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Corporal Cameron
A SABBATH DAY IN LATE AUGUST


It was a Sabbath day in late August, and in no month of the year does a Sabbath day so chime with the time.  For the Sabbath day is a day for rest and holy thought, and the late August is the rest time of the year, when the woods and fields are all asleep in a slumberous blue haze; the sacred time, too, for in late August old Mother Earth is breathing her holiest aspirations heavenward, having made offering of her best in the full fruitage of the year. Hence a Sabbath day in late August chimes marvellously well with the time.

And this particular Sabbath day was perfect of its kind, a dreamy, drowsy day, a day when genial suns and hazy cool airs mingle in excellent harmony, and the tired worker, freed from his week's toil, basks and stretches, yawns and revels in rest under the orchard trees; unless, indeed, he goes to morning church.  And to morning church Cameron went as a rule, but to-day, owing to a dull ache in his head and a general sense of languor pervading his limbs, he had chosen instead, as likely to be more healing to his aching head and his languid limbs, the genial sun, tempered with cool and lazy airs under the orchard trees.  And hence he lay watching the democrat down the lane driven off to church by Perkins, with Mandy beside him in the front seat, the seat of authority and of activity, and Mr. Haley alone in the back seat, the seat of honour and of retirement.  Mrs. Haley was too overborne by the heat and rush of the busy week to adventure the heat and dust of the road, and to sustain the somewhat strenuous discourse of the Reverend Harper Freeman, to whose flock the Haleys belonged. This, however, was not Mrs. Haley's invariable custom.  In the cooler weather it was her habit to drive on a Sunday morning to church, sitting in the back seat beside her husband, with Tim and Mandy occupying the front seat beside the hired man, but during the heat and hurry of the harvest time she would take advantage of the quietness of the house and of the two or three hours' respite from the burden of household duties to make up arrears of sleep accumulated during the preceding week, salving her conscience, for she had a conscience in the matter, with a promise that she might go in the evening when it was cooler and when she was more rested. This promise, however, having served its turn, was never fulfilled, for by the evening the wheels of household toil began once more to turn, and Mrs. Haley found it easier to worship vicariously, sending Mandy and Tim to the evening service.  And to this service the young people were by no means loath to go, for it was held on fair evenings in MacBurney's woods, two miles away by the road, one mile by the path through the woods.  On occasion Perkins would hitch up in the single buggy Dexter, the fiery young colt, too fiery for any other to drive, and, as a special attention to his employer's daughter, would drive her to the service.  But since the coming of Cameron, Mandy had allowed this custom to fall into disuse, at first somewhat to Perkins' relief, for the colt was restless and fretted against the tie rein; and, besides, Perkins was not as yet quite prepared to acknowledge any special relationship between himself and the young lady in question before the assembled congregation, preferring to regard himself and to be regarded by others as a free lance.  Later, however, as Mandy's preference for a walk through the woods became more marked, Perkins, much to his disgust, found himself reduced to the attitude of a suppliant, urging the superior attraction of a swift drive behind Dexter as against a weary walk to the service.  Mandy, however, with the directness of her simple nature, had no compunction in frankly maintaining her preference for a walk with Tim and Cameron through the woods; indeed, more than once she allowed Perkins to drive off with his fiery colt, alone in his glory.

But this Sabbath morning, as Cameron lay under the orchard trees, he was firmly resolved that he would give the whole day to the nursing of the ache in his head and the painful languor in his body.  And so lying he allowed his mind to wander uncontrolled over the happenings of the past months, troubled by a lazy consciousness of a sore spot somewhere in his life.  Gradually there grew into clearness the realisation of the cause of this sore spot.

"What is the matter with Perkins?" he asked of Tim, who had declined to go to church, and who had strolled into the orchard to be near his friend.

"What is the matter with Perkins?" Cameron asked a second time, for Tim was apparently too much engaged with a late harvest apple to answer.

"How?" said the boy at length.

"He is so infernally grumpy with me."

"Grumpy?  He's sore, I guess."

"Sore?"

"You bet!  Ever since I beat him in the turnips that day."

"Ever since YOU beat him?" asked Cameron in amazement.  "Why should he be sore against me?"

"He knows it was you done it," said Tim.

"Nonsense, Tim!  Besides, Perkins isn't a baby.  He surely doesn't hold that against me."

"Huh, huh," said Tim, "everybody's pokin' fun at him, and he hates that, and ever since the picnic, too, he hates you."

"But why in the world?"

"Oh, shucks!" said Tim, impatient at Cameron's density.  "I guess you know all right."

"Know?  Not I!"

"Git out?"

"Honor bright, Tim," replied Cameron, sitting up.  "Now, honestly, tell me, Tim, why in the world Perkins should hate me."

"You put his nose out of joint, I guess," said Tim with a grin.

"Oh, rot, Tim!  How?"

"Every how," said Tim, proceeding to elaborate.  "First when you came here you were no good--I mean--"  Tim checked himself hastily.

"I know what you mean, Tim.  Go on.  You are quite right.  I couldn't do anything on the farm."

"Now," continued Tim, "you can do anything jist as good as him-- except bindin', of course.  He's a terror at bindin', but at pitchin' and shockin' and loadin' you're jist as good."

"But, Tim, that's all nonsense.  Perkins isn't such a fool as to hate me because I can keep up my end."

"He don't like you," said Tim stubbornly.

"But why?  Why in the name of common sense?"

"Well," said Tim, summing up the situation, "before you come he used to be the hull thing.  Now he's got to play second fiddle."

But Cameron remained unenlightened.

"Oh, pshaw!" continued Tim, making further concessions to his friend's stupidity.  "At the dances, at the raisin's, runnin', jumpin'--everythin'--Perkins used to be the King Bee.  Now--" Tim's silence furnished an impressive close to the contrast.  "Why! They all think you are just fine!" said Tim, with a sudden burst of confidence.

"They?"

"All the boys.  Yes, and the girls, too," said Tim, allowing his solemn face the unusual luxury of a smile.

"The girls?"

"Aw, yeh know well enough--the Murray girls, and the MacKenzies, and the hull lot of them.  And then--and then--there's Mandy, too." Here Tim shot a keen glance at his friend, who now sat leaning against the trunk of an apple tree with his eyes closed.

"Now, Tim, you are a shrewd little chap"--here Cameron sat upright-- "but how do you know about the girls, and what is this you say about Mandy?  Mandy is good to me--very kind and all that, but--"

"She used to like Perkins pretty well," said Tim, with a kind of hesitating shyness.

"And Perkins?"

"Oh, he thought he jist owned her.  Guess he ain't so sure now," added Tim.  "I guess you've changed Mandy all right."

It was the one thing Cameron hated to hear, but he made light of it.

"Oh, nonsense!" he exclaimed.  "But if I did I would be mighty glad of it.  Mandy is too good for a man like Perkins.  Why, he isn't safe."

"He's a terror," replied Tim seriously.  "They are all scairt of him.  He's a terror to fight.  Why, at MacKenzie's raisin' last year he jist went round foamin' like an old boar and nobody dast say a word to him.  Even Mack Murray was scairt to touch him.  When he gets like that he ain't afraid of nothin' and he's awful quick and strong."

Tim proceeded to enlarge upon this theme, which apparently fascinated him, with tales of Perkins' prowess in rough-and-tumble fighting.  But Cameron had lost interest and was lying down again with his eyes closed.

"Well," he said, when Tim had finished his recital, "if he is that kind of a man Mandy should have nothing to do with him."

But Tim was troubled.

"Dad likes him," he said gloomily.  "He is a good hand.  And ma likes him, too.  He taffies her up."

"And Mandy?" enquired Cameron.

"I don't know," said Tim, still more gloomy.  "I guess he kind of makes her.  I'd--I'd jist like to take a lump out of him."  Tim's eyes blazed into a sudden fire.  "He runs things on this farm altogether too much."

"Buck up then, Tim, and beat him," said Cameron, dismissing the subject.  "And now I must have some sleep.  I have got an awful head on."

Tim was quick enough to understand the hint, but still he hovered about.

"Say, I'm awful sorry," he said.  "Can't I git somethin'?  You didn't eat no breakfast."

"Oh, all I want is sleep, Tim.  I will be all right tomorrow," replied Cameron, touched by the tone of sympathy in Tim's voice. "You are a fine little chap.  Trot along and let me sleep."

But no sleep came to Cameron, partly because of the hammer knocking in his head, but chiefly because of the thoughts set going by Tim. Cameron was not abnormally egotistical, but he was delightedly aware of the new place he held in the community ever since the now famous Dominion Day picnic, and, now that the harvest rush had somewhat slackened, social engagements had begun to crowd upon him. Dances and frolics, coon hunts and raisings were becoming the vogue throughout the community, and no social function was complete without the presence of Cameron.  But this sudden popularity had its embarrassments, and among them, and threatening to become annoying, was the hostility of Perkins, veiled as yet, but none the less real.  Moreover, behind Perkins stood a band of young fellows of whom he was the recognised leader and over whom his ability in the various arts and crafts of the farm, his physical prowess in sports, his gay, cheery manner, and, it must be said, the reputation he bore for a certain fierce brute courage in rough-and-tumble fighting, gave him a sort of ascendency.

But Perkins' attitude towards him did not after all cause Cameron much concern.  There was another and more annoying cause of embarrassment, and that was Mandy.  Tim's words kept reiterating themselves in his brain, "You've changed Mandy all right."  Over this declaration of Tim's, Cameron proceeded to argue with himself. He sat bolt upright that he might face himself on the matter.

"Now, then," he said to himself, "let's have this thing out."

"Most willingly.  This girl was on the way to engagement to this young man Perkins.  You come on the scene.  Everything is changed."

"Well!  What of it?  It's a mighty good thing for her."

"But you are the cause of it."

"The occasion, rather."

"No, the cause.  You have attracted her to you."

"I can't help that.  Besides, it is a mere passing whim.  She'll get over all that?"  And Cameron laughed scornfully in his own face.

"Do you know that?  And how do you know it?  Tim thinks differently."

"Oh, confound it all!  I see that I shall have to get out of here."

"A wise decision truly, and the sooner the better.  Do you propose to go at once?"

"At once?  Well, I should like to spend the winter here.  I have made a number of friends and life is beginning to be pleasant."

"Exactly!  It suits your convenience, but how about Mandy?"

"Oh, rubbish!  Must I be governed by the fancies of that silly girl?  Besides, the whole thing is absurdly ridiculous."

"But facts are stubborn, and anyone can see that the girl is--"

"Hang it all!  I'll go at the end of the month."

"Very well.  And in the leave-taking--?"

"What?"

"It is pleasant to be appreciated and to carry away with one memories, I will not say tender, but appreciative."

"I can't act like a boor.  I must be decent to the girl.  Besides, she isn't altogether a fool."

"No, but very crude, very primitive, very passionate, and therefore very defenseless."

"All right, I shall simply shake hands and go."

So, with the consequent sense of relief that high resolve always brings, Cameron lay down again and fell into slumber and dreams of home.

From these dreams of home Mandy recalled him with a summons to dinner.  As his eye, still filled with the vision of his dreams, fell upon her in all the gorgeous splendour of her Sunday dress, he was conscious of a strong sense of repulsion.  How coarse, how crude, how vulgar she appeared, how horribly out of keeping with those scenes through which he had just been wandering in his dreams.

"I want no dinner, Mandy," he said shortly.  "I have a bad head and I am not hungry."

"No dinner?"  That a man should not want dinner was to Mandy quite inexplicable, unless, indeed, he were ill.

"Are you sick?" she cried in quick alarm.

"No, I have a headache.  It will pass away," said Cameron, turning over on his side.  Still Mandy lingered.

"Let me bring you a nice piece of pie and a cup of tea."

Cameron shuddered.

"No," he said, "bring me nothing.  I merely wish to sleep."

But Mandy refused to be driven away.

"Say, I'm awful sorry.  I know you're sick."

"Nonsense!" said Cameron, impatiently, waiting for her to be gone. Still Mandy hesitated.

"I'm awful sorry," she said again, and her voice, deep, tender, full-toned, revealed her emotion.

Cameron turned impatiently towards her.

"Look here, Mandy!  There's nothing wrong with me.  I only want a little sleep.  I shall be all right to-morrow."

But Mandy's fears were not to be allayed.

"Say," she cried, "you look awful bad."

"Oh, get out, Mandy!  Go and get your dinner.  Don't mind me." Cameron's tone was decidedly cross.

Without further remonstrance Mandy turned silently away, but before she turned Cameron caught the gleam of tears in the great blue eyes.  A swift compunction seized him.

"I say, Mandy, I don't want to be rude, but--"

"Rude?" cried the girl.  "You?  You couldn't be.  You are always good--to me--and--I--don't--know--"  Here her voice broke.

"Oh, come, Mandy, get away to dinner.  You are a good girl.  Now leave me alone."

The kindness in his voice quite broke down Mandy's all too slight control.  She turned away, audibly sniffling, with her apron to her eyes, leaving Cameron in a state of wrathful perplexity.

"Oh, confound it all!" he groaned to himself.  "This is a rotten go.  By Jove!  This means the West for me.  The West!  After all, that's the place.  Here there is no chance anyway.  Why did I not go sooner?"

He rose from the grass, shivering with a sudden chill, went to his bed in the hay mow, and, covering himself with Tim's blankets and his own, fell again into sleep.  Here, late in the afternoon, Tim found him and called him to supper.

With Mandy's watchful eye upon him he went through the form of eating, but Mandy was not to be deceived.

"You ain't eatin' nothin'," she said reproachfully as he rose from the table.

"Enough for a man who is doing nothing," replied Cameron.  "What I want is exercise.  I think I shall take a walk."

"Going to church?" she enquired, an eager light springing into her eye.

"To church?  I hadn't thought of it," replied Cameron, but, catching the gleam of a smile on Perkins' face and noting the utterly woebegone expression on Mandy's, he added, "Well, I might as well walk to church as any place else.  You are going, Tim?"

"Huh huh!" replied Tim.

"I am going to hitch up Deck, Mandy," said Perkins.

"Oh, I'm goin' to walk!" said Mandy, emphatically.

"All right!" said Perkins.  "Guess I'll walk too with the crowd."

"Don't mind me," said Mandy.

"I don't," laughed Perkins, "you bet!  Nor anybody else."

"And that's no lie!" sniffed Mandy, with a toss of her head.

"Better drive to church, Mandy," suggested her mother.  "You know you're jist tired out and it will be late when you get started."

"Tired?  Late?" cried Mandy, with alacrity.  "I'll be through them dishes in a jiffy and be ready in no time.  I like the walk through the woods."

"Depends on the company," laughed Perkins again.  "So do I.  Guess we'll all go together."

True to her promise, Mandy was ready within half an hour.  Cameron shuddered as he beheld the bewildering variety of colour in her attire and the still more bewildering arrangement of hat and hair.

"You're good and gay, Mandy," said Perkins.  "What's the killing?"

Mandy made no reply save by a disdainful flirt of her skirts as she set off down the lane, followed by Perkins, Cameron and Tim bringing up the rear.

The lane was a grassy sward, cut with two wagon-wheel tracks, and with a picturesque snake fence on either side.  Beyond the fences lay the fields, some of them with stubble raked clean, the next year's clover showing green above the yellow, some with the grain standing still in the shock, and some with the crop, the late oats for instance, still uncut, but ready for the reaper.  The turnip field was splendidly and luxuriantly green with never a sign of the brown earth.  The hay meadow, too, was green and purple with the second growth of clover.

So down the lane and between the shorn fields, yellow and green, between the clover fields and the turnips, they walked in silence, for the spell of the Sabbath evening lay upon the sunny fields, barred with the shadows from the trees that grew along the fence lines everywhere.  At the "slashing" the wagon ruts faded out and the road narrowed to a single cow path, winding its way between stumps and round log piles, half hidden by a luxuriant growth of foxglove and fireweed and asters, and everywhere the glorious goldenrod.  Then through the bars the path led into the woods, a noble remnant of the beech and elm and maple forest from which the farm had been cut some sixty years before.  Cool and shadowy they stood, and shot through with bright shafts of gold from the westering sun, full of mysterious silence except for the twittering of the sleepy birds or for the remonstrant call of the sentinel crow from his watch tower on the dead top of a great elm.  Deeper into the shade the path ran until in the gloom it faded almost out of sight.

Soothed by the cool shade, Cameron loitered along the path, pausing to learn of Tim the names of plants and trees as he went.

"Ain't yeh never comin'?" called Mandy from the gloom far in front.

"What's all the rush?" replied Tim, impatiently, who loved nothing better than a quiet walk with Cameron through the woods.

"Rush?  We'll be late, and I hate walkin' up before the hull crowd. Come on!" cried his sister in impatient tone.

"All right, Mandy, we're nearly through the woods.  I begin to see the clearing yonder," said Cameron, pointing to where the light was beginning to show through the tree tops before them.

But they were late enough, and Mandy was glad of the cover of the opening hymn to allow her to find her way to a group of her girl friends, the males of the party taking shelter with a neighbouring group of their own sex near by.

Upon the sloping sides of the grassy hills and under the beech and maple trees, the vanguard of the retreating woods, sat the congregation, facing the preacher, who stood on the grassy level below.  Behind them was the solid wall of thick woods, over them time spreading boughs, and far above the trees the blue summer sky, all the bluer for the little white clouds that sailed serene like ships upon a sea.  At their feet lay the open country, checkered by the snake fences into fields of yellow, green, and brown, and rolling away to meet the woods at the horizon.

The Sabbath rest filled the sweet air, breathed from the shady woods, rested upon the checkered fields, and lifted with the hymn to the blue heaven above.  A stately cathedral it was, this place of worship, filled with the incense of flowers and fields, arched by the high dome of heaven, and lighted by the glory of the setting sun.

Relieved by the walk for a time from the ache in his head, Cameron surrendered himself to the mysterious influences of the place and the hour.  He let his eyes wander over the fields below him to the far horizon, and beyond--beyond the woods, beyond the intervening leagues of land and sea--and was again gazing upon the sunlit loveliness of the Cuagh Oir.  The Glen was abrim with golden light this summer evening, the purple was on the hills and the little loch gleamed sapphire at the bottom.

The preacher was reading his text.

"Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to every man according to his several ability, and straightway took his journey," and so on to the end of that marvellously wise tale, wise with the wisdom of God, confirmed by the wisdom of human experience.

The Reverend Harper Freeman's voice could hardly, even by courtesy, be called musical; in fact, it was harsh and strident; but this evening the hills, and the trees, and the wide open spaces, Nature's mighty modulator, subdued the harshness, so that the voice rolled up to the people clear, full, and sonorous.  Nor was the preacher possessed of great learning nor endued with the gift of eloquence.  He had, however, a shrewd knowledge of his people and of their ways and of their needs, and he had a kindly heart, and, more than all, he had the preacher's gift, the divine capacity for taking fire.

For a time his words fell unheeded upon Cameron's outer ear.

"To every man his own endowments, some great, some small, but, mark you, no man left quite poverty-stricken.  God gives every man his chance.  No man can look God in the face, not one of you here can say that you have had no chance."

Cameron's vagrant mind, suddenly recalled, responded with a quick assent.  Opportunity?  Endowment?  Yes, surely.  His mind flashed back over the years of his education at the Academy and the University, long lazy years.  How little he had made of them! Others had turned them into the gold of success.  He wondered how old Dunn was getting on, and Linklater, and little Martin.  How far away seemed those days, and yet only some four or five months separated him from them.

"One was a failure, a dead, flat failure," continued the preacher. "Not so much a wicked man, no murderer, no drunkard, no gambler, but a miserable failure.  Poor fellow!  At the end of life a wretched bankrupt, losing even his original endowment.  How would you like to come home after ten, twenty, thirty years of experiment with life and confess to your father that you were dead broke and no good?"

Again Cameron's mind came back from its wandering with a start.  Go back to his father a failure!  He drew his lip down hard over his teeth.  Not while he lived!  And yet, what was there in prospect for him?  His whole soul revolted against the dreary monotony and the narrowness of his present life, and yet, what other path lay open?  Cameron went straying in fancy over the past, or in excursions into the future, while, parallel with his rambling, the sermon continued to make its way through its various heads and particulars.

"Why?"  The voice of the preacher rose clear, dominant, arresting. "Why did he fail so abjectly, so meanly, so despicably?  For there is no excuse for a failure.  Listen!  No man NEED fail.  A man who is a failure is a mean, selfish, lazy chump."  Mr. Freeman was colloquial, if anything.  "Some men pity him.  I don't.  I have no use for him, and he is the one thing in all the world that God himself has no use for."

Again Cameron's mind was jerked back as a runaway horse by a rein. So far his life had been a failure.  Was there then no excuse for failure?  What of his upbringing, his education, his environment? He had been indulging the habit during these last weeks of shifting responsibility from himself for what he had become.

"What was the cause of this young man's failure?" reiterated the preacher.  The preacher had a wholesome belief in the value of reiteration.  He had a habit of rubbing in his points.  "He blamed the boss.  Listen to his impudence!  'I knew thee to be a hard man.'  He blamed his own temperament and disposition.  'I was afraid.'  But the boss brings him up sharp and short.  'Quit lying!' he said.  'I'll tell you what's wrong with you.  You've got a mean heart, you ain't honest, and you're too lazy to live.  Here, take that money from him and give it to the man that can do most with it, and take this useless loafer out of my sight.'  And served him right, too, say I, impudent, lazy liar."

Cameron found his mind rising in wrathful defense of the unhappy wretched failure in the story.  But the preacher was utterly relentless and proceeded to enlarge upon the character of the unhappy wretch.

"Impudent!  The way to tell an impudent man is to let him talk. Now listen to this man cheek the boss!  'I knew you,' he said. 'You skin everybody in sight.'  I have always noticed," remarked the preacher, with a twinkle in his eye, "that the hired man who can't keep up his end is the kind that cheeks the boss.  And so it is with life.  Why, some men would cheek Almighty God.  They turn right round and face the other way when God is explaining things to them, when He is persuading them, when He is trying to help them. Then they glance back over their shoulders and say, 'Aw, gwan!  I know better than you.'  Think of the impudence of them!  That's what many a man does with God.  With GOD, mind you!  GOD!  Your Father in heaven, your Brother, your Saviour, God as you know him in the Man of Galilee, the Man you always see with the sick and the outcast and the broken-hearted.  It is this God that owns you and all you've got--be honest and say so.  You must begin by getting right with God."

"God!"  Once more Cameron went wandering back into the far away days of childhood.  God was very near then, and very friendly.  How well he remembered when his mother had tucked him in at night and had kissed him and had put out the light.  He never felt alone and afraid, for she left him, so she said, with God.  It was God who took his mother's place, near to his bedside.  In those days God seemed very near and very kind.  He remembered his mother's look one day when he declared to her that he could hear God breathing just beside him in the dark.  How remote God seemed to-day and how shadowy, and, yes, he had to confess it, unfriendly.  He heard no more of the sermon.  With a curious ache in his heart he allowed his mind to dwell amid those happy, happy memories when his mother and God were the nearest and dearest to him of all he knew.  It may have been the ache in his head or the oppressive languor that seemed to possess his body, but throughout the prayer that followed the sermon he was conscious chiefly of a great longing for his mother's touch upon his head, and with that a longing for his boyhood's sense of the friendly God in his heart.

And so as the preacher led them up to God in prayer, Cameron bowed his head with the others, thankful that he could still believe that, though clouds and darkness might be about Him, God was not beyond the reach of the soul's cry nor quite unmoved by human need. And for the first time for years he sent forth as a little child his cry of need, "God help me!  God help me!"


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