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Corporal Cameron
A RAINY DAY


It was haying time.  Over the fields of yellowing fall wheat and barley, of grey timothy and purple clover, the heat shimmered in dancing waves.  Everywhere the growing crops were drinking in the light and heat with eager thirst, for the call of the harvest was ringing through the land.  The air was sweet with scents of the hay fields, and the whole country side was humming with the sound of the mowers.  It was the crowning time of the year; toward this season all the life of the farm moved steadily the whole year long; the next two months or three would bring to the farmer the fruit of long days of toil and waiting.  Every minute of these harvest days, from the early grey dawn, when Mandy called the cows in for the milking, till the long shadows from the orchard lay quite across the wide barley field, when Tim, handling his team with careless pride, drove in the last load for the day, every minute was packed full of life and action.  But though busy were the days and full of hard and at times back-breaking and nerve-straining work, what of it?  The colour, the rush, the eager race with the flying hours, the sense of triumph, the promise of wealth, the certainty of comfort, all these helped to carry off the heaviest toil with a swing and vim that banished aches from the body and weariness from the soul.

To Cameron, all unskilled as he was, the days brought many an hour of strenuous toil, but every day his muscles were knitting more firmly, his hands were hardening, and his mastery of himself growing more complete.

In haying there is no large place for skill.  This operation, unlike that of turnip-hoeing, demands chiefly strength, quickness, and endurance, and especially endurance.  To stand all day in the hay field under the burning sun with its rays leaping back from the super-heated ground, and roll up the windrows into huge bundles and toss them on to the wagon, or to run up a long line of cocks and heave them fork-handle high to the top of a load, calls for something of skill, but mainly for strength of arm and back.  But skill had its place, and once more it was Tim who stood close to Cameron and showed him all the tricks of pitching hay.  It was Tim who showed him how to stand with his back to the wagon so as to get the load properly poised with the least expenditure of strength; it was Tim who taught him the cunning trick of using his thigh as a fulcrum in getting his load up, rather than doing it by "main strength and awkwardness"; it was Tim who demonstrated the method of lifting half a cock by running the end of the fork handle into the ground so that the whole earth might aid in the hoisting of the load.  Of course in all this Cameron's intelligence and quickness stood him in the place of long experience, and before the first
day's hauling was done he was able to keep his wagon going.

But with all the stimulus of the harvest movement and colour, Cameron found himself growing weary of the life on the Haley farm. It was not the long days, and to none on the farm were the days longer than to Cameron, who had taken upon himself the duty of supplying the kitchen with wood and water, no small business, either at the beginning or at the end of a long day's work; it was not the heavy toil; it was chiefly the continuous contact with the dirt and disorder of his environment that wore his body down and his spirit raw.  No matter with how keen a hunger did he approach the dinner table, the disgusting filth everywhere apparent would cause his gorge to rise and, followed by the cheerful gibes of Perkins, he would retire often with his strength unrecruited and his hunger unappeased, and, though he gradually achieved a certain skill in picking his way through a meal, selecting such articles of food as could be less affected than others by the unsavoury surroundings, the want of appetising and nourishing food told
disastrously upon his strength.  His sleep, too, was broken and disturbed by the necessity of sharing a bed with Webster.  He had never been accustomed to "doubling up," and under the most favourable circumstances the experience would not have been conducive to sound sleep, but Webster's manner of life was not such as to render him an altogether desirable bed-fellow.  For, while the majority of farm lads in the neighbourhood made at least semi-weekly pilgrimages to the "dam" for a swim, Webster felt no necessity laid upon him for such an expenditure of energy after a hard and sweaty day in the field.  His ideas of hygiene were of the most elementary nature; hence it was his nightly custom, when released from the toils of the day, to proceed upstairs to his room and, slipping his braces from his shoulders, allow his nether garments to drop to the floor and, without further preparation, roll into bed.  Of the effeminacy of a night robe Webster knew nothing except by somewhat hazy rumour.  Once under the patchwork quilt he was safe for the night, for, heaving himself into the middle of the bed, he sank into solid and stertorous slumber, from which all Cameron's prods and kicks failed to arouse him till the grey dawn once more summoned him to life, whereupon, resuming the aforesaid nether garments, he was once more simply, but in his opinion quite sufficiently, equipped for his place among men.  Many nights did it happen that the stertorous melody of Webster's all too odourous slumbers drove Cameron to find a bed upon the floor. Once again Tim was his friend, for it was to Tim that Cameron owed the blissful experience of a night in the hay loft upon the newly harvested hay.  There, buried in its fragrant depths and drawing deep breaths of the clean unbreathed air that swept in through the great open barn doors, Cameron experienced a joy hitherto undreamed of in association with the very commonplace exercise of sleep. After his first night in the hay mow, which he shared with Tim, he awoke refreshed in body and with a new courage in his heart.

"By Jove, Tim!  That's the finest thing I ever had in the way of sleep.  Now if we only had a tub."

"Tub!  What for?"

"A dip, my boy, a splash."

"To wash in?" enquired Tim, wondering at the exuberance of his friend's desires.  "I'll get a tub," he added, and, running to the house, returned with wash tub and towel.

"Tim, my boy, you're a jewel!" exclaimed Cameron.

From the stable cistern they filled the vessel full and first Cameron and, after persuasion and with rather dubious delight, Tim tasted the joy of a morning tub.  Henceforth life became distinctly more endurable to Cameron.

But, more than all the other irritating elements in his environment put together, Cameron chafed under the unceasing rasp of Perkins' wit, clever, if somewhat crude and cumbrous.  Perkins had never forgotten nor forgiven his defeat at the turnip-hoeing, which he attributed chiefly to Cameron.  His gibes at Cameron's awkwardness in the various operations on the farm, his readiness to seize every opportunity for ridicule, his skill at creating awkward situations, all these sensibly increased the wear on Cameron's spirit.  All these, however, Cameron felt he could put up with without endangering his self-control, but when Perkins, with vulgar innuendo, chaffed the farmer's daughter upon her infatuation for the "young Scotty," as he invariably designated Cameron, or when he rallied Cameron upon his supposed triumph in the matter of Mandy's youthful affections, then Cameron raged and with difficulty kept his hands from his cheerful and ever smiling tormentor.  It did not help matters much that apparently Mandy took no offense at Perkins' insinuations; indeed, it gradually dawned upon Cameron that what to him would seem a vulgar impertinence might to this uncultured girl appear no more than a harmless pleasantry.  At all costs he was resolved that under no circumstances would he allow his self-control to be broken through.  He would finish out his term with the farmer without any violent outbreak.  It was quite possible that Perkins and others would take him for a chicken-hearted fool, but all the same he would maintain this attitude of resolute self-control to the very end. After all, what mattered the silly gibes of an ignorant boor?  And when his term was done he would abandon the farm life forever.  It took but little calculation to make quite clear that there was not much to hope for in the way of advancement from farming in this part of Canada.  Even Perkins, who received the very highest wage in that neighbourhood, made no more than $300 a year; and, with land at sixty to seventy-five dollars per acre, it seemed to him that he would be an old man before he could become the owner of a farm.  He was heart sick of the pettiness and sordidness of the farm life, whose horizon seemed to be that of the hundred acres or so that comprised it.  Therefore he resolved that to the great West he would go, that great wonderful West with its vast spaces and its vast possibilities of achievement.  The rumour of it filled the country side.  Meantime for two months longer he would endure.

A rainy day brought relief.  Oh, the blessed Sabbath of a rainy day, when the wheels stop and silence falls in the fields; and time tired harvest hands recline at ease upon the new cut and sweet smelling hay on the barn floor, and through the wide open doors look out upon the falling rain that roars upon the shingles, pours down in cataracts from the eaves and washes clean the air that wanders in, laden with those subtle scents that old mother earth releases only when the rain falls.  Oh, happy rainy days in harvest time when, undisturbed by conscience, the weary toilers stretch and slumber and wake to lark and chaff in careless ease the long hours through!

In the Haleys' barn they were all gathered, gazing lazily and with undisturbed content at the steady downpour that indicated an all-day rest.  Even Haley, upon whose crops the rain was teeming down, was enjoying the rest from the toil, for most of the hay that had been cut was already in cock or in the barn.  Besides, Haley worked as hard as the best of them and welcomed a day's rest.  So let it rain!

While they lay upon the hay on the barn floor, with tired muscles all relaxed, drinking in the fragrant airs that stole in from the rain-washed skies outside, in the slackening of the rain two neighbours dropped in, big "Mack" Murray and his brother Danny, for a "crack" about things in general and especially to discuss the Dominion Day picnic which was coming off at the end of the following week.  This picnic was to be something out of the ordinary, for, in addition to the usual feasting and frolicking, there was advertised an athletic contest of a superior order, the prizes in which were sufficiently attractive to draw, not only local athletes, but even some of the best from the neighbouring city.  A crack runner was expected and perhaps even McGee, the big policeman of the London City force, a hammer thrower of fame, might be present.

"Let him come, eh, Mack?" said Perkins.  "I guess we ain't afraid of no city bug beating you with the hammer."

"Oh! I'm no thrower," said Mack modestly.  "I just take the thing up and give it a fling.  I haven't got the trick of it at all."

"Have you practised much?" said Cameron, whose heart warmed at the accent that might have been transplanted that very day from his own North country.

"Never at all, except now and then at the blacksmith's shop on a rainy day," replied Mack.  "Have you done anything at it?"

"Oh, I have seen a good deal of it at the games in the north of Scotland," replied Cameron.

"Man!  I wish we had a hammer and you could show me the trick of it," said Mack fervently, "for they will be looking to me to throw and I do not wish to be beaten just too easily."

"There's a big mason's hammer," said Tim, "in the tool house, I think."

"Get it, Tim, then," said Mack eagerly, "and we will have a little practise at it, for throw I must, and I have no wish to bring discredit on my country, for it will be a big day.  They will be coming from all over.  The Band of the Seventh is coming out and Piper Sutherland from Zorra will be there."

"A piper!" echoed Cameron.  "Is there much pipe playing in this country?"

"Indeed, you may say that!" said Mack, "and good pipers they are too, they tell me.  Piper Sutherland, I think, was of the old Forty-twa.  Are you a piper, perhaps?" continued Mack.

"Oh, I play a little," said Cameron.  "I have a set in the house."

"God bless my soul!" cried Mack, "and we never knew it.  Tell Danny where they are and he will fetch them out.  Go, Danny!"

"Never mind, I will get them myself," said Cameron, trying to conceal his eagerness, for he had long been itching for a chance to play and his fingers were now tingling for the chanter.

It was an occasion of great delight, not only to big Mack and his brother Danny and the others, but to Cameron himself.  Up and down the floor he marched, making the rafters of the big barn ring with the ancient martial airs of Scotland and then, dropping into a lighter strain, he set their feet a-rapping with reels and strathspeys.

"Man, yon's great playing!" cried Mack with fervent enthusiasm to the company who had gathered to the summons of the pipes from the house and from the high road, "and think of him keeping them in his chest all this time!  And what else can you do?" went on Mack, with the enthusiasm of a discoverer.  "You have been in the big games, too, I warrant you."

Cameron confessed to some experience of these thrilling events.

"Bless my soul!  We will put you against the big folk from the city.  Come and show us the hammer," said Mack, leading the way out of the barn, for the rain had ceased, with a big mason's hammer in his hand.  It needed but a single throw to make it quite clear to Cameron that Mack was greatly in need of coaching.  As he said himself he "just took up the thing and gave it a fling."  A mighty fling, too, it proved to be.

"Twenty-eight paces!" cried Cameron, and then, to make sure, stepped it back again.  "Yes," he said, "twenty-eight paces, nearly twenty-nine.  Great Caesar!  Mack, if you only had the Braemar swing you would be a famous thrower."

"Och, now, you are just joking me!" said Mack modestly.

"You can add twenty feet easily to your throw if you get the swing," asserted Cameron.  "Look here, now, get this swing," and Cameron demonstrated in his best style the famous Braemar swing.

"Thirty-two paces!" said Mack in amazement after he had measured the throw.  "Man alive! you can beat McGee, let alone myself."

"Now, Mack, get the throw," said Cameron, with enthusiasm.  "You will be a great thrower."  But try though he might Mack failed to get the swing.

"Man, come over to-night and bring your pipes.  Danny will fetch out his fiddle and we will have a bit of a frolic, and," he added, as if in an afterthought, "I have a big hammer yonder, the regulation size.  We might have a throw or so."

"Thanks, I will be sure to come," said Cameron eagerly.

"Come, all of you," said Mack, "and you too, Mandy.  We will clear out the barn floor and have a regular hoe-down."

"Oh, pshaw!" giggled Mandy, tossing her head.  "I can't dance."

"Oh, come along and watch me, then," said Mack, in good humour, who, with all his two hundred pounds, was lightfooted as a girl.

The Murrays' new big bank barn was considered the finest in the country and the new floor was still quite smooth and eminently suited to a "hoe-down."  Before the darkness had fallen, however, Mack drew Cameron, with Danny, Perkins, and a few of the neighbours who had dropped in, out to the lane and, giving him a big hammer, "Try that," he said, with some doubt in his tone.

Cameron took the hammer.

"This is the right thing.  The weight of it will make more difference to me, however, than to you, Mack."

"Oh, I'm not so sure," said Mack.  "Show us how you do it."

The first throw Cameron took easily.

"Twenty-nine paces!" cried Mack, after stepping it off.  "Man! that's a great throw, and you do it easy."

"Not much of a throw," laughed Cameron.  "Try it yourself."

Ignoring the swing, Mack tried the throw in his own style and hurled the hammer two paces beyond Cameron's throw.

"You did that with your arms only," said Cameron.  "Now you must put legs and shoulders into it."

"Let's see you beat that throw yourself," laughed Perkins, who was by no means pleased with the sudden distinction that had come to the "Scotty."

Cameron took the hammer and, with the easy slow grace of the Braemar swing, made his throw.

"Hooray!" yelled Danny, who was doing the measuring.  "You got it yon time for sure.  Three paces to the good.  You'll have to put your back into it, Mack, I guess."

Once more Mack seized the hammer.  Then Cameron took Mack in hand and, over and over again, coached him in the poise and swing.

"Now try it, and think of your legs and back.  Let the hammer take care of itself.  Now, nice and easy and slow, not far this time."

Again and again Mack practised the swing.

"You're getting it!" cried Cameron enthusiastically, "but you are trying too hard.  Forget the distance this time and think only of the easy slow swing.  Let your muscles go slack."  So he coached his pupil.

At length, after many attempts, Mack succeeded in delivering his hammer according to instructions.

"Man! you are right!" he exclaimed.  "That's the trick of it and it is as smooth as oil."

"Keep it up, Mack," said Cameron, "and always easy."

Over and over again he put the big man through the swing till he began to catch the notion of the rhythmic, harmonious cooperation of the various muscles in legs and shoulders and arms so necessary to the highest result.

"You've got the swing, Mack," at length said Cameron.  "Now then, this time let yourself go.  Don't try your best, but let yourself out.  Easy, now, easy.  Get it first in your mind."

For a moment Mack stood pondering.  He was "getting it in his mind."  Then, with a long swing, easy and slow, he gave the great hammer a mighty heave.  With a shout the company crowded about.

"Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven! Hooray! bully for you, Mack.  You are the lad!"

"Get the line on it," said Mack quietly.  The measuring line showed one hundred and eleven and a half feet.  The boys crowded round him, exclaiming, cheering, patting him on the back.  Mack received the congratulations in silence, then, turning to Cameron, said very earnestly:

"Man! yon's as easy as eating butter.  You have done me a good turn to-day."

"Oh, that's nothing, Mack," said Cameron, who was more pleased than any of them.  "You got the swing perfectly that time.  You can put twenty feet to that throw.  One hundred and eleven feet!  Why, I can beat that myself."

"Man alive!  Do you tell me now!" said Mack in amazement, running his eyes over Cameron's lean muscular body.

"I have done it often when I was in shape."

"Oh, rats!" said Perkins with a laugh.  "Where was that?"

Cameron flushed a deep red, then turned pale, but kept silent.

"I believe you, my boy," said Mack with emphasis and facing sharply upon Perkins, "and if ever I do a big throw I will owe it to you."

"Oh, come off!" said Perkins, again laughing scornfully.  "There are others that know the swing besides Scotty here.  What you have got you owe to no one but yourself, Mack."

"If I beat the man McGee next week," said Mack quietly, "it will be from what I learned to-night, and I know what I am saying.  Man! it's a lucky thing we found you.  But that will do for just now. Come along to the barn.  Hooray for the pipes and the lassies! They are worth all the hammers in the world!"  And, putting his arm through Cameron's, he led the way to the barn, followed by the others.

"If Scotty could only hoe turnips and tie wheat as well as he can play the pipes and throw the hammer," said Perkins to the others as they followed in the rear, "I guess he'd soon have us all leaning against the fence to dry."

"He will, too, some day," said Tim, whose indignation at Perkins overcame the shyness which usually kept him silent in the presence of older men.

"Hello, Timmy!  What are you chipping in for?" said Perkins, reaching for the boy's coat collar.  "He thinks this Scotty is the whole works, and he is great too--at showing people how to do things."

"I hear he showed Tim how to hoe turnips," said one of the boys slyly.  The laugh that followed showed that the story of Tim's triumph over the champion had gone abroad.

"Oh, rot!" said Perkins angrily.  "Tim's got a little too perky because I let him get ahead of me one night in a drill of turnips."

"Yeh done yer best, didn't he, Webster?" cried Tim with indignation.

"Well, he certainly was making some pretty big gashes in them drills," said Webster slowly.

"Oh, get out!" replied Perkins.  "Though all the same Tim's quite a turnip-hoer," he conceded.  "Hello!  There's quite a crowd in the barn, Danny.  I wish I had my store clothes on."

At this a girl came running to meet them.

"Come on, Danny!  Tune up.  I can hardly keep my heels on my boots."

"Oh, you'll not be wanting my little fiddle after you have heard Cameron on the pipes, Isa."

"Never you fear that, Danny," replied Isa, catching him by the arm and hurrying him onward.

"Wait a minute.  I want you to meet Mr. Cameron," said Danny.

"Come away, then," replied Isa.  "I am dying to get done with it and get the fiddle going."

But Cameron was in the meantime engaged, for Mack was busy introducing him to a bevy of girls who stood at one corner of the barn floor.

"My! but he's a braw lad!" said Isa gayly, as she watched Cameron making his bows.

"Yes, he is that," replied Danny with enthusiastic admiration, "and a hammer-thrower, too, he is."

"What! yon stripling?"

"You may say it.  He can beat Mack there."

"Mack!" cried Isa, with scorn.  "It's just big lies you are telling me."

"Indeed, he has beaten Mack's best throw many a time."

"And how do you know?" exclaimed Isa.

"He said so himself."

"Ah ha!" said Isa scornfully.  "He is good at blowing his own horn whatever, and I don't believe he can beat Mack--and I don't like him a bit," she continued, her dark eyes flashing and the red colour glowing in her full round cheek.

"Come, Isa!" cried Mack, catching sight of her in the dim light. "Come here, I want Mr. Cameron to meet you."

"How do you do?" said the girl, giving Cameron her hand and glancing saucily into his face.  "I hear you are a piper and a hammer-thrower and altogether a wonderful man."

"A wonderfully lucky man, to have the pleasure of meeting you," said Cameron, glancing boldly back at her.

"And I am sure you can dance the fling," continued Isa.  "All the Highlanders do."

"Not all," said Cameron.  "But with certain partners all Highlanders would love to try."

"Oh aye," with a soft Highland accent that warmed Cameron's blood. "I see you have the tongue.  Come away, Danny, now, strike up, or I will go on without you."  And the girl kilted her skirts and began a reel, and as Mack's eyes followed her every step there was no mistaking their expression.  To Mack there was only one girl in the barn, or in all the world for that matter, and that was the leal-hearted, light-footed, black-eyed Isa MacKenzie.  Bonnie she was, and that she well knew, the belle of the whole township, driving the men to distraction and for all that holding the love of her own sex as well.  But her heart was still her own, or at least she thought it was, for all big Mack Murray's open and simple-hearted adoration, and she was ready for a frolic with any man who could give her word for word or dance with her the Highland reel.

With the courtesy of a true gentleman, Danny led off with his fiddle till they had all got thoroughly into the spirit and swing of the frolic, and then, putting his instrument back into its bag, he declared that they were all tired of it and were waiting for the pipes.

"Not a bit of it!" cried Isa.  "But we will give you a rest, Danny, and besides I want to dance a reel with you myself--though Mr. Cameron is not bad," she added, with a little bow to Cameron, with whom she had just finished a reel.

Readily enough Cameron tuned his pipes, for he was aching to get at them and only too glad to furnish music for the gay company of kindly hearted folk who were giving him his first evening's pleasure since he had left the Cuagh Oir.

From reel to schottische and from schottische to reel, foursome and eightsome, they kept him playing, ever asking for more, till the gloaming passed into moonlight and still they were not done.  The respite came through Mandy, who, solid in weight and heavy of foot, had laboured through the reels as often as she could get a partner, and at other times had sat gazing in rapt devotion upon the piper.

"Whoop her up again, Scotty!" cried Perkins, when Cameron paused at the end of a reel.

"Don't you do it!" said Mandy sharply, her deep voice booming through the barn.  "He's just tired of it, and I'm tired looking at him."

There was a shout of laughter which covered poor Mandy with wrathful confusion.

"Good for you, Mandy," cried Perkins with a great guffaw.  "You want some music now, don't you?  So do I.  Come on, Danny."

"No, I don't," snapped Mandy, who could understand neither the previous laugh nor that which greeted Perkins' sally.

"Allan," she said, sticking a little over the name, "is tired out, and besides it's time we were going home."

"That's right, take him home, Mandy, and put the little dear to bed," said Perkins.

"You needn't be so smart, Joe Perkins," said Mandy angrily. "Anyway I'm going home.  I've got to be up early."

"Me too, Mandy," said Cameron, packing up his pipes, for his sympathy had been roused for the girl who was championing him so bravely.  "I have had a great night and I have played you all to death; but you will forgive me.  I was lonely for the chanter.  I have not touched it since I left home."

There was a universal cry of protest as they gathered about him.

"Indeed, Mr. Cameron, you have given us all a rare treat," cried Isa, coming close to him, "and I only wish you could pipe and dance at the same time."

"That's so!" cried Mack, "but what's the matter with the fiddle, Isa?  Come, Danny, strike up.  Let them have a reel together."

Cameron glanced at Mandy, who was standing impatiently waiting. Perkins caught the glance.

"Oh, please let him stay, Mandy," he pleaded.

"He can stay if he likes," sniffed Mandy scornfully.  "I got no string on him; but I'm goin' home.  Good-night, everybody."

"Good-night, Mandy," called Perkins.  "Tell them we're comin'."

"Just a moment, Mandy!" said Cameron, "and I'm with you.  Another time I hope to do a reel with you, Miss MacKenzie," he said, bidding her good-night, "and I hope it will be soon."

"Remember, then," cried Isa, warmly shaking hands with him.  "I will keep you to your promise at the picnic."

"Fine!" said Cameron, and with easy grace he made his farewells and set off after Mandy, who by this time was some distance down the lane.

"You needn't come for me," she said, throwing her voice at him over her shoulder.

"What a splendid night we have had!" said Cameron, ignoring her wrath.  "And what awfully nice people."

Mandy grunted and in silence continued her way down the lane, picking her steps between the muddy spots and pools left by the rain.

After some minutes Cameron, who was truly sorry for the girl, ventured to resume the conversation.

"Didn't you enjoy the evening, Mandy?"

"No, I didn't!" she replied shortly.  "I can't dance and they all know it."

"Why don't you learn, Mandy?  You could dance if you practised."

"I can't.  I ain't like the other girls.  I'm too clumsy."

"Not a bit of it," said Cameron.  "I've watched you stepping about the house and you are not a bit clumsy.  If you only practised a bit you would soon pick up the schottische."

"Oh, you're just saying that because you know I'm mad," said Mandy, slightly mollified.

"Not at all.  I firmly believe it.  I saw you try a schottische to-night with Perkins and--"

"Oh, shucks!" said Mandy.  "He don't give me no show.  He gets mad when I tramp on him."

"All you want is practise, Mandy," replied Cameron.

"Oh, I ain't got no one to show me," said Mandy.  "Perkins he won't be bothered, and--and--there's no one else," she added shyly.

"Why, I--I would show you," replied Cameron, every instinct of chivalry demanding that he should play up to her lead, "if I had any opportunity."

"When?" said Mandy simply.

"When?" echoed Cameron, taken aback.  "Why, the first chance we get."

As he spoke the word they reached the new bridge that crossed the deep ditch that separated the lane from the high road.

"Here's a good place right here on this bridge," said Mandy with a giggle.

"But we have no music," stammered Cameron, aghast at the prospect of a dancing lesson by moonlight upon the public highway.

"Oh, pshaw!" said Mandy.  "We don't need music.  You can just count.  I seen Isa showin' Mack once and they didn't have no music. But," she added, regarding Cameron with suspicion, "if you don't want to--"

"Oh, I shall be glad to, but wouldn't the porch be better?" he replied in desperation.

"The porch!  That's so," assented Mandy eagerly.  "Let's hurry before the rest come home."  So saying, she set off at a great pace, followed by Cameron ruefully wondering to what extent the lesson in the Terpsichorean art might be expected to go.

As soon as the porch was reached Mandy cried--

"Now let's at the thing.  I'm going to learn that schottische if it costs a leg."

Without stopping to enquire whose leg might be in peril, Cameron proceeded with his lesson, and he had not gone through many paces till he began to recognise the magnitude of the task laid upon him. The girl's sense of time was accurate enough, but she was undeniably awkward and clumsy in her movements and there was an almost total absence of coordination of muscle and brain.  She had, however, suffered too long and too keenly from her inability to join with the others in the dance to fail to make the best of her opportunity to relieve herself of this serious disability.

So, with fierce industry she poised, counted and hopped, according to Cameron's instructions and example, with never a sign of weariness, but alas with little indication of progress.

"Oh, shucks!  I can't do it!" she cried at length, pausing in despair.  "I think we could do it better together.  That's the way Mack and Isa do it.  I've seen them at it for an hour."

Cameron's heart sank within him.  He had caught an exchange of glances between the two young people mentioned and he could quite understand how a lesson in the intricacies of the Highland schottische might very well be extended over an hour to their mutual satisfaction, but he shrank with a feeling of dismay, if not disgust, from a like experience with the girl before him.

He was on the point of abruptly postponing the lesson when his eye fell upon her face as she stood in the moonlight which streamed in through the open door.  Was it the mystic alchemy of the moon on her face, or was it the glowing passion in her wonderful eyes that transfigured the coarse features?  A sudden pity for the girl rose in Cameron's heart and he said gently, "We will try it together, Mandy."

He took her hand, put his arm about her waist, but, as he drew her towards him, with a startled look in her eyes she shrank back saying hurriedly:

"I guess I won't bother you any more to-night.  You've been awfully good to me.  You're tired."

"Not a bit, Mandy, come along," replied Cameron briskly.

At that moment a shadow fell upon the square of moonlight on the floor.  Mandy started back with a cry.

"My! you scairt me.  We were--Allan--Mr. Cameron was learnin' me the Highland schottische."  Her face and her voice were full of fear.

It was Perkins.  White, silent, and rigid, he stood regarding them, for minutes, it seemed, then turned away.

"Let's finish," said Cameron quietly.

"Oh! no, no!" said Mandy in a low voice.  "He's awful mad!  I'm scairt to death!  He'll do something!  Oh! dear, dear!  He's awful when he gets mad."

"Nonsense!" said Cameron.  "He can't hurt you."

"No, but you!"

"Oh, don't worry about me.  He won't hurt me."

Cameron's tone arrested the girl's attention.

"But promise me--promise me!" she cried, "that you won't touch him."  She clutched his arm in a fierce grip.

"Certainly I won't touch him," said Cameron easily, "if he behaves himself."  But in his heart he was conscious of a fierce desire that Perkins would give him the opportunity to wipe out a part at least of the accumulated burden of insult he had been forced to bear during the last three weeks.

"Oh!" wailed Mandy, wringing her hands.  "I know you're going to fight him.  I don't want you to!  Do you hear me?" she cried, suddenly gripping Cameron again by the arm and shaking him.  "I don't want you to!  Promise me you won't!"  She was in a transport of fear.

"Oh, this is nonsense, Mandy," said Cameron, laughing at her. "There won't be any fight.  I'll run away."

"All right," replied the girl quietly, releasing his arm. "Remember you promised."  She turned from him.

"Good night, Mandy.  We will finish our lesson another time, eh?" he said cheerfully.

"Good night," replied Mandy, dully, and passed through the kitchen and into the house.

Cameron watched her go, then poured for himself a glass of milk from a pitcher that always stood upon the table for any who might be returning home late at night, and drank it slowly, pondering the situation the while.

"What a confounded mess it is!" he said to himself.  "I feel like cutting the whole thing.  By Jove!  That girl is getting on my nerves!  And that infernal bounder!  She seems to--  Poor girl!  I wonder if he has got any hold on her.  It would be the greatest satisfaction in the world to teach HIM a few things too.  But I have made up my mind that I am not going to end up my time here with any row, and I'll stick to that; unless--" and, with a tingling in his fingers, he passed out into the moonlight.

As he stepped out from the door a dark mass hurled itself at him, a hand clutched at his throat, missed as he swiftly dodged back, and carried away his collar.  It was Perkins, his face distorted, his white teeth showing in a snarl as of a furious beast.  Again with a beast-like growl he sprang, and again Cameron avoided him; while Perkins, missing his clutch, stumbled over a block of wood and went crashing head first among a pile of pots and pans and, still unable to recover himself and wildly grasping whatever chanced to be within reach, fell upon the board that stood against the corner of the porch to direct the rain into the tub; but the unstable board slid slowly down and allowed the unfortunate Perkins to come sitting in the tub full of water.

"Very neatly done, Perkins!" cried Cameron, whose anger at the furious attack was suddenly transformed into an ecstasy of delight at seeing the plight of his enemy.

Like a cat Perkins was on his feet and, without a single moment's pause, came on again in silent fury.  By an evil chance there lay in his path the splitting axe, gleaming in the moonlight.  Uttering a low choking cry, as of joy, he seized the axe and sprang towards his foe.  Quicker than thought Cameron picked up a heavy arm chair that stood near the porch to use it as a shield against the impending attack.

"Are you mad, Perkins?" he cried, catching the terrific blow that came crashing down, upon the chair.

Then, filled with indignant rage at the murderous attack upon him, and suddenly comprehending the desperate nature of the situation, he sprang at his antagonist, thrusting the remnants of the chair in his face and, following hard and fast upon him, pushed him backward and still backward till, tripping once more, he fell supine among the pots and pans.  Seizing the axe that had dropped from his enemy's hand, Cameron hurled it far beyond the wood pile and then stood waiting, a cold and deadly rage possessing him.

"Come on, you dog!" he said through his shut teeth.  "You have been needing this for some time and now you'll get it."

"What is it, Joe?"

Cameron quickly turned and saw behind him Mandy, her face blanched, her eyes wide, and her voice faint with terror.

"Oh, nothing much," said Cameron, struggling to recover himself. "Perkins stumbled over the tub among the pots and pans there.  He made a great row, too," he continued with a laugh, striving to get his voice under control.

"What is it, Joe?" repeated Mandy, approaching Perkins.  But Perkins stood leaning against the corner of the porch in a kind of dazed silence.

"You've been fighting," she said, turning upon Cameron.

"Not at all," said Cameron lightly, "but, if you must know, Perkins went stumbling among these pots and pans and finally sat down in the tub; and naturally he is mad."

"Is that true, Joe?" said Mandy, moving slowly nearer him.

"Oh, shut up, Mandy!  I'm all wet, that's all, and I'm going to bed."

His voice was faint as though he were speaking with an effort.

"You go into the house," he said to the girl.  "I've got something to say to Cameron here."

"You are quarreling."

"Oh, give us a rest, Mandy, and get out!  No, there's no quarreling, but I want to have a talk with Cameron about something.  Go on, now!"

For a few moments she hesitated, looking from one to the other.

"It's all right, Mandy," said Cameron quietly.  "You needn't be afraid, there won't be any trouble."

For a moment more she stood, then quietly turned away.

"Wait!" said Perkins to Cameron, and followed Mandy into the house. For some minutes Cameron stood waiting.

"Now, you murderous brute!" he said, when Perkins reappeared. "Come down to the barn where no girl can interfere."  He turned towards the barn.

"Hold on!" said Perkins, breathing heavily.  "Not to-night.  I wantto say something.  She's waiting to see me go upstairs."

Cameron came back.

"What have you got to say, you cur?" he asked in a voice filled with a cold and deliberate contempt.

"Don't you call no names," replied Perkins.  "It ain't no use." His voice was low, trembling, but gravely earnest.  "Say, I might have killed you to-night."  His breath was still coming in quick short gasps.

"You tried your best, you dog!" said Cameron.

"Don't you call no names," panted Perkins again.  "I might--a--killed yeh.  I'm mighty--glad--I didn't."  He spoke like a man who had had a great deliverance.  "But don't yeh," here his teeth snapped like a dog's, "don't yeh ever go foolin' with that girl again.  Don't yeh--ever--do it.  I seen yeh huggin' her in there and I tell yeh--I tell yeh--," his breath began to come in sobs, "I won't stand it--I'll kill yeh, sure as God's in heaven

"Are you mad?" said Cameron, scanning narrowly the white distorted face.

"Mad?  Yes, I guess so--I dunno--but don't yeh do it, that's all. She's mine!  Mine!  D'yeh hear?"

He stepped forward and thrust his snarling face into Cameron's.

"No, I ain't goin' to touch yeh," as Cameron stepped back into a posture of defense, "not to-night.  Some day, perhaps."  Here again his teeth came together with a snap.  "But I'm not going to have you or any other man cutting in on me with that girl.  D'yeh hear me?" and he lifted a trembling forefinger and thrust it almost into Cameron's face.

Cameron stood regarding him in silent and contemptuous amazement. Neither of them saw a dark form standing back out of the moonlight, inside the door.  At last Cameron spoke.

"Now what the deuce does all this mean?" he said slowly.  "Is this girl by any unhappy chance engaged to you?"

"Yes, she is--or was as good as, till you came; but you listen to me.  As God hears me up there"--he raised his shaking hand and pointed up to the moonlit sky, and then went on, chewing on his words like a dog on a bone--"I'll cut the heart out of your body if I catch you monkeying round that girl again.  You've got to get out of here!  Everything was all right till you came sneaking in. You've got to get out!  You've got to get out!  D'yeh hear me? You've got to get out!"

His voice was rising, mad rage was seizing him again, his fingers were opening and shutting like a man in a death agony.

Cameron glanced towards the door.

"I'm done," said Perkins, noting the glance.  "That's my last word. You'd better quit this job."  His voice again took on an imploring tone.  "You'd better go or something will sure happen to you. Nobody will miss you much, except perhaps Mandy."  His ghastly face twisted into a snarling smile, his eyes appeared glazed in the moonlight, his voice was husky--the man seemed truly insane.

Cameron stood observing him quietly when he had ceased speaking.

"Are you finished?  Then hear me.  First, in regard to this girl, she doesn't want me and I don't want her, but make up your mind, I promise you to do all I can to prevent her falling into the hands of a brute like you.  Then as to leaving this place, I shall go just when it suits me, no sooner."

"All right," said Perkins, his voice low and trembling.  "All right, mind I warned you!  Mind I warned you!  But if you go foolin' with that girl, I'll kill yeh, so help me God."

These words he uttered with the solemnity of an oath and turned towards the porch.  A dark figure flitted across the kitchen and disappeared into the house.  Cameron walked slowly towards the barn.

"He's mad.  He's clean daffy, but none the less dangerous," he said to himself.  "What a rotten mess all this is!" he added in disgust. "By Jove!  The whole thing isn't worth while."

But as he thought of Mandy's frightened face and imploring eyes and the brutal murderous face of the man who claimed her as his own, he said between his teeth:

"No, I won't quit now.  I'll see this thing through, whatever it costs," and with this resolve he set himself to the business of getting to sleep; in which, after many attempts, he was at length successful.


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