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Corporal Cameron
A QUESTION OF HONOUR


Mr. Rae in forty years' experience had never been so seriously disturbed.  To his intense humiliation he found himself abjectly appealing to the senior member of the firm of Thomlinson & Shields. Not that Mr. Thomlinson was obdurate; in the presence of mere obduracy Mr. Rae might have found relief in the conscious possession of more generous and humane instincts than those supposed to be characteristic of the members of his profession. Mr. Thomlinson, however, was anything but obdurate.  He was eager to oblige, but he was helpless.  The instructions he had received were simple but imperative, and he had gone to unusual lengths in suggesting to Mr. Sheratt, the manager of the Bank, a course of greater leniency.  That gentleman's only reply was a brief order to proceed with the case.

With Mr. Sheratt, therefore, Mr. Rae proceeded to deal.  His first move was to invite the Bank manager to lunch, in order to discuss some rather important matters relative to one of the great estates of which Mr. Rae was supposed to be the guardian.  Some fifty years' experience of Mr. Sheratt as boy and man had let Mr. Rae into a somewhat intimate knowledge of the workings of that gentleman's mind.  Under the mollifying influences of the finest of old port, Mr. Rae made the discovery that as with Mr. Thomlinson, so with Mr. Sheratt there was every disposition to oblige, and indeed an eagerness to yield to the lawyer's desires; it was not Mr. Sheratt, but the Bank that was immovable.  Firm-fixed it stood upon its bedrock of tradition that in matters of fraud, crime should be punished to the full limit of the law.

"The estate of the criminal, high or low," said Mr. Sheratt impressively, "matters not.  The Bank stands upon the principle, and from this it cannot be moved."  Mr. Sheratt began to wax eloquent.  "Fidelity to its constituency, its shareholders, its depositors, indeed to the general public, is the corner-stone of its policy.  The Bank of Scotland is a National Institution, with a certain National obligation."

Mr. Rae quietly drew from his pocket a pamphlet, opened it slowly, and glanced at the page.  "Ay, it's as I thought, Mr. Sheratt," he said dryly.  "At times I wondered where Sir Archibald got his style."

Mr. Sheratt blushed like a boy caught copying.

"But now since I know who it is that writes the speech of the Chairman of the Board of Directors, tell me, Sheratt, as man to man, is it you or is it Sir Archibald that's at the back of this prosecution?  For if it is you, I've something to say to you; if not, I'll just say it where it's most needed.  In some way or other I'm bound to see this thing through.  That boy can't go to prison. Now tell me, Tom?  It's for auld sake's sake."

"As sure as death, Rae, it's the Chairman, and it's God's truth I'm telling ye, though I should not."  They were back again into the speech and spirit of their boyhood days.

"Then I must see Sir Archibald.  Give me time to see him, Tom."

"It's a waste of time, I'm tellin' ye, but two days I'll give ye, Sandy, for auld sake's sake, as you say.  A friendship of half a hundred years should mean something to us.  For your sake I'd let the lad go, God knows, and there's my han' upon it, but as I said, that lies with Sir Archibald."

The old friends shook hands in silence.

"Thank ye, Tom, thank ye," said Mr. Rae; "I knew it."

"But harken to me, ye'll no' move Sir Archibald, for on this particular point he's quite mad.  He'd prosecute the Duke of Argyll, he would.  But two days are yours, Sandy.  And mind with Sir Archibald ye treat his Bank with reverence!  It's a National Institution, with National obligations, ye ken?"  Mr. Sheratt's wink conveyed a volume of meaning.  "And mind you, Rae," here Mr. Sheratt grew grave, "I am trusting you to produce that lad when wanted."

"I have him in safe keeping, Tom, and shall produce him, no fear."

And with that the two old gentlemen parted, loyal to a lifelong friendship, but loyal first to the trust of those they stood pledged to serve; for the friendship that gives first place to honour is the only friendship that honourable men can hold.

Mr. Rae set off for his office through the drizzling rain.  "Now then, for the Captain," he said to himself; "and a state he will be in!  Why did I ever summon him to town?  Then for Mr. Dunn, who must keep his eye upon the young man."

In his office he found Captain Cameron in a state of distraction that rendered him incapable of either coherent thought or speech. "What now, Rae?  Where have you been?  What news have you?  My God, this thing is driving me mad!  Penal servitude!  Think of it, man, for my son!  Oh, the scandal of it!  It will kill me and kill his sister.  What's your report?  Come, out with it!  Have you seen Mr. Sheratt?"  He was pacing up and down the office like a beast in a cage.

"Tut, tut, Captain Cameron," said Mr. Rae lightly, "this is no way for a soldier to face the enemy.  Sit down and we will just lay out our campaign."

But the Captain's soldiering, which was of the lightest, had taught him little either of the spirit or of the tactics of warfare. "Campaign!" he exclaimed.  "There's no campaign about it.  It's a complete smash, horse, foot, and artillery."

"Nonsense, Captain Cameron!" exclaimed Mr. Rae more briskly than his wont, for the Captain irritated him.  "We have still fighting to do, and hence we must plan our campaign.  But first let us get comfortable.  Here Davie," he called, opening the office door, here, mend this fire.  It's a winter's day this," he continued to the Captain, "and goes to the marrow."

Davie, a wizened, clean-shaven, dark-visaged little man, appeared with a scuttle of coal.  "Ay, Davie; that's it!  Is that cannel?"

"Ay, Sir, it is.  What else?  I aye get the cannel."

"That's right, Davie.  It's a gran' coal."

"Gran' it's no'," said Davie shortly, who was a fierce radical in politics, and who strove to preserve his sense of independence of all semblance of authority by cultivating a habit of disagreement. "Gran' it's no'," he repeated, "but it's the best the Farquhars hae, though that's no' saying much.  It's no' what I call cannel."

"Well, well, Davie, it blazes finely at any rate," said Mr. Rae, determined to be cheerful, and rubbing his hands before the blazing coal.

"Ay, it bleezes," grumbled Davie, "when it's no' smootherin'."

"Come then, Davie, that will do.  Clear out," said Mr. Rae to the old servant, who was cleaning up the hearth with great diligence and care.

But Davie was not to be hurried.  He had his regular routine in fire-mending, from which no power could move him.  "Ay, Sir," he muttered, brushing away with his feather besom.  "I'll clear oot when I clear up.  When a thing's no' dune richt it's no dune ava."

"True, Davie, true enough; that's a noble sentiment.  But will that no' do now?"  Mr. Rae knew himself to be helpless in Davie's hands, and he knew also that nothing short of violence would hasten Davie from his "usual."

"Ay, that'll dae, because it's richt dune.  But that's no' what I call cannel," grumbled Davie, glowering fiercely at the burningcoal, as if meditating a fresh attack.

"Well, well," said Mr. Rae, "tell the Farquhars about it."

"Ay, Sir, I will that," said Davie, as he reluctantly took himself off with his scuttle and besom.

The Captain was bursting with fretful impatience.  "Impudent old rascal!" he exclaimed.  "Why don't you dismiss him?"

"Dismiss him!" echoed Mr. Rae in consternation.  "Dismiss him!" he repeated, as if pondering an entirely new idea.  "I doubt if Davie would consider that.  But now let us to work."  He set two arm-chairs before the fire, and placed a box of cigars by the Captain's elbow.  "I have seen Sheratt," he began.  "I'm quite clear it is not in his hands."

"In whose then?" burst forth the Captain.

Mr. Rae lit his cigar carefully.  "The whole matter, I believe, lies now with the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sir Archibald Brodie."

"Brodie!" cried the Captain.  "I know him.  Pompous little fool!"

"Fool, Captain Cameron!  Make no mistake.  Sir Archibald may have-- ah--the self-importance of a self-made man somewhat under the average height, but he is, without doubt, the best financier that stands at this moment in Scotland, and during the last fifteen years he has brought up the Bank of Scotland to its present position.  Fool!  He's anything but that.  But he has his weak spots--I wish I knew what they were!--and these we must seek to find out.  Do you know him well?"

"Oh, yes, quite well," said the Captain; "that is, I've met him at various functions, where he always makes speeches.  Very common, I call him.  I know his father; a mere cottar.  I mean," added the Captain hurriedly, for he remembered that Mr. Rae was of the same humble origin, "you know, he is thoroughly respectable and all that, but of no--ah--social or family standing; that is--oh, you understand."

"Quite," said Mr. Rae drily.

"Yes, I shall see him," continued the Captain briskly.  "I shall certainly see him.  It is a good suggestion.  Sir Archibald knows my family; indeed, his father was from the Erracht region.  I shall see him personally.  I am glad you thought of that, Mr. Rae.  These smaller men, Sheratt and the rest, I do not know--in fact, I do not seem to be able to manage them,--but with Sir Archibald there will be no difficulty, I feel quite confident.  When can you arrange the interview?"

Mr. Rae sat gazing thoughtfully into the fire, more and more convinced every moment that he had made a false move in suggesting a meeting between the Captain and Sir Archibald Brodie.  But labour as he might he could not turn the Captain from his purpose.  He was resolved to see Sir Archibald at the earliest moment, and of the result of the meeting he had no manner of doubt.

"He knew my family, Sir," insisted the Captain.  "Sir Archibald will undoubtedly accede to my suggestion--ah--request to withdraw his action.  Arrange it, Mr. Rae, arrange it at once."

And ruefully enough Mr. Rae was compelled to yield against his better judgment.

It was discovered upon inquiry that Sir Archibald had gone for a day or two to his country estate.  "Ah, much better," said the Captain, "away from his office and away from the--ah--commercial surroundings of the city.  Much better, much better!  We shall proceed to his country home."

Of the wisdom of this proposal Mr. Rae was doubtful.  There seemed, however, no other way open.  Hence, the following morning found them on their way to Sir Archibald's country seat.  Mr. Rae felt that it was an unusual course to pursue, but the time was short, the occasion was gravely critical, and demanded extreme measures.

During their railway journey Mr. Rae strove to impress upon the Captain's mind the need of diplomacy.  "Sir Archibald is a man of strong prejudices," he urged; "for instance, his Bank he regards with an affection and respect amounting to veneration.  He is a bachelor, you understand, and his Bank is to him wife and bairns. On no account must you treat his Bank lightly."

"Oh, certainly not," replied the Captain, who was inclined to resent Mr. Rae's attempts to school him in diplomacy.

"He is a great financier," continued Mr. Rae, "and with him finance is a high art, and financial integrity a sacred obligation."

"Oh, certainly, certainly," again replied the Captain, quite unimpressed by this aspect of the matter, for while he considered himself distinctly a man of affairs, yet his interests lay more in matters of great public moment.  Commercial enterprises he regarded with a feeling akin to contempt.  Money was an extremely desirable, and indeed necessary, appendage to a gentleman's position, but how any man of fine feeling could come to regard a financial institution with affection or veneration he was incapable of conceiving. However, he was prepared to deal considerately with Sir Archibald's peculiar prejudices in this matter.

Mr. Rae's forebodings as to the outcome of the approaching interview were of the most gloomy nature as they drove through the finely appointed and beautifully kept grounds of Sir Archibald Brodie's estate. The interview began inauspiciously.  Sir Archibald received them with stiff courtesy.  He hated to be pursued to his country home with business matters.  Besides, at this particular moment he was deeply engrossed in the inspection of his pigs, for which animals he cherished what might almost be called an absorbing affection.  Mr. Rae, who was proceeding with diplomatic caution and skill to approach the matter in hand by way of Sir Archibald's Wiltshires, was somewhat brusquely interrupted by the Captain, who, in the firm conviction that he knew much better than did the lawyer how to deal with a man of his own class, plunged at once into the subject.

"Awfully sorry to introduce business matters, Sir Archibald, to the attention of a gentleman in the privacy of his own home, but there is a little matter in connection with the Bank in which I am somewhat deeply interested."

Sir Archibald bowed in silence.

"Rather, I should say, it concerns my son, and therefore, Sir Archibald, myself and my family."

Again Sir Archibald bowed.

"It is, after all, a trivial matter, which I have no doubt can be easily arranged between us.  The truth is, Sir Archibald--," here the Captain hesitated, as if experiencing some difficulty in stating the case.

"Perhaps Captain Cameron will allow me to place the matter before you, Sir Archibald," suggested Mr. Rae, "as it has a legal aspect of some gravity, indeed of very considerable gravity.  It is the case of young Mr. Cameron."

"Ah," said Sir Archibald shortly.  "Forgery case, I believe."

"Well," said Mr. Rae, "we have not been able as yet to get at the bottom of it.  I confess that the case has certainly very grave features connected with it, but it is by no means clear that--"

"There is no need for further statement, Mr. Rae," said Sir Archibald.  "I know all about it.  It is a clear case of forgery. The facts have all been laid before me, and I have given my instructions."

"And what may these be, may I inquire?" said the Captain somewhat haughtily.

"The usual instructions, Sir, where the Bank of Scotland is concerned, instructions to prosecute."  Sir Archibald's lips shut in a firm, thin line.  As far as he was concerned the matter was closed.

"But, Sir," exclaimed.  the Captain, "this young man is my son."

"I deeply regret it," replied Sir Archibald.

"Yes, Sir, he is my son, and the honour of my family is involved."

Sir Archibald bowed.

"I am here prepared to offer the fullest reparation, to offer the most generous terms of settlement; in short, I am willing to do anything in reason to have this matter--this unfortunate matter-- hushed up."

"Hushed up!" exclaimed Sir Archibald.  "Captain Cameron, it is impossible.  I am grieved for you, but I have a duty to the Bank in this matter."

"Do you mean to say, Sir," cried the Captain, "that you refuse to consider any arrangement or compromise or settlement of any kind whatever?  I am willing to pay the amount ten times over, rather than have my name dragged through legal proceedings."

"It is quite impossible," said Sir Archibald.

"Come, come, Sir Archibald," said the Captain, exercising an unusual self-control; "let us look at this thing as two gentlemen should who respect each other, and who know what is due to our--ah--class."

It was an unfortunate remark of the Captain's.

"Our class, Sir?  I presume you mean the class of gentlemen.  All that is due to our class or any other class is strict justice, and that you, Sir, or any other gentleman, shall receive to the very fullest in this matter.  The honour of the Bank, which I regard as a great National Institution charged with National responsibilities, is involved, as is also my own personal honour.  I sincerely trust your son may be cleared of every charge of crime, but this case must be prosecuted to the very fullest degree."

"And do you mean to tell me, Sir Archibald," exclaimed the Captain, now in a furious passion, "that for the sake of a few paltry pounds you will blast my name and my family name in this country?--a name, I venture to say, not unknown in the history of this nation.  The Camerons, Sir, have fought and bled for King and country on many a battlefield.  What matters the question of a few pounds in comparison with the honour of an ancient and honourable name?  You cannot persist in this attitude, Sir Archibald!"

"Pounds, Sir!" cried Sir Archibald, now thoroughly aroused by the contemptuous reference to what to him was dearer than anything in life.  "Pounds, Sir!  It is no question of pounds, but a question of the honour of a National Institution, a question of the lives and happiness of hundreds of widows and orphans, a question of the honour of a name which I hold as dear as you hold yours."

Mr. Rae was in despair.  He laid a restraining hand upon the Captain, and with difficulty obtained permission to speak.  "Sir Archibald, I crave your indulgence while I put this matter to you as to a business man.  In the first place, there is no evidence that fraud has been committed by young Mr. Cameron, absolutely none.--Pardon me a moment, Sir Archibald.--The fraud has been committed, I grant, by someone, but by whom is as yet unknown.  The young man for some weeks has been in a state of incapacity; a most blameworthy and indeed shameful condition, it is true, but in a state of incapacity to transact business.  He declares that he has no knowledge of this act of forgery.  He will swear this.  I am prepared to defend him."

"Very well, Sir," interrupted Sir Archibald, "and I hope, I sincerely hope, successfully."

"But while it may be difficult to establish innocence, it will be equally difficult to establish guilt.  Meantime, the young man's life is blighted, his name dishonoured, his family plunged into unspeakable grief.  I venture to say that it is a case in which the young man might be given, without injury to the Bank, or without breaking through its traditional policy, the benefit of the doubt."

But Sir Archibald had been too deeply stirred by Captain Cameron's unfortunate remarks to calmly weigh Mr. Rae's presentation of the case.  "It is quite useless, Mr. Rae," he declared firmly.  "The case is out of my hands, and must be proceeded with.  I sincerely trust you may be able to establish the young man's innocence.  I have nothing more to say."

And from this position neither Mr. Rae's arguments nor the Captain's passionate pleadings could move him.

Throughout the return journey the Captain raged and swore.  "A contemptible cad, Sir! a base-born, low-bred cad, Sir!  What else could you expect from a fellow of his breeding?  The insolence of these lower orders is becoming insupportable.  The idea! the very idea!  His bank against my family name, my family honour! Preposterous!"

"Honour is honour, Captain Cameron," replied Mr. Rae firmly, "and it might have been better if you had remembered that the honour of a cottar's son is as dear to him as yours is to you."

And such was Mr. Rae's manner that the Captain appeared to consider it wise to curb his rage, or at least suppress all reference to questions of honour in as far as they might be related to the question of birth and breeding.


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