In the Den of Kinraddie one such beast had its lair and by day it lay about the woods and the stench of it was awful to smell all over the countryside, and at gloaming a shepherd would see it, with its great wings half-folded across the great belly of it and its head, like the head of a meikle cock, but with the ears of a lion, poked over a fir tree, watching. And it ate up sheep and men and women and was a fair terror, and the King had his heralds cry a reward to whatever knight would ride and end the mischieving of the beast. And maybe he said a bit prayer by that Stone and then he rode into the Mearns, and the story tells no more of his riding but that at last come he did to Kinraddie, a tormented place, and they told him where the gryphon slept, down there in the Den of Kinraddie. But in the daytime it hid in the woods and only at night, by a path through the hornbeams, might he come at it, squatting in bones, in its lair. And Cospatric waited for the night to come and rode to the edge of Kinraddie Den and commended his soul to God and came off his horse and took his boar-spear in his hand, and went down into the Den and killed the gryphon.
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In the Den of Kinraddie one such beast had its lair and by day it lay about the woods and the stench of it was awful to smell all over the countryside, and at gloaming a shepherd would see it, with its great wings half-folded across the great belly of it and its head, like the head of a meikle cock, but with the ears of a lion, poked over a fir tree, watching.
And it ate up sheep and men and women and was a fair terror, and the King had his heralds cry a reward to whatever knight would ride and end the mischieving of the beast.
And maybe he said a bit prayer by that Stone and then he rode into the Mearns, and the story tells no more of his riding but that at last come he did to Kinraddie, a tormented place, and they told him where the gryphon slept, down there in the Den of Kinraddie. But in the daytime it hid in the woods and only at night, by a path through the hornbeams, might he come at it, squatting in bones, in its lair.
And Cospatric waited for the night to come and rode to the edge of Kinraddie Den and commended his soul to God and came off his horse and took his boar-spear in his hand, and went down into the Den and killed the gryphon. So Cospatric got him the Pict folk to build a strong castle there in the lithe of the hills, with the Grampians bleak and dark behind it, and he had the Den drained and he married a Pict lady and got on her bairns and he lived there till he died.
And his son took the name Kinraddie, and looked out one day from the castle wall and saw the Earl Marischal come marching up from the south to join the Highlandmen in the battle that was fought at Mondynes, where now the meal-mill stands; and he took out his men and fought there, but on which side they do not say, but maybe it was the winning one, they were aye gey and canny folk, the Kinraddies.
And the great-grandson of Cospatric, he joined the English against the cateran Wallace, and when Wallace next came marching up from the southlands Kinraddie and other noble folk of that time they got them into Dunnottar Castle that stands out in the sea beyond Kinneff, well-builded and strong, and the sea splashes about it in the high tides and there the din of the gulls is a yammer night and day.
Much of meal and meat and gear they took with them, and they laid themselves up there right strongly, they and their carles, and wasted all the Mearns that the Cateran who dared rebel against the fine English king might find no provision for his army of coarse and landless men. But Wallace came through the Howe right swiftly and he heard of Dunnottar and laid siege to it and it was a right strong place and he had but small patience with strong places.
So, in the dead of one night, when the thunder of the sea drowned the noise of his feint, he climbed the Dunnottar rocks and was over the wall, he and the vagabond Scots, and they took Dunnottar and put to the slaughter the noble folk gathered there, and all the English, and spoiled them of their meat and gear, and marched away. Kinraddie Castle that year, they tell, had but a young bride new home and she had no issue of her body, and the months went by and she rode to the Abbey of Aberbrothock where the good Abbot, John, was her cousin, and told him of her trouble and how the line of Kinraddie was like to die.
So he lay with her that was September, and next year a boy was born to the young bride, and after that the Kinraddies paid no heed to wars and bickerings but sat them fast in their Castle lithe in the hills, with their gear and bonny leman queans and villeins libbed for service.
And when the First Reformation came and others came after it and some folk cried Whiggam! So they builded a new kirk down where the chapel had stood, and builded a manse by it, there in the middle of the yews where the cateran Wallace had hid when the English put him to rout at last.
Up as far as Kinraddie came the poison and the young laird of that time, and he was Kenneth, he called himself a Jacobin and joined the Jacobin Club of Aberdeen and there at Aberdeen was nearly killed in the rioting, for liberty and equality and fraternity, he called it. And they carried him back to Kinraddie a cripple, but he would still have it that all men were free and equal and he set to selling the estate and sending the money to France, for he had a real good heart.
And the crofters marched on Kinraddie Castle in a body and bashed in the windows of it, they thought equality should begin at home. More than half the estate had gone in this driblet and that while the cripple sat and read his coarse French books; but nobody guessed that till he died and then his widow, poor woman, found herself own no more than the land that lay between the coarse hills, the Grampians, and the farms that stood out by the Bridge End above the Denburn, straddling the outward road.
Maybe there were some twenty to thirty holdings in all, the crofters dour folk of the old Pict stock, they had no history, common folk, and ill-reared their biggins clustered and chaved amid the long, sloping fields. The leases were one-year, two-year, you worked from the blink of the day you were breeked to the flicker of the night they shrouded you, and the dirt of gentry sat and ate up your rents but you were as good as they were.
Three of her bairns were drowned at sea, fishing off the Bevie braes they had been, but the fourth, the boy Cospatric, him that died the same day as the Old Queen, he was douce and saving and sensible, and set putting the estate to rights.
But on the cleared land he had bigger steadings built and he let them at bigger rents and longer leases, he said the day of the fine big farm had come. And he had woods of fir and larch and pine planted to shield the long, bleak slopes, and might well have retrieved the Kinraddie fortunes but that he married a Morton quean with black blood in her, she smitted him and drove him to drink and death, that was the best way out.
So by the winter of nineteen eleven there were no more than nine bit places left the Kinraddie estate, the Mains the biggest of them, it had been the Castle home farm in the long past times. An Irish creature, Erbert Ellison was the name, ran the place for the trustees, he said, but if you might believe all the stories you heard he ran a hantle more silver into his own pouch than he ran into theirs.
That had been in the time before Lord Kinraddie, the daft one, had gone clean skite. He had been in Dublin, Lord Kinraddie, on some drunken ploy, and Ellison had brought his whisky for him and some said he had halved his bed with him. But folk would say anything. So the daftie took Ellison back with him to Kinraddie and made him his servant, and sometimes, when he was real drunk and the fairlies came sniftering out of the whisky bottles at him, he would throw a bottle at Ellison and shout Get out, you bloody dish-clout!
But Ellison had made himself well acquainted with farming and selling stock and most with buying horses, so the trustees they made him manager of the Mains, and he moved into the Mains farmhouse and looked him round for a wife. So when Ellison came to her at the harvest ball in Auchinblae and cried Can I see you home to-night, me dear? And on the road home they lay among the stooks and maybe Ellison did this and that to make sure of getting her, he was fair desperate for any woman by then.
And he called them Bloody Scotch savages, and was in an awful rage and at the term-time he had them sacked, the whole jingbang of them, so sore affronted he had been. But after that he got on well enough, him and his mistress, Ella White, and they had a daughter, a scrawny bit quean they thought over good to go to the Auchinblae School, so off she went to Stonehaven Academy and was taught to be right brave and swing about in the gymnasium there with wee black breeks on under her skirt.
Ellison himself began to get well-stomached, and he had a red face, big and sappy, and eyes like a cat, green eyes, and his mouser hung down each side of a fair bit mouth that was chokeful up of false teeth, awful expensive and bonny, lined with bits of gold. In the lower half of the tower was an effigy-thing of Cospatric de Gondeshil, him that killed the gryphon, lying on his back with his arms crossed and a daft-like simper on her face; and the spear he killed the gryphon with was locked in a kist there, or so some said, but others said it was no more than an old bit heuch from the times of Bonny Prince Charlie.
Once the wee hall had been for the folk from the Meikle House and their guests and suchlike gentry but nearly anybody that had the face went ben and sat there now, and the elders sat with the collection bags, and young Murray, him that blew the organ for Sarah Sinclair.
It had fine glass windows, awful old, the wee hall with three bit creatures of queans, not very decent-like in a kirk, as window-pictures.
And the third quean was Charity, with a lot of naked bairns at her feet and she looked a fine and decent-like woman, for all that she was tied about with such daft-like clouts. But the windows of the main hall, though they were coloured, they had never a picture in them and there were no pictures in there at all, who wanted them?
But that nineteen eleven December the Manse was empty and had been empty for many a month, the old minister was dead and the new one not yet voted on; and the ministers from Drumlithie and Arbuthnott and Laurencekirk they came time about in the Sunday forenoons and took the service there at Kinraddie; and God knows for all they had to say they might well have bidden at home. But if you went out of the kirk by the main door and took the road east a bit, and that was the road that served kirk and Manse and Mains, you were on to the turnpike then.
But Chae said the four ministers of Kinraddie and Auchinblae and Laurencekirk and Drumlithie were all paid much the same money last year and what had they this year? He was a pretty man, well upstanding, with great shoulders on him and his hair was fair and fine and he had a broad brow and a gey bit coulter of a nose, and he twisted his mouser ends up with wax like that creature the German Kaiser, and he could stop a running stirk by the horns, so strong he was in the wrist-bones.
Both were wearing on a bit, sore in the need of a man, and Kirsty with a fair letdown as it was, for it had seemed that a doctor billy from Aberdeen was out to take up with her. So he had done and left her in a gey way and her mother, old Mistress Sinclair, near went out of her mind with the shame of it when Kirsty began to cry and tell her the news.
Now that was about the term-time and home to Netherhill from the feeing market who should old Sinclair of Netherhill bring but Chae Strachan, with his blood warmed up from living in those foreign parts and an eye for less than a wink of invitation?
But even so he was gey slow to get on with the courting and just hung around Kirsty like a futret round a trap with a bit meat in it, not sure if the meat was worth the risk; and the time was getting on and faith! Something drastic would have to be done. And there had been no escape for Chae, poor man, with Kirsty and her mother both glowering at him.
Out of the World and into Blawearie they said in Kinraddie, and faith! That was an ill thing to say about any minister, though Rob said it was an ill thing to say about any loch, but there the spleiter of water was, a woesome dark stretch fringed rank with rushes and knife-grass; and the screeching of the snipe fair deafened you if you stood there of an evening. And few enough did that for nearby the bit loch was a circle of stones from olden times, some were upright and some were flat and some leaned this way and that, and right in the middle three big ones clambered up out of the earth and stood askew with flat sonsy faces, they seemed to listen and wait.
And Long Rob of the Mill would say what Scotland wanted was a return of the Druids, but that was just a speak of his, for they must have been awful ignorant folk, not canny. The biggings of it stood fine and compact one side of the close, the midden was back of them, and across the close was the house, a fell brave house for a little place, it had three storeys and a good kitchen and a fair stretch of garden between it and Blawearie road.
There were beech trees there, three of them, one was close over against the house, and the garden hedges grew as bonny with honeysuckle of a summer as ever you saw; and if you could have lived on the smell of honeysuckle you might have farmed the bit place with profit. It lay a quarter-mile or so from the main road and its own road was fair clamjamfried with glaur from late in the harvest till the coming of Spring. But others said he never tried. He was maybe forty years or so in age, and bald already, and his skin was red and creased in cheeks and chin and God!
For there were worse folk than Munro, though maybe they were all in the jail, and though he could blow and bombast till he fair scunnered you. He farmed his bit land in a then and now way, and it was land good enough, the most of it, with the same black streak of loam that went through the Peesie parks, but ill-drained, the old stone drains were still down and devil the move would the factor at Meikle House make to have them replaced, or mend the roof of the byre that leaked like a sieve on the head of Mistress Munro when she milked the kye on a stormy night.
So the body would think there was no pleasing of the creature, and she was right well laughed at in all Kinraddie, though not to her face. And that was a thin one and she had black hair and snapping black eyes like a futret, and a voice that fair set your hackles on edge when she girned.
But she was the best midwife for miles around, right often in the middle of the night some poor distracted billy would come chapping at her window Mistress Munro, Mistress Munro, will you get up and come to the wife? Andy was a meikle slummock of a creature, and his mouth was aye open, and he dribbled like a teething foal, and his nose wabbled all over his face and when he tried to speak it was just a fair jumble of foolishness. And that was the stir at Cuddiestoun, all except Tony, for the Munros had never a bairn of their own.
He was small-bulked and had a little red beard and sad eyes, and he walked with his head down and you would feel right sorry for him for sometimes some whimsy would come on the creature right in the middle of the turnpike it might be or half-way down a rig of swedes, and there he would stand staring like a gowk for minutes on end till somebody would shake him back to his senses.
And she took the paper from him and looked at it and turned it this way and that, but feint the thing could she made of it. So she gave him a bit clout in the lug and asked him what the writing was. But he just shook his head, real gowked-like and reached out his hand for the bit of paper, but Mistress Munro would have none of that and when it was time for the Strachan bairns to pass the end of the Cuddiestoun road on their way to school down there she was waiting and gave the paper to the eldest the quean Marget, and told her to show it to the Dominie and ask him what it might mean.
Now, following the Kinraddie road still east, you passed by Netherhill on your left, five places had held its parks in the crofter days before Lord Kenneth. But now it was a fair bit farm on its own, old Sinclair and his wife, a body that was wearing none so well--soured up the creature was that her eldest daughter Sarah still bided all unwed--lived in the farm-house, and in the bothy was foreman and second man and third man and orra lad.
The Denburn lay back of the Netherhill, drifting low and slow and placid in its hollow, feint the fish had ever been seen in it and folk said that was just as well, things were fishy enough at Netherhill without the Denburn adding to them.
And God! But by then the pig-breeding was fine and paying, their debts were gone, they were coining silver of their own. Ay your lad still, am I, lass? But Sinclair and his old wife would just shake their heads at her and in their bed at night, hiddling their old bones close for warmth, give a bit sigh that no brave billy had ever show inclination to take Sarah to his bed. But Rob of the Mill had never a thought of what Kinraddie said of him. He thought himself a gey man with horses, did Rob, and God!
Now Upperhill rose above the Mill, with its larch woods crowning it, and folk told that a hundred years before five of the crofter places had crowded there till Lord Kenneth threw their biggins down and drove them from the parish and built the fine farm of Upperhill.
Mistress Gordon was a Stonehaven woman, her father had been a bit post-office creature there, but God! She was a meikle sow of a woman, but aye well-dressed, and with eyes like the eyes of a fish, fair cod-like they were, and she tried to speak English and to make her two bit daughters, Nellie and Maggie Jean, them that went to Stonehaven Academy, speak English as well. The bothy men heard the ongoing and came tearing out but soon as they saw it was only young Gordon that was being mischieved they did no more than laugh and stand around and cry one to the other that here was a real fine barrow-load of dung lying loose in the greip.
It was no more than a butt and a ben, with a rickle of sheds behind it where old Pooty kept his cow and bit donkey that was nearly as old as himself and faith! He was the oldest inhabitant of Kinraddie and fell proud of it, though what there was to be proud of in biding all that while in a damp, sour house that a goat would hardly have stopped to ease itself in God knows.
He was a shoe-maker, the creature, and called himself the Sutor, an old-fashioned name that folk laughed at. A grand worker was Alec and Bridge End not the worst of Kinraddie, though wet in the bottom up where its parks joined on to Upperhill. So some said that he must glower at his mistress a fell lot, and that was hard enough to believe, she was no great beauty, with a cock eye and a lazy look and nothing worried her, not a mortal thing, not though her five bairns were all yammering blue murder at the same minute and the smoke coming down the chimney and spoiling the dinner and the cattle broken into the yard and eating up her clean washing.
Two of the five bairns were boys, the oldest eleven, and the whole five of them had the Mutch face, broad and boney and tapering to a chinney point, like the face of an owlet or a fox, and meikle lugs on them like the handles on a cream-jar.
Good God, Mutch, you were never in danger of that! So that was Kinraddie that bleak winter of nineteen eleven and the new minister, him they chose early next year, he was to say it was the Scots countryside itself, fathered between a kailyard and a bonny brier bush in the lee of a house with green shutters.
A Scots Quair: Sunset Song, Cloud Howe, Grey Granite
The trilogy can be seen as representing the development of Scottish social history in the early twentieth century. Sunset Song is based on a peasant community who make their living from the land. However, by the end of the novel, the land has been impoverished by the war, and people are less willing to do the hard manual labour required. The novel follows the character of Chris Guthrie, from girlhood to being a young widow with a child, contemplating her second marriage to the new minister, Robert Colquhoun, the son of the old man who had so impressed her with his sermon on The Golden Age.
SUNSET SONG | CLOUD HOWE | GREY GRANITE