‘They felt the oily swirl of the Dee rising beneath them, and knew that there had been a mighty rain upon the hills.’
Crockett, like all Glenkens natives, knew the firm relationship between the hills and the lowland rivers. He often writes about rivers and lanes, and the floods they carry into communities. For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘lane’, Crockett describes it thus, in the context of Laurieston (fictionalised as Whinnyliggate) in The Loves of Miss Anne:
‘To this day there is a ‘lane’ which cuts the village in two about the middle. Now in Galloway this is not a woodland walk, but a slow, sleepy, peaty stream’.
The Glenkens lanes Crockett writes about are the Cooran, Eglin, Dee, Duchrae and Grenoch. (Also spelled Grennoch or Grannoch). These all feed into the River Dee.
The Cooran Lane is perhaps the most famous (and dangerous). It sits by the Silver Flowe and plays a large part in The Raiders. The novel’s hero Patrick Heron observes:
‘It is not for any man to venture lightly at nightfall, or even in broad daylight, among the links of the Cooran, as it saunters its way through the silver flow of Buchan. The old royal fastness keeps its secret well.’
The Eglin lane is also described in The Raiders as a waymarker towards Cave Macaterick in the Dungeon hills: ‘As in the days of the Covenant, however, the way to it is still by the side of a burn which they call the Eglin Lane, a long bare water, slow and peaty, but with some trout of size in it.’
While in the non fictional Raiderland Crockett describes Dee lane thus:
‘you will find the quaintest and most delicious bridge across the narrows of Woodhall Loch, just where the Lane of Dee runs down to feed the Black Water of Dee through a paradise of pebbly shallows and reedy pools. Still black stretches they are also, all abloom with the loveliest white water-lilies anchored in lee of beds of blonde meadowsweet and red willow-herb.
Such a heavenly place for a boy to spend his youth in!’
And from childhood memory he also recalls how: ‘the Lane of Duchrae, beginning its course towards the Black Water, went soughing and murmuring over the slippery pebbles just as it had been wont to do a good quarter-century before.’
In the historical Men of the Moss Hags, he gives a clear description of Grenoch Lane:
‘we came to the place that is called the Moat of the Duchrae Bank, and found much people already gathered there. It is a very lonely place on the edge of a beautiful and still water, called the Lane of Grenoch. In the midst of the water, and immediately opposite to the moat, there is an island, called the Hollan Isle, full of coverts and hiding-places among hazel bushes, which grow there in thick matted copses. Beyond that again there are only the moors and the mountains for thirty miles. The country all about is lairy and boggy, impossible for horses to ride; while over to the eastward a little, the main road passes to Kells and Carsphairn, but out of sight behind the shoulder of the hill.’
In The Dark o’ the Moon this is the designated site of the Levellers camp:
‘Grennoch Lane, still and deep with a bottom of treacherous mud swamps, encircled it to the north, while behind was a good mile of broken ground, with frequent marshes and moss-hags. Save where the top of the camp mound was cleared to admit of the scant brushwood tents of the Levellers, the whole position was further covered and defended by a perfect jungle of bramble, whin, thorn, sloe, and hazel, through which paths had been opened in all directions to the best positions of defence.’
More descriptions of the local flora and fauna at Grenoch Lane are found in The Lilac Sunbonnet:
‘Loch Grannoch stretched away three miles to the south, basking in alternate blue and white, as cloud and sky mirrored themselves upon it. The first broad rush of the ling was climbing the slopes of the Crae Hill above — a pale lavender near the loch-side, deepening to crimson on the dryer slopes where the heath-bells grew shorter and thicker together. The wimpling lane slid as silently away from the sleeping loch as though it were eloping and feared to awake an angry parent. The whole range of hill and wood and water was drenched in sunshine. Silence clothed it like a garment — save only for the dark of the shadow under the bridge.’
In this novel, the ploughman Ebie Farrish appreciates his natural surroundings;
‘He stood long looking into the Lane water, which glided beneath the bridge and away down to the Dee without a sound.’Ebie knows that all that water has to go somewhere.
While there is a raw beauty in Crockett’s description of the lanes and lochs, he also knows the perilous power of water in flood. ‘The Lammas Preaching’ (in The Stickit Minister) is a humorous story of a minister from the Machars who sets out to preach in the Glenkens. The narrator sets the scene:
‘The burns were running red with the mighty July rain when Douglas Maclellan started over the meadows and moors to preach his sermon at the farmtown of Cauldshaws. He had thanked the Lord that morning in his opening prayer for 'the bounteous rain wherewith He had seen meet to refresh His weary heritage.'
The minister does not appreciate the ferocity of nature, unlike the character (another) Ebie who is detailed to guide him to his pulpit. On the journey, this Ebie frequently tries to reason with Maclellan, to no avail. At one point, Maclellan
‘stepped into a deep hole, and his text was suddenly shut within him by the gurgle of moss water in his throat. His arms rose above the surface like the black spars of a windmill. But Ebie Kirgan sculled himself swiftly out, swimming with his shoeless feet, and pushed the minister before him to the further bank—the water gushing out of rents in his clothes as easily as out of the gills of a fish.
The minister stood with unshaken confidence on the bank. He ran peat water like a spout in a thunder plump, and black rivulets of dye were trickling from under his hat down his brow and dripping from the end of his nose.’
The minister, confusing pride for trust in his maker, sets himself as greater than nature and refuses to see reason. Crockett clearly mocks him when Ebie,rebuffed time and again observes:
'He canna ken what a ‘Skyreburn warnin'’ is— he'll be thinkin' it's some bit Machars burn that the laddies set their whurlie mills in. But he'll turn richt eneuch when he sees Skyreburn roarin' reed in a Lammas flood, I'm thinkin'!’
Eventually, nature triumphs. Crockett’s story teaches the minister a lesson about the role of nature in the order of things. One might interpret it simply as ‘pride goes before a fall’, though for those with greater knowledge of Biblical texts, Crockett offers a more sophisticated interpretation.
While ‘The Lammas Preaching’ is high on humour, ‘The Two Humorists’ is anything but funny. Although Crockett’s narrator wryly observes: ‘The tale of Nathan and Doog is one which wants not examples in all ages of the earth's history. It is the story of a woman's mistake,’ the moral dilemma faced by Nathan during a terrible stormy night is far from amusing. Crockett uses the weather figuratively, allowing the intensity of the flood to reflect Nathan’s own internal struggle:
‘Leaving a lighted candle on the table, he opened the door and stepped out into the darkness. The wind met him like a wall. The rain assailed his cheeks and stunned his ears like a volley of bullets. For a full minute he stood exposed to the broad fury of the tempest, slashed by the driving sleet, beaten and deafened into bewilderment by a turmoil of buffeting gusts.’
In the process, we are treated to a powerful description of the full force of nature:
‘...ordinarily a clear little rivulet, running lucidly brown and pleasantly at prattle over a pebbly bed... in spite of its apparent innocence, Whinnyliggate Lane was a stream of a dangerous reputation... when the rains descended and the floods came, it sometimes chanced that the inhabitants of the village awoke to find that their prattling babe had become a giant, and that the burn, which the night before had scarce covered the pebbles in its bed, was now roaring wide and strong, thirty feet from bank to bank, crumbling their garden walls, and even threatening with destruction the sacred Midtoon Brig itself.’
As well as the lanes, Crockett frequently writes about The Black Water of Dee, which he knew from childhood. It features in the supernatural story ‘A Cry Across the Black Water’ (Bog Myrtle and Peat). Set around Loch Ken and Rhonehouse, the story is evocative of Tennyson and Millais.
Like the lanes which feed into it, the Dee flows in and out of many of his stories and novels. The significance of this natural feature of the Glenkens landscape can thus be experienced by readers throughout his Galloway works.
Dry stane dykes are still a well loved feature of the Glenkens but their historic significance is often overlooked or under appreciated. In Crockett’s writing they often represent barriers; social, emotional and psychological as well as physical. As part of the school board ‘revolution’, in ‘The March Dyke’, Crockett describes the locals who ‘gathered outside and roosted on the dyke by dozens, all with long faces and cutty pipes.’
There is also a dyke at the quoiting green in ‘That Popish parson fellow’ where:
‘Towards sundown Rob...leaned his arms on a dyke and attended to the points of the game with the air of a past master. Tam Galletly was ringing in the clanking disks, each fair on the pin. Then Pate Miller with his next quoit would ‘raise him oot o' that!’ It was a fine level game, point about, and evens between times. At least twenty miners, mostly shankers, were cheering on their favourites, and the noise was like a menagerie at the time of feeding.’
If you are looking for small detail about Galloway’s social history, Crockett has much to offer.
‘...Muckle Rob said never a word. But he slowly took his arms off the dyke and stepped over into the field. He strode forward towards the rinks... went solemnly to the tee, and kicked out the steel pins at the end of the rink to the back of which the signal paper was tucked. He sent the quoits spinning on their rims into the distant hedge.’
And Crockett is master of the humorous delivery.
The historic and socio-political importance of Glenkens dykes is explored in The Dark o’ the Moon, a novel exploring The Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724. The Galloway Glens Landscape Project exemplar dyke at Kelton Hill pays tribute to the Leveller’s revolt. In the chapter ‘The Levellers in Council’, Crockett fictionalises the uprising, siting it further north at ‘The Roman Camp’ in Duchrae Woods; attributing a radical speech to the legendary gypsy ‘Blind’ Harry Polwart. Crockett’s version is presented in good Gallowa’ dialect:
‘We will gang and speak them fair. We will offer to pay ony reasonable sum for the pasturage o' oor kye on the green slopes o' the Bennan, and tell the laird that gin he winna steer us frae the bit plots o' grund that were oor faithers' afore us we will be his faithfu' servants, as in former times.’
After Harry’s rousing speech the plan is set:
‘This very night we will begin our work, and if by the morrow’s morn there remains a stone upon a stone in all the enclosure dykes of Merrick, may I Harry Polwart be hanged for a thief in front o' the Castle o' Kirkcudbright!’
And so: ‘they stood at the place where the campaign was to begin. The Earl's dry-stone dyke stretched away east and west, looming up under the clouded moon vast as the Great Wall of China—though, indeed, it was in no place much more than six feet high.
In silence the Levellers took their places...’
Crockett provides an evocative, closely observed description of the dyke coming down:
‘The huge, sky-mounting ridge of newly built dykes, not yet settled down on its foundations, swayed a moment uncertainly. A few stones toppled over upon the feet of the attacking force, and then with a slow, majestic bend, almost like that of a breaking wave, a furlong of it fell over in one piece, with a far-resounding crash, and lo! the green hill-side again stretched from horizon to horizon unbroken under the moon.’
With the final result achieved: ‘Every obnoxious dyke was flat on all the southern estates, and in many cases the landlords patrolled their policies with armed train-bands of their own raising to keep even their park walls intact.’
Dykes also have a political aspect in the story ‘Vernor the Traitor’ described during: ‘the wildest times that we had ever had in Galloway—sudden marches during the night, moorland houses searched, half a dozen poor, ignorant, praying lads turned out, some to get their quietus at the dyke-back with a charge of powder and a musket-bullet, the rest to go stringing away to Edinburgh on the backs of sorry nags, their feet tied under the bellies of their horses.’
This reference is to ‘The Killing Times’, about which Crockett wrote extensively.
In Crockett’s 19th century Glenkens dykes are also places where poachers leave game and personal disputes are played out. Crockett (in narrative form as one of his finest Glenkens characters, Alec McQuhirr) describes an encounter between Saunders McQuhirr and Peter Chrystie:
‘My father did not answer in words. It was not indeed a time for more words. Instead, he strode forward to the march-dyke and gripped the farmer of Nether Neuk by the neck, who screamed like a throttled hen in the grasp of the executioner… So, with a little jerk of his arm, he sent his opponent flying lightly off the dyke-top, and I heard him fall with a splash into a pool of dirty water on the other side in which the sheep had been washed for months.’
While dykes act as barriers in violent disputes, they have another less obvious, figurative significance in Crockett’s stories. ‘Jumping the dyke’ is an expression still known among Galloway locals. Crockett’s contemporary English readership would miss the sexual reference. On numerous occasions in Crockett’s stories young men and women meet at dykes. This gave him a coded way to write about what was termed ‘backend o’ the byre’ activities.
Lads’ Love offers many examples. The hero, Alec McQuhirr recounts: ‘early one summer evening I leaped cautiously over the march-dyke from the Hill of Drumquhat, where, theoretically at least, I was engaged in ‘looking the sheep’—that is, numbering them and seeing that none had strayed, fallen into moss-holes, ‘gone visiting,’ or been troubled with ‘mawks.’ I had, however, on this occasion committed the entire flock wholesale to a kind Providence, and now I made my way down the dyke-side to the well of Nether Neuk… Here I waited, with my legs hanging down over the kerb.’
Alec’s intention is a love tryst with Nance Chrystie. The orchard dyke affords an appropriate context for the temptation of the lassies. Once again Alec shows off his prowess:
‘Lightly I vaulted over the dyke, without disturbing a single stone (for in those days I was very quick on my feet) and stole like a shadow to the unlicensed entrance.’
But all does not go as he plans as he is confronted by three sisters who tease him.
‘Goodness me,’ said Nance, ‘what are you doing there, Alec? Laddies like you should be in their bed’s hours and hours since.’
‘He's comed to get you to help him wi’ his lessons for the college, Nance!’ said the Hempie.
‘Ahint the orchard-dyke—wi' you for a tutor, mair like,’ retorted Nance.
In Lad’s Love Alec is frequently lurking around dykes with amorous intent. Crockett gives plenty of close detail which works both literally and figuratively: ‘For a long time I stood, fixed and silent, leaning against the rough stones of the dyke, waiting for my love's window to light up… I withdrew quickly over the dyke and slipped down the orchard hedge till I could see the house of Nether Neuk loom up like a fortalice, behind its beech-trees and the few domed haystacks which were all that remained of last year's crop.’
Dykes are part of the history, adventure and definitely the romance of Crockett’s Galloway. In the 18th century Loves of Miss Anne the heroine is described: ‘There was a wildwood grace about my young mistress, and when she moved it was as one who had been used to take the burns in her stride. She gathered her skirts and sprang easily over the crumbling dykes. And if she accepted a hand at a stile, it was for quite another reason than that she needed assistance.’
And in ‘The March Dyke, a romance is played out around a dyke.
‘Duncan looked round. Some one was standing by the rough stone dyke within a dozen yards of his summer-seat. It was Grace Hutchison.
Duncan went towards the dyke, taking off his cap as he went—a new cap.
So they stood there, the wall of rough hill-stones between them, but looking into one another's eyes.’
At first meeting the dyke is between them. But as they kiss: ‘the dyke proved too narrow, and in one swift electric touch their old world flew into flinders.
The stone dyke was not any longer between. Duncan Rowallan had overleaped it and stood by the side of Grace Hutchison.’
Crockett’s skill is in close observation, writing powerful descriptions of the natural landscape of the Glenkens, including its dykes. This allows us to see them as he did, be that as historic sites of violence, neighbour disputes, romance or nostalgic memory: ‘On my daily journeyings I often come across the old man of Nether Neuk... I see him still ambulating querulously about the backs of bieldy dykes and hirpling over the road-side fields. I hear out of the summer woods and spring copses the weary pipe of his ancient refrain.’
I hope that after reading Crockett you may never look (or overlook) a Galloway dyke in the same way again!
'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.
Crockett is a powerful writer of the Galloway landscape. Especially evocative are his scenes set amongst caves, and during winter. While the most famous Crockett cave is the fictional Rathan cave (on Hestan Island) there are many caves among the Galloway hills and Crockett combines fiction and reality as he utilises these for his stories of gypsies, smugglers and kidnapping. At Mullwharchar, also known as Hill of the Star, ‘The great clouds were topping the black and terrible ramparts opposite to me. Along the long cliff line, scarred and broken with the thunderbolt, the clouds lay piled, making the Merrick, the Star, the Dungeon, and the other hills of that centre boss of the hill country look twice their proper height.
In The Raiders this is the site for the Auchty Cave, where Patrick Heron and Silver Sand spend ‘The Sixteen Drifty days’, in a snowstorm. Its dangers are described thus:
‘In a step we had lost one another. We were blinded, deafened, blown away. I stood and shouted my loudest. When I got my eyes open I saw a fearsome sight. The darkness was white—above, around, beneath—all was a livid, solid, white darkness. So fierce were the flakes, driven by the wind, that neither the black of the earth nor the dun of the sky shone through. I shouted my best, standing with outstretched arms. My cry was shut in my mouth. It never reached my own ears.’
But of course no storm lasts forever, and then there is a vista to behold: ‘It was a clear, bright morning when we put aside the mat and looked out. The brightness was like the kingdom of heaven. There was a chill thin air blowing, and the snow was already hard bound with frost. We looked down into the Dungeon of Buchan. Its mighty cauldron that had the three lochs at the bottom, was nearly full of snow. The lochs were not. The Wolf's Slock was not. The night before we had only seen a whirling chaos of hurrying flakes of infinite deepness. The morning showed us the great valley almost levelled up with snow, from Breesha and the Snibe to the Range of Kells.’
My personal favourite cave is on the Dungeon Hill. Crockett calls it the ‘Shiel of the Dungeon of Buchan’. For me, the opening of The Dark of the Moon shows a place which more than any other, captures my imagination. It possibly only ever lived in Crockett’s imagination. The Shiel is ‘A strange place half natural cavern, the rest a rickle of rude masonry plastered like a swallow’s nest on the face of the cliff among the wildest of southern hills’
The description of Joyce Faa looking down over the Glenkens from this place offers a brilliant perspective: looking out of the four-square aperture which served the Shiel of the Dungeon for a window...it stood open, and, as the light of the evening sun slanted along the precipice front, the head of a young girl was set in it as a picture is set in a dark frame.’’
For me this offers an evocative description of truly being in nature:
‘Immediately below was the wide gulf of space, sinking away so sharply as to turn a stranger giddy; but Joyce Faa straightened herself and stood erect, with the grace and strength of a young birk-tree rooted in the clefts of the rock.’
Crockett writes of caves as temporary homes for Covenanting outlaws and as places gypsies carry their kidnap victims to. They are also shelters from the storm for those unwise enough to go out in the hills in winter. But the harshness of winter can be felt in the lowlands too.
At the fictional Loch Spellanderie (Loch Skerrow) the young Kit Kennedy feels the full force of the weather:
‘The moon, getting old, and yawning in the middle as if tired of being out so late, set a crumbly horn past the edge of his little skylight. Her straggling, pallid rays fell on something white on Kit's bed. He put out his hand, and it went into a cold wreath of snow up to the wrist.
‘Ouch!’ said Kit Kennedy.’
‘Kit took the corner of the scanty coverlet, and, with a well-accustomed arm-sweep, sent the whole swirl of snow over the end of his bed, getting across the side at the same time himself. He did not complain. All he said, as he blew upon his hands and slapped them against his sides, was, ‘Michty, it'll be cauld at the turnip pits this mornin'!’
It had been snowing in the night since Kit lay down, and the snow had sifted in through the open tiles of the farmhouse of Loch Spellanderie. That was nothing. It often did that, but sometimes it rained, and that was worse. Yet Kit Kennedy did not much mind even that. He had a cunning arrangement in old umbrellas and corn-sacks that could beat the rain any day. Snow, in his own words, he did not give a ‘buckie’ for.’
In Crockett’s youth, his childhood home Little Duchrae was single story and ‘the boys’ slept up in the attic. This description from Kit Kennedy is quite likely drawn from personal experience.
There is much to be learned from the fictional domestic pictures Crockett draws of rural life in the mid 19th century. And humour.
‘He crossed over to the cattle-sheds. The snow was crisp under foot. His feet went through the light drift which had fallen during the night, and crackled frostily upon the older and harder undercrust. At the barn door Kit paused to put fresh straw in his iron-shod clogs. Fresh straw every morning in the bottom of one's clogs is a great luxury. It keeps the feet warm. Who can afford a new sole of fleecy wool every morning to his shoe? Kit could, for straw is cheap, and even his mistress did not grudge a handful. Not that it would have mattered if she had...
...The lantern threw dancing reflections on the snow. Tyke grovelled and rolled in the light drift, barking loudly. He bit at his own tail. Kit set down the lantern, and fell upon him for a tussle. The two of them had rolled one another into a snow-drift in exactly ten seconds, from which they rose glowing with heat — the heat of young things when the blood runs fast.’
Snow is just a part of life in a Galloway winter. Rose of the Wilderness also poignantly describes the last journey of a dead young woman from the remote house (near Back Hill o’ the Bush) ‘the black of the coffin made a sombre dash on the first snow of the winter...
...I shall ever feel that her real funeral, from amidst those who loved her, was when I saw that little dark burden dwindle and vanish into the swirls of bleak November snow, upheld by the shoulders of four strong men, my father, tall and a little stooping, in front, and Muckle Tamson tramping steadily alongside waiting his turn, his eyes far away and the snow in his beard.
Then darkness came. The storm swept up the glen.’
The first person narrator perspective gives an added sense of realism and pathos.
In Rose of the Wilderness the dangers of being out working in the snow are closely observed. The boy, nicknamed ‘Stoor’ comes in to report on the men who have gone to gather the sheep:
‘I saw a queer little face, the snow frozen and clinging about the shaggy tags of hair, wild eyes dark as sloes, and a mouth that cried words that were instantly swept away by the tempest without.
It was ‘Stoor.’
I helped him in—indeed, I may say I dragged him in. He had seen the light and had come straight for it, climbing the snow-wreaths on his way.
The boys go out again to rescue both sheep and men. It is a perilous quest:
‘once out of the shelter of the square of farm buildings, the breath was blown right out of me. I was dashed this way and that... I could not hear my own voice when I shouted. On the mountains the snow raged onward like sea-billows’,
The value of sheep and the domestic disaster of a snowstorm are explained, reminding us that snow can be as deadly as it is picturesque:
‘spring rent day was coming on, and what should have gone to Wallet's or Lichtbody's mart lay rotting under the still frozen snow… so wide was the Wilderness, and so curious the ways of sheep, that a flock of them would collect in the only place where they must assuredly find Death—perhaps in a hollow shaped like the palm of one's hand, where they were immediately snowed over to the depth of thirty or forty feet, not to be found till the spring winds and rains had cleared the land, sometime in the early days of May.’
There are many snow-storms in Crockett’s work, which can enjoyable to read about when one is facing (hopefully from indoors) our own winters. There is winter adventure as in the ‘ice-running’ scene in The Raiders, but I prefer the more domestic, rural realism of Rose of the Wilderness and Kit Kennedy.
Whether you are a fan of snow or not, this February, reading Crockett can make you thankful you’re not stuck out in a cave or on the hills in a Scottish snowstorm.