Rambles of a Geologist (3)

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CHAPTER VI.


FOR the greater part of a quarter of a century I had been finding organisms in abundance in the boulder-clay, but never anything organic that unequivocally belonged to its own period.  I had ascertained that it contains in Ross and Cromarty nodules of the Old Red Sandstone, which bear inside, like so many stone coffins, their well laid out skeletons of the dead; but then the markings on their surface told me that when the boulder-clay was in the course of deposition, they had been exactly the same kind of nodules that they are now.  In Moray, it incloses, I had found, organisms of the Lias; but they also testify that they present an appearance in no degree more ancient at the present time than they did when first enveloped by the clay.  In East and West Lothian too, and in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, I had detected in it occasional organisms of the Mountain Limestone and the Coal Measures; but these, not less surely than its Liasic fossils in Moray, and its Old Red ichthyolites in Cromarty and Ross, belonged to an incalculably more ancient state of things than itself; and—like those shrivelled manuscripts of Pompeii or Herculaneum, which, whatever else they may record, cannot be expected to tell aught of the catastrophe that buried them up—they throw no light whatever on the deposit in which they occur.  I at length came to regard the boulder-clay—for it is difficult to keep the mind in a purely blank state on any subject on which one thinks a good deal—as representative of a chaotic period of death and darkness, introductory, mayhap, to the existing scene of things.

    After, however, I had begun to mark the invariable connection of the clay, as a deposit, with the dressed surfaces on which it rests, and the longitudinal linings of the pebbles and boulders which it incloses, and to associate it, in consequence, with an ice-charged sea and the Great Gulf Stream, it seemed to me extremely difficult to assign a reason why it should be thus barren of remains.  Sir Charles Lyell states, in his "Elements," that the "stranding of ice-islands in the bays of Iceland since 1835 has driven away the fish for several successive seasons, and thereby caused a famine among the inhabitants of the country;" and he argues from the fact, "that a sea habitually infested with melting ice, which would chill and freshen the water, might render the same uninhabitable by marine mollusca."  But then, on the other hand, it is equally a fact that half a million of seals have been killed in a single season on the meadow-ice a little to the north of Newfoundland, and that many millions of cod, besides other fish, are captured yearly on the shores of that island, though grooved and furrowed by ice-floes almost every spring.  Of the seal family it is specially recorded by naturalists, that many of the species "are from choice inhabitants of the margins of the frozen seas towards both poles; and, of course, in localities in which many such animals live, some must occasionally die."  And though the grinding process would certainly have disjointed, and might probably have worn down and partially mutilated, the bones of the amphibious carnivora of the boulder period, it seems not in the least probable, judging from the fragments of loose-grained sandstone and soft shale which it has spared, that it would have wholly destroyed them.  So it happened, however, that from North Berwick to the Ord Hill of Caithness, I had never found in the boulder-clay the slightest trace of an organism that could be held to belong to itself; and as it seems natural to build on negative evidence, if very extensive, considerably more than mere negative evidence, whatever the circumstances, will carry, I became somewhat sceptical regarding the very existence of boulder-fossils,—a scepticism which the worse than doubtful character of several supposed discoveries in the deposit served considerably to strengthen.  The clay forms, when cut by a water-course, or assailed on the coast by some unusually high tide, a perpendicular precipice, which in the course of years slopes into a talus; and as it exhibits in most instances no marks of stratification, the clay of the talus—a mere re-formation of fragments detached by the frosts and rains from the exposed frontage—can rarely be distinguished from that of the original deposit.  Now, in these consolidated slopes it is not unusual to find remains, animal and vegetable, of no very remote antiquity.  I have seen a human skull dug out of the reclining base of a clay-bank once a precipice, fully six feet from under the surface.  It might have been deemed the skull of some long-lived contemporary of Enoch,—one of the accursed race, mayhap,


"Who sinned and died before the avenging flood."


But, alas! the labourer dug a little farther, and struck his pickaxe against an old rybat that lay deeper still.  There could be no mistaking the character of the champfered edge, that still bore the marks of the tool, nor that of the square perforation for the lock-bolt; and a rising theory, that would have referred the boulder-clay to a period in which the polar ice, set loose by the waters of the Noachian deluge, came floating southwards over the foundered land, straightway stumbled against it, and fell.  Both rybat and skull had come from an ancient burying-ground, that occupies a projecting angle of the table-land above.  I must now state, however, that my scepticism has thoroughly given way; and that, slowly yielding to the force of positive evidence, I have become as assured a believer in the comminuted recent shells of the boulder-clay as in the belemnites of the Oolite and Lias, or the ganoid ichthyalites of the Old Red Sandstone.

    I had marked, when at Wick, on several occasions, a thick boulder-clay deposit occupying the southern side of the harbour, and forming an elevated platform, on which the higher parts of Pulteneytown are built; but I had noted little else regarding it than that it bears the average dark-gray colour of the flagstones of the district, and that some of the granitic boulders which protrude from its top and sides are of vast size.  On my last visit, however, rather more than two years ago, when sauntering along its base, after a very wet morning, awaiting the Orkney steamer, I was surprised to find, where a small slip had taken place during the rain, that it was mottled over with minute fragments of shells.  These I examined, and found, so far as, in their extremely broken condition, I dared determine the point, that they belonged in such large proportion to one species,—the Cyprina islandica of Dr Fleming,—that I could detect among them only a single fragment of any other shell,—the pillar, apparently, of a large specimen of Purpura lapillus.  Both shells belong to that class of old existences,—long descended, without the pride of ancient descent,—which link on the extinct to the recent scenes of being.  Cyprina islandica and Purpura lapillus not only exist as living molluscs in the British seas, but they occur also as crag-shells, side by side with the dead races that have no place in the present fauna.  At this time, however, I could but think of them simply in their character as recent molluscs; and as it seemed quite startling enough to find them in a deposit which I had once deemed representative of a period of death, and still continued to regard as obstinately unfossiliferous, I next set myself to determine whether it really was the boulder-clay in which they occurred.  Almost the first pebble which I disengaged from the mass, however, settled the point, by furnishing the evidence on which for several years past I have been accustomed to settle it;—it bore in the line of its longer axis, on a polished surface, the freshly-marked grooves and scratchings of the iceberg era.  Still, however, I had my doubts, not regarding the deposit, but the shells.  Might they not belong merely to the talus of this bank of boulder-clay?—a re-formation, in all probability, not more ancient than the elevation of the most recent of the old coast lines,—perhaps greatly less so.  Meeting with an intelligent citizen of Wick, Mr John Cleghorn, I requested him to keep a vigilant eye on the shells, and to ascertain for me, when opportunity offered, whether they occurred deep in the deposit, or were restricted to merely the base of its exposed front.  On my return from Orkney, he kindly brought me a small collection of fragments, exclusively, so far as I could judge, of Cyprina islandica, picked up in fresh sections of the clay; at the same time expressing his belief that they really belonged to the deposit as such, and were not accidental introductions into it from the adjacent shore.  And at this point for nearly two years the matter rested, when my attention was again called to it by finding, in the publication of Mr Keith Johnstan's admirable Geological Map of the British Islands, edited by Professor Edward Forbes, that other eyes than mine had detected shells in the boulder-clay of Caithness.  "Cliffs of Pleistocene," says the Professor, in one of his notes attached to the map, "occur at Wick, containing boreal shells, especially Astarte borealis."

    I had seen the boulder-clay characteristically developed in the neighbourhood of Thurso; but, during a rather hurried visit, had lacked time to examine it.  The omission mattered the less, however, as my friend Mr Robert Dick is resident in the locality; and there are few men who examine more carefully or more perseveringly than he, or who can enjoy with higher relish the sweets of scientific research.  I wrote him regarding Professor Forbes's decision on the boulder-clay of Wick and its shells; urging him to ascertain whether the boulder-clay of Thurso had not its shells also.  And almost by return of post I received from him, in reply, a little packet of comminuted shells, dug out of a deposit of the boulder-clay, laid open by the river Thorsa, a full mile from the sea, and from eighty to a hundred feet over its level.  He had detected minute fragments of shell in the clay about a twelvemonth before; but a scepticism somewhat similar to my own, added to the dread of being deceived by mere surface shells, recently derived from the shore in the character of shell-sand, or of the edible species carried inland for food, and then transferred from the ash-pit to the fields, had not only prevented him from following up the discovery, but even from thinking of it as such.  But he eagerly followed it up now, by visiting every bank of the boulder-clay in his locality within twenty miles of Thurso, and found them all charged, from top to bottom, with comminuted shells, however great their distance from the sea, or their elevation over it.  The fragments lie thick along the course of the Thorsa, where the encroaching stream is scooping out the clay for the first time since its deposition, and laying bare the scratched and furrowed pebbles.  They occur, too, in the depths of solitary ravines far amid the moors, and underlie heath, and moss, and vegetable mould, on the exposed hill-sides.  The farmhouse of Dalemore, twelve miles from Thurso as the crow flies, and rather more than thirteen miles from Wick, occupies, as nearly as may be, the centre of the county; and yet there, as on the sea-shore, the boulder-clay is charged with its fragments of marine shells.  Though so barren elsewhere on the east coast of Scotland, the clay is everywhere in Caithness a shell-bearing deposit; and no sooner had Mr Dick determined the fact for himself, at the expense of many a fatiguing journey, and many an hour's hard digging, than he found that it had been ascertained long before, though, from the very inadequate style in which it had been recorded, science had in scarce any degree benefited by the discovery.  In 1802 the late Sir John Sinclair, distinguished for his enlightened zeal in developing the agricultural resources of the country, and for originating its statistics, employed a mineralogical surveyor to explore the underground treasures of the district; and the surveyor's journal he had printed under the title of "Minutes and Observations drawn up in the course of a Mineralogical Survey of the County of Caithness, ann. 1802, by John Busby, Edinburgh."  Now, in this journal there are frequent references made to the occurrence of marine shells in the blue clay.  Mr Dick has copied for me the two following entries,—for the work itself I have never seen:—"1802, Sept. 7th.—Surveyed down the river Thorsa to Geize; found blue clay-marl, intermixed with marine shells in great abundance."  "Sept. 12th.—Set off this morning for Dalemore.  Bored for shell-marl in the 'grass-park;' found it in one of the quagmires, but to no great extent.  Bored for shell-marl in the 'house-park.'  Surveyed by the side of the river, and found blue clay-marl in great plenty, intermixed with marine shells, such, as those found at Geize.  This place is supposed to be about twenty miles from the sea; and is one instance, among many in Caithness, of the ocean's covering the inland country at some former period of time."

    The state of keeping in which the boulder-shells of Caithness occur is exactly what, on the iceberg theory, might be premised.  The ponderous ice-rafts that went grating over the deep-sea bottom, grinding down its rocks into clay, and deeply furrowing its pebbles, must have borne heavily on its comparatively fragile shells.  If rocks and pebbles did not escape, the shells must have fared but hardly.  And very hardly they have fared: the rather unpleasant casualty of being crushed to death must have been a greatly more common one in those days than in even the present age of railways and machinery.  The reader, by passing half a bushel of the common shells of our shores through a barley-mill, as a preliminary operation in the process, and by next subjecting the broken fragments thus obtained to the attritive influence of the waves on some storm-beaten beach for a twelvemonth or two, as a finishing operation, may produce, when he pleases, exactly such a water-worn shelly debris as mottles the blue boulder-clays of Caithness.  The proportion borne by the fragments of one species of shell to that of all the others is very extraordinary.  The Cyprina islandica is still by no means a rare mollusc on our Scottish shores, and may, on an exposed coast, after a storm, be picked up by dozens, attached to the roots of the deep-sea tangle.  It is greatly less abundant, however, than such shells as Purpura lapillus, Mytilus edule, Cardium edule, Littorina littorea, and several others; whereas in the boulder-clay it is, in the proportion of at least ten to one, more abundant than all the others put together.  The great strength of the shell, however, may have in part led to this result; as I find that its stronger and massier portions,—those of the umbo and hinge joint,—are exceedingly numerous in proportion to its slimmer and weaker fragments.  "The Cyprina islandica," says Dr Fleming, in his "British Animals," "is the largest British bivalve shell, measuring sometimes thirteen inches in circumference, and, exclusively of the animal, weighing upwards of nine ounces."  Now, in a collection of fragments of Cyprina sent me by Mr Dick, disinterred from the boulder-clay in various localities in the neighbourhood of Thurso, and weighing in all about four ounces, I have detected the broken remains of no fewer than sixteen hinge joints.  And on the same principle through which the stronger fragments of Cyprina were preserved in so much larger proportion than the weaker ones, may Cyprina itself have been preserved in much larger proportion than its more fragile neighbours.  Occasionally, however,—escaped, as if by accident,—characteristic fragments are found of shells by no means very strong,—such as Mytilus, Tellina, and Astarte.  Among the univalves I can distinguish Dentalium entale, Purpura lapillus, Turritella terebra, and Littorina littorea, all existing shells, but all common also to at least the later deposits of the Crag.  And among the bivalves Mr Dick enumerates,—besides the prevailing Cyprina islandica,—Venus casina, Cardium edule, Cardium echinatum, Mytilus edule, Astarte danmoniensis (sulcata), and Astarte compressa, with a Mactra, Artemis, and Tellina. [6]  All the determined species here, with the exception of Mytilus edule, have, with many others, been found by the Rev. Mr Cumming in the boulder-clays of the Isle of Man; and all of them are living shells at the present day on our Scottish coasts.  It seems scarce possible to fix the age of a deposit so broken in its organisms, on the principle that would first seek to determine its percentage of extinct shells as the data on which to found.  One has to search sedulously and long ere a fragment turns up sufficiently entire for the purpose of specific identification, even when it belongs to a well-known living shell; and did the clay contain some six or eight per cent. of the extinct in a similarly broken condition (and there is no evidence that it contains a single per cent. of extinct shells), I know not how, in the circumstances, the fact could ever be determined.  A lifetime might be devoted to the task of fixing their real proportion, and yet be devoted to it in vain.  All that at present can be said is, that, judging from what appears, the boulder-clays of Caithness, and with them the boulder-clays of Scotland generally, and of the Isle of Man,—for they are all palpably connected with the same iceberg phenomena, and occur along the same zone in reference to the sea-level,—were formed during the existing geological epoch.

    These details may appear tediously minute; but let the reader mark how very much they involve.  The occurrence of recent shells largely diffused throughout the boulder-clays of Caithness, at all heights and distances from the sea at which the clay itself occurs, and not only connected with the iceberg phenomena by the closest juxtaposition, but also testifying distinctly to its agency by the extremely comminuted state in which we find them, tell us, not only according to old John Busby, "that the ocean covered the inland country at some former period of time," but that it covered it to a great height at a time geologically recent, when our seas were inhabited by exactly the same mollusca as inhabit them now, and, so far as yet appears, by none others.  I have not yet detected the boulder-clay at more than from six to eight hundred feet over the level of the sea; but the travelled boulders I have often found at more than a thousand feet over it; and Dr John Fleming, the correctness of whose observations few men acquainted with the character of his researches or of his mind will be disposed to challenge, has informed me that he has detected the dressed and polished surfaces at least four hundred feet higher.  There occurs a greenstone boulder, of from twelve to fourteen tons weight, says Mr M'Laren, in his "Geology of Fife and the Lothians," on the south side of Black Hill (one of the Pentland range), at about fourteen hundred feet over the sea.  Now fourteen or fifteen hundred feet, taken as the extreme height of the dressings, though they are said to occur greatly higher, would serve to submerge in the iceberg ocean almost the whole agricultural region of Scotland.  The common hazel (Corylus avellana) ceases to grow in the latitude of the Grampians at from one thousand two hundred to one thousand five hundred feet over the sea-level; the common bracken (Pteris aquilina) at about the same height; and corn is never successfully cultivated at a greater altitude.  Where the hazel and bracken cease to grow, it is in vain to attempt growing corn. [7]  In the period of the boulder-clay, then, when the existing shells of our coasts lived in those inland sounds and friths of the country that now exist as broad plains or fertile valleys, the sub-aerial superficies of Scotland was restricted to what are now its barren and mossy regions, and formed, instead of one continuous land, merely three detached groups of islands,—the small Cheviot and Hartfell group,—the greatly larger Grampian and Ben Nevis group,—and a group intermediate in size, extending from Mealfourvonny, on the northern shores of Loch Ness, to the Maiden Paps of Caithness.

    The more ancient boulder-clays of Scotland seem to have been formed when the land was undergoing a slow process of subsidence, or, as I should perhaps rather say, when a very considerable area of the earth's surface, including the sea-bottom, as well as the eminences that rose over it, was the subject of a gradual depression; for little or no alteration appears to have taken place at the time in the relative levels of the higher and lower portions of the sinking area: the features of the land in the northern part of the kingdom, from the southern flanks of the Grampians to the Pentland Frith, seem to have been fixed in nearly the existing forms many ages before, at the close, apparently, of the Oolitic period, and at a still earlier age in the Lammermuir district, to the south.  And so the sea around our shores must have deepened in the ratio in which the hills sank.  The evidence of this process of subsidence is of a character tolerably satisfactory.  The dressed surfaces occur in Scotland, most certainly, as I have already stated on the authority of Dr Fleming, at the height of fourteen hundred feet over the present sea-level; it has been even said, at fully twice that height, on the lofty flanks of Schehallion,—a statement, however, which I have had hitherto no opportunity of verifying.  They may be found, too, equally well marked, under the existing high-water line; and it is obviously impossible that the dressing process could have been going on at the higher and lower levels at the same time.  When the icebergs were grating along the more elevated rocks, the low-lying ones must have been buried under from three to seven hundred fathoms of water,—a depth from three to seven times greater, be it remembered, than that at which the most ponderous iceberg could possibly have grounded, or have in any degree affected the bottom.  The dressing process, then, must have been a bit-and-bit process, carried on during either a period of elevation, in which the rising land was subjected, zone after zone, to the sweep of the armed ice from its higher levels downwards, or during a period of subsidence, in which it was subjected to the ice, zone after zone, from its lower levels upwards.  And that it was the lower, not the higher levels, that were first dressed, appears evident from the circumstance, that though on these lower levels we find the rocks covered up by continuous beds of the boulder-clay, varying generally from twenty to a hundred feet in thickness, they are, notwithstanding, as completely dressed under the clay as on the heights above.  Had it been a rising land that was subjected to the attrition of the icebergs, the debris and dressings of the higher rocks would have protected the lower from the attrition; and so the thick accumulation of boulder-clay which overlies the old coast line, for instance, would have rested, not on dressed, but on undressed surfaces.  The barer rocks of the lower levels might of course exhibit their scratchings and polishings, like those of the higher; but wherever these scratchings and polishings occurred in the inferior zones, no thick protecting stratum of boulder-clay would be found overlying them; and, vice versa, wherever in these zones there occurred thick beds of boulder-clay, there would be detected on the rock beneath no scratchings and polishings.  In order to dress the entire surface of a country from the sea-line and under it to the tops of its hills, and at the same time to cover up extensive portions of its low-lying rocks with vast deposits of clay, it seems a necessary condition of the process that it should be carried on piece-meal from the lower levels upwards,—not from the higher downwards.

    It interested me much to find, that while from one set of appearances I had been inferring the gradual subsidence of the land during the period of the boulder-clay, the Rev. Mr Cumming of King William's College had arrived, from the consideration of quite a different class of phenomena, at a similar conclusion.  "It appears to me highly probable," I find him remarking, in his lately published "Isle of Man," "that at the commencement of the boulder period there was a gradual sinking of this area [that of the island].  Successively, therefore, the points at different degrees of elevation were brought within the influence of the sea, and exposed to the rake of the tides, charged with masses of ice which had been floated off from the surrounding shores, and bearing on their under surfaces, mud, gravel, and fragments of hard rock."  Mr Cumming goes on to describe, in his volume, some curious appearances, which seem to bear direct on this point, in connection with a boss of a peculiarly-compounded granite, which occurs in the southern part of the island, about seven hundred feet over the level of the sea.  There rise on the western side of the boss two hills, one of which attains to the elevation of nearly seven hundred, and the other of nearly eight hundred feet over it; and yet both hills to their summits are mottled over with granite boulders, furnished by the comparatively low-lying boss.  One of these travelled masses, fully two tons in weight, lies not sixty feet from the summit of the loftier hill, at an altitude of nearly fifteen hundred feet over the sea.  Now, it seems extremely difficult to conceive of any other agency than that of a rising sea or of a subsiding land, through which these masses could have been rolled up the steep slopes of the hills.  Had the boulder period been a period of elevation, or merely a stationary period, during which the land neither rose nor sank, the travelled boulders would not now be found resting at higher levels than that of the parent rock whence they were derived.  We occasionally meet on our shores, after violent storms from the sea, stones that have been rolled from their place at low ebb to nearly the line of flood; but we always find that it was by he waves of the rising, not of the falling tide, that their transport was effected.  For whatever removals of the kind take place during an ebbing sea are invariably in an opposite direction;—they are removals, not from lower to higher levels, but from higher to lower.

    The upper subsoils of Scotland bear frequent mark of the elevatory period which succeeded this period of depression.  The boulder-clay has its numerous intercalated arenaceous and gravelly beds, which belong evidently to its own era; but the numerous surface-beds of stratified sand and gravel by which in so many localities it is overlaid belong evidently to a later time.  When, after possibly a long protracted period, the land again began to rise, or the sea to fall, the superior portions of the boulder-clay must have been exposed to the action of tides and waves; and the same process of separation of parts must have taken place on a large scale, which one occasionally sees taking place in the present time on a comparatively small one, in ravines of the same clay swept by a streamlet.  After every shower, the stream comes down red and turbid with the finer and more argillaceous portions of the deposit; minute accumulations of sand are swept to the gorge of the ravine, or cast down in ripple marked patches in its deeper pools; beds of pebbles and gravel are heaped up in every inflection of its banks; and boulders are laid bare along its sides.  Now, a separation, by a sort of washing process of an analogous character, must have taken place in the materials of the more exposed portions of the boulder-clay, during the gradual emergence of the land; and hence, apparently, those extensive beds of sand and gravel which in so many parts of the kingdom exist, in relation to the clay, as a superior or upper subsoil; hence, too, occasional beds of a purer clay than that beneath, divested of a considerable portion of its arenaceous components, and of almost all its pebbles and boulders.  This washed clay,—a re-formation of the boulder deposit, cast down, mostly in insulated beds in quiet localities, where the absence of currents suffered the purer particles held in suspension by the water to settle,—forms, in Scotland at least, with, of course, the exception of the ancient fire-clays of the Coal Measures, the true brick and tile clays of the agriculturist and architect.

    It is to these superior beds that all the recent shells yet found above the existing sea-level in Scotland, from the Dornoch Frith and beyond it, to beyond the Frith of Forth, seem to belong.  Their period is much less remote than that of the shells of the boulder-clay, and they rarely occur in the same comminuted condition.  They existed, it would appear, not during the chill twilight period, when the land was in a state of subsidence, but during the after period of cheerful dawn, when hill-top after hill-top was emerging from the deep, and the close of each passing century witnessed a broader area of dry land in what is now Scotland, than the close of the century which had gone before.  Scandinavia is similarly rising at the present day, and presents with every succeeding age a more extended breadth of surface.  Many of the boulder-stones seem to have been cast down where they now lie, during this latter time.  When they occur, as in many instances, high on bare hill-tops, from five to fifteen hundred feet over the sea-level, with neither gravel nor boulder-clay beside them, we of course cannot fix their period.  They may have been dropped by ice-floes or shore-ice, where we now find them, at the commencement of the period of elevation, after the clay had been formed; or they may have been deposited by more ponderous icebergs during its formation, when the land was yet sinking, though during the subsequent rise the clay may have been washed from around them to lower levels.  The boulders, however, which we find scattered over the plains and less elevated hill-sides, with beds of the washed gravel or sand interposed between them and the clay, must have been cast down where they lie, during the elevatory ages.  For, had they been washed out of the clay, they would have lain, not over the greatly lighter sands and gravels, but under them.  Would that they could write their own histories!  The autobiography of a single boulder, with notes on the various floras which had sprung up around it, and the various classes of birds, beasts, and insects by which it had been visited, would be worth nine-tenths of all the autobiographies ever published, and a moiety of the remainder to boot.

    A few hundred yards from the opening of this dell of the boulder-clay, in which I have so long detained the reader, there is a wooded inflection of the bank, formed by the old coast line, in which there stood, about two centuries ago, a meal-mill, with the cottage of the miller, and which was once known as the scene of one of those supernaturalities that belong to the times of the witch and the fairy.  The upper anchoring-place of the bay lies nearly opposite the inflection.  A shipmaster, who had moored his vessel in this part of the roadstead, some time in the latter days of the first Charles, was one fine evening sitting alone on deck, awaiting the return of his seamen, who had gone ashore, and amusing himself in watching the lights that twinkled from the scattered farm-houses, and in listening, in the extreme stillness of the calm, to the distant lowing of cattle, or the abrupt bark of the herdsman's dog.  As the hour wore later, the sounds ceased, and the lights disappeared,—all but one solitary taper, that twinkled from the window of the miller's cottage.  At length, however, it also disappeared, and all was dark around the shores of the bay, as a belt of black velvet.  Suddenly a hissing noise was heard overhead; the shipmaster looked up, and saw what seemed to be one of those meteors known as falling stars, slanting athwart the heavens in the direction of the cottage, and increasing in size and brilliancy as it neared the earth, until the wooded ridge and the shore could be seen as distinctly from the ship-deck as by day.  A dog howled piteously from one of the outhouses,—an owl whooped from the wood.  The meteor descended until it almost touched the roof, when a cock crew from within; its progress seemed instantly arrested; it stood still, rose about the height of a ship's mast, and then began again to descend.  The cock crew a second time; it rose as before; and, after mounting considerably higher than at first, again sank in the line of the cottage, to be again arrested by the crowing of the cock.  It mounted yet a third time, rising higher still; and, in its last descent, had almost touched the roof, when the faint clap of wings was heard as if whispered over the water, followed by a still louder note of defiance from the cock.  The meteor rose with a bound, and, continuing to ascend until it seemed lost among the stars, did not again appear.  Next night, however, at the same hour, the same scene was repeated in all its circumstances: the meteor descended, the dog howled, the owl whooped, the cock crew.  On the following morning the shipmaster visited the miller's, and, curious to ascertain how the cottage would fare when the cock was away, he purchased the bird; and, sailing from the bay before nightfall, did not return until about a month after.

    On his voyage inwards, he had no sooner doubled an intervening headland, than he stepped forward to the bows to take a peep at the cottage: it had vanished.  As he approached the anchoring ground, he could discern a heap of blackened stones occupying the place where it had stood; and he was informed on going ashore, that it had been burnt to the ground, no one knew how, on the very night he had quitted the bay.  He had it re-built and furnished, says the story, deeming himself what one of the old schoolmen would perhaps term the occasional cause of the disaster.  He also returned the cock,—probably a not less important benefit,—and no after accident befel the cottage.  About fifteen years ago there was a human skeleton dug up near the scene of the tradition, with the skull, and the bones of the legs and feet, lying close together, as if the body had been huddled up twofold in a hole; and this discovery led to that of the story, which, though at one time often repeated and extensively believed, had been suffered to sleep in the memories of a few elderly people for nearly sixty years.


 
CHAPTER VII.


    THE ravine excavated by the mill-dam showed me what I had never so well seen before,—the exact relation borne by the deep red stone of the Cromarty quarries to the ichthyolite beds of the system.  It occupies the same place, and belongs to the same period, as those superior beds of the Lower Old Red Sandstone which are so largely developed in the cliffs of Dunnet Head in Caithness, and of Tarbet Ness in Rossshire, and which were at one time regarded as forming, north of the Grampians, the analogue of the New Red Sandstone.  I paced it across the strata this morning, in the line of the ravine, and found its thickness over the upper fish-beds, though I was far from reaching its superior layers, which are buried here in the sea, to be rather more than five hundred feet.  The fossiliferous beds occur a few hundred yards below the dwelling-house of Rose Farm.  They are not quite uncovered in the ravine; but we find their places indicated by heaps of gray argillaceous shale, mingled with their characteristic ichthyolitic nodules, in one of which I found a small specimen of Cheiracanthus.  The projecting edge of some fossil-charged bed had been struck, mayhap, by an iceberg, and dashed into ruins, just as the subsiding land had brought the spot within reach of the attritive ice; and the broken heap thus detached had been shortly afterwards covered up, without mixture of any other deposit, by the red boulder-clay.  On the previous day I had detected the fish-beds in another new locality,—one of the ravines of the lawn of Cromarty House,—where the gray shale, concealed by a covering of soil and sward for centuries, had been laid bare during the storm by a swollen runnel, and a small nodule, inclosing a characteristic plate of Pterichthys, washed out.  And my next object in to-day's journey, after exploring this ravine of the boulder-clay, was to ascertain whether the beds did not also occur in a ravine of the parish of Avoch, some eight or nine miles away, which, when lying a-bed one night in Edinburgh, I remembered having crossed when a boy, at a point which lies considerably out of the ordinary route of the traveller.  I had remarked on this occasion, as the resuscitated recollection intimated, that the precipices of the Avoch ravine bore, at the unfrequented point, the peculiar aspect which I learned many years after to associate with the ichthyolitic member of the system; and I was now quite as curious to test the truth of a sort of vignette landscape, transferred to the mind at an immature period of life, and preserved in it for full thirty years, as desirous to extend my knowledge of the fossiliferous beds of a system to the elucidation of which I had peculiarly devoted myself.

    As the traveller reaches the flat moory uplands of the parish, where the water stagnates amid heath and moss over a thin layer of peaty soil, he finds the underlying boulder-clay, as shown in the chance sections, spotted and streaked with patches of a grayish-white.  There is the same mixture of arenaceous and aluminous particles in the white as in the red portions of the mass; for, as we see so frequently exemplified in the spots and streaks of the Red Sandstone formations, whether Old or New, the colouring matter has been discharged without any accompanying change of composition in the substance which it pervaded—evidence enough that the red dye must be something distinct from the substance itself, just as the dye of a handkerchief is a thing distinct from the silk or cotton yarn of which the handkerchief has been woven.  The stagnant water above, acidulated by its various vegetable solutions, seems to have been in some way connected with these appearances.  In every case in which a crack through the clay gives access to the oozing moisture, we see the sides bleached, for several feet downwards, to nearly the colour of pipe-clay; we find the surface, too, when it has been divested of the vegetable soil, presenting for yards together the appearance of sheets of half-bleached linen: the red ground of the clay has been acted upon by the percolating fluid, as the red ground of a Bandona handkerchief is acted upon through the openings in the perforated lead, by the discharging chloride of lime.  The peculiar chemistry through which these changes are effected might be found, carefully studied, to throw much light on similar phenomena in the older formations.  There are quarries in the New Red Sandstone in which almost every mass of stone presents a different shade of colour from that of its neighbouring mass, and quarries in the Old Red the strata of which we find streaked and spotted like pieces of calico.  And their variegated aspect seems to have been communicated, in every instance, not during deposition, nor after they had been hardened into stone, but when, like the boulder-clay, they existed in an intermediate state.  Be it remarked, too, that the red clay here, evidently derived from the abrasion of the red rocks beneath,—is in dye and composition almost identical with the substance on which, as an unconsolidated sandstone, the bleaching influences, whatever their character, had operated in the Palćozoic period, so many long ages before;—it is a repetition of the ancient experiment in the Old Red, that we now see going on in the boulder-clay.  It is further worthy of notice, that the bleached lines of the clay exhibit, viewed horizontally, when the overlying vegetable mould has been removed, and the whitened surface in immediate contact with it pared off, a polygonal arrangement, like that assumed by the cracks in the bottom of clayey pools dried up in summer by the heat of the sun.  Can these possibly indicate the ancient rents and fissures of the boulder-clay, formed, immediately after the upheaval of the land, in the first process of drying, and remaining afterwards open enough to receive what the uncracked portions of the surface excluded,—the acidulated bleaching fluid?

    The kind of ferruginous pavement of the boulder-clay known to the agriculturist as pan, which may be found extending in some cases its iron cover over whole districts,—sealing them down to barrenness, as the iron and brass sealed down the stump of Nebuchadnezzar's tree,—is, like the white strips and blotches of the deposit, worthy the careful notice of the geologist.  It serves to throw some light on the origin of those continuous bands of clayey or arenaceous ironstone, which in the older formations in which vegetable matter abounds, whether Oolitic or Carboniferous, are of such common occurrence.  The pan is a stony stratum, scarcely less indurated in some localities than sandstone of the average hardness, that rests like a pavement on the surface of the boulder-clay, and that generally bears atop a thin layer of sterile soil, darkened by a russet covering of stunted heath.  The binding cement of the pan is, as I have said, ferruginous, and seems to have been derived from the vegetable covering above.  Of all plants, the heaths are found to contain most iron.  Nor is it difficult to conceive how, in comparatively flat tracts of heathy moor, where the surface-water sinks to the stiff subsoil, and on which one generation of plants after another has been growing and decaying for many centuries, the minute metallic particles, disengaged in the process of decomposition, and carried down by the rains to the impermeable clay, should, by accumulating there, bind the layer on which they rest, as is the nature of ferruginous oxide, into a continuous stony crust.  Wherever this pan occurs, we find the superincumbent soil doomed to barrenness,—and sun-baked during the summer and autumn months, and, from the same cause, overcharged with moisture in winter and spring.  My friend Mr Swanson, when schoolmaster of Nigg, found a large garden attached to the school-house so inveterately sterile as to be scarce worth cultivation; a thin stratum of mould rested on a hard impermeable pavement of pan, through which not a single root could penetrate to the tenacious but not unkindly subsoil below.  He set himself to work in his leisure hours, and bit by bit laid bare and broke up the pavement.  The upper mould, long divorced from the clay on which it had once rested, was again united to it; the piece of ground began gradually to alter its character for the better; and when I last passed the way, I found it, though in a state of sad neglect, covered by a richer vegetation than it had ever borne under the more careful management of my friend.  This ferruginous pavement of the boulder-clay may be deemed of interest to the geologist, as a curious instance of deposition in a dense medium, and as illustrative of the changes which may be effected on previously existing strata, through the agency of an overlying vegetation.

    I passed, on my way, through the ancient battle-field to which I have incidentally referred in the story of the Miller of Resolis. [8]  Modern improvement has not yet marred it by the plough; and so it still bears on its brown surface many a swelling tumulus and flat oblong mound, and—where the high road of the district passes along its eastern edge—the huge gray cairn, raised, says tradition, over the body of an ancient Pictish king.  But the contest of which it was the scene belongs to a profoundly dark period, ere the gray dawn of Scottish history began.  As shown by the remains of ancient art occasionally dug up on the moor, it was a conflict of the times of the stone battle-axe, the flint arrow-head, and the unglazed sepulchral urn, unindebted for aught of its symmetry to the turning-lathe,—times when there were heroes in abundance, but no scribes.  And the cairn, about a hundred feet in length and breadth, by about twenty in height, with its long hoary hair of overgrown lichen waving in the breeze, and the trailing club-moss shooting upwards from its base along its sides, bears in its every lineament full mark of its great age.  It is a mound striding across the stream of centuries, to connect the past with the present.  And yet, after all, what a mere matter of yesterday its extreme antiquity is!  My explorations this morning bore reference to but the later eras of the geologist: the portion of the geologic volume which I was attempting to decipher and translate formed the few terminal paragraphs of its concluding chapter.  And yet the finis had been added to them for thousands of years ere this latter antiquity began.  The boulder-clay had been formed and deposited; the land, in rising over the waves, had had many a huge pebble washed out of its last formed red stratum, or dropped upon it by ice-floes from above; and these pebbles lay mottling the surface of this barren moor for mile after mile, bleaching pale to the rains and the sun, as the meagre and mossy soil received, in the lapse of centuries, its slow accessions of organic matter, and darkened around them.  And then, for a few brief hours, the heath, no longer solitary, became a wild scene of savage warfare,—of waving arms and threatening faces,—and of human lives violently spilled, gushing forth in blood; and, when all was over, the old weathered boulders were heaped up above the slain, and there began a new antiquity in relation to the pile in its gathered state, that bore reference to man's short lifetime, and to the recent introduction of the species.  The child of a few summers speaks of the events of last year as long gone by; while his father, advanced into middle life, regards them as still fresh and recent.

    I reached the Burn of Killein,—the scene of my purposed explorations,—where it bisects the Inverness road; and struck down the rocky ravine, in the line of the descending strata and the falling streamlet, towards the point at which I had crossed it so many years before.  First I passed along a thick bed of yellow stone,—next over a bed of stratified clay.  "The little boy," I said, "took correct note of what he saw, though without special aim at the time, and as much under the guidance of a more observative instinct as Dame Quickly, when she took note of the sea-coal fire, the round table, the parcel-gilt goblet, and goodwife Keech's dish of prawns dressed in vinegar, as adjuncts of her interview with old Sir John when he promised to marry her.  These are unequivocally the ichthyolitic beds, whether they contain ichthyolites or no."  The first nodule I laid open presented inside merely a pale oblong patch in the centre, which I examined in vain with the lens, though convinced of its organic origin, for a single scale.  Proceeding farther down the stream, I picked a nodule out of a second and lower bed, which contained more evidently its organism,—a finely-reticulated fragment, that at first sight reminded me of some delicate festinella of the Silurian system.  It proved, however, to be part of the tail of a Cheiracanthus, exhibiting—what is rarely shown the interior surfaces of those minute rectangular scales which in this genus lie over the caudal fin, ranged in right lines.  A second nodule presented me with the spines of Diplacanthus striatus; and still farther down the stream,—for the beds are numerous here, and occupy in vertical extent very considerable space in the system,—I detected a stratum of bulky nodules charged with fragments of Coccosteus, belonging chiefly to two species,—Coccosteus decipiens and Coccosteus cuspidatus.  All the specimens bore conclusive evidence regarding the geologic place and character of the beds in which they occur; and in one of the number, a specimen of Coccosteus decipiens, sufficiently fine to be transferred to my knapsack, and which now occupies its corner in my little collection, the head exhibits all its plates in their proper order, and the large dorsal plate, though dissociated from the nail-like attachment of the nape, presents its characteristic breadth entire.  It was the plates of this species, first found in the flagstones of Caithness, which were taken for those of a freshwater tortoise; and hence apparently its specific name, decipiens;—it is the deceiving Coccosteus.  I disinterred, in the course of my explorations, as many nodules as lay within reach,—now and then longing for a pick-axe, and a companion robust and persevering enough to employ it with effect; and after seeing all that was to be seen in the bed of the stream and the precipices, I retraced my steps up the dell to the highway.  And then, striking off across the moor to the north,—ascending in the system as I climbed the eminence, which forms here the central ridge of the old Maolbuie Common,—I spent some little time in a quarry of pale red sandstone, known, from the moory height on which it has been opened, as the quarry of the Maolbuie. But here, as elsewhere, the folds of that upper division of the Lower Old Red in which it has been excavated contain nothing organic.  Why this should be so universally the case,—for in Caithness, Orkney, Cromarty, and Ross, wherever, in short, this member of the system is unequivocally developed, it is invariably barren of remains,—cannot, I suspect, be very satisfactorily explained.  Fossils occur both over and under it, in rocks that seem as little favourable to their preservation; but during that intervening period which its blank strata represent, at least the species of all the ichthyolites of the system seem to have changed, and, so far as is yet known, the genus Coccosteus died out entirely.

    The Black Isle has been elaborately described in the last Statistical Account of the Parish of Avoch as comprising at least the analogues of three vast geologic systems.  The Great Conglomerate, and the thick bed of coarse sandstone of corresponding character that lies over it, compose all which is not primary rock of that south-eastern ridge of the district which forms the shores of the Moray Frith; and they are represented in the Account as Old Red Sandstone proper.  Then, next in order,—forming the base of a parallel ridge,—come those sandstone and argillaceous bands to which the ichthyolite beds belong; and these, though at the time the work appeared their existence in the locality could be but guessed at, are described as representatives of the Coal Measures.  Last of all there occur those superior sandstones of the Lower Old Red formation in which the quarry of the Maolbuie has been opened, and which are largely developed in the central or back-bone ridge of the district.  "And these," says the writer, "we have little hesitation in assigning to the New Red, or variegated Sandstone formation."  I remember that some thirteen years ago,—in part misled by authority, and in part really afraid to represent beds of such an enormous aggregate thickness as all belonging to one inconsiderable formation,—for such was the character of the Old Red Sandstone at the time,—I ventured, though hesitatingly, and with less of detail, on a somewhat similar statement regarding the sandstone deposits of the parish of Cromarty.  But true it is, notwithstanding, that the stratified rocks of the Black Isle are composed generally, not of the analogues of three systems, but of merely a fractional portion of a single system,—a fact previously established in other parts of the district, and which my discovery of this day in the Burn of Killein served yet farther to confirm in relation to that middle portion of the tract in which the parish of Avoch is situated.  The geologic records, unlike the Sybilline books, grow in volume and number as one pauses and hesitates over them; demanding, however, with every addition to their bulk, a larger and yet larger sum of epochs and of ages.

    The sun had got low in the western sky, and I had at least some eight or nine miles of rough road still before me; but the day had been a happy and not unsuccessful one, and so its hard work had failed to fatigue.  The shadows, however, were falling brown and deep on the bleak Maolbuie, as I passed, on my return, the solitary cairn; and it was dark night long ere I reached Cromarty.  Next morning I quitted the town for the upper reaches of the Frith, to examine yet further the superficial deposits and travelled boulders of the district.

    I landed at Invergordon a little after noon, from the Leith steamer, that, on its way to the upper ports of the Moray and Dingwall Friths, stops at Cromarty for passengers every Wednesday; and then passing direct through the village, I took the western road which winds along the shore towards Strathpeffer, skirting on the right the ancient province of the Munroes.  The day was clear and genial; and the wide-spreading woods of this part of the country, a little touched by their autumnal tints of brown and yellow, gave a warmth of hue to the landscape, which at an earlier season it wanted.  A few slim streaks of semi-transparent mist, that barred the distant hill-peaks, and a few towering piles of intensely white cloud, that shot across the deep blue of the heavens, gave warning that the earlier part of the day was to be in all probability the better part of it, and that the harvest of observation which it was ultimately to yield might be found to depend on the prompt use made of the passing hour.  What first attracts the attention of the geologist, in journeying westwards, is the altered colour of the boulder-clay, as exhibited in ditches by the way-side, or along the shore.  It no longer presents that characteristic red tint,—borrowed from the red sandstone beneath,—so prevalent over the Black Isle, and in Easter Ross generally—but is of a cold leaden hue, not unlike that which it wears above the Coal Measures of the south, or over the flagstones of Caithness.  The altered colour here is evidently a consequence of the large development, in Ferindonald and Strathpeffer, of the ichthyolitic members of the Old Red, existing chiefly as fśtid bituminous breccias and dark-coloured sandstones: the boulder-clay of the locality forms the dressings, not of red, but of blackish-gray rocks; and, as almost everywhere else in Scotland, its trail lies to the east of the strata, from which it was detached in the character of an impalpable mud by the age-protracted grindings of the denuding agent.  It abounds in masses of bituminous breccia, some of which, of great size, seem to have been drifted direct from the valley of Strathpeffer, and are identical in structure and composition with the rock in which the mineral springs of the Strath have their rise, and to which they owe their peculiar qualities.

    After walking on for about eight miles, through noble woods and a lovely country, I struck from off the high road at the pretty little village of Evanton, and pursued the course of the river Auldgrande, first through intermingled fields and patches of copsewood, and then through a thick fir wood, to where the bed of the stream contracts from a boulder-strewed bottom of ample breadth, to a gloomy fissure, so deep and dark, that in many places the water cannot be seen, and so narrow, that the trees which shoot out from the opposite sides interlace their branches atop.  Large banks of the gray boulder-clay, laid open by the river, and charged with fragments of dingy sandstone and dark-coloured breccia, testify, along the lower reaches of the stream, to the near neighbourhood of the ichthyolitic member of the Old Red; but where the banks contract, we find only its lowest member, the Great Conglomerate.  This last is by far the most picturesque member of the system,—abrupt and bold of outline in its hills, and mural in its precipices.  And nowhere does it exhibit a wilder or more characteristic beauty than at the tall narrow portal of the Auldgrande, where the river,—after wailing for miles in a pent-up channel, narrow as one of the lanes of old Edinburgh, and hemmed in by walls quite as perpendicular, and nearly twice as lofty,—suddenly expands, first into a deep brown pool, and then into a broad tumbling stream, that, as if permanently affected in temper by the strict severity of the discipline to which its early life had been subjected, frets and chafes in all its after course, till it loses itself in the sea. The banks, ere we reach the opening of the chasm, have become steep, and wild, and densely wooded; and there stand out on either hand, giant crags, that plant their iron feet in the stream; here girdled with belts of rank succulent shrubs, that love the damp shade and the frequent drizzle of the spray; and there hollow and bare, with their round pebbles sticking out from the partially decomposed surface, like the piled-up skulls in the great underground cemetery of the Parisians.  Massy trees, with their green fantastic roots rising high over the scanty soil, and forming many a labyrinthine recess for the frog, the toad, and the newt, stretch forth their gnarled arms athwart the stream.  In front of the opening, with but a black deep pool between, there lies a mid-way bank of huge stones.  Of these, not a few of the more angular masses still bear, though sorely worn by the torrent, the mark of the blasting iron, and were evidently tumbled into the chasm from the fields above.  But in the chasm there was no rest for them, and so the arrowy rush of the water in the confined channel swept them down, till they dropped where they now lie, just where the widening bottom first served to dissipate the force of the current.  And over the sullen pool in front we may see the stern pillars of the portal rising from eighty to a hundred feet in height and scarce twelve feet apart, like the massive obelisks of some Egyptian temple; while, in gloomy vista within, projection starts out beyond projection, like column beyond column in some narrow avenue of approach to Luxor or Carnac.  The precipices are green, with some moss or byssus, that, like the miner, chooses a subterranean habitat,—for here the rays of the sun never fall; the dead mossy water beneath, from which the cliffs rise so abruptly, bears the hue of molten pitch; the trees, fast anchored in the rock, shoot out their branches across the opening, to form a thick tangled roof, at the height of a hundred and fifty feet overhead; while from the recesses within, where the eye fails to penetrate, there issues a combination of the strangest and wildest sounds ever yet produced by water: there is the deafening rush of the torrent, blent as if with the clang of hammers, the roar of vast bellows, and the confused gabble of a thousand voices.  The sun, hastening to its setting, shone red, yet mellow, through the foliage of the wooded banks on the west, where, high above, they first curve from the sloping level of the fields, to bend over the stream; or fell more direct on the jutting cliffs and bosky dingles opposite, burnishing them as if with gold and fire; but all was coldly-hued at the bottom, where the torrent foamed gray and chill under the brown shadow of the banks; and where the narrow portal opened an untrodden way into the mysterious recesses beyond, the shadow deepened almost into blackness.  The scene lacked but a ghost to render it perfect.  An apparition walking from within, like the genius in one of Goldsmith's essays, "along the surface of the water," would have completed it at once.

    Laying hold of an overhanging branch, I warped myself upwards from the bed of the stream along the face of a precipice, and, reaching its sloping top, forced my way to the wood above, over a steep bank covered with tangled underwood, and a slim succulent herbage, that sickened for want of the sun.  The yellow light was streaming through many a shaggy vista, as, threading my way along the narrow ravine as near the steep edge as the brokenness of the ground permitted, I reached a huge mass of travelled rock, that had been dropped in the old boulder period within a yard's length of the brink.  It is composed of a characteristic granitic gneiss of a pale flesh-colour, streaked with black, that, in the hand-specimen, can scarce be distinguished from a true granite, but which, viewed in the mass, presents, in the arrangement of its intensely dark mica, evident marks of stratification, and which is remarkable, among other things, for furnishing almost all the very large boulders of this part of the country.  Unlike many of the granitic gneisses, it is a fine solid stone, and would cut well.  When I had last the pleasure of spending a few hours with the late Mr William Laidlaw, the trusted friend of Sir Walter Scott, he intimated to me his intention,—pointing to a boulder of this species of gneiss,—of having it cut into two oblong pedestals, with which he purposed flanking the entrance to the mansion-house of the chief of the Rosses,—the gentleman whose property he at that time superintended.  It was, he said, both in appearance and history, the most remarkable stone on the lands of Balnagown; and so he was desirous that it should be exhibited at Balnagown Castle to the best advantage.  But as he fell shortly after into infirm health, and resigned his situation, I know not that he ever carried his purpose into effect.  The boulder here, beside the chasm, measures about twelve feet in length and breadth, by from five to six in height, and contains from eight to nine hundred cubic feet of stone.  On its upper table-like surface I found a few patches of moss and lichen, and a slim reddening tuft of the Vaccinium myrtillus, still bearing, late as was the season, its half-dozen blaeberries.  This pretty little plant occurs in great profusion along the steep edges of the Auldgrande, where its delicate bushes, springing up amid long heath and ling, and crimsoned by the autumnal tinge, gave a peculiar warmth and richness this evening to those bosky spots under the brown trees, or in immediate contact with the dark chasm on which the sunlight fell most strongly; and on all the more perilous projections I found the dark berries still shrivelling on their stems.  Thirty years earlier I would scarce have left them there; and the more perilous the crag on which they had grown, the more deliciously would they have eaten.  But every period of life has its own playthings; and I was now chiefly engaged with the deep chasm and the huge boulder.  Chasm and boulder had come to have greatly more of interest to me than the delicate berries, or than even that sovereign dispeller of ennui and low spirits, an adventurous scramble among the cliffs.

    In what state did the chasm exist when the huge boulder,—detached, mayhap, at the close of a severe frost, from some island of the archipelago that is now the northern Highlands of Scotland,—was suffered to drop beside it, from some vast ice-floe drifting eastwards on the tide?  In all probability merely as a fault in the Conglomerate, similar to many of those faults which in the Coal Measures of the southern districts we find occupied by continuous dikes of trap.  But in this northern region, where the trap-rocks are unknown, it must have been filled up with the boulder-clay, or with some still more ancient accumulation of debris.  And when the land had risen, and the streams, swollen into rivers, flowed along the hollows which they now occupy, the loose rubbish would in the lapse of ages gradually wash downwards to the sea, as the stones thrown from the fields above were washed downwards in a later time; and thus the deep fissure would ultimately be cleared out.  The boulder-stones lie thickly in this neighbourhood, and over the eastern half of Ross-shire, and the Black Isle generally; though for the last century they have been gradually disappearing from the more cultivated tracts on which there were fences or farm-steadings to be built, or where they obstructed the course of the plough.  We find them occurring in every conceivable situation,—high on hillsides, where the shepherd crouches beside them for shelter in a shower,—deep in the open sea, where they entangle the nets of the fisherman,—on inland moors, where in some remote age they were painfully rolled together, to form the Druidical circle or Picts'-house,—or on the margin of the coast, where they had been piled over one another at a later time, as protecting bulwarks against the encroachments of the waves.  They lie strewed more sparingly over extended plains, or on exposed heights, than in hollows sheltered from the west by high land, where the current, when it dashed high on the hill-sides, must have been diverted from its easterly course, and revolved in whirling eddies.  On the top of the fine bluff hill of Fyrish, which I so admired to-day, each time I caught a glimpse of its purple front through the woods, and which shows how noble a mountain the Old Red Sandstone may produce, the boulders lie but sparsely.  I especially marked, however, when last on its summit, a ponderous traveller of a vividly green hornblende, resting on a bed of pale yellow sandstone, fully a thousand feet over the present high-water level.  But towards the east, in what a seaman would term the bight of the hill, the boulders have accumulated in vast numbers.  They lie so closely piled along the course of the river Alnesa, about half a mile above the village, that it is with difficulty the waters, when in flood, can force their passage through.  For here, apparently, when the tide swept high along the hill-side, many an ice-floe, detained in the shelter by the revolving eddy, dashed together in rude collision, and shook their stony burdens to the bottom.  Immediately to the east of the low promontory on which the town of Cromarty is built there is another extensive accumulation of boulders, some of them of great size.  They occupy exactly the place to which I have oftener than once seen the driftice of the upper part of the Cromarty Frith, set loose by a thaw, and then carried seawards by the retreating tide, forced back by a violent storm from the east, and the fragments ground against each other into powder.  And here, I doubt not, of old, when the sea stood greatly higher than now, and the ice-floes were immensely larger and more numerous than those formed, in the existing circumstances, in the upper shallows of the Frith, would the fierce north-east have charged home with similar effect, and the broken masses have divested themselves of their boulders.

    The Highland chieftain of one of our old Gaelic traditions conversed with a boulder-stone, and told to it the story which he had sworn never to tell to man.  I too, after a sort, have conversed with boulder-stones, not, however, to tell them any story of mine, but to urge them to tell theirs to me.  But, lacking the fine ear of Hans Andersen, the Danish poet, who can hear flowers and butterflies talk, and understand the language of birds, I have as yet succeeded in extracting from them no such articulate reply


As Memnon's image, long renowned of old
By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch
Of Titan's ray, with each repulsive string
Consenting, sounded through the warbling air.


And yet who can doubt that, were they a little more communicative, their stories of movement in the past, with the additional circumstances connected with the places which they have occupied ever since they gave over travelling, would be exceedingly curious ones?  Among the boulder group to the east of Cromarty, the most ponderous individual stands so exactly on the low-water line of our great Lammas tides, that, though its shoreward edge may be reached dry-shod from four to six times every twelvemonth, no one has ever succeeded in walking dry-shod round it.  I have seen a strong breeze from the west, prolonged for a few days, prevent its drying, when the Lammas stream was at its point of lowest ebb, by from a foot to eighteen inches,—an indication, apparently, that to that height the waters of the Atlantic may be heaped up against our shores by the impulsion of the wind.  And the recurrence, during at least the last century, of certain ebbs each season, which, when no disturbing atmospheric phenomena interfere with their operation, are sure to lay it dry, demonstrate, that during that period no change, even the most minute, has taken place on our coasts, in the relative levels of sea and shore.  The waves have considerably encroached, during even the last half-century, on the shores immediately opposite; but it must have been, as the stone shows, simply by the attrition of the waves, and the consequent lowering of the beach,—not through any rise in the ocean, or any depression of the land.  The huge boulder here has been known for ages as the Clach Malloch, or accursed stone, from the circumstance, says tradition, that a boat was once wrecked upon it during a storm, and the boatmen drowned.  Though little more than seven feet in height, by about twelve in length, and some eight or nine in breadth, its situation on the extreme line of ebb imparts a peculiar character to the various productions, animal and vegetable, which we find adhering to it.  They occur in zones, just as on lofty hills the botanist finds his agricultural, moorland, and alpine zones rising in succession as he ascends, the one over the other.  At its base, where the tide rarely falls, we find two varieties of Lobularia digitata, dead-man's hand, the orange-coloured and the pale, with a species of sertularia; and the characteristic vegetable is the rough-stemmed tangle, or envy.  In the zone immediately above the lowest, these productions disappear: the characteristic animal, if animal it be, is a flat yellow sponge,—the Halichondria papillaris,—remarkable chiefly for its sharp siliceous spicula and its strong phosphoric smell; and the characteristic vegetable is the smooth-stemmed tangle, or queener.  In yet another zone we find the common limpet and the vesicular kelp-weed; and the small gray balanus and serrated kelp-weed form the productions of the top.  We may see exactly the same zones occurring in broad belts along the shore,—each zone indicative of a certain overlying depth of water; but it seems curious enough to find them all existing in succession on one boulder.  Of the boulder and its story, however, more in my next.


 
CHAPTER VIII.


THE natural, and, if I may so speak, topographical, history of the Clach Malloch,—including, of course, its zoology and botany, with notes of those atmospheric effects on the tides, and of that stability for ages of the existing sea-level, which it indicates,—would of itself form one very interesting chapter: its geological history would furnish another.  It would probably tell, if it once fairly broke silence and became autobiographical, first of a feverish dream of intense molten heat and overpowering pressure; and then of a busy time, in which the free molecules, as at once the materials and the artizans of the mass, began to build, each according to its nature, under the superintendence of a curious chemistry,—here forming sheets of black mica, there rhombs of a dark-green hornblende and a flesh-coloured feldspar, yonder amorphous masses of a translucent quartz.  It would add further, that at length, when the slow process was over, and the entire space had been occupied to the full by plate, molecule, and crystal, the red fiery twilight of the dream deepened into more than midnight gloom, and a chill unconscious night descended on the sleeper.  The vast Palćozoic period passes by,—the scarce less protracted Secondary ages come to a close,—the Eocene, Miocene, Pliocene epochs are ushered in and terminate,—races begin and end,—families and orders are born and die; but the dead, or those whose deep slumber admits not of dreams, take no note of time; and so it would tell how its long night of unsummed centuries seemed, like the long night of the grave, compressed into a moment.

    The marble silence is suddenly broken by the rush of an avalanche, that tears away the superincumbent masses, rolling them into the sea; and the ponderous block, laid open to the light, finds itself on the bleak shore of a desert island of the northern Scottish archipelago, with a wintry scene of snow-covered peaks behind, and an ice-mottled ocean before.  The winter passes, the cold severe spring comes on, and day after day the field-ice goes floating by,—now bray in shadow, now bright in the sun.  At length vegetation, long repressed, bursts forth, but in no profuse luxuriance.  A few dwarf birches unfold their leaves amid the rocks; a few sub-arctic willows hang out their catkins beside the swampy runnels; the golden potentilla opens its bright flowers on slopes where the evergreen Empetrum nigrum slowly ripens its glossy crowberries; and from where the sea-spray dashes at full tide along the beach, to where the snow gleams at midsummer on the mountain-summits, the thin short sward is dotted by the minute cruciform stars of the scurvy-grass, and the crimson blossoms of the sea-pink.  Not a few of the plants of our existing sea-shores and of our loftier hill-tops are still identical in species; but wide zones of rich herbage, with many a fertile field and many a stately tree, intervene between the bare marine belts and the bleak insulated eminences; and thus the alpine, notwithstanding its identity with the littoral flora, has been long divorced from it; but in this early time the divorce had not yet taken place, nor for ages thereafter; and the same plants that sprang around the sea-margin rose also along the middle slopes to the mountain-summits.  The landscape is treeless and hare, and a hoary lichen whitens the moors, and waves, as the years pass by, in pale tufts, from the disinterred stone, now covered with weather-stains, green and gray, and standing out in bold and yet bolder relief from the steep hill-side, as the pulverizing frosts and washing rains bear away the lesser masses from around it.  The sea is slowly rising, and the land, in proportion, narrowing its flatter margins, and yielding up its wider valleys to the tide; the low green island of one century forms the half-tide skerry, darkened with algć of another, and in yet a third exists but as a deep-sea rock.  As its summit disappears, groups of hills, detached from the land, become islands, skerries, deep-sea rocks, in turn.  At length the waves at full wash within a few yards of the granitic block.  And now, yielding to the undermining influences, just as a blinding snow-shower is darkening the heavens, it comes thundering down the steep into the sea, where it lies immediately beneath the high-water line, surrounded by a wide float of pulverized ice, broken by the waves.  A keen frost sets in; the half-fluid mass around is bound up for many acres into a solid raft, that clasps fast in its rigid embrace the rocky fragment; a stream-tide, heightened by a strong gale from the west, rises high on the beach; the consolidated ice-field moves, floats, is detached from the shore, creeps slowly outwards into the offing, bearing atop the boulder; and, finally caught by the easterly current, it drifts away into the open ocean.  And then, far from its original bed in the rock, amid the jerkings of a cockling sea, the mass breaks through the supporting float, and settles far beneath, amid the green and silent twilight of the bottom, where its mosses and lichens yield their place to stony encrustations of deep purple, and to miniature thickets of arboraceous zoophites.

    The many-coloured Acalephć float by; the many-armed Sepiadć shoot over; while shells that love the profounder depths,—the black Modiola and delicate Anomia,—anchor along the sides of the mass; and where thickets of the deep sea tangle spread out their long, streamer-like fronds to the tide, the strong Cyprina and many-ribbed Astarte shelter by scores amid the reticulations of the short woody stems and thick-set roots.  A sudden darkness comes on, like that which fell upon Sinbad when the gigantic roc descended upon him; the sea-surface is fully sixty fathoms over head; but even at this great depth an enormous iceberg grates heavily against the bottom, crushing into fragments in its course, Cyprina, Modiola, Astarte, with many a hapless mollusc besides; and furrows into deep grooves the very rocks on which they lie.  It passes away; and, after many an unsummed year has also passed, there comes another change.  The period of depression and of the boulder-clay is over.  The water has shallowed as the sea-line gradually sank, or the land was propelled upwards by some elevatory process from below; and each time the tide falls, the huge boulder now raises over the waters its broad forehead, already hung round with flowing tresses of brown sea-weed, and looks at the adjacent coast.  The country has strangely altered its features: it exists no longer as a broken archipelago, scantily covered by a semiarctic vegetation, but as a continuous land, still whitened, where the great valleys open to the sea, by the pale gleam of local glaciers, and snow-streaked on its loftier hill-tops.  But vast forests of dark pine sweep along its hill-sides or selvage its shores; and the sheltered hollows are enlivened by the lighter green of the oak, the ash, and the elm.  Human foot has not yet imprinted its sward; but its brute inhabitants have become numerous.  The cream-coloured coat of the wild bull,—a speck of white relieved against a ground of dingy green,—may be seen far amid the pines, and the long howl of the wolf heard from the nearer thickets.  The gigantic elk raises himself from his lair, and tosses his ponderous horns at the sound; while the beaver, in some sequestered dell traversed by a streamlet, plunges alarmed into his deep coffer-dam, and, rising through the submerged opening of his cell, shelters safely within, beyond reach of pursuit.  The great transverse valleys of the country, from its eastern to its western coasts, are still occupied by the sea,—they exist as broad ocean-sounds; and many of the detached hills rise around its shores as islands.  The northern Sutor forms a bluff high island, for the plains of Easter Ross are still submerged; and the Black Isle is in reality what in later times it is merely in name,—a sea-encircled district, holding a midway place between where the Sound of the great Caledonian Valley and the Sounds of the Valleys of the Conan and Carron open into the German Ocean.  Though the climate has greatly softened, it is still, as the local glaciers testify, ungenial and severe.  Winter protracts his stay through the later months of spring; and still, as of old, vast floats of ice, detached from the glaciers, or formed in the lakes and shallower estuaries of the interior, come drifting down the Sounds every season, and disappear in the open sea, or lie stranded along the shores.

    Ages have again passed: the huge boulder, from the further sinking of the waters, lies dry throughout the neaps, and is covered only at the height of each stream-tide; there is a float of ice stranded on the beach, which consolidates around it during the neap, and is floated off by the stream; and the boulder, borne in its midst, as of old, again sets out a voyaging.  It has reached the narrow opening of the Sutors, swept downwards by the strong ebb current, when a violent storm from the north-east sets in; and, constrained by antagonist forces,—the sweep of the tide on the one hand, and the roll of the waves on the other,—the ice-raft deflects into the little bay that lies to the east of the promontory now occupied by the town of Cromarty.  And there it tosses, with a hundred more jostling in rude collision; and at length bursting apart, the Clach Malloch, its journeyings for ever over, settles on its final resting-place.  In a period long posterior it saw the ultimate elevation of the land.  Who shall dare say how much more it witnessed, or decide that it did not form the centre of a rich forest vegetation, and that the ivy did not cling round it, and the wild rose shed its petals over it, when the Dingwall, Moray, and Dornoch Friths existed as subaerial valleys, traversed by streams that now enter the sea far apart, but then gathered themselves into one vast river, that, after it had received the tributary waters of the Shin and the Conon, the Ness and the Beauly, the Helmsdale, the Brora, the Findhorn, and the Spey, rolled on through the flat secondary formations of the outer Moray Frith,—Lias, and Oolite, and Greensand, and Chalk,—to fall into a gulf of the Northern Ocean which intervened between the coasts of Scotland and Norway, but closed nearly opposite the mouth of the Tyne, leaving a broad level plain to connect the coasts of England with those of the Continent!  Be this as it may, the present sea-coast became at length the common boundary of land and sea.  And the boulder continued to exist for centuries still later as a nameless stone, on which the tall gray heron rested moveless and ghost-like in the evenings, and the seal at mid-day basked lazily in the sun.  And then there came on a night of fierce tempest, in which the agonizing cry of drowning men was heard along the shore.  When the morning broke, there lay strewed around a few bloated corpses, and the fragments of a broken wreck; and amid wild execrations and loud sorrow the boulder received its name. Such is the probable history, briefly told, because touched at merely a few detached points, of the huge Clach Malloch.  The incident of the second voyage here is of course altogether imaginary, in relation to at least this special boulder; but it is to second voyages only that all our positive evidence testifies in the history of its class.  The boulders of the St Lawrence, so well described by Sir Charles Lyell, voyage by thousands every year; [9] and there are few of my northern readers who have not heard of the short trip taken nearly half a century ago by the boulder of Petty Bay, in the neighbourhood of Culloden.

    A Highland minister of the last century, in describing, for Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account, a large sepulchral cairn in his parish, attributed its formation to an earthquake!  Earthquakes, in these latter times, are introduced, like the heathen gods of old, to bring authors out of difficulties.  I do not think, however,—and I have the authority of the old critic for at least half the opinion,—that either gods or earthquakes should be resorted to by poets or geologists, without special occasion: they ought never to be called in except as a last resort, when there is no way of getting on without them.  And I am afraid there have been few more gratuitous invocations of the earthquake than on a certain occasion, some five years ago, when it was employed by the inmate of a north-country manse, at once to account for the removal of the boulder-stone of Petty Bay, and to annihilate at a blow the geology of the Free Church editor of the Witness.  I had briefly stated in one of my papers, in referring to this curious incident, that the boulder of the bay had been "borne nearly three hundred yards outwards into the sea by an enclasping mass of ice, in the course of a single tide."  "Not at all," said the northern clergyman; "the cause assigned is wholly insufficient to produce such an effect.  All the ice ever formed in the bay would be insufficient to remove such a boulder a distance, not of three hundred, but even of three yards."  The removal of the stone "is referrible to an EARTHQUAKE!"  The country, it would seem, took a sudden lurch, and the stone tumbled off.  It fell athwart the flat surface of the bay, as a soup tureen sometimes falls athwart the table of a storm-beset steamer, vastly to the discomfort of the passengers, and again caught the ground as the land righted.  Ingenious, certainly!  It does appear a little wonderful, however, that in a shock so tremendous nothing should have fallen off except the stone.  In an earthquake on an equally great scale, in the present unsettled state of society, endowed clergymen would, I am afraid, be in some danger of falling out of their charges.

    The boulder beside the Auldgrande has not only, like the Clach Malloch, a geologic history of its own, but, what some may deem of perhaps equal authority, a mythologic history also.  The inaccessible chasm, impervious to the sun, and ever resounding the wild howl of the tortured water, was too remarkable an object to have escaped the notice of the old imaginative Celts; and they have married it, as was their wont, to a set of stories quite as wild as itself.  And the boulder, occupying a nearly central position in its course, just where the dell is deepest, and narrowest, and blackest, and where the stream bellows far underground in its wildest combination of tones, marks out the spot where the more extraordinary incidents have happened, and the stranger sights have been seen.  Immediately beside the stone there is what seems to be the beginning of a path leading down to the water; but it stops abruptly at a tree,—the last in the descent,—and the green and dewy rock sinks beyond for more than a hundred feet, perpendicular as a wall.  It was at the abrupt termination of this path that a Highlander once saw a beautiful child smiling and stretching out its little hand to him, as it hung half in air by a slender twig.  But he well knew that it was no child, but an evil spirit, and that if he gave it the assistance which it seemed to crave, he would be pulled headlong into the chasm, and never heard of more.  And the boulder still bears, it is said, on its side,—though I failed this evening to detect the mark,—the stamp, strangely impressed, of the household keys of Balconie.  [10]

    The sun had now got as low upon the bill, and the ravine had grown as dark, as when, so long before, the Lady of Balconie took her last walk along the sides of the Auldgrande; and I struck up for the little alpine bridge of a few undressed logs, which has been here thrown across the chasm, at the height of a hundred and thirty feet over the water.  As I pressed through the thick underwood, I startled a strange-looking apparition in one of the open spaces beside the gulf, where, as shown by the profusion of plants of vaccinium, the blaeberries had greatly abounded in their season.  It was that of an extremely old woman, cadaverously pale and miserable looking, with dotage glistening in her inexpressive, rheum-distilling eyes, and attired in a blue cloak, that had been homely when at its best, and was now exceedingly tattered.  She had been poking with her crutch among the bushes, as if looking for berries; but my approach had alarmed her; and she stood muttering in Gaelic what seemed, from the tones and the repetition, to be a few deprecatory sentences.  I addressed her in English, and inquired what could have brought to a place so wild and lonely, one so feeble and helpless.  "Poor object!" she muttered in reply,—"poor object!—very hungry;" but her scanty English could carry her no further.  I slipped into her hand a small piece of silver, for which she overwhelmed me with thanks and blessings; and, bringing her to one of the broader avenues, traversed by a road which leads out of the wood, I saw her fairly entered upon the path in the right direction, and then, retracing my steps, crossed the log-bridge.  The old woman,—little, I should suppose from her appearance, under ninety,—was, I doubt not, one of our ill-provided Highland paupers, that starve under a law which, while it has dried up the genial streams of voluntary charity in the country, and presses hard upon the means of the humbler classes, alleviates little, if at all, the sufferings of the extreme poor.  Amid present suffering and privation there had apparently mingled in her dotage some dream of early enjoyment,—a dream of the days when she had plucked berries, a little herd-girl, on the banks of the Auldgrande; and the vision seemed to have sent her out, far advanced in her second childhood, to poke among the bushes with her crutch.

    My old friend the minister of Alness,—uninstalled at the time in his new dwelling,—was residing in a house scarce half a mile from the chasm, to which he had removed from the parish manse at the Disruption; and, availing myself of an invitation of long standing, I climbed the acclivity on which it stands, to pass the night with him.  I found, however, that, with part of his family, he had gone to spend a few weeks beside the mineral springs of Strathpeffer, in the hope of recruiting a constitution greatly weakened by excessive labour, and that the entire household at home consisted of but two of the young ladies his daughters, and their ward the little Buchubai Hormazdji.

    And who, asks the reader, is this Buchubai Hormazdji?  A little Parsi girl, in her eighth year, the daughter of a Christian convert from the ancient faith of Zoroaster, who now labours in the Free Church Mission at Bombay.  Buchubai, his only child, was, on his conversion, forcibly taken from him by his relatives, but restored again by a British court of law; and he had secured her safety by sending her to Europe, a voyage of many thousand miles, with a lady, the wife of one of our Indian missionaries, to whom she had become attached, as her second but true mamma, and with whose sisters I now found her.  The little girl, sadly in want of a companion this evening, was content, for lack of a better, to accept of me as a playfellow; and she showed me all her rich eastern dresses, and all her toys, and a very fine emerald, set in the oriental fashion, which, when she was in full costume, sparkled from her embroidered tiara.  I found her exceedingly like little girls at home, save that she seemed more than ordinarily observant and intelligent,—a consequence, mayhap, of that early development, physical and mental, which characterizes her race.  She submitted to me, too, when I had got very much into her confidence, a letter she had written to her papa from Strathpeffer, which was to be sent him by the next Indian mail.  And as it may serve to show that the style of little girls whose fathers were fare-worshippers for three thousand years and more differs in no perceptible quality from the style of little girls whose fathers in considerably less than three thousand were Pagans, Papists, and Protestants by turns, besides passing through the various intermediate forms of belief; I must, after pledging the reader to strict secrecy, submit it to his perusal:—


"My dearest Papa,—I hope you are quite well.  I am visiting mamma at present at Strathpeffer.  She is much better now than when she was travelling.  Mamma's sisters give their love to you, and mamma and Mr and Mrs F. also.  They all ask you to pray for them, and they will pray also.  There are a great many at water here for sick people to drink out of.  The smell of the water is not at all nice.  I sometimes drink it.  Give my dearest love to Narsion Skishadre, and tell her that I will write to her.—Dearest papa," &c.


    It was a simple thought, which it required no reach of mind whatever to grasp,—and yet an hour spent with little Buchubai made it tell upon me more powerfully than ever before,—that there is in reality but one human nature on the face of the earth.  Had I simply read of Buchubai Hormazdji corresponding with her father Hormazdji Pestonji, and sending her dear love to her old companion Narsiora Skishadre, the names, so specifically different from those which we ourselves employ in designating our country folk, would probably have led me, through a false association, to regard the parties to which they attach as scarcely less specifically different from our country folk themselves.  I suspect we are misled by associations of this kind when we descant on the peculiarities of race as interposing insurmountable barriers to the progress of improvement, physical or mental.  We overlook, amid the diversities of form, colour, and language, the specific identity of the human family.  The Celt, for instance, wants, it is said, those powers of sustained application which so remarkably distinguish the Saxon; and so we agree on the expediency of getting rid of our poor Highlanders by expatriation as soon as possible, and of converting their country into sheep-walks and hunting-parks.  It would be surely well to have philosophy enough to remember what, simply through the exercise of a wise faith, the Christian missionary never forgets, that the peculiarities of race are not specific and ineradicable, but mere induced habits and idiosyncrasies engrafted on the stock of a common nature by accidents of circumstance or development; and that, as they have been wrought into the original tissue through the protracted operation of one set of causes, the operation of another and different set, wisely and perseveringly directed, could scarce fail to unravel and work them out again.  They form no part of the inherent design of man's nature, but have merely stuck to it in its transmissive passage downwards, and require to be brushed off.  There was a time, some four thousand years ago, when Celt and Saxon were represented by but one man and his wife, with their children and their children's wives; and some sixteen or seventeen centuries earlier, all the varieties of the species,—Caucasian and Negro, Mongolian and Malay,—lay close packed up in the world's single family.  In short, Buchubai's amusing prattle proved to me this evening no bad commentary on St Paul's sublime enunciation to the Athenians, that God has "made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth."  I was amused to find that the little girl, who listened intently as I described to the young ladies all I had seen and knew of the Auldgrande, had never before heard of a ghost, and could form no conception of one now.  The ladies explained, described, defined; carefully guarding all they said, however, by stern disclaimers against the ghost theory altogether, but apparently to little purpose.  At length Buchubai exclaimed, that she now knew what they meant, and that she herself had seen a great many ghosts in India.  On explanation, however, her ghosts, though quite frightful enough, turned out to be not at all spiritual: they were things of common occurrence in the land she had come from,—exposed bodies of the dead.

    Next morning—as the white clouds and thin mist-streaks of the preceding day had fairly foretold—was close and wet; and the long trail of vapour which rises from the chasm of the Auldgrande in such weather, and is known to the people of the neighbourhood as the "smoke of the lady's baking," hung, snake-like, over the river.  About two o'clock the rain ceased, hesitatingly and doubtfully, however, as if it did not quite know its own mind; and there arose no breeze to shake the dank grass, or to dissipate the thin mist-wreath that continued to float over the river under a sky of deep gray.  But the ladies, with Buchubai, impatient to join their friends at Strathpeffer, determined on journeying notwithstanding; and, availing myself of their company and their vehicle, I travelled on with them to Dingwall, where we parted.  I had purposed exploring the gray dingy sandstones and fśtid breccias developed along the shores on the northern side of the bay, about two miles from the town, and on the sloping acclivities between the mansion-houses of Tulloch and Fowlis; but the day was still unfavourable, and the sections seemed untemptingly indifferent; besides, I could entertain no doubt that the dingy beds here are identical in place with those of Cadboll on the coast of Easter Ross, which they closely resemble, and which alternate with the lower ichthyolitic beds of the Old Red Sandstone; and so, for the present at least, I gave up my intention of exploring them.

    In the evening, the sun, far gone down towards its place of setting, burst forth in great beauty; and, under the influence of a kindly breeze from the west, just strong enough to shake the wet leaves, the sky flung off its thick mantle of gray.  I sauntered out along the high-road, in the direction of my old haunts at Cononside, with, however, no intention of walking so far.  But the reaches of the river, a little in flood, shone temptingly through the dank foliage, and the cottages under the Conon woods glittered clear on their sweeping hill-side, "looking cheerily out" into the landscape; and so I wandered on and on, over the bridge, and along the river, and through the pleasure-grounds of Conon-house, till I found myself in the old solitary burying-ground beside the Conon, which, when last in this part of the country, I was prevented from visiting by the swollen waters.  The rich yellow light streamed through the interstices of the tall hedge of forest-trees that encircles the eminence, once an island, and fell in fantastic patches on the gray tomb-stones and the graves.  The ruinous little chapel in the corner, whose walls a quarter of a century before I had distinctly traced, had sunk into a green mound; and there remained over the sward but the arch-stone of a Gothic window, with a portion of the moulded transom attached, to indicate the character and style of the vanished building.  The old dial-stone, with the wasted gnomon, has also disappeared; and the few bright-coloured throch-stanes, raw from the chisel, that had been added of late years to the group of older standing, did not quite make up for what time in the same period had withdrawn.  One of the newer inscriptions, however, recorded a curious fact.  When I had resided in this part of the country so long before, there was an aged couple in the neighbourhood, who had lived together, it was said, as man and wife for more than sixty years; and now, here was their tombstone and epitaph.  They had lived on long after my departure; and when, as the seasons passed, men and women whose births and baptisms had taken place since their wedding-day were falling around them well stricken in years, death seemed to have forgotten them; and when he came at last, their united ages made up well nigh two centuries.  The wife had seen her ninety-sixth and the husband his hundred and second birth-day.  It does not transcend the skill of the actuary to say how many thousand women must die under ninety-six for every one that reaches it, and how many tens of thousands of men must die under a hundred and two for every man who attains to an age so extraordinary; but he would require to get beyond his tables in order to reckon up the chances against the woman destined to attain to ninety-six being courted and married in early life by the man born to attain to a hundred and two.

    After enjoying a magnificent sunset on the banks of the Conon, just where the scenery, exquisite throughout, is most delightful, I returned through the woods, and spent half an hour by the way in the cottage of a kindly-hearted woman, now considerably advanced in years, whom I had known, when she was in middle life, as the wife of one of the Cononside hinds, and who not unfrequently, when I was toiling at the mallet in the burning sun, hot and thirsty, and rather loosely knit for my work, had brought me—all she had to offer at the time—a draught of fresh whey.  At first she seemed to have wholly forgotten both her kindness and the object of it.  She well remembered my master, and another Cromarty man who had been grievously injured, when undermining an old building, by the sudden fall of the erection; but she could bethink her of no third Cromarty man whatever.  "Eh, sirs!" she at length exclaimed, "I daresay ye'll be just the sma' prentice laddie.  Weel, what will young folk no come out o'?  They were amaist a' stout big men at the wark except yoursel'; an' you're now stouter and bigger than maist o' them.  Eh, sirs!—an' are ye still a mason?"  "No; I have not wrought as a mason for the last fourteen years; but I have to work hard enough for all that."  "Weel, weel, its our appointed lot; an' if we have but health an' strength, an' the wark to do, why should we repine?"  Once fairly entered on our talk together, we gossipped on till the night fell, giving and receiving information regarding our old acquaintances of a quarter of a century before; of whom we found that no inconsiderable proportion had already sunk in the stream in which eventually we must all disappear.  And then, taking leave of the kindly old woman, I walked on in the dark to Dingwall, where I spent the night.  I could fain have called by the way on my old friend and brother-workman, Mr Urquhart,—of a very numerous party of mechanics employed at Conon-side in the year 1821 the only individual now resident in this part of the country; but the lateness of the hour forbade.  Next morning I returned by the Conon road, as far as the noble bridge which strides across the stream at the village, and which has done so much to banish the water-wraith from the fords; and then striking off to the right, I crossed, by a path comparatively little frequented, the insulated group of hills which separates the valley of the Conon from that of the Peffer.  The day was mild and pleasant, and the atmosphere clear; but the higher hills again exhibited their ominous belts of vapour, and there had been a slight frost during the night,—at this autumnal sea, son the almost certain precursor of rain.



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NOTES.

 
6.    Mr Dick has since disinterred from out the boulder-clays of the Burn of Freswick, Patella vulgata, Buccinum undatum, Fesus antiquus, Rostellaria, Pes pelicana, a Natica, Lutraria, and Balanus.
 
7.    That similarity of condition in which the hazel and the harder cerealia thrive was noted by our north-country farmers of the old school, long ere it had been recorded by the botanist.  Hence such remarks, familiarized into proverbs, as "A good nut year's a good ait year;" or, " As the nut fills the ait fills."
 
8.    For this story see 'Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,' chap,
XXV.
 
9.    "In the river St Lawrence," says Sir Charles Lyell, "the loose ice accumulates on the shoals during the winter, at which season the water is low.  The separate fragments of ice are readily frozen together in a climate where the temperature is sometimes 30° below zero, and boulders become entangled with them; so that in the spring, when the river rises on the melting of the snow, the rocks are floated off; frequently conveying away the boulders to great distances.  A single block of granite, fifteen feet long by ten feet both in width and height, and which could not contain less than fifteen hundred cubic feet of stone, was in this way moved down the river several hundred yards, during the late survey in 1837.  Heavy anchors of ships, lying on the shore, have in like manner been closed in and removed.  In October 1836, wooden stakes were driven several feet into the ground, at one point on the banks of the St Lawrence, at high-water mark, and over them were piled many boulders as large as the united force of six men could roll.  The year after, all the boulders had disappeared, and others had arrived, and the stakes had been drawn out and carried away by the ice."—("Elements," first edition, p. 138.)
 
10.   The story of the Lady of Balconie and her keys is narrated in "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," chap. xi.

 


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