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Corporal Cameron

Just over the line of the Grampians, near the head-waters of the Spey, a glen, small and secluded, lies bedded deep among the hills,--a glen that when filled with sunlight on a summer day lies like a cup of gold; the gold all liquid and flowing over the cup's rim.  And hence they call the glen "The Cuagh Oir," The Glen of the Cup of Gold.

At the bottom of the Cuagh, far down, a little loch gleams, an oval of emerald or of sapphire, according to the sky above that smiles into its depths.  On dark days the loch can gloom, and in storm it can rage, white-lipped, just like the people of the Glen.

Around the emerald or sapphire loch farmlands lie sunny and warm, set about their steadings, and are on this spring day vivid with green, or rich in their red-browns where the soil lies waiting for the seed.  Beyond the sunny fields the muirs of brown heather and bracken climb abruptly up to the dark-massed firs, and they to the Cuagh's rim.  But from loch to rim, over field and muir and forest, the golden, liquid light ever flows on a sunny day and fills the Cuagh Oir till it runs over.

On the east side of the loch, among some ragged firs, a rambling Manor House, ivy-covered and ancient, stood; and behind it, some distance away, the red tiling of a farm-cottage, with its steading clustering near, could be seen.  About the old Manor House the lawn and garden told of neglect and decay, but at the farmhouse order reigned.  The trim little garden plot, the trim lawn, the trim walks and hedges, the trim thatch of the roof, the trim do'-cote above it, the trim stables, byres, barns and yard of the steading, proclaimed the prudent, thrifty care of a prudent, thrifty soul.

And there in the steading quadrangle, amidst the feathered creatures, hens, cocks and chicks, ducks, geese, turkeys and bubbly-jocks, stood the mistress of the Manor and prudent, thrifty manager of the farm,--a girl of nineteen, small, well-made, and trim as the farmhouse and its surroundings, with sunny locks and sunny face and sunny brown eyes.  Her shapely hands were tanned and coarsened by the weather; her little feet were laced in stout country-made brogues; her dress was a plain brown winsey, kilted and belted open at the full round neck; the kerchief that had fallen from her sunny, tangled hair was of simple lawn, spotless and fresh; among her fowls she stood, a country lass in habit and occupation, but in face and form, in look and poise, a lady every inch of her.  Dainty and daunty, sweet and strong, she stood, "the bonny like o' her bonny mither," as said the South Country nurse, Nannie, who had always lived at the Glen Cuagh House from the time that that mother was a baby; "but no' sae fine like," the nurse would add with a sigh.  For she remembered ever the gentle airs and the high-bred, stately grace of Mary Robertson,--for though married to Captain Cameron of Erracht, Mary Robertson she continued to be to the Glen folk,--the lady of her ancestral manor, now for five years lain under the birch trees yonder by the church tower that looked out from its clustering firs and birches on the slope beyond the loch.  Five years ago the gentle lady had passed from them, but like the liquid, golden sunlight, and like the perfume of the heather and the firs, the aroma of her saintly life still filled the Glen.

A year after that grief had fallen, Moira, her one daughter, "the bonny like o' her bonny mither, though no' sae fine," had somehow slipped into command of the House Farm, the only remaining portion of the wide demesne of farmlands once tributary to the House.  And by the thrift which she learned from her South Country nurse in the care of her poultry and her pigs, and by her shrewd oversight of the thriftless, doddling Highland farmer and his more thriftless and more doddling womenfolk, she brought the farm to order and to a basis of profitable returns.  And this, too, with so little "clash and claver" that her father only knew that somehow things were more comfortable about the place, and that there were fewer calls than formerly upon his purse for the upkeep of the House and home. Indeed, the less appeared Moira's management, both in the routine of the House and in the care of the farm, the more peacefully flowed the current of their life.  It seriously annoyed the Captain at intervals when he came upon his daughter directing operations in barnyard or byre.  That her directing meant anything more than a girlish meddling in matters that were his entire concern and about which he had already given or was about to give orders, the Captain never dreamed.  That things about the House were somehow prospering in late years he set down to his own skill and management and his own knowledge of scientific farming; a knowledge which, moreover, he delighted to display at the annual dinners of the Society for the Improvement of Agriculture in the Glen, of which he was honourary secretary; a knowledge which he aired in lengthy articles in local agricultural and other periodicals; a knowledge which, however, at times became the occasion of dismay to his thrifty daughter and her Highland farmer, and not seldom the occasion of much useless expenditure of guineas hard won from pigs and poultry. True, more serious loss was often averted by the facility with which the Captain turned from one scheme to another, happily
forgetful of orders he had given and which were never carried out; and by the invincible fabianism of the Highland farmer, who, listening with gravest attention to the Captain's orders delivered in the most definite and impressive terms, would make reply, "Yess, yess indeed, I know; she will be attending to it immediately-- tomorrow, or fery soon whateffer."  It cannot be said that this capacity for indefinite procrastination rendered the Highlander any less valuable to his "tear young leddy."

The days on which Postie appeared with a large bundle of mail were accounted good days by the young mistress, for on these and succeeding days her father would be "busy with his correspondence." And these days were not few, for the Captain held many honourary offices in county and other associations for the promotion and encouragement of various activities, industrial, social, and philanthropic.  Of the importance of these activities to the county and national welfare, the Captain had no manner of doubt, as his voluminous correspondence testified.  As to the worth of his correspondence his daughter, too, held the highest opinion, estimating her father, as do all dutiful daughters, at his own valuation.  For the Captain held himself in high esteem; not simply for his breeding, which was of the Camerons of Erracht; nor for his manners, which were of the most courtly, if occasionally marred by fretfulness; nor for his dress, which was that of a Highland gentleman, perfect in detail and immaculate, but for his many and public services rendered to the people, the county, and the nation. Indeed his mere membership dues to the various associations, societies and committees with which he was connected, and his dining expenses contingent upon their annual meetings, together with the amounts expended upon the equipment and adornment of his person proper to such festive occasions, cut so deep into the slender resources of the family as to give his prudent daughter some considerable concern; though it is safe to say that such concern her father would have regarded not only as unnecessary but almost as impertinent.

The Captain's correspondence, however extensive, was on the whole regarded by his daughter as a good rather than an evil, in that it secured her domestic and farm activities from disturbing incursions. This spring morning Moira's apprehensions awakened by an extremely light mail, were realized, as she beheld her father bearing down upon her with an open letter in his hand.  His handsome face was set in a fretful frown.

"Moira, my daughter!" he exclaimed, "how often have I spoke to you about this--this--unseemly--ah--mussing and meddling in the servants' duties!"

"But, Papa," cried his daughter, "look at these dear things!  I love them and they all know me, and they behave so much better when I feed them myself.  Do they not, Janet?" she added, turning to the stout and sonsy farmer's daughter standing by.

"Indeed, then, they are clever at knowing you," replied the maid, whose particular duty was to hold a reserve supply of food for the fowls that clamoured and scrambled about her young mistress.

"Look at that vain bubbly-jock there, Papa," cried Moira, "he loves to have me notice him.  Conceited creature!  Look out, Papa, he does not like your kilts!"  The bubbly-jock, drumming and scraping and sidling ever nearer to the Captain's naked knees, finally with great outcry flew straight at the affronting kilts.

"Get off with you, you beast!" cried the Captain, kicking vainly at the wrathful bird, and at the same time beating a wise retreat before his onset.

Moira rushed to his rescue.  "Hoot, Jock!  Shame on ye!" she cried. "There now, you proud thing, be off!  He's just jealous of your fine appearance, Papa."  With her kerchief she flipped into submission the haughty bubbly-jock and drew her father out of the steading.  "Come away, Papa, and see my pigs."

But the Captain was in no humour for pigs.  "Nonsense, child," he cried, "let us get out of this mess!  Besides, I wish to speak to you on a matter of importance."  They passed through the gate.  "It is about Allan," he continued, "and I'm really vexed.  Something terrible has happened."

"Allan!" the girl's voice was faint and her sunny cheek grew white. "About Allan!" she said again.  "And what is wrong with Allan, Papa?"

"That's what I do not know," replied her father fretfully; "but I must away to Edinburgh this very day, so you'll need to hasten with my packing.  And bid Donald bring round the cart at once."

But Moira stood dazed.  "But, Papa, you have not told me what is wrong with Allan."  Her voice was quiet, but with a certain insistence in it that at once irritated her father and compelled his attention.

"Tut, tut, Moira, I have just said I do not know."

"Is he ill, Papa?"  Again the girl's voice grew faint.

"No, no, not ill.  I wish he were!  I mean it is some business matter you cannot understand.  But it must be serious if Mr. Rae asks my presence immediately.  So you must hasten, child."

In less than half an hour Donald and the cart were waiting at the door, and Moira stood in the hall with her father's bag ready packed.  "Oh, I am glad," she said, as she helped her father with his coat, "that Allan is not ill.  There can't be much wrong."

"Wrong!  Read that, child!" cried the father impatiently.

She took the letter and read, her face reflecting her changing emotions, perplexity, surprise, finally indignation.  "'A matter for the police,'" she quoted, scornfully, handing her father the letter.  "'A matter for the police' indeed!  My but that Mr. Rae is the clever man!  The police!  Does he think my brother Allan would cheat?--or steal, perhaps!" she panted, in her indignant scorn.

"Mr. Rae is a careful man and a very able lawyer," replied her father.

"Able!  Careful!  He's an auld wife, and that's what he is!  You can tell him so for me."  She was trembling and white with a wrath her father had never before seen in her.  He stood gazing at her in silent surprise.

"Papa," cried Moira passionately, answering his look, "do you think what he is saying?  I know my brother Allan clean through to the heart.  He is wild at times, and might rage perhaps and--and--break things, but he will not lie nor cheat.  He will die first, and that I warrant you."

Still her father stood gazing upon her as she stood proudly erect, her pale face alight with lofty faith in her brother and scorn of his traducer.  "My child, my child," he said, huskily, "how like you are to your mother!  Thank God!  Indeed it may be you're right! God grant it!"  He drew her closely to him.

"Papa, Papa," she whispered, clinging to him, while her voice broke in a sob, "you know Allan will not lie.  You know it, don't you, Papa?"

"I hope not, dear child, I hope not," he replied, still holding her to him.

"Papa," she cried wildly, "say you believe me."

"Yes, yes, I do believe you.  Thank God, I do believe you.  The boy is straight."

At that word she let him go.  That her father should not believe in Allan was to her loyal heart an intolerable pain.  Now Allan would have someone to stand for him against "that lawyer" and all others who might seek to do him harm.  At the House door she stood watching her father drive down through the ragged firs to the highroad, and long after he had passed out of sight she still stood gazing.  Upon the church tower rising out of its birches and its firs her eyes were resting, but her heart was with the little mound at the tower's foot, and as she gazed, the tears gathered and fell.

"Oh, Mother!" she whispered.  "Mother, Mother!  You know Allan would not lie!"

A sudden storm was gathering.  In a brief moment the world and the Glen had changed.  But half an hour ago and the Cuagh Oir was lying glorious with its flowing gold.  Now, from the Cuagh as from her world, the flowing gold was gone.

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