Donald Macpherson did not run the risk of making malt at the Lettoch. Not only had he no accommodation for doing so, but he found he could buy it already ground from the numerous malting bothies in the neighbourhood – especially from the mill of Auchindoun – more cheaply and with less risk to himself. This mill was situated in a particularly favoured place for carrying on illicit operations. To the north-east were the valley of the Fiddich and the outlying district of Botriphnie, while the south and south-west were guarded by the dreary moorland of the Cabrach and the wooded fastnesses of Glenfiddich forest. The former in particular was a favourite habitat of the smuggling fraternity, as during the winter months the frost and snow rendered the roads impassable, and therefore a thorough search of the place by Revenue Officers and their satallites, the preventive men, was utterly impossible.

For a long time Donald had been suspected of being concerned in the mysterious ways of the smugglers, and a sharp look-out kept on his doings, but so far he had evaded detection. He was returning one dark night with a sack of malt from the mill of Auchindoun when he had a narrow escape. He made it a point never to bring the malt alone but always brought a parcel of some legitimate article along with it, and which always formed the ostensible object of his journey.

On the night in question he had come from Auchindoun to Dufftown, the sack being across the pony’s back, and in the latter place had a sack of meal, covering the whole with a packsheet. Walking quietly alongside the pony he soon came to the Lettoch. Arriving at the bridge he was confronted by two excisemen, who demanded to know what the pony was carrying.

“I’m just takin’ hame a pucklie o’ meal to Janet,” he answered, “she’s been grumblin’ aboot it for the last week. ”Well, Donald,” said one of the officers, “we have our doubts about this meal-carrying business, so we will have a look at it.” Now Donald’s pony had a great antipathy to strangers, and Donald was well aware of this, so, as the officers approached, the night being very dark, he shifted the pony’s position in such a way that the officer stumbled against its hind quarters. Without the slightest warning the pony kicked out, striking the officer in the chest, and sending him staggering backwards at least half-a-dozen yards before he fell.

“There now,” cried Donald in apparent alarm, “ye might hae kent what the pony wad dae afore ye meddled wi’ her. Just serve ye richt,” he added, as the pony shook itself free of its load, which was scattered over the ground. In the meantime the other officer had gone to assist his companion to rise, inquiring if he were much hurt, at the same time preparing to strike a light.

Now was Donald’s opportunity, so stooping down he quietly seized the bag of malt and slipped it over the parapet of the bridge, where it fell into a clump of furze bushes, then he became loud ih his complaints about the loss of his meal, a portion of which (owing to his having loosed the string which tied the sack) was strewn upon the road.

“Ye rievin’-,” he cried, “d’ye think folk hae naethin’ else to dae than wark a’ the year roon to git their bit food to hae it destroyed in this fashion? If there’s a law to be had against ye I’m gaun to hae it – gaugers or no gaugers.”

By this time the fallen exciseman had recovered and having found that he had sustained little or no damage from Meg’s (the pony’s) posteriors, approached Donald, and with the aid of the light they had produced, viewed the apparent destruction of the meal. They apologised to Donald, but he would not listen.

“Na, na,” he kept saying, “I’ll juist see what the shirra has to say aboot it. It will teach ye to suspect honest men in future. The freebooters frae the woods couldna hae done mair.” “I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” said one of the officers, “we’ll pay for the meal and that will settle the difficulty.”

“Ye’ll pay me,” says Donald mournfully, “but that’ll no save my back when Janet hears aboot it. Na, na, it’s aboot as much as my life’s worth to face her.” But he added in a more cheery tone, as if he had solved the difficulty, “I’ll tell ye what will make it a’ richt. Gi’e me a line to the miller in Auchindoun for a bag o’ meal, an’ when Janet sees it she’ll be satisfied – she’ll ken it wasna’ my fault.”

To this the officers agreed, one holding the light while the other wrote the note, after which they took their departure. “Weel,” muttered Donald, a broad grin overspreading his features, “this is mair than I expeckit. Fancy the idea o’ the poor fools thinkin’ I was to be caught so easily.”

“Wha has caught ye?” said the voice of Janet as she appeared round the corner carrying a lantern, “I warrant ye hae been among yer auld cronies in Dufftown, an’ are noo comin’ hame drunk as usual. I might hae kent what wad happen when I saw ye at the siller this morning. Man, hae ye nae shame left?” “Never mind Janet, I’m a’ richt this time. I’ve met the gaugers, an’ I think I’ve scored a point. Hae ye seen the pony onywhere? I think it must hae got tired o’ the company I was keepin’ an’ gane hame on its own accord. It was aye a genteel pony.”

“It was the pony comin’ hame alane that brocht me oot,” said Janet somewhat mollified, “but are ye shair ye’re no’ drunk?” then seeing the meal on the road she started with redoubled vigour. “Ye nasty drunken brute, will ye never hae sense? I trauchle the hale day frae early morn till pitch dark an’ this is what it comes to. I wadna muckle wonder if the gaugers existed only in yer ain drunken imagination.”

“Ca’ canny for a wee lassie, till ye see what I’ve gotten. Gang an’ fetch doon the pony while I get things together. Ye see, the gaugers thocht they had me, but I’m somehoo of opeenion I’ve had them. Look there, lassie,” he continued showing the order, “that’s an order for anither sack o’ meal (the – never thocht o’ the sack on the grun) instead o’ what ye see – besides I’ve got a sack o’ maut close by – so if ye fetch the pony we’ll get a’ oot o’ the way.” Janet returned for the pony, while Donald vaulted over the parapet and in a few seconds returned with the malt, where he waited Janet’s return.

“Weel, Donald,” said his better half, as they trudged homeward beside the pony, “I think ye’ve had a narrow escape the nicht, and it should be a lesson to ye no to touch drink when ye’re awa’ frae hame. Did ye no see the candle in the second window?” “No,” growled Donald, “didna’ expeck them to be waitin’ so near hame. A body wad think, however, that I was drunk the way ye’re gaun on. It’s enough to gar w body tak’ to drink the way yer tongue is always goin’ clack, clack, like the hopper o’ a mill. Weel, ye ken it’s a’ for yer ain good. Hoosomever, I’ll say nae mair the nicht, “and they arrived home without further conversation.