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Stories of the Moorland

Moor. An extensive waste covered with heath, and having a poor, light soil, but sometimes marshy, and abounding in peat; a heath; a fen. — Webster, 1882

They had brought from Iowa a book for Carrie, too, and kept it hidden. It was Stories of the Moorland. – Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety”

Stories From the Moorland or Tales of the Covenanters (called Stories of the Moorland by Laura Ingalls Wilder) was written by Lizzie Bates in 1869. In Little Town on the Prairie, Carrie Ingalls receives a copy of this book as a Christmas gift (see Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety”). Stories From the Moorland is the story of a young boy growing up in Scotland. In addition to tales of the boy’s own adventures, his grandfather often stops to tell old family stories, much like the format used by Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods.

You can read the book in its entirety HERE. The first chapter of Stories From the Moorland is below:

Chapter I – Early Recollections

My memory awoke early. I have recollections which date several months before my third year — but misty, dim and fragmentary, and still stamped indelibly on my heart.

My father was a seafaring man, — a noble specimen of his craft, I have heard my mother say; for, strange as it may seem, in the room of telling me fairy tales, and singing me to sleep with lullabies, my mother kept her own heart alive, and instilled new life into mine, by telling me of the sea, — of its dangers, — and of the prowess my father manifested in guiding his vessel, and combating with the elements. In this manner I came to love the sea, picking up the broken threads my mother dropped, and weaving little fancies of my own, –branching off into the future, and saying what I would do when I came to be a man. I would follow the sea and be a captain, as my father was; and, like him, I would be an example of valor, and a model of goodness to the sailors.

My father had been expected for several days; and once and again had the house been set in order, and my mother put on her prettiest dress, with pink ribbons in her hair, and a bunch of rosebuds on her breast. With her own hands she had made me a little suit, and, for the first time, I was dressed in it; very proud and happy I felt. Never had I been so near a man before, and I marched up and down, looking complacently on my new trousers, plunging my hands into my pockets, and expecting, as a matter of course, my papa would fill them with something rare and beautiful.

The evening of the day on which we felt sure he would come, a tempest swept in from the north, clearing Moray Frith of its shipping, and sending them like swallows to skim the waves, or helplessly to sink into the bosom of the sea. My mother’s face grew white with fear; restless she walked the room, and gazed from the window into the gathering darkness. Then, picking me up in her arms, she covered my face with tears and kisses, telling me to pray for papa.

Three days passed, and then we heard the story of the gale; how the flying vessels had been sent into the harbor of Cromarty. From thence, as the wind veered, they had again put out to sea, hugging the shore, and then striking out into a long tack, doubling the Head, and the fearful Ness, and making good for the south. My father’s ship was one of these; and this was the last we ever heard of him.

After this, my recollections are more or less fragmentary in character. Nevertheless, there is a distinct bit of picture in them all, that strongly impressed my boyish fancy.

Just after I entered my tenth year I had the misfortune to lose my mother, and the calm quiet of my life was destined to run into a new and entirely different channel.

My relatives on my mother’s side could be traced distinctly back to the Howies of Lochgoin, — a secluded place in the parish of Fenwick, in the County of Ayr, on the road from Glasgow to Kilmarnock. There is not in Scotland, perhaps, a situation more dreary and sequestered; yet, though in itself uninviting, it looks out upon scenery as picturesque, sublime, and romantic, as is to be met with among the rugged mountains of Switzerland.
Towards the north the eye rests upon the lofty mountains in Argyleshire; and, in the same direction, Ben Lomond is beautifully seen. On the west is the noble Kilbirnie range, –nearer and more lowly; while, far in the distance, Goatfell, in the Isle of Arran, the Pass of Jura, and Ailsa Craig, are distinctly visible. on the south, the view is terminated by the blue hills of Carrick, and the far ranges in Galloway.

My uncle James Howie was a well-to-do farmer, inhabiting the same house in which his ancestors had lived, not far from the manse, and not a great distance from the parish school. My uncle added to a clear head, and much native sagacity, a singularly retentive memory, and a great thirst for information. His hours of labor, save that he indulged in a brief pause at mid-day, were usually protracted from sunrise till sunset. Such incessant occupation left him small time for reading; and thus it was that the winter evenings were prized by him and by his household as beyond all price. Occasionally the family circle would be enlarged by the accession of from two to three intelligent neighbors, and then books were discussed, and legends related that stirred up my enthusiasm, and filled me with strange and indefinable emotion.

My aunt Margaret was one of those described by King Solomon, when he says, “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil, all the days of her life. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. her candle goeth not out by night. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hand to the needy. Strength and honor are her clothing. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously; but thou excellest them all. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates!”

My cousins Donald and George were older by several years — fine, healthy lads. Donald was something of a humorist, and fond of a good joke. George was more sedate, and both, as I found to my delight, fond of sport and adventure. Jamie and Willie were much younger; wee, bonnie bairns, old enough to assist in folding the sheep, sitting through the pleasant days, wrapped in their plaids, on the braes and the sunny side of the Kirk knowe. But it was my cousin Isabel, a child nearly of my own age, to whom my heart turned with its tenderest feeling. Isabel was my mother’s name, and I fancied my cousin had her look; and I loved her all the more for the gentle, loving ways, such as my mother knew. With all of this there was an indescribable air of loveliness, an air of felt but unspeakable grace floating around her. Her face was pale, yet tinged with such a faint and leaf-like crimson, as rendered her at times surpassingly beautiful; gliding along the braes, and singing her songs, she seemed like some fairy sporting for a time in the glades and dells– a joy and gladness in her home.
Never did nature appear so delightful to me as now, following Isabel to her haunts, and listening as she rehearsed the stories that had come down to her. Often would she wreathe the sprigs of heather in her raven ringlets, till her dark hair was brightened with a galaxy of richest blossoms. Necklaces did she wear, in her playful glee, of the purple berries that feed the small birds in the moors.

There was still another member of the family. This was the venerable grandfather. Too old to be burdened with farm-life, he was not too old to avail himself of opportunities to do good. One night of every week was regularly set apart for meeting with his neighbors, for the purpose of religious conversation and social prayer. Neither did he confine himself to the little hamlet and its immediate vicinity. On the contrary, at all the fairs and markets he was to be found bustling and bargaining with the farmers. I have since learned that my grandfather, like his ancestor, John Howie, was indeed a marked character, whether at home, in the market, or at church; nor did his personal appearance belie the impression that the fame of his piety produced; for with a fine, athletic frame, he had a face beaming with the kind expression of his great, noble heart.

The wealth of summer covered the moor with beauty, when I found myself for the first time at Lochgoin. My uncle and cousins were busy at their farm work, and I was left for the first weeks almost exclusively to my grandfather and Isabel. During this time we made many excursions on foot, my grandfather not only pointing out the localities, but deepening the impression with some figure from Holy Writ, some legend of the Covenanters, or some comment of his own, meeting the wants of his small hearers, and stamping time and place upon the memory.

Besides the mountains already referred to, we could, within the walk of a mile, drink in the beauty of Tinto, the remote Pentlands, and even Arthur’s Seat. Onward, the verdant Ochils, and the less lofty, though not less beautiful hills of Campsie. Distant only a few miles is Loudon Hill, near the battlefield of Drumclog; and almost at its base a cairn of stones, commemorative of the spot where the Covenanters worshiped on the morning of the conflict.

“Of all those that suffered for the faith,” said my grandfather, “there was no one called to endure more than our own ancestral family. Lochgoin was peculiarly favorable for concealment, and often afforded an asylum to the harassed Covenanters; and thus the inmates became the objects of the most rigorous oppression. No less than twelve different times were they subjected to confiscation of property, their cattle driven to market, and themselves, father and sons, declared rebels; their names inserted in the fugitives’ roll; and they, with hundreds of others, compelled to flee for their lives to the concealment of the mountains. The flag that now hangs in the spence was carried by the Fenwick Covenanters at the battle of Drumclog; and a drum there is which you have not yet seen,” said my grandfather.

“George was showing me a flail, yesterday. He said there was a history that belonged to it. Will you please tell it to me, grandpa?”

“The Galloway Flail! I have not thought of it for a good time: perhaps I will, laddie…”


moor (SSL 14; PG)
     “The Wind Blew Across the Wild Moor” (PG), see “Mary of the Wild Moor”

Stories from the Moorland (LTP 19)