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Grey Weather by John Buchan

Grey Weather

Moorland Tales of My Own People


subjects: Historical Fiction

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Grey Weather is the first collection of sketches from John Buchan, author of The Thirty-nine Steps. The subtitle, Moorland Tales of My Own People, sets the theme of these fourteen stories. Shepherds, farmers, herdsmen and poachers are Buchan’s subjects and his love for the hills and the lochs shines through.

216 pages with a reading time of ~3.50 hours (54230 words), and first published in 1899. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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The exact tale of my misadventure on that September day I can scarcely now remember. One thing I have clear in my mind—the weather. For it was in that curious time of year when autumn’s caprices reach their height either in the loveliest of skies or a resolute storm. Now it was the latter, and for two days the clear tints of the season had been drowned in monotonous grey. The mighty hill-streams came down like fields in breadth, and when the wind ceased for a time, the roar of many waters was heard in the land. Ragged leaves blocked the path, heather and bracken were sodden as the meadow turf, and the mountain backs were now shrouded to their bases in mist, and now looming ominous and near in a pause of the shifting wrack.

In the third day of the weather I was tempted by the Evil One and went a- fishing. The attempt was futile, and I knew it, for the streams were boiling like a caldron, and no man may take fish in such a water. Nevertheless, the blustering air and the infinite distance of shadowy hill-top took hold on me so that I could not choose but face the storm. And, once outside, the north wind slashed and buffeted me till my breath was almost gone; and when I came to the river’s edge, I looked down on an acre of churning foam and mountainous wave.

Now, the way of the place is this. The Gled comes down from flat desolate moorlands to the narrower glen, which in turn opens upon the great river of the country-side. On the left it is bounded by gentle slopes of brown heather, which sink after some score of miles into the fields of a plain; but to the right there lies a tract of fierce country, rugged and scarred with torrents; while at the back of all rise the pathless hills which cradle the Callowa and the Aller. It is a land wild on the fairest summer noon, but in the autumn storms it is black as a pit and impregnable as a fortress.

As ill-fortune would have it, I raised a good fish in my first pool, ran it, and lost it in a tangle of driftwood. What with the excitement and the stinging air my blood grew high, I laughed in the face of the heavens, and wrestled in the gale’s teeth for four miles upstream. It was the purest madness, for my casting-line was blown out of the water at almost every gust, and never another fish looked near me. But the keenness abode with me, and so it happened that about mid-day I stood at the foot of the glen whence the Cauldshaw Burn pours its troubled waters to the Gled.

Something in the quiet strength of the great brown flood attracted me against my better judgment. I persuaded myself that in this narrower vale there must be some measure of shelter, and that in its silent pools there were chances of fish. So, with a fine sense of the adventurous, I turned to the right and struck up by the green meadow-lands and the lipping water. Before me was a bank of mist, but even as I looked it opened, and a line of monstrous blue shoulders, ribbed and serrated with a thousand gullies, frowned on my path. The sight put new energy into my limbs. These were the hills which loomed far to the distant lowlands, which few ever climbed, and at whose back lay a land almost unknown to man. I named them to myself with the names which had always been like music to my ear—Craigcreich, the Yirnie, the two Muneraws, and the awful precipice of the Dreichil. With zest I fell to my fishing, and came in a little to the place where the vale ceased and the gorge began.

Here for the first time my efforts prospered, and I had one, two, and three out of the inky pots, which the spate had ringed and dappled with foam. Then, from some unknown cause, the wind fell, and there succeeded the silence which comes from a soaked and dripping world. I fished on and on, but the stillness oppressed me, and the straight craigs, tipped with heather and black with ooze, struck me with something like awe.

Then, ere I knew, I had come to the edge of the gorge, and was out on the peat- moss which gives the Cauldshaw its birth. Once more there came a clearing in the mist, and hill-faces looked out a little nearer, a little more awful. Just beyond that moss lay their foot, and over that barrier of heath and crag lay a new land which I had not yet seen, and scarcely heard of. Suddenly my whole purpose changed. Storm or no storm, I would climb the ridge and look down on the other side. At the top of the Little Muneraw there rose two streams—one, the Callowa, which flowed to the haughlands and meadows of the low country; the other, the Aller, which fought its way to the very centre of the black deserts, and issued some fifty miles distant on another seaboard. I would reach the top, haply see the sight I had often longed for, and then take my weary way down the Callowa home.