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Braemar Highlands
Part the Third - Chapter IV


The Cam-ruadh

THE fact sometimes forces itself upon our attention, that there is a constant repetition in .nature of the same object and form. In reading history, a similar tendency to repetition is observed. Characters are produced successively, agreeing in so many particulars, that but for local and chronological differences, we would conclude them to be identical. Thus I found lately, while reading a small volume, Highland Legends of Glenmore that Strathspey had its legend of a famous archer, ‘Littlejohn M‘Andrew' whose appearance, character, and exploits agree in most points with that of John Grant, alias The Cam-ruadh, a famous archer in Braemar.

From all that I can gather, the personal appearance of the Cam was anything but prepossessing. His stature did not exceed five feet, the various parts of his limbs being many removes from symmetry or correct proportion. I shall not attempt a more minute description.

He had only one eye, but it had wonderful capabilities. As a proof of that, it could discern ‘a bluebottle on a grey stone at a distance of twenty yards.’ He could also send an arrow twice as far as an ordinary person, and with accuracy sufficient to ‘hit a midge;’ and then, though his feet were flat, and his legs not exactly straight, none could beat him at a long race, and but few at a short one.

In character, the Cam was a man of deeds, not words; in disposition not over pleasant, for it was a combination of the mule and wasp, with a double portion of Reynard. Such was the Cam-ruadh, who lived and died also, it is said, at Aldmhaidh in Glen Cluny.

During the troublous times of 1644, a number of Argyle men, called ‘Cleansers’ from the fact that they left nothing behind them, ravaged the Aberdeenshire Highlands. They did not often dare to show themselves above Crathie, yet wandering parties occasionally pounced upon the cattle and flocks of the lower parts of Braemar, while raids on a large scale were made into Glenshee and Glen Isla, etc.

Among these foraging expeditions the Cam, with his wonderful powers of archery, did great execution ; so much so, that, sick of the sights that met him on every hand, he vowed that, except in self-defence, he would not lift his hand against cleanser or kern for one whole day; and unfortunately that very night a party of cleansers from Cromar broke into Glen Isla and Glenshee, cleansing, as was wont, right before them.

The men of both glens rose, and after consultation, resolved to march from different directions; so that, coming upon the enemy from different points, it would be easy to surround and destroy them. To make sure of success,' word was sent to ‘M‘Coinnich Mor na Dalach' i.e. Big M'Kenzie, laird of Dalm'ore, to come with his Braemar men to their assistance.

By early dawn both parties were in march ; but by an unfortunate oversight no leader was chosen or rendezvous appointed. The brave Glenshee men, too impatient for delay, pushed forward in small parties, and were despatched at once by the cleansers, with little loss to themselves. The Glen Isla men were more prudent; and seeing their inferiority to the cleansers, took their station on a neighbouring hill, the Moal Odhar, and did not attempt to assist their brave neighbours of Glenshee. The Cam, who had received early intelligence of the raid, hung about the vicinity of the cleansers, sorely repenting of the oath he had sworn, and measuring impatiently the distance the sun had yet to go ere he would be free.

The miller of Glenshee, with his seven sons, had come up in a body, and were doing prodigies of valour; and while they cursed the cowards of Glen Isla, often turned their longing eyes in the direction of Braemar. One after another of the seven sons fell; and so death after death was made known to their father: he only replied, ‘We must fight the day, and lament the morn,’ And when all were gone, he repeated the cry standing over the body of the last one. Poor man, he saw no to-morrow! Sorely wounded, and unable to stand, he was fighting upon his knees. A stout cleanser with whom he had been | engaged now stept back, for he saw that the miller had but a few minutes to live, and he did not care to expose himself to the last nervous efforts of so dangerous a foe.

The miller during that breathing space turned his fast dimming eyes once more in the direction of Braemar; still no help was visible. But some object nearer hand caused his eye to brighten, and for a moment his vigour seemed restored. The cleanser returned ; but while in the act of lifting his sword to despatch the miller, a sharp twang was heard, and an arrow from some invisible archer pierced the cleanser, and with a shriek he leaped convulsively from the ground. The miller also sprang to his feet; and the two, clasped in each others arms, and their daggers driven to the hilt in each other’s backs, fell together in that dread embrace of death.

To the great consternation of the cleansers, arrow after arrow came, dealing death most surely to some one in their ranks. Not one missed its mark, and yet they saw not whence they came. The remains of the Glenshee men doing what they could to distract their attention, the cleansers yelled in fury; but the avenging hand smote them still. Fourteen of them, some say eighteen, lay stretched upon the ground, when a blast of wind sweeping across the heather caught the Cam-ruadh plaid and whirled it up in the air.

The cleansers saw it, and the whole band ran yelling to the place. The Cam adjusted his last arrow, but it snapped, and started uselessly aside. So, throwing the bow after the broken arrow, he leapt from his hiding-place and fled down the hill-side like a mountain roe, distancing his pursuers at every step. One of them seeing this, bent his bow, and discharged an arrow with unerring aim. It hit the Cam, but not in any mortal part, for he never abated his speed. A whole shower of arrows were then sent after him, but all felL short of the mark ; so, completely nonplussed, they turned back to finish with the Glenshee men.

But a shout echoing and re-echoing among the hills greeted their ears; while the Glenshee men shouted in hearty response, Hurrah! M*Coinnick Mor na Dalack and the Braemar men!’ So the cleansers fled amain, leaving the flocks and herds for which they had dared so much, and the bodies of their slaughtered companions, behind them.

Thus far the battle of the Caimwell. It took place near the top of the hill, at a short distance from the road which the coach passes; and often, especially if it be desired, time is allowed for the passengers to visit the Katenis Howe. On the opposite side of the haugh the cleansers were buried ; and the old man to whom I am indebted for this legend, told me that often he and his herding companions used to visit the spot. He remembers only fourteen graves. One of them they used to call the ‘Chief's Grave' from its great length—upwards of seven feet. He assured me also, that for a long time, on account of their cowardly conduct on that day, the feeling towards the Glen Isla men was that of the greatest bitterness and contempt; and that, though now softened down by time, it still exists.

Among the cleansers shot by the Cam-ruadh at the battle of the Caimwell was the Baron M‘Diarmid, chief of a sept of Clan Campbell, who left a family of seven sons to avenge his death. Before leaving Aberdeenshire, they found out who the terrible archer was, and left with the firm purpose of returning to make the Cam suffer for their father’s death.

One very rainy day not long after, the Cam was herding the united flocks and herds of his neighbours; and no doubt they considered them safe under his protection. He was not very particular as to his personal appearance; and with an old plaid hung round him, all dripping wet, he was not at all formidable-looking. He had also, when alone, a habit of muttering to himself, which did not strengthen a stranger’s idea of his wisdom. .

On this day to which I refer he was, as usual, busily engaged in conference with himself, when he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turning round saw to his astonishment ten or twelve of the cleansers; and he, poor man, without the means of escape or defence.

He was quick enough to observe, however, that they considered him a fool; and he resolved to act in character.

Though it was considered of little use by the others, the captain of the party asked if he could tell them where the ‘Cam-ruadh’ lived.

‘Perhaps I can.’
‘Is it far from this?’

‘Perhaps it is.’ But though thus indifferent to their questions, he took such an extraordinary interest in | their bows and arrows, as set their risible faculties fully in operation. So the captain, hoping to get some information out of him as to the Cam, put one into his hand.

His wonder at the new-fashioned walking-stick was extreme, and his admiration no less so. Seeing this, the captain said coaxingly, ‘Now, if you will tell me where the Cam lives, I will give you one of these pretty things to yourself.’

‘Which of them?’

‘Whichever you please, and a quiver full of arrows too, if you find out for us the Cam-ruadh.’

‘Oui ay, but what’s their use?’

‘A sensible question, captain,’ said one of the party laughingly; ‘you’ll better teach him.’

The Cam was all attention, while the captain adjusted his bow and sent an arrow to the other side of a stream near them. Then he set to work in the most awkward manner possible; so much so, that he was in danger, they thought, of shooting himself.

The captain then proposed a large stone as a mark, yet arrow after arrow went hissing in every direction but the mark.

When he had sent the whole quiverful to the other side of the stream, a bird happened to alight on the stone. The Cam let fly, and the bird fell. ‘A splendid shot! exclaimed he in ecstasy; and darted across the stream to take up his victim and collect his arrows. Still the cleansers, believing it a mere chance shot, suspected nothing, and were still amusing themselves at his expense ; he doing all he could to carry on the deception.

At length, all his arrows gathered, he stepped behind the stone, and adjusting his bow, with a menacing arrow in the one hand, he held up the bird in the other; then made the startling announcement that he was the Cam-ruadh: then, bending. behind the stone, bent his bow against them.

‘Have mercy on us,’ cried the chief, ‘and we will go without harming any one.’

‘If you don’t' replied the Cam, drawing his bow to its fullest stretch—

They did not need more, but set off at their swiftest; the Cam, in the rear, every now and then hastening their speed with a loud shout And thus he drove them beyond the confines of Braemar.

This last exploit enraged the cleansers exceedingly, especially the seven brothers; and they set out determined not only to revenge their father’s death, but this defeat also. It was in winter, and it is no joke when a storm overtakes one in the hills, as one happened to do these cleansers. The Cam and his wife, sheltered from the storm, sat by the fireside blessing themselves that it was so. Their home was humble enough: a shieling, with small holes serving as windows, stuffed with turf instead of glass; one end of the shieling serving as kitchen, bed-room, etc., the other end as barn and byre.

By a strange sort of sympathy, his wife asked what he would do * if the cleansers were coming the night.'

'Give them meat' replied the Cam.

'And then?’

'Let them sleep.’

'And what then?’ .

‘Let them be off/ he cried, provoked at her persistence.

‘Be as good as your word, then' said a gruff voice from the outside; ‘we sorely want what you promise.’

After surrendering their arms, they were admitted to share the comforts of the Cam’s dwelling; and during the evening not only was the peace made up, but an alliance offensive and defensive was entered into, and they parted sworn friends.

As a sequel to this story, I may mention one other instance of his prowess. The sept to which these brothers belonged had a rupture with another tribe; and on the Cam being informed of this, in terms of the late alliance, he set off to assist them.

When he arrived at their dwelling, they were gone ; so the Cam anxiously asked their mother to show him the road they had taken.

Are you going to help them?’ she asked, evidently not seeing much of the warrior in the strange being before her.

‘Yes.’

‘Then, if they’ll do with you, they’ll do without you.’

‘That may be' he replied dryly, ‘but I’ll go and see.’

With manifest indifference she pointed out the way. So pushing on, he arrived at the right time : the Campbells were in flight. Crouching himself down in a hollow, his unerring shafts began to fly, dealing certain death in every direction among the antagonists of his friends. The Campbells seeing this, resumed the fight, and by the aid of the Cam-ruadh came off victorious.    .

When their mother was informed, on their return, how deeply indebted they were to the Cam, she knew not what apologies to make, nor by what acts of kindness and attention to compensate for her former indifference; and again and again declared she would never judge by appearances any more, since she had found the Cam’s appearance and his prowess so widely at variance.

Many other stories are told of the Cam and his adventures, and might be here related; but it is neither pleasing nor instructive to heap up these tales of blood. So I merely mention, in conclusion, that having served under Donald Oig, and William of Inverey, his successor, the Cam was gathered to his kindred dust. And thoughts, which sometimes intrude themselves, as to where such a spirit will spend its eternity, are checked by the certainty that the Judge of all the earth will do right.


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