Soon after daylight appeared the rain moderated, and so did the wind, which now seemed to have exhausted itself. Our sleep, as may easily be imagined, had been of a very precarious and fitful character; still the hut had rendered substantial service in sheltering us from the fury of the storm. Soon after leaving our sorry shelter we saw a white house standing near the foot of a hill beyond the moor, and to this we resolved to go, even though it was a long distance away, as it was now imperative that we should obtain food. A knock at the door, more than once repeated - for it was still very early - at last roused the mistress of the house, who opened the door and with kindly sympathy listened to our tale of woe.
She at once lit the fire, while the other members of the family were still asleep in the room, and found us some soap and water, our hands and faces being as black as smoke and burnt sticks could make them. After a good wash we felt much better and refreshed, although still very sleepy. She then provided us with some hot milk and oatcake, and something we had never tasted before, which she called "seath." It proved to be a compound of flour and potatoes, and after our long fast it tasted uncommonly good. Altogether we had an enormous breakfast, the good wife waiting upon us meanwhile in what we supposed was the costume common to the Highlands - in other words, minus her gown, shoes, and stockings. We rewarded her handsomely and thanked her profusely as she directed us the nearest way to Dalmally.
On arrival at the well-appointed inn there, we received every attention, and retired to our bedrooms, giving strict orders to the waiter to see that we were called in time for lunch, and for the English service at the kirk, which he told us would be held that day between one and two o'clock. In accordance with our instructions we were called, but it was not surprising, after walking quite forty miles since Saturday at daybreak, that we should be found soundly sleeping when the call came.
Lunch was waiting for us, and, after disposing of it as hungry folk should, we went to Glenorchy Church, only to find that, unfortunately, there was no service that day. The minister, who had charge of two parishes, was holding a service at his other church, seven miles distant up the glen! We therefore hurried to the Free Kirk, which stood in another part of the village; but as the Gaelic service had been taken at one o'clock and the English service followed it immediately afterwards, the minister had already begun his sermon when we arrived. The door was shut, so entering quietly and closing it behind us, we were astonished to find a table in the vestibule with a plate exposing to our view a large number of coins evidently the result of the collection from the worshippers within. We were surprised at the large proportion of silver coins, an evidence that the people had given liberally.
We added our mites to the collection, while we wondered what would have become of the money if left in a similar position in some districts we could think of farther south. We were well pleased with the sermon, and as the congregation dispersed we held a conversation and exchanged views with one of the elders of the church chiefly on the subject of collections. He explained that the prevailing practice in the Scottish Churches was for the collection to be taken - or rather given - on entering the House of God, and that one or two of the deacons generally stood in the vestibule beside the plate. We told him it was the best way of taking a collection that we had ever seen, since it did not interrupt or interfere with the service of the church, and explained the system adopted in the churches in England.
In our youthful days collections were only made in church on special occasions, and for such purposes as the support of Sunday schools and Missionary Societies. The churchwardens collected the money in large and deep wooden boxes, and the rattle of the coins as they were dropped into the boxes was the only sound we could hear, for the congregation remained seated in a deep and solemn silence, which we in our youthful innocence thought was because their money was being taken away from them.
In later years brass plates were substituted for boxes in some churches, and each member of the congregation then seemed to vie with his neighbours for the honour of placing the most valuable coin on the plate. The rivalry, however, did not last long, and we knew one church where this custom was ended by mutual arrangement. The hatchet was buried by substituting bags, attached, in this case, to the end of long sticks, to enable the wardens to reach the farthest end of the pews when necessary.
This system continued for some time, but when collections were instituted at each service and the total result had to be placarded on the outside of the church door, with the numbers and total value of each class of coin recorded separately, the wardens sometimes found a few items in the bags which were of no monetary value, and could not be classified in the list without bringing scandal to the church and punishment to the, perhaps youthful, offenders; so the bags were withdrawn and plates reinstated, resulting in an initial increase of 10 per cent, in the amount collected.
The church was a large one, and a great number of ladies attended it on Sundays, their number being considerably augmented by the lady students from the Collegiate Institutions in the town, who sat in a portion of the church specially reserved for them.
The Rector of the parish was an elderly man and an eloquent preacher, who years before had earned his reputation in London, where in a minor capacity he had been described by Charles Dickens as the model East End curate.
Eight gentlemen were associated with him as wardens and sidesmen, all well-known men in the town, one of whom being specially known for the faultless way in which he was dressed and by his beautiful pink complexion - the presence of the light hair on his face being scarcely discernible, and giving him the appearance of being endowed with perpetual youth. His surname also was that of the gentleman for whom all young ladies are supposed to be waiting, so it was not to be wondered at that he was a general favourite with them, and that some slight feeling of jealousy existed among his colleagues. It was part of their duties to collect the offerings from the congregation, and afterwards assemble at the west end of the church, marching two and two in military step to the east end to hand their collections to the clergyman who stood there waiting to receive them.
One Sunday morning, when the favourite collector reached that end of the church where most of the young ladies were located, he was surprised to notice that all of them received him with a smile as he handed them the plate. Several of them actually went so far as to incline their heads slightly, as if adding a nod to their smiles. He thought at first that they were amused at something connected with his new suit of clothes - of which, by the way, he was quite proud - but a hasty examination of his person from collar downwards showed everything to be in perfect order. He felt annoyed and very uncomfortable when the ladies continued to smile as he visited each pew, without his being able to ascertain the reason why, and he was greatly relieved when he got away from them to rejoin his colleagues. As he was advancing with them up the centre of the church his eye chanced to rest for a moment on the contents of his plate, and there, to his horror, he saw a large white mint-drop about the size of a half-crown, which had been placed face upwards bearing the words printed in clear red letters, "WILL YOU MARRY ME?" Then he understood why the young ladies smiled and nodded acceptance so pleasantly that morning, for, unconsciously, he had been "popping the question" all round; although inquired into at the time, the mystery of the mint-drop was never satisfactorily solved.
A gentleman to whom we told this story said it reminded him of another of what he called a "swell" - a fine young fellow, with apparently more money than sense - who dropped into a country church for service and was shown into the squire's pew. The squire was old and of fixed habits. After settling in his seat he drew out his half-crown as usual and placed it on the ledge in front. His companion pulled out a sovereign and ostentatiously put it on the ledge too. The squire stared hard at him and soon reckoned him up. He then placed a second half-crown on the first, and the stranger produced a second sovereign. Five times was this repeated during the service. At last the churchwarden brought his brass plate, which the squire gravely took and held out to his neighbour, who swept the five sovereigns on to it in a very grand manner. The squire picked up one half-crown for the plate and, with a twinkle in his eye, returned the rest to his pocket!
Since the days of King David singing has always been considered a most valuable aid in the offering up of prayers and praises to the Almighty, and nothing sounded better in our ears than the hearty singing of a good old hymn by the entire congregation. But why this period in the Church Service should have been chosen in later years as a suitable time for the wardens to disturb the harmony and thoughts of the parishioners by handing round their collection plates was beyond our comprehension. The interruption caused by that abominable practice often raised unchristian-like feelings in our minds, and we wished at times that the author of it, whoever he might be, could be brought to the gallows and publicly hanged for his services; for why should our devotions be disturbed by the thought that at any moment during the singing of a hymn the collector might suddenly appear on the scene, possibly sneaking up from the rear like a thief in the night, to the annoyance of every one within reach? If the saving of time is the object, why not reduce the length of the sermon, which might often be done to advantage? or, failing that, why not adopt the system which prevailed in the Scottish Churches?
The elder of the Free Kirk at Dalmally was much interested in what we told him about our English Services, where the congregations both prayed and sang in positions differing from those adopted in Scotland, and to continue the conversation he walked with us as far as Dalmally Bridge, where we parted company. We then continued on our way to visit a monument erected on a hill we could see in the distance "to the memory of Duncan-Bann-Macintyre, the Glenorchy poet, who was born in the year 1724 and departed this life in 1812"; and, judging from the size of the monument, which was in the style of a Grecian temple in grey granite and inscribed to the memory of the "Sweetest and Purest of Gaelic Bards," he must have been a man of considerable importance.
From that point we had a fine view of Loch Awe, perhaps the finest obtainable, for although it is above twenty miles long, the lake here, in spite of being at its greatest breadth, appeared almost dwarfed into a pool within the mighty mass of mountains with lofty Ben Cruachan soaring steeply to the clouds, and forming a majestic framework to a picture of surpassing beauty. The waters of the lake reflected the beauties of its islands and of its mountainous banks. These islands all had their own history or clan legend and were full of mysteries. Inishail, once a nunnery, and for ages the burying-place of the clan chieftains; Innischonell, from the eleventh century the stronghold of the Argyll, whence they often sent forth their famous slogan or defiant war-cry, "It's a far cry to Lochawe"; Fraoch Eilean, where the hero Fraoch slew and was himself slain by the serpent that guarded the apples for which the fair Mego longed.
We then retraced our steps slowly to the Dalmally inn, where we were served with tea in the sumptuous manner common to all first-class inns in the Highlands of Scotland, after which we retired to rest, bent on making good the sleep we had lost and on proceeding on our journey early the following morning.
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