Flower O’ The Heather

Posted by Missouri Rev on Mar 2nd, 2006

Though meteorologists in our neck of the woods consider March 1st the beginning of spring, the real proof came yesterday when I drove past a local slue. There on various logs were dozens of painted turtles sunbathing in the beautiful 75 degree weather. Frog orchestras are soon in coming . . . can’t wait.

I have been enjoying a great though mostly unknown historical novel, Flower O’ The Heather – A Story of the Killing Times, written in 1922 by Robert William MacKenna. It’s the story of the conversion of a young man to the Covenanter’s faith through the trials he endured during the savage persecution of the Covenanters around 1685. Having joined the King’s army (English) after being expelled from college, Walter de Brydde soon deserts it because he cannot stomach the various crimes he is required to participate in to punish those who will not take the “test oath.” Without food or a place to lay his head, he is rescued by an old Presbyterian pastor who, having refused to take the oath, was forced into the Highland moorland to live quite primitively so that he could continue to lead worship on the Lord’s Day during open air meetings in the fields called Conventicles. Eventually they are surrounded by soldiers and the faithful pastor gives his life for him, so that he escapes. Through many more severe trials and wonderful blessings he comes into full faith as one who suffers for Christ and for his fellow Covenanters. The names and historical events woven into the story are historically accurate. The author, in giving it such a robust Scottish flavor, uses the heavy Scottish brogue in many places, which is sometimes hard to follow. Here are a few bonnie quotes that I thought you lassies ane laddies woohhd anjoh.

During the night the Reverend Alexander Main would often play haunting Scottish tunes on his flute. One night there was noticeable silence for which young Brydden inquired of the pastor, “Well,” he said. “it is Saturday, and ye’ll no’ hear me playing the nicht. On such a nicht one is too near the threshold of the Sabbath day lichtly to engage in sic worldly amusement. However, if ye’ll come around to my side of the loch about the usual time, we’ll take a bite o’ supper together—after that ye’d better leave me to my meditations in view of the Lord’s Day, for I am preaching the morn.” “In which church, may I ask?” I said, forgetting for a moment where I was. “In the kirk of the moorland,” he answered, “which has no roof but God’s Heaven, and no altar but the loving hearts of men and women!”

The glorious death of Rev. Main: “I heard the jangle of bridle chains, and the creak of stirrup leathers: I could hear the heavy breathing of the horses—they were closing in upon me from every side. One minute more and I should be discovered, and then, death! And I, because I had learned to love, had grown afraid to die. Suddenly, clear and shrill, the sound of a flute came from the far side of the loch. What madness was this? Did not the old man know that the troopers were upon us? In the very teeth of danger he was calmly playing a tune that I had heard more than once in the moonlit hours of the night. O fool! What frenzy had seized him? . . . And then the truth flashed upon me. It was not madness: it was sacrifice! He had seen my danger, and to save me, with no thought of self, he had done this thing. . . . Would he take the oath? I knew that to him allegiance to his God was more precious than fealty to an earthly king. I could see the whole scene: he, calm, in the circle of his accusers, with the firing party charging their weapons. I could hear the bullying voice of the commander trying to break his spirit, and then I knew—for I had seen it—that he would be given five minutes to make his peace with God. Little need for that! . . . The crash of muskets tore the silence and I knew that Alexander Main, hillman, and Saint, had won his crown of glory at the last.

Young Brydden, upon waking from a coma after several days, the result of fall that broke his leg while fleeing his pursuers, discovers the care that was given him by the mother and daughter of a humble covenanting family, the Patersons. “Can ye feed yersel’, or maun I feed ye like a bairn [child] ?” She gave me a horn spoon, and with a shaky hand I fed myself. She sat watching me, but did not speak again till I had finished my meal. “That’s better,” she said. “You’ll soon be yersel’ again. It’s the prood woman I am. I never yet knew a man sae ill as you ha’e been pu’ through. Man, but for the grace o’ God and our Mary [the lady’s daughter that discovered him injured and risked her neck to rescue him], the craws on the moor ha’e picked yer banes white long ere noo.”

Mrs. Patterson discusses the finer points of milking the coo. I listened eagerly. She [Mary] was singing a love song! The old woman heard her too, for she said: Dae ye ken ocht aboot kye?” I hastened to tell her that I knew nothing. “Weel,” she said, “It’s a queer thing, but ye can aye get mair milk frae a coo if ye sing at the milkin’. If ye sing a nice bricht tune you’ll get twa or three mair gills than if ye dinna sing ava. Noo, that’s Meg she’s milkin’, and Meg has got near as muckle sense as a human being. On Sabbath, ye ken, it would be a terrible sin to sing a sang to the coo when ye’re milkin her, so I’ve got to fa’ back on the psalms. But ye’ve got to be carefu’. For instance, if ye sang the ‘Auld Hundred’ to Meg, ye wadna’ get near sae muckle [so much] milk, because it’s solemn-like, than wad if ye sang her a psalm that runs to tune o’ ‘French’. Forby, I aince had a servant-lass that sang a paraphrase when she was milkin’ Meg, and the puir cratur’ was that upset that shw was milked dry before the luggy was a quarter filled, and when I went masel’ [myself] to strip her, she put her fit in the pail—a thing I’ve never kent her dae afore or since.”

Mrs. Patterson explains herself when she chases the chickens away while referring to them as covenanters. “Shoo! Ye wee Covenanters!” she cried. I laughed, as I said, “Why do you call them Covenanters?” “Weel,” she replied, “I often think that chickens and the hill-men ha’e muckle in common. Ye see maist Covenanters tak’ life awfu’ seriously. They ha’e few pleasures frae the minute they come into the world. A kitten will lie in the sun playin’ wi’ a bit o’ oo’, and a wee bit puppy will chase its tail for half an hour on end; but wha ever saw a chicken playin’? They denna ken the way. It’s scrape, scrape, pick, pick, frae the day they crack the shell till the day their necks are wrung. And your Covenanters are muckle the same.”

I ope’ ye foond these quotes anjoybl’. — The Missouri Rev.

5 Responses

  1. bob Says:

    Thanks for the tip. I found an old copy available and bought it. I recently read Douglas Bond’s trilogy entitled the Crown and Covenant to my boys, which we all enjoyed very much.

    We are awaiting the coming of spring, although we still have a covering of ice and snow to contend with and I don’t think too many turtles have chipped their way through the ice that is covering their summertime homes. It’s getting about the time of year to prune the fruit trees and the berries and I am once again looking forward to tilling the yard!

    This spring we are planning on adding some chickens to the complex, so we shall see how that goes!



  2. Missouri Rev Says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for dropping in. I don’t drop in as often with my fellow agrarian bloggers . . . something I’ll have to remedy.

    We too, Lord willing, will be starting a chicken project this summer, on a small scale as Salatin suggests until we figure out what works for us. Missouri Woods, our agrarian forest management and custom hardwoods business start-up is going slowly, but I am excited that we are on track to get it established.

    I noticed a posting on your blog about Holland, Michigan and left a comment and the titles of a couple of books worth reading. The story behind its founding is a very interesting study of a Christian agrarian pioneering effort by a body of persecuted believers from the country of Holland during the mid 1800’s. As there are volumes to learn from it, I preached a couple of sermons on it. It’s really worth looking into.

  3. reformed farmer Says:

    Thanks for the quotes!! I love the stories of the covenanters. We have the old “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant” battle flag displayed at our church and our eldest Elder is a grey bearded scot who can trace his ansestors back to Scotland.

  4. The Settler Says:

    Great stuff. Nat is wondering what she should sing the coo.

  5. Missouri Rev Says:

    Reformer Farmer, I remember my grandfather Campbell on me mither’s side. He was stubborn as on ox and was still dancing well into his 80’s, my how he loved the pipes. I do not know what it is about the pipes but they always get my blood flowing whenever I hear them, just as blue grass does.

    Settler, yes I would have loved to have heard the bonnie lassie sing to the coo. It’s such a shame that the reformed culture of Scotland has largely disappeared due to apostasy and has become quite heathen again, as nearly all of Europe. Of course, America is working hard to catch up with their cousins across the great puddle.

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