THIS way to Braemar." And a finger on the post points away to the right.
"This way to Braemar."
And a second finger, on another post, points to the left.
There is nothing strange in two ways leading to the same place; indeed it is one of the commonest of experiences, the main problem being to find out the shorter one.
One of these ways, so kindly indicated in the freshest of paint and the clearest of letters, has a decided hint of a curve in it.
More suspicious even than that is the quite paternal interest taken in the well - being of pedestrians. There is a difference of opinion here, and two unknown benefactors vie with each other in their zeal to prevent needless wandering. This is unusual in the Highlands, where one is left to grope along as best he can, and is taken roughly to task if, in his ignorance, and to his own great loss of time and strength, he chance to wander.
Now the spirit of these finger-posts is far other than friendly. As soon as one learns why they were put there, the very aspect alters, and they are seen to glare and storm at each other. They represent the very old dispute between private rights and public wrongs. The property has passed out of the hands of one of the old families, and it is the purchaser who kindly recommends the circular route. His finger-post really means, "I wish to shut up the other way."
And the jealous guardians of the sacredness of paths which human feet have trod, time out of mind, without so much as saying, "By your leave," put up their finger-post, which flatly contradicts the other, and says, "You shall not do anything of the kind, if we can help it."
In my experience, the practical victory in all such breezy disputes lies with the proprietor, provided he makes the friction as severe and constant as possible. The timid fear to venture; and even the bold, when they have gone once or twice slowly over the ground, just to show their independence, turn aside from the annoyances, and take the other way.
In this case, the old path happened to be of quite exceptional interest to a small but mildly stubborn order of visitors. Their grievance was not in the closing of the nearest way to Braemar - many of them would have trudged the extra mile or two without a word. The attraction lay along the route, and not in the goal. Lost through all the long hours of a summer day in Glen Doile, they never so much as emerged from the other end. Stained and footsore, but not weary, and with a light shining in their faces, they might have been seen towards night coming out just about where they had gone in. To them the finger-post meant the shutting up of their hilly paradise.
I have no intention of going to Braemar to-day. My further route is in a pleasing state of uncertainty, as it always is when I am abroad. The forbidden ground is just what I have come to see.
There, the gathering majesty of the way passes into still loftier reaches of grandeur and sublimity. Though it gets the name of Doile, it is only the fitting climax where Clova abuts, and abruptly closes, on the tremendous cross-ridge of the Grampians, forming the backbone of the Highlands.
Nor is it mainly for the scene I have come, - though never for so much as a moment is it possible to lose consciousness of it, - but because these torrent-ploughed slopes form one of the few wild-gardens - certainly one of the first three - of our rarest Scottish alpines.
Like Nelson, I am blind to the signal I do not wish to see, and obey the finger-post which points the nearest way to Braemar as up the glen.
The road passes near the dwelling - I believe it now makes a detour. As I thread nay way among the outhouses, I am aware of being the object of a little hostile attention. Loiterers cast a side glance, and disappear into some doorway as if to make my unwelcome presence known. A few moments bring me beyond the shot of eyes into a scene of picturesque wildness - that is, wild-ness which is not at the same time desolation.
One autumn day - it may be such another as this - a sportsman was shooting over the surrounding heights. His title came from a barren spot in one of the shorter glens opening on Strathmore, watered by the Quharity, dear to all readers of Barrie. His income he owed to a richer property on the banks of the Tay, and a spirit, which was singularly childlike, to nature alone. He paused as his eye fell upon a patch of rose colour.
It is an excellent thing, when one is alone shooting in these out-of-the-way places, to have a pair of eyes in one's head, and a soul of some kind behind them. The blue sky, and the cloud shadows, and the life and colour of the hills, weave tender threads into the coarser texture of a day's sport. Easily carried about, and a benefit to the possessor, these simple gifts, as in the case of this blushing alpine, sometimes notice what others would like to see and are glad to hear about.
Few have better opportunities than sportsmen, if they cared to use them. Compared with their systematic work, the zig-zagging of an occasional naturalist is trifling and ineffective, leaving vast tracks on either hand unexplored. They quarter every interesting hill in Scotland, cross every yard of every slope and summit, and that at the bright season of the year, when all the later and rarer alpines are in flower. Granting a little natural curiosity, they might have many a pleasant revelation to make. Others must have passed that patch, but no one had thought it worth his while to pause, or tell over again that such a thing was there.
But this was a sportsman of the proper sort, to whom the birds would have been nothing without the background and the thousand little touches that made their upland home charming. In after years he did not think it worth his while to rehearse how many brace had fallen to his gun. True, it was before the days of sensational bags, when, as yet, grouse-shooting was a gentlemanly sport.