John G. Manuel
THE GULLS BEHIND THE PLOUGH.When I was very, very young- a bit laddie, in fact- I used to love more than anything else in life to toddle up and down beside the men who were ploughing. It seemed to me in those days a grand and desirable thing to grow up and drive two horses. I used to watch with wondering awe the great whitefaced Clydesdales as they lifted their feathered feet with slow and faultless rhythm, leaning into their collars with generous persistence, as they faced the curve of the brae. I loved to hear the ring of the taut chains, the tap of the heavy swingle-bars the whine of the share as it grated here and there over a stone, and the soft "slather" of the moist earth as it fell in a chocolate cascade over the mould-board; but better than all I loved the squawk of the hungry grey gulls as they flew overhead in white clouds of clamour, rising and settling, and rising again as the fresh furrow lengthened behind us. I knew where they lived in the spring and summer, my friends the seagulls, because once I had been taken up to look at the broad blue loch that lay in the bosom of the hills, wreathed round with purple heather, and I had been shown the island in this moorland mirror where they nested and fed their young, and I had seen them, thousands and thousands and grey thousands, wheeling over the blue water and crying into the wind. We had bonnier birds by far in Scotland, and many with sweeter voices, but none of them carried with them the scent of the newly-turned earth and the salt of the sea winds as the gulls did- my gulls that followed the plough. Perhaps it is always the first vivid scene impressed on a boy’s mind that stays most clearly with him to the end. Whether that be true or not, when any-one names Scotland, at once memory holds up before me the same bright picture in the same frame of blue March sky- the big team drawing steadily, the old man stumbling between the handles of the plough, with one foot in the furrow and one foot on the lea, and behind and above him the grey mist of the gulls. What a team it was, and what a driver."Co' 'way, Jean, lass. Co' 'way, wumman " he would call, every word a caress, to the big mare that, if she was lazy at times, was only so that she might have excuse for hearing the voice she loved. Then Clyde would turn his proud head and bite at Jean's bridle, resentful because he hadn't been included in the tender words. Then old Jimmy would look round and see me lagging behind."Coom on, ma mannie. What ails 'ee? The burds '11 be takin' 'ee for a bit wurrm an' gobblin' 'ee up if 'ee dinna look shairp." But I knew better than that, and waved my little whip at the white flock squawking overhead. If it had been the old turkey gobbler in the stackyard I might not have been so brave. But the gulls were my friends, I had no fear of them. Old Jimmie the ploughman is dead, gone- over the last headland into the great Unfurrowed Lea. The whitefaced bays are buried- with the youth of the boy who followed them so lovingly- somewhere down by the burn in the shelter of the hawthorn hedge, and new horses and new men tramp from headrig to headrig along the remembered lands; but memory, whenever I hold out my hands to her, brings forward the fair old picture in its frame of blue, and when I listen very closely I can hear the grating of the ploughshare in the loam and the ceaseless chatter of the gulls as they circle overhead.—-05419
1913 Apr 8
Original letter dimensions: 20.5 x 25 cm.
Reel 21, Image 0307
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