I WAS full corporal in the 93rd Southern Highlanders, and I can get the best of cha-
racters from my commanding officers. If I couldn"t get a good character I wouldn"t be orderly to the colonel; and wherever he and the lady went, I was sure to be with them. Although I used to wear the colonel"s livery, yet I had the full corporal"s stripes on my coat. I was first orderly to Colonel Sparkes of the 93rd. He belonged to Dublin, and he was the best colonel that ever belonged to a regiment. After he died I was orderly to Colonel Aynsley. This shows I must have been a good man, and have a good character. Colonel Aynsley was a good friend to me, and he always gave me my clothes, like his other private servants. The orderly"s post is a good one, and much sought after, for it exempts you from regimental duty. Colonel Aynsley was a severe man on duty, but he was a good colonel after all. If he wasn"t to be a severe man he wouldn"t be able to discharge the post he had to discharge. Off duty he was as kind as anybody could be. There was no man he hated more than a dirty soldier. He wouldn"t muddle a man for being drunk, not a quarter so much as for dirty clothing. I was reckoned the cleanest soldier in the regiment; for if I was out in a shower of rain, I"d polish up my brass and pipeclay my belt, to make it look clean again. Besides, I was very supple and active, and many"s the time Colonel Aynsley has sent me on a message, and I have been there and back, and when I"ve met him he"s scolded me for not having gone, for I was back so quick he thought I hadn"t started.
Whilst I was in the regiment I was attacked with blindness; brought on, I think, by cold. There was a deserter, that the policemen took up and brought to our barracks at Weedon, where the 93rd was stationed in 1852. It was very wet weather, and he was brought in without a stitch on him, in a pair of breeches and a miserable shirt—that"s all. He was away two years, but he was always much liked. No deserters ever escape. We made a kit up for this man in less than twenty minutes. One gave him a kilt, another a coat, and I gave him the shoes off my feet, and then went to the regiment stores and got me another pair. Soldiers always help one another; it"s their duty to such a poor, miserable wretch as he was.
This deserter was tried by court-martial, and he got thirty-one days in prison, and hard labour. He"d have had three months, only he gave himself up. He was so weak with lying out, that the doctor wouldn"t let him be flogged. He"d have had sixty lashes if he"d been strong. Ah! sixty is nothing. I"ve seen one hundred and fifty given. When this man was marched off to Warwick gaol I commanded the escort, and it was a very severe day"s rain that day, for it kept on from six in the morning till twelve at night. It was a twenty-one miles" march; and we started at six in the morning, and arrived at Warwick
by four in the afternoon. The prisoner was made to march the distance in the same clothes as when he gave himself up. He had only a shirt and waistcoat on his back, and that got so wet, I took off my greatcoat and gave it to him to wear to warm him. They wouldn"t let him have the kit of clothes made up for him by the regiment till he came out of prison. From giving him my greatcoat I caught a severe cold. I stood up by a public-house fire and dried my coat and kilt, and the cold flew to the small of my back. After we had delivered our prisoner at Warwick we walked on to Coventry—that"s ten miles more. We did thirty-one miles that day in the rain. After we got back to barracks I was clapped in hospital. I was there twentyone days. The doctor told me I shouldn"t leave it for twenty-eight days, but I left it in twenty-one, for I didn"t like to be in that same place. My eyes got very blood-shot, and I lost the sight of them. I was very much afraid that I"d never see a sight with my eyes, and I was most miserable. I used to be, too, all of a tremble with a shiver of cold. I only stopped in the regiment for thirty-one days after I came out of hospital, and then I had my discharge. I could just see a little. It was my own fault that I had my discharge, for I thought I could do better to cure myself by going to the country doctors. The men subscribed for me all the extra money of their pay,—that"s about 4d. each man,—and it made me up 10l. When I told Colonel Aynsley of this, says he, "Upon my word, M"Gregor, I"m as proud of it as if I had 20,000l." He gave me a sovereign out of his own pocket. Besides that, I had as many kilts given me as have lasted me up to this time. My boy is wearing the last of "em now.
At Oxford I went to a doctor, and he did me a deal of good; for now I can read a book, if the thread of it isn"t too small. I can read the Prayer-book, or Bible, or newspaper, just for four hours, and then I go dim.
I"ve served in India, and I was at the battles of Punjaub, 1848, and Moultan, 1849. Sir Colin Campbell commanded us at both, and says he, "Now, my brave 93rd, none of your nonsense here, for it must be death and glory here to-day;" and then Serjeant Cameron says, "The men are all right, Sir Colin, but they"re afraid you won"t be in the midst of them;" and says he, "Not in the midst of them! I"ll be here in ten minutes." Sir Colin will go in anywhere; he"s as brave an officer as any in the service. He"s the first into the fight and the last out of it.
Although I had served ten years, and been in two battles, yet I was not entitled to a pension. You must serve twenty-one years to be entitled to 1s. 0 1/2d. I left the 93rd in 1852, and since that time I"ve been wandering about the different parts of England and Scotland, playing on the bagpipes. I take my daughter Maria about with me, and she dances whilst
I play to her. I leave my wife and family in town. I"ve been in London three weeks this last time I visited it. I"ve been here plenty of times before. I"ve done duty in Hyde- Park before the 46th came here.
I left the army just two years before the war broke out, and I"d rather than twenty thousand pounds I"d been in my health to have gone to the Crimea, for I"d have had more glory after that war than ever any England was in. Directly I found the 93rd was going out, I went twice to try and get back to my old regiment; but the doctor inspected me, and said I wouldn"t be fit for service again. I was too old at the time, and my health wasn"t good, although I could stand the cold far better than many hundreds of them that were out there, for I never wear no drawers, only my kilt, and that very thin, for it"s near worn. Nothing at all gives me cold but the rain.
The last time I was in London was in May. My daughter dances the Highland fling and the sword-dance called "Killim Callam." That"s the right Highland air to the dance— with two swords laid across each other. I was a good hand at it before I got stiff. I"ve done it before all the regiment. We"d take two swords from the officers and lay them down when they"ve been newly ground. I"ve gone within the eighth of an inch of them, and never cut my shoe. Can you cut your shoes? aye, and your toes, too, if you"re not lithe. My brother was the best dancer in the army: so the Duke of Argyle and his lady said. At one of the prize meetings at Blair Athol, one Tom Duff, who is as good a dancer as from this to where he is, says he, "There"s ne"er a man of the Macgregor clan can dance against me to-day!" and I, knowing my brother Tom —he was killed at Inkermann in the 93rd—was coming, says I, "Don"t be sure of that, Tom Duff, for there"s one come every inch of the road here to-day to try it with you." He began, and he took an inch off his shoes, and my brother never cut himself at all; and he won the prize.
My little girl dances that dance. She does it pretty, but I"d be rather doubtful about letting her come near the swords, for fear she"d be cutting herself, though I know she could do it at a pinch, for she can be dancing across two baccy-pipes without breaking them. When I"m in the streets, she always does it with two baccy-pipes. She can dance reels, too, such as the Highland fling and the reel Hoolow. They"re the most celebrated.
Whenever I go about the country I leave my wife and family in London, and go off with my girl. I send them up money every week, according to what I earn. Every farthing that I can spare I always send up. I always, when I"m travelling, make the first part of my journey down to Hull in Yorkshire. On my road I always stop at garrison towns, and they always behave very well to me. If they"ve a
penny they"ll give it to me, either English, Scotch, or Irish regiments; or I"d as soon meet the 23d Welsh Fusiliers as any, for they"ve all been out with me on service. At Hull there is a large garrison, and I always reckon on getting 3s. or 4s. from the barracks. When I"m travelling, it generally comes to 15s. a-week, and out of that I manage to send the wife 10s. and live on 5s. myself. I have to walk all the way, for I wouldn"t sit on a rail or a cart for fear I should lose the little villages off the road. I can do better in many of them than I can in many of the large towns. I tell them I am an old soldier. I don"t go to the cottages, but to the gentlemen"s houses. Many of the gentlemen have been in the army, and then they soon tell whether I have been in service. Some have asked me the stations I have been at, and who commanded us; and then they"ll say, "This man is true enough, and every word of it is truth."
I"ve been in Balmoral many a dozen of times. Many a time I"ve passed by it when it was an old ruin, and fit for nothing but the ravens and the owls. Balmoral is the fourth oldest place in Scotland. It was built before any parts of Christianity came into the country at all. I"ve an old book that gives an account of all the old buildings entirely, and a very old book it is. Edinbro" Castle is the oldest building, and then Stirling Castle, and then Perth Castle, and then Balmoral. I"ve been there twice since the Queen was there. If I"d see any of the old officers that I knew at Balmoral, I"d play then, and they might give me something. I went there more for curiosity, and I went to see the Queen come out. She was always very fond of the 93rd. They"d fight for her in any place, for there isn"t a man discharged after this war but they"re provided for.
I do pretty well in London, taking my 4s.
a-day, but out of that I must pay 1s. 9d. a-week lodging-money, for I can"t go into apartments, for if I did it would be but poorly furnished, for I"ve no beds, or furniture, or linen.
I can live in Scotland much cheaper than here. I can give the children a good breakfast of oatmeal-porridge every morning, and that will in seven weeks make them as fat as seven years of tea and coffee will do here. Besides, in Scotland, I can buy a very pretty little stand--up bedstead for 2s., which here would come to 4s. I"m thinking of sending my family down to Scotland, and sending them the money I earn in London. They"ll have to walk to Hull and then take the boat. They can get to Aberdeen from there. We shall have to work the money on the road.
When I go out working with the little girl, I get out about nine in the summer and ten in the winter. I can"t work much more than four hours a-day on the pipes, for the blowing knocks me up and leaves me very weak. No, it don"t hurt my chest, but I"ll be just quite
weak. That"s from my bad health. I"ve never had a day"s health ever since I left the regiment. I have pains in my back and stitches in the side. My girl can"t dance without my playing, so that when I give over she must give over too. I sometimes go out with two of my daughters. Lizzy don"t dance, only Maria. I never ax anybody for money. Anybody that don"t like to give we never ax them.
I can"t eat meat, for it won"t rest on my stomach, and there"s nothing I take that goes so well with me as soup. I live principally on bread, for coffee or tea won"t do for me at all. If I could get a bit of meat that I like, such as a small fowl, or the like of that, it would do with me very well; but either bacon or beef, or the like of that, is too strong for me. I"m obliged to be very careful entirely with what I eat, for I"m sick. A lady gave me a bottle of good old foreign port about three months ago, and I thought it did me more good than all the meat in the world.
When I"m in London I make about 4s.
a-day, and when I"m in the country about 15s.
a-week. My old lady couldn"t live when I travel if it wasn"t for my boy, who goes out and gets about 1s. a-day. Lord Panmure is very good to him, and gives him something whenever he meets him. I wouldn"t get such good health if I stopped in London. Now there"s Barnet, only eleven miles from St. Giles"s, and yet I can get better health in London than I can there, on account of it"s being on rising ground and fresh air coming into it every minute.
I never be a bit bad with the cold. It never makes me bad. I"ve been in Canada with the 93d in the winter. In the year "43 was a very fearful winter indeed, and we were there, and the men didn"t seem to suffer anything from the cold, but were just as well as in any other climate or in England. They wore the kilt and the same dress as in summer. Some of them wore the tartan trowsers when they were not on duty or parade, but the most of them didn"t—not one in a dozen, for they looked upon it as like a woman. There"s nothing so good for the cold as cold water. The men used to bathe their knees and legs in the cold water, and it would make them ache for the time, but a minute or two afterwards they were all right and sweating. I"ve many a time gone into the water up to my neck in the coldest days of the year, and then when I came out and dried myself, and put on my clothes, I"d be sweating afterwards. There can"t be a better thing for keeping away the rheumatism. It"s a fine thing for rheumatism and aches to rub the part with cold frosty water or snow. It makes it leave him and knocks the pains out of his limbs. Now, in London, when my hands are so cold I can"t play on my pipes, I go to a pump and wash them in the frosty water, and then dry them and rub them together, and then they"re as warm as ever. The more a man leans to the
fire the worse he is after. It was leaning to a fire that gave me my illness.
The chanter of the pipes I play on has been in my family very near 450 years. It"s the oldest in Scotland, and is a heir-loom in, our family, and they wouldn"t part with it for any money. Many"s a time the Museum in Edinburgh has wanted me to give it to them, but I won"t give it to any one till I find myself near death, and then I"ll obligate them to keep it. Most likely my youngest son will have it, for he"s as steady as a man. You see, the holes for the fingers is worn as big round as sixpences, and they"re quite sharp at the edges. The ivory at the end is the same original piece as when the pipe was made. It"s breaking and splitting with age, and so is the stick. I"ll have my name and the age of the stick engraved on the sole of the ivory, and then, if my boy seems neglectful of the chanter, I"ll give it to the Museum at Edinburgh. I"ll have German silver rings put round the stick, to keep it together, and then, with nice waxed thread bound round it, it will last for centuries yet.
This chanter was made by old William McDonnall, who"s been dead these many hundred years. He was one of the best pipemakers that"s in all Scotland. There"s a brother of mine has a set of drones made by him, and he wouldn"t give them for any sit of money. Everybody in Scotland knows William McDonnall. Ask any lad, and he"ll tell you who was the best pipe-maker that ever lived in Scotland—aye, and ever will live. There"s many a farmer in Scotland would give 30l. for a set of pipes by old William McDonnall, sooner than they"d give 30s. for a set of pipes made now. This chanter has been in our family ever since McDonnall made it. It"s been handed down from father to son from that day to this. They always give it to the eldest. William McDonnall lived to be 143 years old, and this is the last chanter he made. A gentleman in London, who makes chanters, once gave me a new one, merely for letting him take a model of my old one, with the size of the bore and the place for the holes. You tell a good chanter by the tone, and some is as sweet as a piano. My old chanter has got rather too sharp by old age, and it"s lost its tone; for when a stick gets too sharp a sound, it"s never no good. This chanter was played by my family in the battles of Wallace and Bruce, and at the battle of Bannockburn, and every place whenever any of the Macgregor clan fought. These are the traditions given from family to family. I heard it from my father, and now I tell my lads, and they know it as well as I do myself. My great grandfather played on this stick when Charley Stuart, the Pretender, came over to Scotland from France, and he played on it before the Prince himself, at Stirling and the Island of Skye, and at Preston Pans and Culloden. It was at Preston Pans that the clans were first
formed, and could be told by their tartans—the Macgregors, and the Stuart, and the Macbeths, and the Camerons, and all of them. I had three brothers older than me, but I"ve got this chanter, for I begged it of them. It"s getting too old to play on, and I"ll have a copper box made for it, and just carry it at my side, if God is good to me, and gives me health to live three weeks.
About my best friends in London are the French people,—they are the best I can meet, they come next to the Highlanders. When I meet a Highlander he will, if he"s only just a labouring man, give me a few coppers. A Highlander will never close his eye upon me. It"s the Lowlander that is the worst to me. They never takes no notice of me when I"m passing: they"ll smile and cast an eye as I pass by. Many a time I"ll say to them when they pass, "Well, old chap, you don"t like the halfnaked men, I know you don"t!" and many will say, "No, I don"t!" I never play the pipes when I go through the Lowlands,—I"d as soon play poison to them. They never give anything. It"s the Lowlanders that get the Scotch a bad name for being miserable, and keeping their money, and using small provision. They"re a disgrace to their country.
The Highlander spends his money as free as a duke. If a man in the 93rd had a shilling in his pocket, it was gone before he could turn it twice. All the Lowlanders would like to be Highlanders if they could, and they learn Gaelic, and then marry Highland lassies, so as to become Highlanders. They have some clever regiments composed out of the Lowlanders, but they have only three regiments and the Highlanders have seven; yet there"s nearly three to one more inhabitants in the Lowlands. It"s a strange thing, they"d sooner take an Irishman into a Highland regiment than a Lowlander. They owe them such a spleen, they don"t like them. Bruce was a Lowlander, and he betrayed Wallace; and the Duke of Buccleuch, who was a Lowlander, betrayed Stuart.
I never go playing at public-houses, for I don"t like such places. I am not a drinker, for as much whisky as will fill a teaspoon will lay me up for a day. If I take anything, it"s a sup of porter. I went once into a public-house, and there was a woman drinking in it, and she was drunk. It was the landlord told me to come inside. She told me to leave the house, and I said the master told me to come: then she took up one of these pewter pots and hit me in the forehead. It was very sore for three weeks afterwards, and made a hole. I wouldn"t prosecute her.
My little boy that goes about is fourteen years old, and he"s as straight and well-formed as if he was made of wax-work. He"s the one that shall have the chanter, if anybody does; but I"m rather doubtful about it, for he"s not steady enough, and I think I"ll leave it to a museum.
If I had a good set of pipes, there"s not many going about the streets could play better; but my pipes are not in good order. I"ve got three tunes for one that the Queen"s piper plays; and I can play in a far superior style, for he plays in the military style. McKay, the former piper to her majesty, he was reckoned as good a player as there is in Scotland. I knew him very well, and many and many a time I"ve played with him. He was took bad in the head and obliged to go back to Scotland. He is in the Isle of Skye now. I belong to Peterhead. If I had a good set of pipes I wouldn"t be much afraid of playing with any of the pipers.
In the country towns I would sometimes be called into Highland gentlemen"s houses, to play to them, but never in London.
I make all my reeds myself to put in the stick. I make them of Spanish cane. It"s the outer glazed bark of it. The nearer you go to the shiny part, the harder the reed is, and the longer it lasts. In Scotland they use the Spanish cane. I have seen a man, at one time, who made a reed out of a piece of white thorn, and it sounded as well as ever a reed I saw sound; but I never see a man who could make them, only one.