‘Auld Granny—A Right-of-Way Story’ by J.A. (10 November, 1860)

This short story by J.A. from Baldovan touches on the issue of rights-of-way which was somewhat contentious at the time, with access to the Dundee Law being made difficult for locals. It is also interesting to note that the antagonist is a wealthy East India merchant, new money taking the place of the old aristocracy.

Near a pleasantly situated village in the south of Scotland, there is an old church-yard, which, at the time we allude to, had been shut up for a considerable number of years; but it was still the favourite resort of the villagers during the long evenings in the summer months. The path which led to it was about three-quarters of a mile in length, and was kept in good order by the villagers, who cut the grass, and carried it home for food to their cows. One morning they were surprised to see the small estate, on which part of the path and the church-yard was situated, advertised for sale. Various offers were handed in, and at last it was sold to a wealthy East India merchant, who was possessed of more money than brains, and a heart as cold as Greenland ice. A few days after the purchase, he made his appearance, accompanied by his wife, and two proud haughty daughters. During the first two months of the residence there, they were little seen, it being the depth of winter; but spring came with its cheering influences, and the youngsters of the village began to turn out to cull the wild flowers, and search the woods for the earth nuts that were thickly scattered over them. One morning their sports were suddenly put a stop to by the appearance of the new Laird amongst them. He ordered them to begone! warning them if ever he caught them there again he would horse-whip them. They needed no second telling, but quickly scampered off to the village, and breathlessly told their friends all that had happened. These ominously shook their heads, and said one to another—”I doot the new Laird winna fill the auld ane’s shoes.” Things went on smoothly for another month, and during that time workmen had been employed to carry out some alterations on the house and grounds, and, amongst others, a new carriage-drive. The villagers saw, with consternation, by the stakes which had been driven in to mark its course, that it would cross, and consequently shut up their favourite path. A meeting was called, and three of the village worthies were appointed to wait upon the Laird, and learn his intentions of the matter. They did so, at the earliest opportunity; but he only laughed them to scorn, and told them he could do with his own as he chose. They answered him firmly, but civilly, that the path had belonged to their forefathers for generations, and they could not stand quietly by and see their rights trampled on with impunity. The Laird, seeing he was to meet with determined opposition, promised to make another to them equally good, if he were allowed to make his drive. The drive was accordingly made, a fancy wire-fence was run along each side of it, entirely shutting up the ancient path to the church-yard. True, another had been substituted in its place, but care was taken to make it as circuitous as possible, with the view of driving them from it altogether.

An old woman lived in the village, to whom had been given the homely name of “Granny.” She had been a soldier’s wife, and had followed her husband through many a bloody scene, and closed his eyes, along with those of their eldest son, on the gory field of Waterloo. Through the kindness of a few officers, she was able to reach her native village, along with her second and now only son, who shortly died, leaving her friendless.

Granny was a favourite in the village both with old and young, more especially with the latter. They thronged to her fireside in the winter evenings, and eagerly listened to her exciting stories of the battle field. During the summer months Granny might often be seen leaning heavily on her staff, going in the direction of the churchyard. The first time she ventured forth after the old path had been shut up she thought she would take a more direct road through the woods, never dreaming the Laird would turn back an old woman like her. She had not proceeded far when she heard a shout behind her, and on turning round she stood face to face with the Laird, who ordered he instantly to turn, for there was no road that way.

“Deed, sir,” answered Granny, “it’s no a very guid ane; but it’s a guid deal nearer than the new ane y’e hae made.”

Again he ordered her to turn.

“Na, na, sir,” she said, “I canna turn, for if I turn I winna get the length o’ the kirkyard the nicht, an’ I wad like to see my puir laddie’s grave ance mair. This ‘ill maybe be the last time.”

Granny’s arguments were of no avail; he rudely seized her by the shoulders, in order to turn her around. She sprang from his grasp and exclaimed, “Hands off, ye cowardly knave,” and, lifting her staff, she gave him a blow that made the “claret” fly from his proboscis like a purple shower. A Newfoundland dog that followed its master sprang upon her, bringing her to the ground, tearing her clothes, and biting one of her arms very severely. It was some time before the inhuman wretch attempted to take the dog off the old woman, and he did not even assist her to rise, which she had no sooner done than she retraced her steps to the village.

Some masons, returning from their work, observing the sad plight she was in, anxiously inquired the cause. Granny told them the treatment she had received from the Laird. The young men, being enraged, vowed that before the sun went down they would again open the old pathway. The cloud had burst that had been long gathering. The treatment Granny had received spread the like wildfire, and before half-an-hour every one in the village was turned out and formed into marching order, and boldly they trod the path over which their forefathers had been carried to their last resting-place. Breaking and tearing down every obstacle that came in their way, they reached the churchyard, and there, over the graves of their forefathers, pledged themselves to defend their own rights cost what it would—and they have kept their word. The walk is open to this day, and the carriage drive has been shifted, and both old Granny and the Laird have long since gone to their rest.

J.A., Baldovan.

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