Mrs. Mackay was a native of Perthshire, and come to reside in the Sutherland along with a brother. During his lifetime, she was known only as a giddy girl, full of fun, and with a way of doing things quite unlike that of all around her. It was her brother’s death that was the means of fixing her attention on eternal things. He had been deer-stalking on a winter day when the lakes were frozen over. Anxious to be at a certain point before the herd of deer, he ventured on a frozen lake that lay between him and his goal. He had not gone far when the ice gave way, and he sunk in a moment and was drowned. The shock to his sister was appalling, but the season of her anguish was the Lord’s set “time of love.” Her soul’s state and danger soon drew her mind from the affliction of her brother’s death, and she was the subject of a searching work of conviction when my father came to Eriboll. Under his preaching she was led to the foundation laid in Zion, and her new life began in a flush of fervent love that seemed to know no waning until her dying day. She was one among a thousand. Her brilliant wit, her exuberant spirits, her intense originality of thought and speech and manner, her great faith, and her fervent love, formed a combination but rarely found.
During the summer of each year she was accustomed for a long time to come to Ross-shire, in order to be present on communion seasons, wherever she was sure of hearing the Gospel and of meeting the people of the Lord. In all those places her presence was like sunshine, and many a fainting spirit was cheered by her affectionate counsels. Her greatest enjoyment was to meet with anxious enquirers, and many such have cause to remember for ever the wisdom and tenderness of Mrs. Mackay’s advices.
Her visits sometimes extended to Edinburgh and Glasgow. On one occasion she abruptly announced to her husband her intention of starting for the South. Her purse was at the time almost empty, and her husband could not replenish it; and she was also in a very delicate state of health. All this her husband was careful to bring before her, with a view to dissuading her from attempting the journey she proposed. But, assured that the Lord had called her to go, she would not look at the “lion in the way,” and met every reference to her empty purse by saying, “the children ought not to provide for the fathers, but the fathers for the children, and it is not the Father in heaven who will fail to do so.” In faith she started, and not a mile had she walked when a gig drew up beside her, and the gentleman who drove it kindly asked her to take a seat. Thanking him in her own warm way, she sprang into the gig, and was carried comfortably all the way to the Manse of Killearnan. But it was the smallest part of her journey to Edinburgh that was passed on reaching Killearnan, and she could not calculate on travelling over the rest of it with an empty purse. Her faith, however, failed not, and “the Lord will provide” was her answer to every fear that rose in her heart and to the anxieties expressed to her by others. Hearing that the sacrament of the Supper was to be dispensed at Kirkhill on the following week, she resolved to attend it, and to postpone her visit to the South till after it was over. She went, and on Monday a gentleman went up to her, after the close of the service, and handed to her a sum of money, at the request of a lady who had been moved to offer her the gift. Mrs. Mackay gratefully accepted it; but, being accompanied on her way back to Killearnan by a group of worthies, all of whom she knew to be poor, she divided all the money among them, assured that it was for them she received it, and that provision for her journey would be sent by some other hand. Her expectation was realized. A sum fully sufficient was given to her, and she started on her journey to the South.
Travelling by the stage-coach, she was accompanied by several strangers, who were quite struck with her manner, and afterward fascinated by her conversation. One of them venturing to ask whence she had come, her beautiful and striking answer was, “I am come from Cape Wrath, and I am bound for the Cape of Good Hope.” On one account alone they were disposed to quarrel with her. At that time there was a change of drivers at each stage, and at every halt “remember the coachman” was called out at the window. Mrs. Mackay invariably gave a silver coin and good advice to each of the drivers. Her companions, not liking to be outdone by their strange fellow-passenger, and liking still less to part so freely with their money, at last remonstrated. “We cannot afford always to give silver,” one of them said. “and we cannot keep pace with you in liberality.” “The King’s daughter must travel as becomes her rank,” she said, as she again handed the silver coin and spoke the golden counsel to the driver. Before they
parted her companions were persuaded she was the cleverest, and the pleasantest, but the strangest, person they had ever met. Many a refreshing visit she paid to all the Lord’s people whom she could reach before she returned home; and when she did, it was with more strength in her frame and more money in her purse than when she left it. Her husband, who had so strongly dissuaded her before, could only wonder now and give thanks to the Lord for His gracious care of her by the way. Of him she used to say, “he was just made for me by the Lord’s own hand; the grace he had not at first has now been given him, and he will allow me to wander for bread for my soul wherever I can find it.”
She was usually called “the woman of great faith.” “The woman of great faith!” a minister once exclaimed on being introduced to her for the first time. “No, no,” she quickly said; “but the woman of small faith in the great God.”
In repartee few could excel her or try to get the advantage over her without being foiled in the attempt. On one occasion she met with Mr. Stewart of Cromarty, and few ever more dexterously poised a lance or were more skilful of fence than he. He had heard of Mrs. Mackay, and resolved to draw her out. His congenial spirit soon evoked all her wit. Getting the advantage over him, Mr. Stewart threw himself on the sofa, exhausted by the excitement of the rencontre and a little chafed under a sense of defeat. A brother minister wished him to sit up and to renew the conversation, which had been so delighting. “Oh! let him alone,” Mrs. Mackay said, patting him on the head, “every beast, you know, must be after his kind;” showing how well she had marked his originality, and how skilfully she could feather the arrow of rebuke with a compliment.
Her faith, always remarkable, triumphed in a season of affliction. A beloved son was once drowned before her eyes, quite near the shore, in front of her house. The body was soon found, and the mother, supporting the head of the corpse as they carried it to the house, was singing with a loud voice the praises of the Lord. She had learned as few Christians have ever done, to show the dark side of her case only to the Lord. However low her hope might be and however harrowed her feelings, she would allow none to see a tear in her eye, or to hear a groan from her heart, except those with whom her secret was safe, and who would not be discouraged by her distress. Many were thus led to think that her sky was always without a cloud. It was far otherwise under God’s eye; but the Christless never saw in her what would prejudice them against the life of godliness, and the godly were always encouraged by her ever radiant cheerfulness.
Till her last illness her spirits had never sunk, nor had her mind lost aught of its activity and clearness. She died in April 1841. Even while lying on her death-bed, her cheerfulness did not forsake her, and she was always ready to give a word of advice or
encouragement to all who approached her. Her husband had heard, a few days after it had occurred, of my father’s death, and determined not to communicate the tidings to his dying wife, as she was so soon to know it by meeting his spirit in the region of the blessed. With this resolution he entered her room and sat gloomily down on a seat by the fire. “I know what ails you,” his wife said to him soon after he was seated, “you have heard of Mr. Kennedy’s death; I knew of it before. He died,” she added, “on Sabbath evening, and,” mentioning a certain day, “before then I will join him in the Father’s house.” And so it was. So knit together and so near to God were the spirits of both that less than the death of either would not be hidden from the other.