I visited Inchbrakie, near Crieff on the 17th December 2018. It was a damp and dreich day in a remote part of my country but I somehow felt history all around me.
The rather fine mansion house of Inchbrakie was demolished in 1884 and all that survives of it today is a bower made out of stone fragments. Inchbrakie castle was lost centuries before that. In 1651 it was burned down by Oliver Cromwell. All that survives is the moat, and quite astonishingly, the ancient yew tree that the Marquis of Montrose hid in before he was caught and then executed.
The Inchbrakie story weaves into the very fabric of Scotland and I find it so sad that it’s history is unknown to most.
I came across the following fictionalised account of Inchbrakie written in 1886 by Miss Helen Liston Hardie. I cannot be sure, so I am inclined to imagine, that Helen Liston Hardie was a close friend of the last two Graeme sisters of Inchbrakie (namely, Emily Susan Graeme and Margaret Oliphant Graeme). It was the brother of these sisters, Patrick James Frederick Graeme, 11th of Inchbrakie, who sold up his family estate and emigrated to Canada. Helen Liston Hardie’s account is based on real events but has fictionalised names and an ending that is more romantic. I love the reversal of the imbalance of power between the male and female sexes. Sadly, it seems to me that this imbalance still exists.
THE WITCH’S BEAD.
Written by Helen Liston Hardie (published 1887)
My name is Eleanor Graeme, and I can assure you I am rather proud of it. For the Graemes of Inchbrakie have been brave and loyal soldiers, cavaliers, since I don’t know how long before the Flood. And Inchbrakie — the dear old place in the very heart of the fair and fertile shire of Perth —had been handed down from father to son with unbroken regularity for generations until some years ago, when my five handsome, stalwart cousins died, one after the other—from Francis in the prime of his manhood down to the curly-beaded school-boy Charlie—and I, a girl of eighteen, was left to represent the family dignity and succeed to the family estates. It was rather dull for me. My father and mother were dead long before, I had no brothers or sisters, and almost no near relations.
So I lived in the great, big, square house standing low amongst surrounding woods, with Aunt Clara to keep me company and look after me. Aunt Clara is very nice, and very kind, and very good-tempered, but she and I don’t look at things from exactly the same standpoint. Her Ideas of happiness In the country is reading novels and doing fancy work all the morning; driving in the brougham in the afternoon; and dozing over a cup of coffee all the evening. Now, my idea includes a good deal more than that, and it distinctly excludes a shut carriage, even when it rains.
But this is a digression. By the way, I should not have said I had no near relations. If a near relation means a person who is entitled to give you good advice, whether you want it or not, then I found I had tar too many relations when it became known that I was engaged to Patrick Armstrong. Good gracious! How these cousins of every degree of kindred warned me, and advised me, and preached at me, as If a girl didn’t know a great deal better than anyone else what sort of man she would like to marry. The theme of their discourse was generally Patrick’s plebeian birth and occupation — “A manufacturer, my dear! Very nice, no doubt, and very wealthy and quite a gentleman in his manner. But still, not your equal in birth.” Or else it was —”It is just the drawback of your position, Eleanor, my dear. That class of persons is always so ambitious; and they say this young man is desirous to get into Parliament, and he may think his social position as your husband could help him on.” But I think they were all much mollified when they discovered that the “plebeian manufacturer” could buy the whole of Inchbrakie three times over without feeling any poorer. Or else it was Patrick himself who reconciled them to the match. For the most prejudiced old Hidalgo that ever boasted of his blue blood could not look at my Patrick without seeing that he was a gentleman, every inch of him, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet—and the distance is good six feet—though he had broken stones on the road all his life. But I am digressing again.
On a certain soft, mild, November day Patrick and I were sitting under the old yew-tree. It is a famous yew, the second oldest in Scotland; and it once had the honour of hiding amongst its thick foliage our chief and kinsman, the great and gallant Marquis of Montrose. The yew, and a part of a moat, are all that are left to mark the site of the old Castle of Inchbrakie. I like to sit there and look at the modern mansion, square, and grey, and solid, with its thick woods behind it, and the wooded knock and the crest of Belnollo rising above them, or to gaze away southward, over the wooded parks, to the smooth blue outline of the Ochils. Well, there I was sitting on this November day,
Well, there I was sitting on this November day, and there was Patrick. After we had sat for a while, he took a little parcel from his pocket and said, “I have brought you a little present, Eleanor. I am afraid it is very funny and old-fashioned, but it was my mother’s—her only ornament, I think. I do wish I could give you jewels that are heirlooms. The diamonds and stuff one buys in shore seem such commonplace, soulless things.” The “little present” was certainly funny – a queer, old-fashioned, heart-shaped enamelled locket, with a monogram in pearls on one side, and on the other, a dullish, yellow stone, set deep into the locket. I told him I liked it very much, although I did not share his contempt for the soulless diamonds at the shops. “As for family heirlooms, Patrick,” I said, “if you get the family honour, and the family credit, and the family this, that, and the other thing dinned into your ears as l do you would not care so much about heirlooms”. I put my foot in it dreadfully the other day by laughing, in my old nurse’s presence, over the story of the loss of our heirloom.
“What was it?” be asked.
“Don’t you know about It? What shocking ignorance! And how very callous and careless of me never to have told you about it Listen, then, and don’t ask me questions about dates, for I can’t answer them. Well, you must know that sometime last century there lived a very famous witch at Monzie, called Kate MacNiven, who was condemned to be burned for her sorceries on the Knock of Menzie up yonder. The Laird of Inchbrakie interceded very hard for her, but in vain. To the Knock she was taken; but on the way she stopped and took off her string of lammer beads all witches wear lammer beads, you know. She spat one of the beads towards Inchbrakie, and said as long the family kept that bead they would never want a male heir. And it came true for several generations, until my grand-uncles time. He quarrelled with his eldest son Francis because he wanted to marry the gamekeeper’s daughter. So Francis and she ran off, and were married at Gretna Green or somewhere, and then went off to Australia and we heard of no more, except that a short time after a notice of Francis’ death appeared in the papers. But the worst of it was, Francis, had taken the witch’s bead with him —whether by accident or for malice no one knows. And then the reverse of the witch’s prophecy began to be fulfilled. My granduncle’s four other sons all died within eighteen months, then the two cousins who came next in the entail, until, when the old Laird died, I came into possession of Inchbrakie. The moral of the tale is, sir, I think, that seeing what an important person I am, I should be home in time to preside at afternoon tea.”
“And what,” he said, “if some fine day the lost bead and a male heir of your Cousin Francis turn up together?”
“Why, then, I suppose I shall be like Cinderella when eleven o’ clock struck– ball dress, gilded coach, and all the rest of it would vanish.”
“Everything but the Prince,” he added. And then we went back to the house, and had tea in the gathering gloom of my great, big, ghostly drawing-room. Then Patrick had to go back to Perth, where his much reviled “manufactory” lay, and Aunt Clara and I retired to our rooms to dress for dinner, which meal was to be enlivened by the presence of one or two ponderous neighbouring lairds, with their uninteresting wives and daughters—for the entertaining of our neighbours at regularly recurring seasons was a duty which Aunt Clara prosecuted with an ardour worthy of a better cause.
My maid was ill just then, and her duties were being performed by an old retainer named Tibbie, who had been in the house from time immemorial, and knew more about the family in all its ramifications than anyone else, besides having the most delightful collection of regular, good, ”creepy” ghost stories.
“I shall wear this locket to-night, Tibbie” I said, “and my pearl” But Tibbie interrupted me with a sudden scream as she saw the locket, “Guide us and save us, Miss Graeme, whaur got ye that?”
“Got it! I got it today from Mr Armstrong.”
“Lassie! It’s the bead! The lammer bead! I canna be mista’en. And what’s than letters on the back? My auld e’en canna mak’ them oot. Eh wumman, but this is strange.”
“The letters are F.R.G.” I said
“The very thing,” she exclaimed. “Francis Rupert Graeme . . . That I sud live to see this day!”
Just then Aunt Clara came in, and to her I explained as well as I could what had occurred.
“I ken the locket fine” continued Tibbie, “the old laird got it made for Maister Francis when he cam’ o’ age, to haud the bit bead safe. It sud open tee, if I could mind the way o’t.” With much fumbling she found the spring, and opened the locket. Inside was a small piece of paper, folded into the tiniest compass. It was yellow with age, and almost worn through at the folds, but I managed to decipher the following: “I have nothing to give my son, Patrick Francis Rupert Graeme, now called Patrick Armstrong, to make good his claim to Inchbrakie but this locket and the lammer bead it contains. P. R. Graeme.”
I think it all flashed upon me then in a moment. Not all the proof of documents and witnesses that was brought to light after made me one iota surer than I was than that my Patrick was in reality my own cousin and laird of Inchbrakie. The little I knew of his mother and his early life tallied with what Tibbie could tell of Francis and his plebeian bride. “Aunt Clara” I said, “lets telegraph for Patrick at once. He may be able to throw more light on it. At any rate, he ought to know what we have discovered at once.”
“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” cried Aunt Clara “We’ll take no steps whatever till we see your guardians and your solicitor. Telegraph for them if you like. I’ve often told you, Eleanor, ladies should never interfere in business matters.”
“This is not business. This is common justice and honesty,” I said hotly.
“Eleanor, be reasonable. Suppose you go rashly without advice, and put this idea into the young man’s head, it may end is your being turned out of Inchbrakie before you know where you are.”
“Well, if it isn’t mine really, I don’t want it” I exclaimed, “I had much rather Patrick had it than me.”
”Yes” said Aunt Clara who was determined, at all costs, to shift the responsibility of her shoulders before any decisive step was taken. “But suppose you lace Patrick too. You have often been warned that he is very ambitious of position in the country, and he may discover that he can get it without having to take a wife along with it. You’ll wish then you had not taken such a leap in the dark.”
Perhaps it was just as well that at that moment we heard the arrival of the first batch of our guests. Or I think the conversation might have ended in my taking her by the shoulders, heedless of her Spanish point Lace fichu and shaking her thoroughly. After putting the locket safely away in my dressing-case, I went downstairs, and Aunt Clara followed more slowly.
Oh! What a dreary dinner party that was! How the men maundered about politics, and pheasants, and parochial boards. How the young ladies pounded and thumped my unfortunate piano, and the old ones gathered in a confidential group round Aunt Clara, keeping me in a frenzy lest she should be telling them the romantic story of the locket “in the strictest confidence.” But at last they all took their departure, and I was free to shut myself into my own room and mature my plan of action.
I was quite determined that Patrick should bear of the discovery at once from myself, so that if there was the faintest shadow of truth in Aunt Clara’s wicked insinuation I might see it for myself and set him free. I said this over so often to myself that I began to believe in its possibility. The details, however, were more difficult to arrange. If I had only been a man—the much desired male heir of Inchbrakie— bow easily I could have sauntered down to the railway station and gone oft to Perth, no one asking me why I went or when I was coming back. But I was a young lady, hemmed in on every side by conventionalities and proprieties; so, I am sorry to say, I had to condescend to subterfuge. I told Aunt Clara I was going to clear my brains by a gallop in the morning, and then I should be ready for a discussion, and I ordered my horse at eight o’clock. But I had no idea that eight o’clock on a November morning was such a dull and dismal time, or that my fresh faced and sandy-haired groom, aged eighteen, could inspire me with the fear I felt when I turned to him at the avenue gate, and said “I want to ride as far as Perth, George I suppose the horses are able for it?” He touched his hat, and said, “Yes, ma’am” very gravely but I felt sure he thought I was mad. It is a good eighteen miles to Perth, of a level uninteresting road, and I don’t think my bonnie bay was used to taking such a long journey before breakfast any more than l was. At first the sense of novelty and adventure kept up my spirits, but about half-way it began to rain in a soft steady drizzle and I found myself looking anxiously for the milestones. By the time the towers of the Fair City came in sight my courage had retreated to the toes of my boots, and what is worse. I felt that I looked a most limp and melancholy specimen of feminine humanity. However. I dismissed George and the horses to the livery stables, and made my way with the beet grace I could command to Patrick’s place of business, a region whither I had never as yet penetrated. Through a big yard, full of horses and drays, a dingy office, where three clerks were scratching away with very noisy pens, who all seemed much astonished at the sight of a young lady in a very wet riding habit asking for Mr Armstrong; finally into an inner counting house, where Patrick sat hard at work over a huge ledger.
“Eleanor! Is anything wrong? You haven’t ridden in, surely. My dear girl, you are drenched.”
“A little,” I said, “but don’t look so grave over that, for I have something far more serious to tell you.” Then I showed him the locket and told him as coherently as I could, the whole story.
“It is possible,” he said, in that grave way of his. “I know I was born in Australia; that my mother brought me home, a child of six; that since her death her people had brought me up. These mills, as you know, belonged to her brothers.”
“Yes, yes”– I interrupted, “but don’t you see, if it is so, and I know it is what a difference it will make to you. Inchbrakie will be your own—not mine to give you. So—and this is what I came to ray to you, Patrick—since everything is turned up-side down, I think you ought to be free from your engagement.”
I said it with an air of the utmost dignity, but, I am sorry to say, Patrick only laughed.
“If you rode sixteen miles in the rain to tell me that, Eleanor, you were a great fool for your pains. No, no; you know it must be something bigger than the witch’s bead that can come between you and me in that way.”
• • • • • •
Of course, everything was inquired into, and turned inside out, and upside down, for months and months. But at last it was proved all right — Patrick was Laird of Inchbrakie. After all, it makes very little difference to me, except, indeed, that when we were married, I did not need to change my name and am still Eleanor Graeme.