The end of the world ***Birthday bumped post***

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The end of the world ***Birthday bumped post***

Post by AnneM » Sun Nov 28, 2010 6:59 pm

The End of the World

For Kirsty the days that followed would always remain in her memory as though bathed in a soft golden light. The sun shone and the evenings were long and balmy. Her work was unremitting but whenever possible she slipped away to meet Duncan.

She began to derive pleasure from their intimacy, which had fallen quickly into a gentle pattern. Occasionally she allowed herself to wonder if Duncan’s slightly inexpert and hurried love making was all there was to it and if so what all the fuss had been about. However, she knew no fear or regret. Duncan was her friend and they were comfortable with each other. Sooner or later they would marry and if it had to be sooner then so be it. She tried not to think how lonely she would be when he left to join the army but consoled herself with the thought that he would undoubtedly return, even possibly bringing the promised gifts. They knew each other so well that she harboured no doubts about his loyalty.

Though dreading the loss of his company, Kirsty understood well why Duncan had chosen to join. There was little future in the village. Harvests had been poor for the past couple of years and most crofters owed rent. None had anything put by for the future. Few of the small farms could properly support a growing family. Increasingly the young people in the village had to leave to go into service or find work elsewhere. Indeed it had caused quite a stir when Reverend McFarlane had found a place in Glasgow for Kirsty’s school friend Dolina Smith. Her mother had wailed for days that her poor child was going to the city where she would meet with nothing but vanity and debauchery. Dolina, on the other hand, had boarded the boat with barely a backward glance and Kirsty had felt a pang of envy.

Rarely did Kirsty question the fate which had decreed that she would spend her days in a small West Highland village. She accepted that she was needed to care for the home and her family until the day when she would leave to care for Duncan’s home and their children. Her only window on the outside world was her occasional conversations with the minister, Peter McFarlane.

It had taken the villagers some time to accept the arrival in their midst of the young, enthusiastic but inexperienced clergyman. He was no highlander but instead hailed from the banks of Loch Lomond and had studied at Glasgow University, attributes which along with his crisp dark curls and dark eyes marked him out as a dangerous southerner. In time however they grudgingly warmed to his obvious concern for his parishioners and his imperfect Gaelic.

Some of Kirsty’s friends had teased her that she was unduly fond of the minister but she simply shook her head. She liked him and enjoyed hearing about the world outside the narrow confines of their glen but that was the extent of it. Her future was and always had been with Duncan. When Reverend McFarlane married, as he surely would, it would be to a girl of his own kind, the educated daughter of a doctor or a lawyer.

The minister’s occasional absences normally caused little comment or concern among his flock. Torquil McLeod, Duncan’s father, as session clerk led the services. However this time it was not only Kirsty who looked out for his return from the Assembly in Edinburgh. Rumours about the old laird’s death had spread and confirmation was eagerly awaited by the troubled villagers.

In the end it was John Ross and his sons returning from the fields who saw him riding into the village from the coast having sailed up from Glasgow. After tea, John gathered some of the other men and together they approached the manse. What they heard there caused each to return to his home furrowing his brows with worry.

“The news is not good”, John related to his family. “The minister says that the old laird died over a week ago in Edinburgh. He was able to be at the funeral in Greyfriars Kirk. He fears that there is trouble brewing as the new man is far from the man his father was. Trust this to happen now when the minister was away and the school master sick in town. I fear that we’ve been lucky this far but our luck may have run out.”

“But father, surely there’s nothing the laird can do to us,” objected Kirsty.

“There’s plenty that can happen”, John shook his head. “Others have believed themselves safe but found themselves out of a home in no time. After all, who here has paid his rent up to date?”

Ann Ross tutted indignantly, “You’re just a prophet of doom, John Ross. Those that were going to be moved have been moved and they were probably all shiftless creatures who would not work.”

“We’ll see. I pray to the good Lord that you’re right, wife but I have a bad feeling about this.”

It pleased John Ross little that his prognostications were proved right the following day. By the time the men came in, in the middle of the day, for their dinner, notices had appeared on the gate of the churchyard and the locked door of the schoolhouse. A little huddle gathered round trying to decipher their meaning.

“John Ross, you can read English. What does this damned thing say?”

John scratched his head. “Don’t swear! There are women and children present but it’s no English that I’ve ever seen before,” he replied “Hereunder designed…..what the devil does that mean. Has anyone seen the minister?”

“He went up the glen to visit old Angus Ross who is near to death. Mairi Mcdonald says he’ll be back in no time.”

The minister’s return confirmed their worst fears. As the villagers waited in silence he read the notices, frowning as he struggled to understand the opaque legal language. When he turned to face them there was an unfamiliar war-like glint in his eye.

“It says here that all tenants who owe rent must either pay or face immediate eviction. Now as I understand it that’s all of you. Can anyone afford to pay?”

One by one the people shook their heads.

“Then it says you must remove your tools, furniture and livestock now as the laird’s men are coming to repossess your homes. As a gesture of goodwill they will allow you to keep what meagre possessions you have instead of taking them in lieu of unpaid rent. The reason for that of course is that they’re worth nothing compared to what the laird will be able to get for the land in time. It says that if you leave quietly you’ll be resettled but that any resistance will be dealt with by the full force of the law.”

“When are they coming?” asked a frightened woman.

“This afternoon, I’m afraid. It claims that as you have all been in default with your rent for a long period there is no need to give any further notice.”

“We’re not going quietly,” said John Ross, “They’ll have to drag me from my home.”

“John, John” replied the minister “You’ve no chance against these people. I want to fight too but it’s a lost cause. You’d be better employed shepherding the women and children to safety in the Kirk and saving your possessions. There’s no time to lose.”

Acknowledging the wisdom of his words the villagers scattered towards their homes and attempted to gather together the youngest and frailest members of their families. Some of the older women including Torquil McLeod’s mother Elspeth refused to move. “I came to this house as your father’s bride and I’m not running away now”, she said in fury.

Defeated, he turned his attention to trying to secure the safety of his younger children and the few goods the family held precious.

Barely had the villagers’ frenzied activity begun than the sound of hoof beats alerted them to the arrival of the factor. He was at the head of an unsavoury looking group of men among whom the minister recognised some of the rougher elements from the nearest town. They carried staves and brands and were accompanied by three constables who seemed to be attempting to distance themselves from their unaccustomed companions.

“Is this the best you could find for hirelings?” asked Peter McFarlane of the factor. “You really are scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

“Mind your manners, minister, or I’ll forget your cloth,” growled the factor. “I have the laird’s lawful business to do this day and I’ll use what tools come to hand. Now you tell these people in their heathen tongue that they have exactly a quarter of an hour to pay what they owe or to move their things.”

“Have some pity, man. None of these people has anything to give you.”

“They should have thought about the consequences when they failed to pay their rent, then. The new man is not the soft fool his father was and has plans for this area. There’s no point in wasting time. It’s in their own interests to move what is theirs and go quietly. Now get out of my way and let me get on with my business. They’re should be thankful it’s summer and not mid winter. Plenty of wastrel highlanders have been thrown out into the snow and it’s no loss if a few of them freeze.”

“You’re a disgrace to your profession!” shouted the minister.

“And you’re no ornament to yours if you don’t encourage these peasants to pay what they owe or accept the will of their lawful master.”

Reluctantly the minister turned to explain what was happening to his congregation. Some, among them John Ross and Torquil McLeod had understood the exchange only too well and were prepared for what was about to happen.

No sooner had the minister finished his explanation than the factor gestured to his companions who immediately raised their staves, lit their brands and headed purposefully towards the cottages.

From that moment on all was mayhem. As the smoke rose from turf roofs, women screamed and thrust those of their children whom they had not already mustered into the churchyard. Hens clucked in terror; cows lowed while their owners tried to rescue them from their flaming byres. A few braver souls tried to defend their homes but were rewarded with blows from staves and soon fell back. The constables rushed among the villagers threatening any who resisted and moving those who had proved stubborn.

Kirsty was standing frozen watching the destruction of her home when she felt her hand being clasped and Duncan stood beside her. “I’ll protect you,” he said. She did not have the heart to remind him that he was as powerless as she in the face of this outrage.

It was as they stood there that Duncan saw two of the constables come out of his grandmother’s cottage carrying the old lady. One had a grip of the top of her leg and she was shouting at him to get his hands off her. “Shut up you dried up cailleach,” he shouted deliberately moving his hand towards her hips, “This is the biggest excitement you’ll have had for a long time.”

At this Duncan dropped Kirsty’s hand and ran forward. Almost without thinking he picked up a large stone and yelled at the man, “Call yourself a man? Call yourself a Scotsman?” The stone left his hand almost of its own volition and struck the man on the temple. He was felled immediately and his horrified colleague dropped to his knees beside him searching for signs of life. By this time Kirsty had drawn level with Duncan. “Run,” she urged, “Run now.” But Duncan seemed incapable of movement and it was only as the remaining two constables advanced on him that he started to turn. It was too late. Enraged by the fate of their comrade, they roughly grabbed him by each arm and marched him struggling off.

Kirsty screamed and started to run after him when she found herself also firmly gripped by the arm. She tried to shake herself free even once she recognised that her captor was the minister. “You can’t help him, lass,” came his resigned voice, “There’s no good to be done getting yourself arrested as well. Come away into the churchyard with the rest of your family.”

That night as the remaining smoke from their devastated homes drifted in the still air, the villagers lay or sat in the pews or huddled in family groups behind tombstones. Kirsty sat frozen and silent. She refused any food or comfort but gazed into the night, listening to the sobs of the dispossessed women and the frightened keening of Duncan’s mother and sisters. She knew without having to be told that her world was at an end.
Researching M(a)cKenzie, McCammond, McLachlan, Kerr, Assur, Renton, Redpath, Ferguson, Shedden, Also Oswald, Le/assels/Lascelles, Bonning just for starters

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Re: The end of the world

Post by joette » Mon Nov 29, 2010 4:08 pm

Very unladylike language came to my lips as we got to the end of the tale.I'm not ashamed to say that the tears were running down my face too.
You brought those characters to life & I'm sure there are many who read it will be imagining many of their own lang deid ones suffering a similar fate.
I have red-headed Ross's in my line including a couple of Kirsty's(don't know if they were red-headed!) but the red hair came down my maternal Granny Ross's line.
Oh the injustice of it all & really not much has changed-money still has the loudest voice in the World.
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Re: The end of the world

Post by CatrionaL » Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:15 pm

It's been a long time, Anne. Does that mean you only have a holiday every three years?

Thanks for this story. It brought that nasty part of Scottish history alive.


Anne H
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Re: The end of the world

Post by Anne H » Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:11 pm

Hi Anne,

You certainly do know how to bring the characters to life. Makes one feel that they are right there along with Kirsty and the others. Another great story and so sad that kind of thing happened to so many.

Looking forward to your next story.

Anne H

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Re: The end of the world

Post by LesleyB » Sat Dec 06, 2014 4:43 pm

This post has been birthday bumped!!

Another great story by Anne!

Talking Scot is 10 years old!
To celebrate we are “bumping” selected older posts - posts we enjoyed , posts with knotty puzzles, posts which made us laugh, posts which brought a tear to our eye and posts where the problem solving skills of Talking Scot members won the day. Join us in our celebrations by “birthday bumping” some of your favourite posts!

Why not join us and bump some of your favourite posts? Just post a reply to the end of any of your favourite posts - remember to mention in your reply it is a “Birthday Bumped” post!
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“Birthday bumps” or “dumps” are a tradition in Scotland, especially in school playgrounds, where the birthday boy or girl was pursued in order to be given “dumps” or “bumps” - usually a series of bumps on the behind with a knee, corresponding to the number of years the birthday person had now reached (and sometimes an extra one for luck!). For more info about Scottish birthday dumps or bumps, see ... day_custom_

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