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Arthur Ritchie, Bithnie, a cattle-dealer from Aberdeen, used to tell the following story : In a bad Hallow Fair, towards sunsetting, a gentleman came round and asked the price of a lot of cattle. Arthur had given him a large halter, and he got an offer which he accepted. It was a great price for the market. The buyer refused afterwards to take them, and my father was made umpire. The buyer said that a glimmer came over his eyes, and he thought them better when he offered the price. However, he got ashamed, and took the cattle. An old respected servant of my own, who assisted me for years in the buying and selling of cattle-James Elmslie, very well known here and in the south—had sold twenty beasts very well at Hallow Fair for me. There was a “buffalo ” among them of the worst type—a great big “buffalo dog.” The buyer, when he paid them, said, “Well, James, if they had all been like the big one, I would not have grudged you the price.” “Ah, sir,” said James, “you would have difficulty in getting a lot like him!” I could scarcely keep my gravity. A very grave and solemn conclusion to a sale occurred to me at Hallow Fair. I had sold twenty beasts to a very rich farmer - near North Berwick, who had bought many lots from me. He had employed a marker, who had just marked nineteen out of the twenty. The buyer was joking with me about the dearness of the cattle, when, in a moment, he dropped down dead, falling on his back, and never moving or speaking more. The event created such a sensation, that no more sales were made that day.
The English dealers seldom came north except to Aikey Fair. Then we had the Armstrongs, the Millers, Murphy, and other English dealers, and it was quite a sight to witness the droves going south ; but Aikey Fair has now lost its ancient glory, and is only the shadow of what it was. It was a sight I shall never witness more to see the whole hillside covered with innumerable herds of “Buchan hummlies.” Mr Bruce of Millhill showed the largest lots, and stood at the top as an exhibitor. Talking of Buchan, the names of Bruce, Millbill, and Smart, Sandhole, were household words at my father's board. My father and myself have bought thousands of cattle from them ; no agriculturists have ever been more respected in Buchan. Mr Bruce, perhaps, was as solid, but Smart was the more dashing man. I have never met any one who would do the same amount of business with as few words as Smart, and do it as well. As one example: He brought sixty beasts to Mintlaw market-cattle were low-priced at the time. I had the first offer of them: he asked £12, 12s. a-head. I offered £12, and we split the 12s. The whole transaction did not take up half of the time I require to write it. Mr Bruce and Mr Smart were the best judges in Buchan. We had other great exhibitors, Mr Bruce, Inverwhomrey ; Mr Scott, Yokieshill; Mr Milne, Mill of Boyndie ; Mr Paton, Towie ; Mr Milne, Watermill, &c. Mr Mitchell, Fiddesbeg, the Browns, the Rattrays, Hay of Little Ythsie, and Wm. M'Donald, were all extensive dealers in cattle in those days. The following anecdote of William M‘Donald was told by my father : It had been a very good September Falkirk market, and Mr John Geddes, Haddoch, who was an extensive home grazier and dealer, had a large stock of cattle on hand. M‘Donald and my father were both anxious for the chance to buy them, and pushed through their business at Falkirk as fast as possible to get to Haddoch. At that time the dealers accomplished all their journeys on horseback, and prided themselves on the fleetness of their saddlehorses. My father thought no one his match in the saddle. He reached Haddoch on Wednesday at midnight—the first cattle-market day at Falkirk being on Tuesday- but the first thing he observed on drawing near to the house, which remains on the farm to this day, although a new one has been built, was the main
room lighted up. On coming nearer, he heard voices fast and loud, and one was that of M'Donald! It was all over! M.Donald had fairly beat M'Combie in the chase. My father got into the house, worn-out and disappointed, and got quietly to bed; and I have often heard him tell how M'Donald's peals of laughter raug in his ears as the punch-bowl went round, even to the dawning of the day. Neither M‘Donald nor Haddoch knew my father was in the house. He left in the morning for Clashbrae, where he bought some smaller lots from the farmer there, who was a local dealer.
A word as to M‘Donald: He was a stout-made middle-sized man, and spoke so fast over the “bowl” that no one could follow him. He had a good deal of mother-wit; and his great ambition was to be the owner of large droves of cattle. I have seen a drove belonging to him a mile and more long. Mr John Geddes was a man of high standing and great firmness of character. He wore the broad blue bonnet, with a long blue coat and clear buttons, and boot-hose, and rode a very fine cob pony with a long tail. He was of great strength of constitution, and could have sat twenty-four hours with the punch-bowl before him (it was always the bowl at Haddoch), and risen as sober as when he sat down. Such were the habits of those days. I never pass on the railway from Huntly to Rothiemay, but on casting my eye over the old house I recall the night described so graphically by my father. He and Haddoch had large transactions. After a bad October Tryst, where my father had sixteen score of Aberdeenshire cattle, and when he lost £4 ahead upon every beast, Mr Geddes returned him £70 as a luck-penny upon a large lot he had bought from him. There have few men appeared in the north of greater influence or of higher moral worth than the late Mr John Geddes of Haddoch. His landlord, the late Duke of Gordon, was proud of him, as well he might be.
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It was the general custom that the dealers came to the market-ground with their cattle, and immediately before them, to the part of the market-stance where they wished them to stand. It was quite a sight to see Mr Geddes on an Old Keith market-day (Old Keith Market, like Aikey Fair, is now only a shadow of its ancient greatness), with his broad bonnet, the long blue coat, the overall stockings, and mounted on a strong bay pony with its tail to the ground, at the head of a large lot of heavy cattle. Every one made room for his cattle, as he rode before them to the upper wall; it would have been of no use to resist, as the weight of his animals would have soon cleared the road for themselves; and as soon as the large black mass of horned cattle appeared in the valley below, the cry was, " There comes Haddoch! We must clear the way, or else his cattle will soon clear it at our expense.” After the first lot was stationed, another and another followed in succession, which were placed beside the others, till perhaps there were 200 altogether ; the different lots being all kept completely separate for the inspection of purchasers. Mr Geddes never went south with cattle, but sold them all at home. In a bad year he once got as far south as Tillyfour with 120 cattle in November. They were at Tillyfour a night, and my father bought them in the morning, but they were about a mile on the road before the bargain was struck. No one could have seen Mr Geddes without pronouncing him a man of mark. Old Keith Market was the greatest autumn market in the north at that time, and stood two days. The dealers considered one day sufficient, and resolved to put a stop to it. The publicans resisted. There was an agreement made out and signed by every cattle-dealer in the trade, binding themselves under a fine of £50 sterling that they would only attend one day in future. Some of the sellers offered a few cattle on the second day, the following year, but every dealer left, and that
put an end to the second day of Old Keith Market. My father was the first to sign the agreement. I have the document still in my possession, signed by upwards of forty dealers, all now gone to their rest, with the exception of two—Mr Lumsden of Aquhorties, and John Thom, Uras.
There are still some who carry large sums of money to the markets. My friend, Mr Jas. Martin of Aberdeen, still carries a great deal of money to the fairs, and pays all his bargains ready money. In the summer of 1868, just before my election, and the night before the Highland and Agricultural Society's Show, the large commercial room in the Douglas Hotel, Aberdeen, was filled with strangers, exhibitors, all interested in the result of the show next day. There would be a hundred in the room at ten or twelve different tables. I was at the same table with Mr Martin and some other fourteen or fifteen friends. The subject of my chance of election came up. Some said I would be elected, and others said I had not the ghost of a chance. A gentleman rose and said, I will bet £1000 that M'Combie will not be returned member for West Aberdeenshire. Mr Martin got to his feet and said very quietly, “Sir, I canna count a thousand pounds, but” (suiting his action to the word, drew from his pocket a tremendous bundle of bank notes and threw them down on the table) “ there,” he said, “is £500 on the table, and I bet it that my friend M‘Combie will be returned: count it and cover it now, sir, if you please.” It was not covered. We heard no more of the £1000 that night. Martin returned his money to his pocket, ordered a dozen of champagne to be booked to his account, and canvassed the gentlemen on my behalf. There was one gentleman who most distinctly refused to support me. “Very well,” said Martin, " we can do quite well without you.” But before we parted our refractory friend added his name to the list of my subscribers.
But the greatest dealer the county could claim, and