewhat mellow, they would wind up the evening with
    'Over the hills and far away' to an accompaniment of
    knowing glances. And at least, there is a smuggling
    story, with original and half-idyllic features.

    A little further, the road to the right passes an
    upright stone in a field. The country people call it
    General Kay's monument. According to them, an officer of
    that name had perished there in battle at some indistinct
    period before the beginning of history. The date is
    reassuring; for I think cautious writers are silent on
    the General's exploits. But the stone is connected with
    one of those remarkable tenures of land which linger on
    into the modern world from Feudalism. Whenever the
    reigning sovereign passes by, a certain landed proprietor
    is held bound to climb on to the top, trumpet in hand,
    and sound a flourish according to the measure of his
    knowledge in that art. Happily for a respectable family,
    crowned heads have no great business in the Pentland
    Hills. But the story lends a character of comicality to
    the stone; and the passer-by will sometimes chuckle to
    himself.

    The district is dear to the superstitious. Hard by,
    at the back-gate of Comiston, a belated carter beheld a
    lady in white, 'with the most beautiful, clear shoes upon
    her feet,' who looked upon him in a very ghastly manner
    and then vanished; and just in front is the Hunters'
    Tryst, once a roadside inn, and not so long ago haunted
    by the devil in person. Satan led the inhabitants a
    pitiful existence. He shook the four corners of the
    building with lamentable outcries, beat at the doors and
    windows, overthrew crockery in the dead hours of the
    morning, and danced unholy dances on the roof. Every
    kind of spiritual disinfectant was put in requisition;
    chosen ministers were summoned out of Edinburgh and
    prayed by the hour; pious neighbours sat up all night
    making a noise of psalmody; but Satan minded them no more
    than the wind about the hill-tops; and it was only after
    years of persecution, that he left the Hunters' Tryst in
    peace to occupy himself with the remainder of mankind.
    What with General Kay, and the white lady, and this
    singular visitation, the neighbourhood offers great
    facilities to the makers of sun-myths; and without
    exactly casting in one's lot with that disenchanting
    school of writers, one cannot help hearing a good deal of
    the winter wind in the last story. 'That nicht,' says
    Burns, in one of his happiest moments,-

    'THAT NICHT A CHILD MIGHT UNDERSTAND
    THE DEIL HAD BUSINESS ON HIS HAND.'

    And if people sit up all night in lone places on the
    hills, with Bibles and tremulous psalms, they will be apt
    to hear some of the most fiendish noises in the world;
    the wind will beat on doors and dance upon roofs for
    them, and make the hills howl around their cottage with a
    clamour like the judgment-day.

    The road goes down through another valley, and then
    finally begins to scale the main slope of the Pentlands.
    A bouquet of old trees stands round a white farmhouse;
    and from a neighbouring dell, you can see smoke rising
    and leaves ruffling in the breeze. Straight above, the
    hills climb a thousand feet into the air. The
    neighbourhood, about the time of lambs, is clamorous with
    the bleating of flocks; and you will be awakened, in the
    grey of early summer mornings, by the barking of a dog or
    the voice of a shepherd shouting to the echoes. This,
    with the hamlet lying behind unseen, is Swanston.

    The place in the dell is immediately connected with
    the city. Long ago, this sheltered field was purchased
    by the Edinburgh magistrates for the sake of the springs
    that rise or gather there. After they had built their
    water-house and laid their pipes, it occurred to them
    that the place was suitable for junketing. Once
    entertained, with jovial magistrates and public funds,
    the idea led speedily to accomplishment; and Edinburgh
    could soon boast of a municipal Pleasure House. The dell
    was turned into a garden; and on the knoll that shelters
    it from the plain and the sea winds, they built a cottage
    looking to the hills. They brought crockets and
    gargoyles from old St. Giles's which they were then
    restoring, and disposed them on the gables and over the
    door and about the garden; and the quarry which had
    supplied them with building material, they draped with
    clematis and carpeted with beds of roses. So much for
    the pleasure of the eye; for creature comfort, they made
    a capacious cellar in the hillside and fitted it with
    bins of the hewn stone. In process of time, the trees
    grew higher and gave shade to the cottage, and the
    evergreens sprang up and turned the dell into a thicket.
    There, purple magistrates relaxed themselves from the
    pursuit of municipal ambition; cocked hats paraded
    soberly about the garden and in and out among the
    hollies; authoritative canes drew ciphering upon the
    path; and at night, from high upon the hills, a shepherd
    saw lighted windows through the foliage and heard the
    voice of city dignitaries raised in song.

    The farm is older. It was first a grange of
    Whitekirk Abbey, tilled and inhabited by rosy friars.
    Thence, after the Reformation, it passed into the hands
    of a true-blue Protestant family. During the covenanting
    troubles, when a night conventicle was held upon the
    Pentlands, the farm doors stood hospitably open till the
    morning; the dresser was laden with cheese and bannocks,
    milk and brandy; and the worshippers kept slipping down
    from the hill between two exercises, as couples visit the
    supper-room between two dances of a modern ball. In the
    Forty-Five, some foraging Highlanders from Prince
    Charlie's army fell upon Swanston in the dawn. The
    great-grandfather of the late farmer was then a little
    child; him they awakened by plucking the blankets from
    his bed, and he remembered, when he was an old man, their
    truculent looks and uncouth speech. The churn stood full
    of cream in the dairy, and with this they made their
    brose in high delight. 'It was braw brose,' said one of
    them. At last they made off, laden like camels with
    their booty; and Swanston Farm has lain out of the way of
    history from that time forward. I do not know what may
    be yet in store for it. On dark days, when the mist runs
    low upon the hill, the house has a gloomy air as if
    suitable for private tragedy. But in hot July, you can
    fancy nothing more perfect than the garden, laid out in
    alleys and arbours and bright, old-fashioned flower-
    plots, and ending in a miniature ravine, all trellis-work
    and moss and tinkling waterfall, and housed from the sun
    under fathoms of broad foliage.

    The hamlet behind is one of the least considerable
    of hamlets, and consists of a few cottages on a green
    beside a burn. Some of them (a strange thing in
    Scotland) are models of internal neatness; the beds
    adorned with patchwork, the shelves arrayed with willow-
    pattern plates, the floors and tables bright with
    scrubbing or pipe-clay, and the very kettle polished like
    silver. It is the sign of a contented old age in country
    places, where there is little matter for gossip and no
    street sights. Housework becomes an art; and at evening,
    when the cottage interior shines and twinkles in the glow
    of the fire, the housewife folds her hands and
    contemplates her finished picture; the snow and the wind
    may do their worst, she has made herself a pleasant
    corner in the world. The city might be a thousand miles
    away, and yet it was from close by that Mr. Bough painted
    the distant view of Edinburgh which has been engraved for
    this collection; and you have only to look at the
    etching, * to see how near it is at hand. But hills and
    hill people are not easily sophisticated; and if you walk
    out here on a summer Sunday, it is as like as not the
    shepherd may set his dogs upon you. But keep an unmoved
    countenance; they look formidable at the charge, but
    their hearts are in the right place, and they will only
    bark and sprawl about you on the grass, unmindful of
    their master's excitations.

    * One of the illustrations of the First Edition.

    Kirk Yetton forms the north-eastern angle of the
    range; thence, the Pentlands trend off to south and west.
    From the summit you look over a great expanse of
    champaign sloping to the sea, and behold a large variety
    of distant hills. There are the hills of Fife, the hills
    of Peebles, the Lammermoors and the Ochils, more or less
    mountainous in outline, more or less blue with distance.
    Of the Pentlands themselves, you see a field of wild
    heathery peaks with a pond gleaming in the midst; and to
    that side the view is as desolate as if you were looking
    into Galloway or Applecross. To turn to the other is
    like a piece of travel. Far out in the lowlands
    Edinburgh shows herself, making a great smoke on clear
    days and spreading her suburbs about her for miles; the
    Castle rises darkly in the midst, and close by, Arthur's
    Seat makes a bold figure in the landscape. All around,
    cultivated fields, and woods, and smoking villages, and
    white country roads, diversify the uneven surface of the
    land. Trains crawl slowly abroad upon the railway lines;
    little ships are tacking in the Firth; the shadow of a
    mountainous cloud, as large as a parish, travels before
    the wind; the wind itself ruffles the wood and standing
    corn, and sends pulses of varying colour across the
    landscape. So you sit, like Jupiter upon Olympus, and
    look down from afar upon men's life. The city is as
    silent as a city of the dead: from all its humming
    thoroughfares, not a voice, not a footfall, reaches you
    upon the hill. The sea-surf, the cries of ploughmen, the
    streams and the mill-wheels, the birds and the wind, keep
    up an animated concert through the plain; from farm to
    farm, dogs and crowing cocks contend together in
    defiance; and yet from this Olympian station, except for
    the whispering rumour of a train, the world has fallen
    into a dead silence, and the business of town and country
    grown voiceless in your ears. A crying hill-bird, the
    bleat of a sheep, a wind singing in the dry grass, seem
    not so much to interrupt, as to accompany, the stillness;
    but to the spiritual ear, the whole scene makes a music
    at once human and rural, and discourses pleasant
    reflections on the destiny of man. The spiry habitable
    city, ships, the divided fields, and browsing herds, and
    the straight highways, tell visibly of man's active and
    comfortable ways; and you may be never so laggard and
    never so unimpressionable, but there is something in the
    view that spirits up your blood and puts you in the vein
    for cheerful labour.

    Immediately below is Fairmilehead, a spot of roof
    and a smoking chimney, where two roads, no thicker than
    packthread, intersect beside a hanging wood. If you are
    fanciful, you will be reminded of the gauger in the
    story. And the thought of this old exciseman, who once
    lipped and fingered on his pipe and uttered clear notes
    from it in the mountain air, and the words of the song he
    affected, carry your mind 'Over the hills and far away'
    to distant countries; and you have a vision of Edinburgh
    not, as you see her, in the midst of a little
    neighbourhood, but as a boss upon the round world with
    all Europe and the deep sea for her surroundings. For
    every place is a centre to the earth, whence highways
    radiate or ships set sail for foreign ports; the limit of
    a parish is not more imaginary than the frontier of an
    empire; and as a man sitting at home in his cabinet and
    swiftly writing books, so a city sends abroad an
    influence and a portrait of herself. There is no
    Edinburgh emigrant, far or near, from China to Peru, but
    he or she carries some lively pictures of the mind, some
    sunset behind the Castle cliffs, some snow scene, some
    maze of city lamps, indelible in the memory and
    delightful to study in the intervals of toil. For any
    such, if this book fall in their way, here are a few more
    home pictures. It would be pleasant, if they should
    recognise a house where they had dwelt, or a walk that
    they had taken.
    Chapter 10
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