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Kist of Sorrows


David Kerr Cameron

'Superb...a book of great beauty' Selina Hastings/Daily Telegraph

The period is around 1880. The evictions are still going on, but less nakedly now: landlords are raising rents to levels the crofters cannot pay, and are forcing them out that way. We see it happening in the parish of Kilbirnie, where the pastor, Pringle, records the process sadly in his journal, but it powerless to prevent it. When the laird, Hallerton, sells part of his estate, including the croft hill, to Gurney, an iron-master from Aberdeen, his factor makes short work of the crofters: MacAllister is savagely beaten up, and MacCaskill, leader of an attempt to organise opposition, and, as Pringle writes, “my most senior and respected elder, a pillar of the community”, is arrested and “led away cuffed like a common miscreant”.

MacCaskill’s daughter Morag has had to seek employment in a farmtoun: a hard fate; but old and crippled Campbell, who owns the town, is kind to her after his dour fashion. Though she loses the man she loves, she bears his son and, by the finish, she at least has an assured future.

The novel is written in a lilting prose that does not disguise its serious purpose, deep compassion and grave rhetoric. It makes a brave impact, and that it could have been written over a century ago is no bar to its romantic attractions.


Last night I took the old roads and heard the old speak. I listened again to the sdll voices and felt the sting of the wind on my cheek. And it was good, like a home-coming. The old track is grass-grown, almost obliterated by the years, and I am a stranger now where the old wind wanders, where it reeshles the dry broom and tugs at the tufted grass. The hill is quiet, shorn of voices . ...

Time has mellowed the stones, as it has sutured the hurts of the heart; hallowed them as the last reminder of the folk who once had their life and their being here. They rest, stilled forever in their coffin' d sleep, and now on the hill nature has reclaimed her own...

Once, slow down that stony track tumbling its way through the patterns of the past stumbled a lass with a winsome smile, and an impish sense of mischief... Strange and intangible the thing that bound us then, that continuity of race and cre'ed that united the tenuous thread of her yesterdays with my own tomorrows ....