'Now the moons of the months are wondrously different...The moon of May is the loveliest in all the year, for with its brightness comes the scent of flower-buds, and of young green leaves breaking from the quick and breathing earth.’ (The Raiders)
At the start of his most famous work Crockett observes: ‘It was ever my custom to walk in the full of the moon at all times of the year.’ While he waxes lyrical about the specific features of each monthly moon, he is also interested in describing its absence, that time known as the dark of the moon. Indeed, this was initially his preferred title for The Raiders but he was dissuaded by his publisher who thought it would be too obscure to engage potential readers. The dark o’ the moon refers to the period just after the new moon each month, when the skies are darkest. These were the best times for smugglers to be abroad. And smugglers are key to many of Crockett’s works. By 1902 when his fame assured massive readerships, he published the sequel to The Raiders and his title The Dark o’ the Moon went unchallenged.
Smuggling, kidnapping and gypsies feature in both novels. In The Raiders, the kidnapping of heroine May Mischief takes place under the full moon, while her rescue and the escape takes place on a moonless night.
‘It was indeed an uncanny night. The wind shrieked overhead, passing above us in a constant screaming yell, that sometimes sharpened like a whistle and anon dulled into a roar. There was no moon, but the storm-clouds had thinned and anon the mists lifted.’
In The Dark o’ the Moon there is another kidnap, and another escape. This time hero Maxwell Heron (son of the hero and heroine of The Raiders), also escapes from the Dungeon hills led by Blind Harry in the black of the night. The stumbling, dangerous journey is described in great detail until – ‘the first breaking of the blackness -not dawn, but the false dawn that looks out of the windows of the east for a moment to see what kind of morning it is and then forthwith goes back to bed again.’ …
They finally arrive, at daybreak at a place ‘out of the very heart of the wilds… where… the heather grew right up to the door on all sides. The name of the place was Craigencailzie and there was a well-marked trace from it across the waste to the great Irish drove road which runs by the New Town of Galloway to Dumfries.’ Crockett’s natural description of the Galloway hills is equally powerful during day and night, whether the moon is full or absent.
Some of us are night owls and some of us early birds. Crockett’s writing features descriptions of day, night and the transition between, of which he writes: ‘ I never miss a sunrise, if I can help it - though, truth to tell, I would hardly go across the room to see a sunset. Which, of course, is a matter of temperament - and partly temper.’
As well as describing the times of the day, he is masterful in his descriptions of the Galloway weather. Anyone who knows the Glenkens is well aware of how quickly the weather can change, and how extreme it can be. The Loves of Miss Anne is an example where his powerful description of a thunderstorm matches the event itself. Nothing and no one is spared, as shepherd Dan Mowatt, his dogs and sheep are caught out in a terrible storm:
‘And at that very moment, the whole world beneath them, hitherto shrouded in the milky bluish mist, lighted up into flame. Fire circled them—enclosed them. A white jagged bomb, from which ran streams of infinite brightness, seemed to burst within a few yards... The universe was filled with the astonishing clangour of the thunder, as if the mountains were indeed falling upon one another in anger…
... the rain descended. Not in drops as in the lower world, but as it falls upon the utmost hills, where the rivers are bred, and in storm-time the streams thunder down, gaining as they go, till ere they reach the valleys they have become mighty torrents.
It ‘rained hale water,’ as they say vigorously in Scotland. It fell as if the very windows of heaven, shut since the days of Noah, had been set wide open on purpose.’
Crockett stays with this storm, right to the (in this case) bitter end.
‘The thunder growled gradually farther and farther away. The bluish glimmer faded out of the air. The lightning came less frequently. The ewes began to rise and shake themselves, bleating questioningly, as they did when they wanted to be let out of the ‘ree’ in the mornings. As the thunder sank into silence Dan could hear, nearer and more powerful, the roar of the many waters tearing the sides of the mountain into gullies and ravines.
Beneath him the clouds sank away, trailing themselves to this side and that in long banks of woolly vapour. A glint of sunshine, sole wandering in the void of whirling mist, lighted the dismal scene.’
In this story the shepherd has lost more than sheep. Crockett is a nature writer, invariably writes of the power of nature and he appreciates all its colours and moods. While he evokes romance, he always balances it with a realism that allows us even all these years afterwards, to gain a true picture of the landscape of Galloway, and especially, his heartland, the Glenkens.