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Chronicals of Stratheden
The Usual Visitors to a Highland Parish


To look at Stratheden, its normal aspect seems one of undisturbed seclusion, so far as visitors are concerned. And yet it is visited, and that largely compared with thirty years ago,—this change, like many others referred to, having been brought about very much by the growing facilities of communication. Besides sportsmen and "great guns" in other fields, there come regularly commercial travellers—an apparently industrious class of persons—and there likewise visit us tourists, tramps, and tinkers — the visits from the two latter fraternities being more frequent than the average resident cares about. Though by no means least, we elect to speak of sportsmen last, for a reason which, while valid in our own eyes, may seem slender enough to priority hunters among sportsmen; for doubtless even. among them men wishing to be first will be found. The Twelfth of August is the orthodox date of the sportsman's first outing. Tramps and tinkers arrive long before then; and indeed we ourselves have been honoured with a visit from representatives of the two latter communities as early as the first, not of August merely, but even of January. Tourists, specially so called, and commercial travellers likewise, are earlier arrivals than the worshippers of Saint Grouse and kindred idols. So then, in the matter of order of treatment, we avoid the delicate question of precedence, and for the nonce adopt the rule of "first come, first described."

Tramps of various sorts come to Stratheden at all seasons and in all weathers, and—especially in summer and autumn—in perplexingly large numbers. The mainland districts, of course, are more largely visited by them, certain of the outer islands enjoying a privileged immunity from this species of infliction. The tramp is an almost daily visitor, and often he who calls early in the day is but the pioneer of more to follow, many tramps arranging to come to districts in bands. We happened in a very harmless way recently to observe to a tramp, in a sort of inquiring manner, that we thought the class of people he belonged to travelled in bands. He denied the fact in the bold style that the average tramp adopts when displeased ; and, bolder still, he proceeded to remark that he himself had never been in Stratheden before,—the fact being that he had visited the parish twice within the preceding six months. The recent commercial depression caused a great increase in the tramp department, or at least it supplied many with an introductory ground of appeal. "Out of work," "trade dull," "got my hand crushed," "got my leg broken," "fell ill," are some of the stock introductory phrases popular among them; but few, if any, that study their ways believe their statements—an incredulity warranted by the tramp's very frequent disregard of truth. To judge from the number coming, and the frequency of their visits, one would suppose tramps do a flourishing business in Stratheden; and indeed we are glad to be able to chronicle that Highlanders generally lean in the direction of taking a practical compassion on the wandering homeless poor. Some tramps obviously enough need help, whether they deserve it or not, — old broken-down men, and young but old-looking men, with a shattered miserable look painfully suggestive of the hard ways of the transgressor. Some are essentially bad-looking fellows, with a cast of face indicating some capacity for roughness and cunning; and though, as a rule, they make no distinctly violent displays, a refusal of help at times discovers some leanings that way. Such as are believed to be deserving are usually helped. There are some of them one can easily pronounce undeserving—the saucy, growling grumblers that refuse to take meat instead of money. Individuals of this ungrateful type refuse such food as bread and milk, fish, and meal, apparently thinking no other help than hard cash worth having. The Stratheden crofters and others in the parish rarely would send a tramp away unhelped ; but the tramp's preference for the compact coin cannot always be satisfied by the average resident. A refusal of help—of money help, that is —occasionally gives rise to a ludicrous though unpleasant scene. The unsatisfied tramp gets angry, and gives vent to his feelings in the offensive slang in which most of the fraternity seem well versed. The refusing party, as happens now and then, is more at home in Gaelic than English, and responds with more or less bitterness in the former language, of which the tramp is ignorant. Of one mind for the moment—that is, in being angry with each other —they employ different languages, but seem, however, to succeed in rousing each other's anger as well as relieving their own feelings.

Tramps have various ways of finding lodgings for the night. In summer and autumn, ordinarily, this matter is not reckoned problematic by themselves. Most of them then select a grassy bed in some sheltered spot, and with nought between them and the sky, in this wide berth await the morn. Some will select a cart-shed for a sleeping apartment; and a Stratheden crofter told us of his having one morning last autumn found a tramp asleep in his cart, and that with a soundness that some accustomed to better or softer beds might envy. Many of these tramps are very much afraid of horses and cattle, and in selecting the sort of wide berth referred to, they are careful to see that these quadrupeds have a field for themselves, —careful to give them, in other words, a very "wide berth." A tramp came to us in great distress one evening Iately, begging for old clothes. He related a mishap that befell him, and on which he grounded an urgent appeal for clothes. He was, to give his own story, passing through a park belonging to a Stratheden farmer, and a certain quadruped (a perfectly harmless heifer, we were afterwards told) seemed anxious to interview the tramp, and even make, as the alarmed vagrant believed, a decidedly definite appeal to his feelings. The tramp did not reciprocate the heifer's attentions, and proseeded to retire from the field. Gathering speed, though losing coolness, as he fled from the quadruped, he reached a wire fence, once over which he would be safe. In leaping the fence, the poor tramp, unnecessarily frightened—for he never looked back to see that the heifer gave up the chase, if it ever really began it—got entangled somehow in the fence, and a piece of broken wire did serious damage to his clothes. Hence his urgent appeal to us for clothes. When the weather prevents the tramp occupying the large sort of bed alluded to, other lodgings must be got. In Stratheden there are a few houses that afford shelter for a few pence—threepence usually—per night ; and those that either will not or cannot give even this small sum try to find a bed in some open outhouse or other available corner.

Adhering to the precedence of early arrival in our description of visitors, after tramps, specially so called, come tinkers, well known in all Highland parishes. Some of these latter come as early as the tramps; but the important fact is that both come earlier than is ordinarily relished, and certainly oftener than is liked. In Stratheden there are at times no fewer than half-a-dozen tinker camps. It is common enough, on a calm morning, to see smoke rising from three or four tents pitched in sheltered nooks along the Strath. These tinkers seem to like the sheltered woods of Stratheden. In the best-kept woods even, there will always be some firewood available, which is an important consideration from the tinker point of view; and the running stream in the wood is another advantage when clothes are to be washed, and when the rarer exercise of personal ablution is indulged in.

The prevailing tinker names are Stewart, Macphee, Macneil, and Macalister. The Stewarts consider themselves the representatives of the older and better type of the tinker tribe, and this contention now and then develops into contentions of a more violent sort. These latter contentions, as a rule, are settled, or rather, for the time, finished, in the pronounced and rather disgusting fashion deemed orthodox by the fraternity. Not that big fights are common among the tinkers frequenting Stratheden. Of course they have their domestic squabbles, as some other people not ordinarily called tinkers have; but it is doubtful if these are as bitter, and especially as permanent in their results, as the squabbles of those that consider themselves better than tinkers.

The Macneils, despite the pride of name displayed by the Stewarts, look down on the latter. The former, undoubtedly not only have a more civilised look about them, but exhibit something like leanings towards settled or "housed" ways of livings. The Alacneils and Macalisters do no small traffic in horse-dealing; and some of the Stratheden people, though dubious as to the safety of trafficking with tinkers, accept the risk and buy, or, as is often the case, exchange horses with them.

The children of the camp, always remarkably numerous, seem almost uncared for, though in not a few cases this is more apparent than real. Although, as among other people, some scenes of more or less frequent occurrence seem to indicate a scantiness of affection for relatives among tinkers, they have their feelings, of course, as the saying is; and instances of this are met with. Some time ago the son of a tinker, at the time camped in Stratheden, died, and the sad, heart-broken look of his father's face for long after amply proved that, however much despised by many, they are not insensible to the influence of natural affection. Last spring, while taking a walk one evening along a road in Stratheden, we heard in the distance the bagpipes sounding, and, liking the stirring strains, we naturally wished to know whence they issued. Our curiosity was soon set at rest. A little farther on from where we first heard the music there is a quarry, in which at the time there was a tinker camp—and there, a few yards from the camp, to bagpipe-music played by their father, danced two tinker children, brother and sister, player and dancers looking as happy as could be. The scene was suggestive in many ways, but we must not wait to moralise. Often in the coldest weather tinkers' children run about barefooted, but never seem to feel cold. Poor children! they thrive wonderfully, and it is almost miraculous that they do so, considering the hardships they have to endure in their too early wanderings. By a strange reversing of the ordinary arrangement, the children of a tinker camp are often the principal providers of the food of the family. The people of Stratheden are well aware how largely the commissariat department of the camp is intrusted to the tinker begging-children. The older members of the family are not above begging; but while the tinkers' bairns are commissioned to beg meal, butter, tea, sugar, and milk, the former devote special attention to providing, by begging from "big fairmer" or small crofter, hay, straw, and oats for their horses.

Tinkers have been known to attend church in Stratheden, but they are not strong in church-going; and we have often wondered whether their sense of the estimate ordinarily very low, formed of them by outsiders, has anything to do with their very rare frequenting of church. But this suggests a large subject, and we proceed to observe, that though not given to church -going, they affect ecclesiasti-cal designations, and very irreverently, as do some others" not ordinarily called tinkers, introduce these designations into their fights and squabbles generally. Some of them say they are Protestants, while others allege they are Roman Catholics; and in a rather big fight that took place a few months ago in a parish near Stratheden, where tinker representatives of each faith were engaged, they were calling each other by the various ecclesiastical names, with prefixes, and affixes too, of very violent and disgusting import. The same feeling perhaps may be easily enough met with in more refined communities---but then tinkers have their own way of squabbling; and though refined people, so called, might desire to give like definite and striking expression to the feeling—the ecclesiastical feeling, we mean—it is well it is not fashionable.

Their wandering life, while unfavourable to churchgoing, is particularly injurious in regard to the education of their children. In fact their children are hardly ever educated—and the best way of getting them educated constitutes a somewhat difficult problem. But though perplexing as it stands, the problem is not unhopefully so, when it is considered that the tinker system shows signs of yielding to the changes of to-day. Some tinkers' sons, encouraged by the travelling facilities of these days, and not quite ignorant of ambition, are taking to more civilised, settled ways of living ; and this itself, among a people at one time so very exclusive and isolated, is significant as to the future. Then, again, the tin dishes and other articles sold by tinkers can now be so easily had elsewhere, that the tin specialty which long sustained many a camp will gradually cease to have its effect. And there is a reason of quite a different kind for thinking the system is destined to break up. Notwithstanding that occasionally a stalwart frame is seen among them, on many may be seen an ominous enough look of physical feebleness. Frequent exposure to wet and cold, scanty clothing and little food, in addition to intemperate habits, have made deterioration evident enough in not a few cases—a fact which encourages the belief that the distinctiveness of the fraternity will gradually be modified, and probably, in the not very distant future, altogether cease to hold. To render this more probable, it need only be added that within recent years some tinkers, previously known in Stratheden in their wandering ways, have taken to a stationary mode of life, and now occupy settled homes.

Adhering to our rule as to priority of treatment, commercial travellers would now be referred to. They, however, have been spoken of in the chapter on "Shopkeeping," and other than what is there indicated, there is no feature of special interest in the commercial traveller's relation to the average Highland parish.

Next in order of treatment come tourists. They are far behind tramps and tinkers—as to date of arrival, that is to say. Tourists pass and repass in increasing numbers from the beginning of July until the end of September. Many of them wait to luxuriate amid the stillness and the grand scenery of Stratheden. Though there is not much, if any, of what is popularly known as the "lion" element to be seen in Stratheden, there are shaggy mountain-brows and bold faces of gigantic rocks; and though no grand triumphs of architectural skill are visible, who knows but the chronicler of the future may have something great to say of Stratheden in this respect — a future, too, not far distant? There is as wide a gulf between some of they cottages of to-day and the huts of fifty years ago, as there is between the former and certain structures daily visited as triumphs of architecture. But there are at this moment in Stratheden curiosities of architecture, models, in their way, of design and build. There are one or two specimens of huts, of a kind common fifty years ago, yet lingering, and perhaps the like of them may never have been seen by some that travel far in quest of " lions." Not that they are squalid: the average Highland parish stands tolerably high in the matter of cleanliness, whatever may be said of the godliness to which it is said cleanliness is so nearly allied. Nor are these huts devoid of comfort of a kind ; and indeed, so far as dryness and warmth are concerned, they are superior to some more elaborate structures. The fabrics we allude to are peculiar for their sunk-flat appearance, their scanty light and defective ventilation, and the very rare contrivances for securing both. This sort of building, already sunken in its look, will soon utterly sink out of view ; but by those among visitors to Highland parishes who wish to study the history of an interesting people and country, such buildings will be thought at least worth looking at. To certain tourists they ought to possess a fond interest. Many that first saw the light in such a home are to-day occupying influential and lucrative situations in various parts of the country. Some of these make a point of occasionally visiting the scene of early days; and all such, except those afflicted with a contemptible emptiness of head and heart, will give a fond lingering look at "the auld hoose," if it yet endures; and should their dear auld hoose have yielded to the removing influence of time, there is a sort of satisfying of the commendable feeling alluded to in even looking at any similar humble habitation yet "to the fore."

As was to be expected, the new means of locomotion have increased the number of tourists, and there has been much commendable enterprise displayed to meet the increasing strain on the means of communication between southern districts and the Northern Highlands generally. The Highland Railway Company, and the owners of the excellent and admirably managed fleet of steam-ships known in the West Highlands as "the Hutchesons'" steamers — the Messrs Hutcheson have a very worthy successor in Mr Macbrayne have so efficiently contributed their respective shares to the establishing of rapid and easy communication, that to-day the proverbial distance "from Land's End to John o' Groat's" may be travelled in little over twenty four hours; and Oban, Skye, Strathpeffer, and other places deservedly famous for health-giving qualities and richly varied scenery, are brought within easy access. Oban, so much nearer the south now that the Oban and Callander Railway is open, forms an excellent centre for pleasant and interesting excursions by sea and land, and is also valued by many as a bathing-place; while for such as are neither on excursions nor on bathing bent, Oban is an attractive place to linger in for a week or two. Skye, so long and so deservedly enjoying an established reputation among tourists in quest of scenery and health, continues to grow in favour because the travelling facilities are bringing it within more convenient reach and making it better known; and enterprising endeavours are being made to meet the growing demand for hotel accommodation in this beautiful "isle of the west."

There is, of course, very considerable variety in the tourist element. It is not, however, necessary to detail this variety, as it is not a feature peculiar to tourists visiting Highland parishes. Suffice it to say, there come big and little men, literally and figuratively; and it is amusing enough to notice those tourists whose conscious looks and general air suggest that they feel very big on the strength of the mere fact of being tourists. There was a time when more than now this vain conceit was satisfied. This was when tourists were rare, and the average Highlander's views of the world generally somewhat narrow and hazy—flash, glitter, and tall talk having then a tendency to command the wonderment of the poorer Highlanders in their humble obscurity. And yet the conscious ones continue to come, and probably will do so, although the vision and discriminating powers of the average Highlander are becoming daily enlarged. But, of course, tourists with the conscious leaning are but a proportion — a small proportion, let it be gratefully noted—of the many annually flocking to the Highlands. Family groups, solitary bachelors and groups of bachelors, elderly maiden ladies singly and in groups, generally speaking, make up the usual tourists; and there are city merchants, lawyers, clergymen, medical men, landed proprietors, and persons of no occupation, among the number. The city pastor, exhausted with sermon-making, and especially with visiting his flock and attending to the other usual and ordinary duties, comes to get up renewed vigour of mind and body. Sometimes a conscious parson may be seen strutting along in a very large way; but it is only just to "the cloth" to say such parsons are rare--which is fact that he spent no small portion of his early life in one of those "dreadfully black and little huts " he talks about so disparagingly and feebly. But there are other "Highland laddies" of a wiser, manlier sort. These, in early life, go to push their fortune in one or other of the southern towns, and succeed, — Highlanders have a way of succeeding,—and it is a settled resolve with thern that their native parish be revisited periodically; and if those that made the "old home" dear are gone, there is a saddened satisfaction in revisiting the very heather, and the rocks, and the bonnie burn "clear winding still," near which stood the home of early days. Those we speak of have not forgot their Gaelic, as some ones of the weaker sort affect to do; and, impressed with memories of days of yore, they like to speak it with such as may happen to know it—while the latter speak to them of the old people and ways, alluding, half sorrowfully it may be, to the changed aspect of to-day.

In addition to the benefits gained by tourists themselves in their Highland rambles, certain of the natives and others are benefited by the tourist system in respect of the circulation of money thus caused. Where no "boots" forms one of the appliances and; means of the Highland inn, and where, should such exist, the pressure of the busy season renders "boots" unable to nun to the occasion, some boys and grown-up lads in Highland parishes make rather a good thing of it during the season by carrying luggage and going messages for tourists. Then some tourists go a-fishing, and this means employment for such as we refer to. And again, some tourist of antiquarian or geologic leaning goes for a ramble among the rocks in the hope of a precious "find," and he must needs take one of the village boys to carry the collection; and hence to such boy a find much more fondly prized by him than the treasure intrusted to him by his temporary employer. Some of our readers may have read or heard of an incident recorded as having taken place in the Highlands, and which shows how a tourist of this latter description was pretty decidedly done by a man whom he employed iii the capacity indicated. To the best of our recollection the main circumstances are these: The tourist, an enthusiastic student of lithology, left a Highland inn one summer morning to search for precious stones near a rocky hill some fourteen miles away. He was accompanied by a native Highlander—a calculating, cute sort of man; but so far as the metals prized by his employer were concerned, stone-blind. In the course of the day various stones of the precious sort were gathered, which were deposited in a strong canvas or leather bag carried by the hired man. In the evening the two parted, the tourist giving specific instructions to his attendant to take the stones to the inn. Feeling the precious metals rather a burden, the Highlander adopted the very simple expedient of throwing all the stones away, thinking it foolish indeed to carry a burden of stones fourteen miles, when there were so many stones quite as good just beside the inn! Arrived at the inn with the empty bag, he filled it to the original apparent bulk with very, very common stones, not certainly classified among precious stones, which treasure he ordered to be given to the enthusiastic student of lithology on his return!

In pursuance of our order of treatment as determined by date of arrival, we now proceed to say a few words of sportsmen. To some sportsmen the very difficulty of travelling to and in the Highlands long ago used to be an additional attraction in respect of that difficulty satisfying adventurous leanings but notwithstanding this, the number of sportsmen coming to the Highlands is larger since the travelling facilities have been increased. There are several shooting-boxes in Stratheden—the district being not a little famous for its attractiveness in this respect. Since the railway was extended to the district, one or two pretty-looking shooting-lodges have gone up in the parish; and early in August the ordinarily quiet railway station of Stratheden for a few days presents a thronged and bustling aspect. As in other places, there is no small variety of rank and intellect discernible in this annual accession to the population. Including the lessees of the shootings and their guests, there are earls and lords not a few, esquires too numerous to mention, and parsons—chiefly from south of the Tweed—in well nigh amazing abundance.

Many of the natives view with special horror the fact of "munnistarrs going to the hull to be shooting and running aifter the birds." Some such natives, aiming at being sarcastic, may now and then be heard saying - "Graysheous me! what would the godly people before say if they would be seeing munnistarrs running like mat people with fire and powter? I wonder whatna place in the Bible tells them to be shooting and work like that? They're saying they will be going on their, knees in the hull for the birds and the like o' that. Am afraid it's no on their knees where they should be they'll be." Nor is it the uneducated alone that make comments of this sort. A Free Church clergyman not sixty miles from Stratheden, and seemingly not disposed to think kindly of the sportsman institution generally, a short time ago, in referring to sportsmen, ended some strong remarks with the following silly, but, as he believed, triumphant sarcasm: "I wonder how many gamekeepers Moses had?" We trust it is not beyond our province to express the hope that this game problem, started by the divine referred to, will not be thought of sufficient importance to engage the attention of the competent Church judicatories, already amply agitated anent themes where Moses is concerned.

Besides the class of persons indicated, tea-planters from India and China, prosperous city merchants from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London, bankers of various stamps, retired grocers from all quarters, and not a few cultured disciples of the pen and the pencil, may be found among the many sportsmen annually visiting the Highlands. It is unnecessary to say much anent the variety of intellect observable. As among other people, there are among theme4men of4mind, and men very scantily endowed with brains; persons of mediocrity, and some a degree higher than the ordinary level; and as is true of tourists, there are "conscious" ones among sportsmen also, these latter being very big persons. Ordinarily, however, the repose of culture is to be seen among sportsmen, though stupidity, and even vulgarity, have each representatives among them.

In inquiring what influence the annual accession of sportsmen has on the average Highland parish, there is no doubt that the most prominent, and certainly the most definite result, is the circulation of money thus caused ; and so far, at Ieast, they do good to others. The average native resident had long been in the habit of reckoning sportsmen veritable "mints,"—visitors with unlimited ability, and a constant readiness, to give away money. This delusion may now be almost pronounced extinct; and it is much the same with the feeling of something like awe with which sportsmen used to be viewed by the average native of long ago, as being in every case not only extraordinarily rich, but great and powerful, and everything that was impressive. Of course, the rich, and the great too, are to-day among sportsmen as of old, and so also are the good and the true; but the penny paper and cheap literature generally, and the widening view encouraged by this and the travelling facilities of to-day, are combining to invest the local estimate of sportsmen with a more sensible, discerning, and, consequently, a more independent character. Nor, so far as some sportsmen are concerned, would their estimate of the natives be the worse of modification. Some of the less thoughtful and cultured of sportsmen are too prone to be influenced by the "inferior clay" idea, and to discard certain harmless local prejudices, in such matters, for instance, as Sunday observance. We know well enough, and, we think, have shown in another chapter, that the Highland estimate of what right Sunday observance is has often been—and is, to this day, in some cases—very unsound and even superstitious; but those among sportsmen and others who know that all healthy development requires time, and who understand that toleration is a mutual duty, will studiously avoid giving needless offence. Many sportsmen wisely do so, we gladly chronicle,—giving practical evidence of their belief that Christian charity forbids giving countenance to aught that unnecessarily hurts the harmless prejudices of even the sensitively weak. And besides this, of many sportsmen it must be recorded to their credit, that they give ample evidence, by kindly interest and deeds of active benevolence, that they are wishful to render their stay in the Highlands not merely a source of satisfaction to themselves, but likewise a source of profit and happiness to others.

Speaking of sportsmen, it is right that reference be made to gamekeepers and gillies. Shepherds and ploughmen are in the habit of saying that gamekeepers have grand times of it,—by which is meant that the latter have little to do, and that, by regular wages and the gratuities of the shooting season, their pecuniary advantages are great. No doubt, except for some weeks from and after "the Twelfth," the duties of the gamekeeper are not too arduous. He is very much his own master; nor is this privilege seriously interfered with, even where there is a head-gamekeeper understood to supervise two or three subordinates. He must, of course, take occasional runs over the "ground" to see what is doing; and he is in duty bound to beware lest aspiring ones, ambitious after even temporary gamekeepership—on poaching bent, in other words—are on the scent for game,—which extent of work, however, does not mean much in the nature of arduous toil. But the gamekeeper's duties from and after the "the Twelth" until, say, early in October, are, as a rule, heavy enough. Early astir, a long journey, hard and constant work, and long hours, and this repeated day after day, is no joke. Generally speaking, however, the sportsman is very mindful of the gamekeeper's requirements in the busy season ; and in the matter of food and drink, liberal provision is made for gamekeepers and gillies. These officials, gamekeepers especially, acquire a sort of smartness of manner, and particularly, as they themselves think, of speech, by associating with sportsmen; and it is very amusing to hear some of them affect a sort of "tall," grand talk — the amusement being intensified by the occasional natural spicing of the Highland accent with which it is interspersed. Some gamekeepers are essentially pawky, and, though appearing very unassuming and receptive while in the hill with sportsmen, are known to be carefully studying the individual characters, as also, with apparent humility and guilelessness, humouring the peculiarities of the several sportsmen, and especially feeding the vanity of the vain among them. In the case of such sportsmen as are quick to hear of local matters, it is doubtful whether, in accepting the gamekeeper's version, the former always exercise a prudent discretion by making allowance for local prejudices and envyings. It is pretty well known that, in local ecclesiastical matters especially, some sportsmen are often materially deceived by the one-sided narrative of a bigoted gamekeeper. To know aright, sportsmen must either inquire of ones less likely to be narrowly prejudiced, or, better still, wait to be able to judge for themselves.

Besides gamekeepers and gillies, many natives get work during the shooting season—so that in this way, to others than themselves, the coming of sportsmen brings at least one tangible benefit; but as to the measure of affection those thus employed cherish for their employers, and as to the other and larger question of the sentiments with which the average native views sportsmen, we need not here inquire. We cannot help, however, expressing the hope that, whatever extension of the sportsman system may be contemplated, a wise, generous regard will be paid to the welfare of farmers and crofters—both which classes, we maintain, with every reasonable appreciation of the benefits conferred by sportsmen, contribute so much to the strength and prosperity of the country.


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