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A Journey of Little Profit

“The Devil he sang, the Devil he played
High and fast and free.
And this was ever the song he made,
As it was told to me.
Oh, I am the king of the air and the ground,
And lord of the seasons roll,
And I will give you a hundred pound,
If you will give me your soul.
    The Ballad of Grey Weather.

THE cattle market of Inverforth is, as all men know north of
the Tweed, the greatest market of the kind in the land.
For days in the late Autumn there is the lowing of oxen and the
bleating of sheep among its high wooden pens, and in the rickety
sale-rings the loud clamour of auctioneers and the talk of farmers.
In the open yard where are the drovers and the butchers, a race
always ungodly and law-despising, there is such a Babel of cries
and curses as might wake the Seven Sleepers. From twenty
different adjacent eating-houses comes the clatter of knives, where
the country folk eat their dinner of beef and potatoes, with beer
for sauce, and the collies grovel on the ground for stray morsels.
Hither come a hundred types of men from the Highland cateran

The Yellow Book—Vol. IX. L


                        190 A Journey of Little Profit

with scarce a word of English, and the shentleman-farmer
of Inverness and Ross, to lowland graziers and city tradesmen, not to
speak of blackguards of many nationalities and more professions.
It was there I first met Duncan Stewart of Clachamharstan, in
the Moor of Rannoch, and there I heard this story. He was an
old man when I knew him, grizzled and wind-beaten ; a pros-
perous man, too, with many herds like Jacob and much pasture.
He had come down from the North with kyloes, and as he waited
on the Englishmen with whom he had trysted, he sat with me
through the long day and beguiled the time with many stories.
He had been a drover in his youth, and had travelled on foot the
length and breadth of Scotland ; and his memory went back hale
and vigorous to times which are now all but historical. This tale
I heard among many others as we sat on a pen amid the smell of
beasts and the jabber of Gaelic :

“When I was just turned of twenty-five I was a wild young lad
as ever was heard of. I had taken to the droving for the love of
a wild life, and a wild life I led. My father’s heart would be
broken long syne with my doings, and well for my mother that
she was in her grave since I was six years old. I paid no heed to
the ministrations of godly Mr. Macdougall of the Isles, who bade
me turn from the error of my ways, but went on my own evil
course, making siller, for I was a braw lad at the work and a
trusted, and knowing the inside of every public from the pier of
Cromarty to the streets of York. I was a wild drinker, caring
in my cups for neither God nor man, a great hand with the cards,
and fond of the lasses past all telling. It makes me shameful to
this day to think on my evil life when I was twenty-five.

“Well, it chanced that in the back of the month of September I
found myself in the city of Edinburgh with a flock of fifty sheep


                        By John Buchan 191

which I had bought as a venture from a drunken bonnet-laird and
was thinking of selling somewhere wast the country. They were
braw beasts, Leicester every one of them, well-fed and dirt-cheap
at the price I gave. So it was with a light heart that I drove
them out of the town by the Merchiston Road along by the face
of the Pentlands. Two or three friends came with me, all like
myself for folly, but maybe a little bit poorer. Indeed, I cared
little for them, and they valued me only for the whisky which I
gave them to drink my health in at the parting. They left me
on the near side of Colinton, and I went on my way alone.

“Now, if you ll be remembering the road, you will mind that at
the place called Kirk Newton, just afore the road begins to twine
over the Big Muir and almost at the head of the Water o Leith,
there is a verra fine public. Indeed, it would be no lee to call it
the best public between Embro and Glesca. The good wife,
Lucky Craik by name, was an old friend of mine, for many a good
gill of her prandy have I bought ; so what would I be doing but
just turning aside for refreshment ? She met me at the door, verra
pleased-like to see me, and soon I had my legs aneath her table
and a basin of toddy on the board before me. And whom did I
find in the same place but my old comrade Toshie Maclean from
the backside of Glen-Lyon. Toshie and I were acquaintances
so old that it did not behoove us to be parting quick. Forbye
the day was chill without ; and within the fire was grand and the
crack of the best.

“Then Toshie and I got on quarrelling about the price of
Lachlan Farawa s beasts that he sold at Falkirk ; and, the drink
having aye a bad effect on my temper, I was for giving him the
lie and coming off in a great rage. It was about six o clock in
the evening and an hour to nightfall, so Mistress Craik comes in
to try and keep me. Losh, Duncan, says she, ye’ll never try


                        192 A Journey of Little Profit

and win ower the muir the nicht. It’s mae than ten mile to
Carnwath, and there s nocht atween it and this but whaups and
heathery braes. But when I am roused I will be more obstinate
than ten mules, so I would be going, though I knew not under
Heaven where I was going till. I was too full of good liquor and
good meat to be much worth at thinking, so I got my sheep on
the road an a big bottle in my pouch and set off into the heather.
I knew not what my purpose was, whether I thought to reach
the shieling of Carnwath, or whether I expected some house of
entertainment to spring up by the wayside. But my fool’s mind
was set on my purpose of getting some miles further in my
journey ere the coming of darkness.

“For some time I jogged happily on, with my sheep running
well before me and my dogs trotting at my heels. We left the
trees behind and struck out on the proad grassy path which bands
the moor like the waist-strap of a sword. It was most dreary and
lonesome with never a house in view, only bogs and grey hillsides
and ill-looking waters. It was stony, too, and this more than
aught else caused my Dutch courage to fail me, for I soon fell
wearied, since much whisky is bad travelling fare, and began to
curse my folly. Had my pride no kept me back, I would have
returned to Lucky Craik s ; but I was like the devil for stiff-
neckedness and thought of nothing but to push on.

” I own that I was verra well tired and quite spiritless when I
first saw the House. I had scarce been an hour on the way, and
the light was not quite gone ; but still it was geyan dark, and the
place sprang somewhat suddenly on my sight. For, looking a
little to the left, I saw over a little strip of grass a big square
dwelling with many outhouses, half farm and half pleasure-house.
This, I thought, is the verra place I have been seeking and made sure
of finding ; so whistling a gay tune, I drove my flock toward it.


                        By John Buchan 193

” When I came to the gate of the court, I saw better of what
sort was the building I had arrived at. There was a square yard
with monstrous high walls, at the left of which was the main
block of the house, and on the right what I took to be the byres
and stables. The place looked ancient, and the stone in many
places was crumbling away ; but the style was of yesterday and in
no way differing from that of a hundred steadings in the land.
There were some kind of arms above the gateway, and a bit of an
iron stanchion ; and when I had my sheep inside of it, I saw that
the court was all grown up with green grass. And what seemed
queer in that dusky half-light was the want of sound. There
was no neichering of horses, nor routing of kye, nor clack of hens,
but all as still as the top of Ben Cruachan. It was warm and
pleasant, too, though the night was chill without.

” I had no sooner entered the place than a row of sheep-pens
caught my eye, fixed against the wall in front. This I thought
mighty convenient, so I made all haste to put my beasts into
them ; and finding that there was a good supply of hay within, I
leff them easy in my mind, and turned about to look for the door
of the house.

” To my wonder, when I found it, it was open wide to the wall ;
so, being confident with much whisky, I never took thought to
knock, but walked boldly in. There s some careless folk here,
thinks I to myself, and I much misdoubt if the man knows aught
about farming. He ll maybe just be a town s body taking the air
on the muirs.

“The place I entered upon was a hall, not like a muirland farm-
house, but more fine than I had ever seen. It was laid with a
verra fine carpet, all red and blue and gay colours, and in the
corner in a fireplace a great fire crackled. There were chairs, too,
and a walth of old rusty arms on the walls, and all manner of


                        194 A Journey of Little Profit

whigmaleeries that folk think ornamental. But nobody was
there, so I made for the staircase which was at the further side,
and went up it stoutly. I made scarce any noise so thickly was
it carpeted, and I will own it kind of terrified me to be walking
in such a place. But when a man has drunk well he is troubled
not overmuckle with modesty or fear, so I e’en stepped out and
soon came to a landing where was a door.

“Now, thinks I, at last I have won to the habitable parts of
the house ; so laying my finger on the sneck I lifted it and
entered. And there before me was the finest room in all the world ;
indeed I abate not a jot of the phrase, for I cannot think of any-
thing finer. It was hung with braw pictures and lined with big
bookcases of oak well-filled with books in fine bindings. The
furnishing seemed carved by a skilled hand, and the cushions and
curtains were soft velvet. But the best thing was the table, which
was covered with a clean white cloth and set with all kind of good
meat and drink. The dishes were of silver and as bright as Loch
Awe water in an April sun. Eh, but it was a braw braw sight
for a drover ! And there at the far end, with a great pottle of
wine before him, sat the master.

” He rose as I entered, and I saw him to be dressed in the pink
of town fashion, a man of maybe fifty years, but hale and well-
looking, with a peaked beard and trimmed moustache and thick
eyebrows. His eyes were slanted a thought, which is a thing I
hate in any man, but his whole appearance was pleasing.

” Mr. Stewart ? says he courteously, looking at me. Is it
Mr. Duncan Stewart that I will be indebted to for the honour of
this visit ?

” I stared at him blankly, for how did he ken my name ?

“That is my name, I said, but who the tevil tell’t you
about it ?


                        By John Buchan 195

” Oh, my name is Stewart myself, says he, and all Stewarts
should be well acquaint.

” True, said I, though I don’t mind your face before. But
now I am here, I think you have a most gallant place, Mr.

” Well enough. But
how have you come to’t ? We’ve few

” So I told him where I had come from, and where I was going,
and why I was forwandered at this time of night among the
muirs. He listened keenly, and when I had finished, he says
verra friendly-like, Then you ll bide all night and take supper
with me. It would never be doing to let one of the clan go away
without breaking bread. Sit ye down, Mr. Duncan.

” I sat down gladly enough, though I own that at first I did not
half-like the whole business. There was something unchristian
about the place, and for certain it was not seemly that the man’s
name should be the same as my own, and that he should be so well
posted in my doings. But he seemed so well-disposed that my
misgivings soon vanished.

“So I seated myself at the table opposite my entertainer. There
was a place laid ready for me, and beside the knife and fork a
long horn-handled spoon. I had never seen a spoon so long and
queer, and I asked the man what it meant. ‘Oh,’ says he, ‘the
broth in this house is very often hot, so we need a long spoon to
sup it. It is a common enough thing, is it not ?’

” I could answer nothing to this, though it did not seem to me
sense, and I had an inkling of something I had heard about long
spoons which I thought was not good ; but my wits were not
clear, as I have told you already. A serving man brought me a
great bowl of soup and set it before me. I had hardly plunged
spoon intil it, when Mr. Stewart cries out from the other end :


                        196 A Journey of Little Profit

‘Now, Mr. Duncan, I call you to witness that you sit down to
supper of your own accord. I ve an ill name in these parts for
compelling folk to take meat with me when they dinna want it.
But you’ll bear me witness that you’re willing.’

“Yes, by God, I am that, I said, for the savoury smell of the
broth was rising to my nostrils. The other smiled at this as if

“I have tasted many soups, but I swear there never was one like
that. It was as if all the good things in the world were mixed
thegether—whisky and kale and shortbread and cocky-leeky and
honey and salmon. The taste of it was enough to make a body’s
heart loup with fair gratitude. The smell of it was like the spicy
winds of Arabia, that you read about in the Bible, and when you
had taken a spoonful you felt as happy as if you had sellt a hundred
yowes at twice their reasonable worth. Oh, it was grand soup !

” What Stewarts did you say you corned from,’I asked my

” Oh, he says, I’m connected with them all, Athole Stewarts,
Appin Stewarts, Rannoch Stewarts ; and a’ I’ve a heap o’land

” Whereabouts? says I, wondering. ‘Is’t at the Blair o’
Athole, or along by Tummel side, or wast the Loch o’ Rannoch,
or on the Muir, or in Mamore ?’

“‘In all the places you name,’ says he.

” Got damn, says I, ‘then what for do you not bide there
instead of in these stinking lawlands ?’

“At this he laughed softly to himself. ‘ Why, for maybe the
same reason as yoursel, Mr. Duncan. You know the proverb,
” A’ Stewarts are sib to the Deil.”‘

” I laughed loudly ; ‘Oh, you ve been a wild one, too, have you ?
Then you’re not worse than mysel. I ken the inside of every


                        By John Buchan 197

public in the Cowgate and Cannongate, and there’s no another
drover on the road my match at fechting and drinking and dicing.’
And I started on a long shameless catalogue of my misdeeds. Mr.
Stewart meantime listened with a satisfied smirk on his face.

” Yes, I’ve heard tell of you, Mr. Duncan, he says. But
here’s something more, and you’ll doubtless be hungry.’

” And now there was set on the table a round of beef garnished
with pot-herbs, all most delicately fine to the taste. From a
great cupboard were brought many bottles of wine, and in a
massive silver bowl at the table s head were put whisky and lemons
and sugar. I do not know well what I drank, but whatever it
might be it was the best ever brewed. It made you scarce feel
the earth round about you, and you were so happy you could
scarce keep from singing. I wad give much siller to this day for
the receipt.

“Now, the wine made me talk, and I began to boast of my own
great qualities, the things I had done and the things I was going
to do. I was a drover just now, but it was not long that I would
be being a drover. I had bought a flock of my own, and would
sell it for a hundred pounds, no less ; with that I would buy a
bigger one till I had made money enough to stock a farm ; and
then I would leave the road and spend my days in peace, seeing
to my land and living in good company. Was not my father, I
cried, own cousin, thrice removed, to the Macleans o’ Duart,
and my mother’s uncle’s wife a Rory of Balnacrory ? And I am a
scholar too, said I, for I was a matter of two years at Embro’
College, and might have been roaring in the pulpit, if I hadna
liked the drink and the lassies too well.

” See, said I, I will prove it to you ; and I rose from the
table and went to one of the bookcases. There were all manner
of books, Latin and Greek, poets and philosophers, but in the main,


                        198 A Journey of Little Profit

divinity. For there I saw Richard Baxter’s ‘Call to the Un-
converted, and Thomas Boston of Ettrick’s ‘Fourfold State’,
not to speak of the Sermons of half a hundred auld ministers, and
the ‘Hind let Loose’, and many books of the covenanting folk.

” ‘Faith,’ I says, ‘you’ve a fine collection, Mr. What’s-your-
name, for the wine had made me free in my talk. ‘There is
many a minister and professor in the Kirk, I’ll warrant, who has
a less godly library. I begin to suspect you of piety, sir.’

“‘Does it not behoove us,’ he answered in an unctuous voice,
‘to mind the words of Holy Writ that evil communications cor-
rupt good manners, and have an eye to our company ? These
are all the company I have, except when some stranger such as
you honours me with a visit.’

” I had meantime been opening a book of plays, I think by the
famous William Shakespeare, and I here proke into a loud laugh.
Ha, ha, Mr. Stewart, I says, here’s a sentence I’ve lighted on
which is hard on you. Listen ! ‘The Devil can quote Scripture
to advantage.’

” The other laughed long. He who wrote that was a shrewd
man, he said, but I ll warrant if you ll open another volume,
you ll find some quip on yourself.

“I did as I was bidden, and picked up a white-backed book, and
opening it at random, read : There be many who spend their
days in evil and wine-bibbing, in lusting and cheating, who think
to mend while yet there is time ; but the opportunity is to them
for ever awanting, and they go down open-mouthed to the great

” Psa, I cried, some wretched preaching book, I will have
none of them. Good wine will be better than bad theology. So
I sat down once more at the table.

” You re a clever man, Mr. Duncan, he says, and a well-


                        By John Buchan 199

read one. I commend your spirit in breaking away from the
bands of the kirk and the college, though your father was so
thrawn against you.’

” Enough of that, I said, though I don’t know who telled
you ; I was angry to hear my father spoken of, as though the
grieving him was a thing to be proud of.

” Oh, as you please, he says ; I was just going to say that I
commended your spirit in sticking the knife into the man in the
Pleasaunce, the time you had to hide for a month about the backs
o’ Leith.’

” How do you ken that, I asked hotly, you’ve heard more
about me than ought to be repeated, let me tell you.’

” Don’t be angry, he said sweetly ; ‘I like you well for these
things, and you mind the lassie in Athole that was so fond of you.
You treated her well, did you not ?’

” I made no answer, being too much surprised at his knowledge
of things which I thought none knew but myself.

“Oh yes, Mr. Duncan. I could tell you what you were doing
to-day, how you cheated Jock Gallowa out of six pounds, and sold
a horse to the farmer of Haypath that was scarce fit to carry him
home. And I know what you are meaning to do the morn
at Glesca, and I wish you well of it.’

” ‘I think you must be the Devil,’ I said blankly.

” The same, at your service, said he, still smiling.

” I looked at him in terror, and even as I looked I kenned by
something in his eyes and the twitch of his lips that he was speak-
ing the truth.

” And what place is this, you . . . . I stammered.

” Call me Mr. S., he says gently, and enjoy your stay
while you are here and don’t concern yourself about the


MLA citation:

Buchan, John. “A Journey of Little Profit.” The Yellow Book, vol. 9, April 1896, pp. 189-199. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.