Wully Smaa wiwiz een o the Tinker clan. He come fae the Cyack in Buchan far he wintered intae an auaal cotter hoose at Rivenstipe and traiveled the highways an byways o the Noreast fae the month o Mey till near the start o winter.
His real name wiz Wullie Brochan but on accoont o him bein sae lang aboot the back an there bein sae mony Wullies among the Brochans aabody jist caad him Wullie Smaa. In his mid twenties he wiz strong and gey fit an it wiz because he wiz sae fit he ayee came up here tae the Cabrach tae dee a bit o skipperin. Noo for them that dinna ken fit skipperin is I'll jist set ye straacht at the ootset.
At the time I'm tellin ye aboot a lot o Tinkers wid ging skipperin jist aboot the eyn o September. It wiz usually the unmairried loons that did it. They'd range far an wide collectin the rubbit skins fae fairmers, gamekeepers, cotters and shepherds. The skipperin bit wiz the reason only single loons did it because they wid bide in barns an sic like. That's fit skipperin means mair or less- sleepin roch.
Onywye Wully wiz here in the Cabrach wi that in mind, the last season hid been een o the best he ivver mined on and this year he planned tae cross ower tae the Glenlivet an micht even tak a look up at Mortlach. He wiz usin the same wee fairm for his base as he did last year. The man that hid it wiz an affa fine chiel an let Wully use a corner o his byre tae store the skins he collected. Scorranclach sat at the bottom o Glenfetter an wiz the maist fertile bit o grun for miles.
The fairmer gid by the name o Rab Thain, a wee stocky bit man wi a reid mop o hair an a cutty forivver stuck intae his moo. They newsed for a fylie an syne Wully teen his leave tellin Rab that he'd be back in aboot a wiks time. He aye teen his bike wi him fin he gaed the skipperin for it wiz handy for hingin the skins he got up the glens. Nae only that but the bike wiz fair handy for cairryin his pack o swag that wiz full o bogey roll, spunks, pipes an ither things a shepherd in the back o ayont micht nott. But best ava wiz the wee timmer box that held his Sunray melodjin.
Wully wiz a fair haan at the box an fun it een o the handiest things a body could tak up the glens for the shepherds were fair stairved o music an wid dee onything tae garr ye bide a nicht or twa. Whit a skins he'd gotten the year afore mair or less for the takkin because o the box.
A gey fit lad wiz Wully tall an raa beened. The hills an glens were nae a problem tae him an even though he couldna ging the bike alang the tracks he noo an then got a wee hurrl by staannin on the pedal an freewheelin at ony doon slopes. Mind ye sayin that there wid be little eneuch doongyans on this track for he wiz climmin aa the wye. He kent that fae the year afore: even tae him it hid fyles been a bit o a chauve an a lang shove for the bike.
It wiz aboot the middle o the day fin Wully cam tae the mooth o a side glen that he'd nivver gotten the chance tae gyang last season so aifter a bit rest at the burn o Letterach he started up the side glen. There wiz a bit o a track so he held tae it, he could see it wiz made by sheep for the pints o the heather hid been grazed at eether side.
Ae thing aboot the Cabrach if ye saw the signs o sheep, there wid maist likely be a shepherd's bucht somewye aheed o ye. He caad awa wi that thocht in mind but by a half mile or so he began tae realise that this wisna muckle o a glen.It wiz mair like a balloch wi sheer sides and gey narra at bits. A wee runnle o water cam doon the middle o't an the path criss crossed it makkin for a fair yoke wi the bike.
Up aheed he saw the balloch kinkit tae the richt an lookit as if it wiz even steeper. He thocht tae himsel that he'd hud gyan for a file langer at least as far's the neuk. But michty Wully fun it a fair yokin, an swack though he kent himsel tae be, by the time he reached the neuk he thocht his legs wid gyang fae aneth him. Pechin sair he wiz gled tae lay the bike on the heather an sat himsel doon. He could see the balloch noo opened up a wee bit as it held tae the richt an even better the slope livellt aff a fair bit so the goin wid be easier.
The place he sat must've been a well at some time in the past because the watter wiz bubblin up fae ablow and ran ower a puckle steens that were man made by the looks o them. He scrapit een wi his fit tae tak aff the green goore and saa a holy cross rochly carved intae the steen. At the tap wiz an ee an some words he couldna mak oot affa weel. It must hae been a holy well awa back and michta been that fowk made their wye up here for cures or jist tae pray. He kent weel eneuch aboot holy wells for he'd seen plenty as he traipsed the country roon but he'd nivver seen ony wi carvins like this yin The watter wiz fine an clear so he teen a drouth o't tae slake his thirst.
Aifter a wee fyle Wully set fit on up the wee glen because that’s fit it turned intae, the sides werena sae sheer an the goin wiz a lot easier for pushin the bike. His spirits liftit a bittie fin he saa a decent eneuch track and the rowan trees scaittert here an there up baith sides o the glen. There wisna ony signs o habitation though as yet but he could see a twa’r three sheep heich up. Aifter aboot anither oor o waakin on the easier trail he wiz beginnin tae winder if he'd deen the richt thing comin up here. He could see a mist rollin doon the glen an felt the temperature start tae drap. A fyowe meenits later an he could barely see his haan afore him. Noo naebody wints tae be caught oot on the heich grun fin a thick mist comes doon especially if yer nae acquant wi faar ye are..
Wully kent he'd hae tae cairry on throwe it for there wiz nae gan back doon the dangerous balloch an him nae able tae see. He teen it gey canny but the trail that hid been sae clear only meenits aforehaan seemed tae peter oot aathegither and he eynt up waakin throwe heather an big steens. Kennin that he'd wannert fae the trail he tried tae backtrack but tae nae avaul. Well, well he'd jist hae tae bide faar he wiz until it cleared.
He sat doon faar he steed an pulled a puckle heather aboot him that wid keep the caal oot for a fyle onywye. The mist didna bother Wully for he'd been caught like this mony a time, but the thing that did garr him worry wiz the stervation caal that hid gotten as bad that he startit tae chitter. Noo this only bein the month o September there wiz nae wye it should be this caal. He pondered ower this for a fylie an that wiz fin he heard the dog bowffin awa in the distance. Wully wiz pleased tae hear sic a soon for that meant that a shepherd must be aboot. He shouted tae tak the dog's attention an in nae time the dog cam oot o the mist an ran inaboot wi it's tail waggin.
Wully petted the dog an whit a bonny craiter it wiz:;a black an fite collie wi the bonniest wee facie he ivver did see. It started rinnin aroon him wi it's tail still gyan then it started tae nip at his heels the wye collies dee fin they're drivin the sheep. Wully kent fine fit it wiz up tae so he teen his bike and gaed in the direction the dog wintit him tae gang. In nae time he felt the track aneth his feet an fae there on the dog ran in front then wid come back and repeat this action.
Aifter a fair bit the dog led him tae a shepherd's bucht that wiz a simple squarr biggin wi a sod reef and he could smell burnin peats. The dog headed for the side o the bucht an crawled throwe a wee openin intae the biggin. Nae lang aifter an aal man cam oot at the door. He wiz riggit in hamespun hoddin grey breeks an jaicket wi a reed Tam o shanter on his heed.
“Michty min fit are ye deein wannerin aboot up here in sic weather?”
He'd a couthie smilin face an athoot anither word beckoned Wully inside. The bucht wiz jist ae room simply furnished wi a table aneth the only windae he could see, in ae corner a big black timmer press an alangside it a washstaan wi a big blue booie an a joog. The fire though teen Wullies attention wi its bleazin peats piled high and unusual for the normal shepherd's bucht: the fire wiz anent the waa an hid a timmer hingin lum. Aa ither buchts he'd ivver been in hid nae sic a thing , only the fire on a hearth in the middle o the room an nae lum tae let the reek oot. A big deese stood at ae side o the fire an lookit as if it wiz made oot o sods but at the ither side there wiz a big aalfashioned cheer wi a high back an sides that wid nae doot keep oot the drachts in caal nichts. A cloot lay infront o the fire an the dog sattled doon noo, snuggled up on it an gaed tae sleep.
The aal man wiz full o questions tae Wully speirin at him the fit's an it fit wye’s an foo's. At the same time he pyntit tae Wully tae sit doon ontae the deese afore makin him a caapfae o toddy. Takkin the caap fae the aal man Wully thankfully teen a fair drouth o't an felt it deein its work as it heated his cheeled beens. The aal man wint by the name o Hebbie Gow an hid bade aboot here aa his days. Wullie tellt tae him aa the news fae aboot the glens for he kent fine the shepherds were aye hungry for news aboot the ongyans o fowk they ken. Fin it came doon tae the reason for him bein up the glen Wully tellt him he wiz aifter rubbit skins but Hebbie hid nae sic thing and said it wiz only noo an then his dog wid come in wi yin for their supper.
The aal man speired o Wullie if he wiz een o the Tinkler lads that eesed tae bide aboot the Bin. But naa Wullie wisna o that clan- he cam fae anither clan farrer awa nor that . He hailed fae the Buchan at a place caad the Brunty aside Knaven. Aifter a big caap o pottage an anither een o toddy Wully felt in affa gweed fettle and him an Hebbie got doon tae spikkin music an in nae time Wully hid oot his box.It wiz his pride an joy, a Hohner Sunray wi twinty base.
Seen the bucht wiz fulled o music an the aal man's face beamed as he listened tae the tunes.
“Michty me loon ye can fair mak that thing stott!”
An in a meenit he teen doon aa aal battered fiddle fae the heed o the big press an jined in wi Wully. They played for oors an they only dauchled fin the aal man lichted the fir cannle tae pit some licht on the ongyauns an of coorse tae hae anither sup toddy. Wully let him hear some o Scott Skinner's tunes an michty they gaed doon weel: he'd nivver heard ony o his stuff afore. He in turn played tunes by Gow an Marshall- some o them though Wully hid heard afore and could jine in wi.
Aifter a gran nicht the aal man bade Wully tae sleep on the deese an gave him a thick blanket made o hamespun an biggit up the fire wi a load o peat. The aal man gaed tae the back o the room faar there wiz a bun-in-bed wi doors on it, itsel jist like a big press but on its side. Wulliy wiz jist aboot asleep fin the collie cam up aside him an cooried its wye aneth the blanket but Wully wiz far ower tired tae bother and jist left the craiter happit wi the blanket. The neist day wisna ony better regardin the mist an Wully wiz fairly stuck; the aal man though wiz rale chuffed for he enjoyed Wully's company an widna complain o a fylie langer.
So that day Wully helpit the aal man aboot the place, takkin in peats an gettin watter fae the wall. The collie stuck tae him like glue, its tail gan ivvery time he peyed it the least bit o attention. The dogs name wiz Loochy an Wully got a laach at that because a loochy in Cant wiz a rat. Bit whit a clivver dog Loochy wiz seemin tae understand ilka word said tillt. Wully asked the aal man if she ivver hid pups could he get yin, a female of coorse. He promised Wully that he'd get the pick o the litter.
Aboot the middle o the mornin things got a gey bit waar witherwyes fin the snaw startit, an in nae time the grun hid a fair coatin lyin on't. Wully didna like bidin aitin mait fae the aal man but michty fin he let that een slip the aal man gaed tae the big press an showed him that there wiz plenty mait there tae laist months.
Wully felt a bit better seein that the aal man widna be left in stairvation if he'd tae bide for a few days ower the heeds o the snaw. That nicht the music got gyan again an their fingers were fair swaak due tae the toddies an the news inatween.
Anither three days were tae pass afore Wully teen leave o the aal man. He promised he'd come back the neist year wi twa’r three reels o strings for his fiddle. It wiz a sad pairtin fae that place.He'd been trickit wi the aal man's company an he could see by the look on Hebbie's face that he felt the same aboot it.
Loochy led him farrer up the glen tae faar the aal man said he'd find a clear path back doon ontae Glenfetter. He said there wid be nae snaw there because o the wye it faced awa fae the north. Loochy led him richt tae the path an startit bowffin as if tae tell him so. Wully bent doon an pettit Loochy, gie’in him a bit oatcake that he snappit up. He gid Wully’s haan a lick then took aff back tae his maister.
Wi a sair hairt Wully made his wye doo intae the Glenfetter an made up his mind that he'd jist haud back doon tae the fairm at Scorranclach an pick up the skins he'd aaready left there. By the time he got doon tae the fairm it wiz mid aifterneen an for some reason it felt as if he wiz gan inaboot tae a strange place, something seemed different tae him, something he jist couldna pit a finger on.
Athing lookit the same as he mined an then he saw that, in the fyowe days he'd been awa the fairmer hid pitten up a new shed at the side o the hoose. He chappit at the door an Scorranclach's wife came oot lookin gey doonhairtit an speired at him fit he wintit. He askit if her man wiz aboot but tae his surprise she burst oot greetin an said he wiz deed.
“O michty quine faan did this happen?”
She dried her een an telt him he'd been killed in the war.
“War? Fit war?”
She lookit at him strangely as if he wiz a feel.
“The Great War- the war they focht in France!”
Fin she saw the look ontae his face she teen a bit o peety on him an speired him tae come inside.
Wully hid nivver met Scorranclach's wife so he didna ken if she wiz even the richt person but fin he saw the photie o him an her on the mantlepiece he kent at least that bit wiz richt eneuch. She tellt him her man hid been killed at a place caad the Somme in October 1915. At this Wully near took a dwam. Fin he cam tee a bittie, he speired at her fit the date wiz. She nivver lat myeowt but gaed tae the dresser and handit him the People's Freen. On the tap o the page wi a thumpin hairt he read Tuesday 17th September 1920.
“Na na this canna be richt I've only been awa fae here fower nichts an it wiz the month o September 1913 an yer tryin tae tell ma it's 1920!”
She burst oot greetin eence mair sayin, “It's true I'm nae tellin lees My Jock is deed an this is 1920!”
Wully kent then he'd hin the comehither on him and that the aal mannie must've been een o the Gweed Fowk. He'd kept him for syven years an a day for that is fit is said; there is ayewis a day added tae the years- that is your day! Aa but Wully widna rest easy until he kent fit hid been gyan on so he askit the woman if it wid be aaricht tae leave his bike in the byre.
He startit up the glen again an this time wi nae bein trauchled wi the bike he made gweed time. Aboot an oor later he cam tae the wee side glen an made his wye up. He'd rest fin he reached the holy well an nae afore! The aifterneen wiz weel on by the time he cam tae the well but that didna maitter. He hid tae prove something tae himsel. He lookit aroon for the carved steen an sure eneuch, he saa the marks he'd made wi his fit scrapin aff the goor. Nae wye hid syven year gin by or his marks wid be awa lang syne.
He sat doon for a meenit or twa afore he set aff eence mair up the glen. There wiz nae problem this time tae get this far up for nae mist cam rollin aff the hills. He found the shepherd's bucht athoot ony trouble an fin he did he near fell awa. The bucht wiz still there richt eneuch but in ruins, the waas were tummled doon an the sod reef hid faaen in. Nae fowk hid bidden in there for mony a lang year.
Steppin inaboot tae the bit faar the door hid been he saa something lyin there that made the hairs on the back o his neck staan straacht up.It wiz the finger boord o the shepherd's aal fiddle. Wully pickit it up kennin fine as he did that it wiz the fingerboord because o the beaded mither o pearl inlay on the edges. A raik aboot aneth the faaen in reef an he fun tunin pegs, an the broken body o the fiddle wi the bow alangside. Time an wither hid ruined the wid but he githered up aa the bits he could fin an carefully wuppit them in his jaicket.
Sadly Wully startit doon the glen wi his treasure. Faa the aal man really wiz he'd nivver ken, that he'd been wi the powers o darkness there wiz nae doot. But michty he'd been fair trickit wi the aal man's company an felt that sair made that he'd nae get anither chance tae play sic gran music.
A dog barkit in the distance makkin Wully winner if it wiz Loochy barkin but na it wiz only anither dog nae doot wi it's maister takkin in the sheep. Something powkit his leg an there wi it's tail waggin stood Loochy. He clappit her an held a work wi her an fin he lifted his ee up the trail, there stood the aal man wavin doon tae him. He stood up straacht an made tae walk up tae the aal man but the dog growled an pulled at his breeks tae hud him fae gan up. He understood so waved tae the aal man an turned back doon the glen wi Loochy leadin the wye.
The dog nivver left him an teen him richt doon as far as Scorranclach then sat at his heel as if tae say “I'm bidin”! It seemed that Wully noo hid a dog so he petted her an lookit intae her bonny wee facie an felt fair kinichtit. Layin his jaiket doon he unwupped it tae tak oot the puckle bits o the aal man's fiddle but instead o bits it wiz whole an the varnish wiz gleamin. Wully pickit it up; he wiz a box player an he'd nivver tried the fiddle. Could he play? So he pit it aneth his chin like he saa the aal man dee an liftit the bow an…?
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.