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Fraser's Scottish Annual
The Gordons at Haddo


Lord and Lady Aberdeen keep open house at Haddo for Canadians, as if they, still represented the Queen to them; and the fact that their hospitality, cannot now be considered in any sense official, but wholly, personal, makes it all the more grateful to the recipients. As Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire, he is the representative of the Queen in his native County, and is therefore constantly called upon to act in an official capacity; but it is in the personal relations which exist between the head of an ancient house and his tenants that the grace of his character is best seen. His personal influence was felt even in Canada, where the size of the country makes it all but impossible for any Governor-General to impress himself permanently on us. We can therefore form some idea of the ties between him and families who have looked up to him or his ancestors, as far back as they can remember, and to whom the House is the centre of society.

Haddo has little claims to architectural beauty. The nucleus is a massive square, which is impressive from the entire absence of anything pretentious. This has been flanked on each side by so many successive erections that it is now a pretty long walk to go from the exquisite chapel at one end to the great hall at the other, which forms the last addition made to the building. The grounds, with the fine trees which are to be seen on almost every ancient place in the old country, are spacious and well kept; but the great attraction is the house itself with treasures of painting and sculpture, the Library and galleries filled at different times but more particularly by the Earl who was Prime Minister some fifty years ago and by the present Earl. In the most conspicuous places are the memorials of his Excellency's life in Canada, and the beautiful present made to Her Excellency, I think, by the Senate and the House of Commons.

Although on a visit to Scotland for the purpose of recruiting, and declining therefore invitations which I would fain have accepted, I made an exception in favor of Haddo. Indeed, an invitation from those who had so long and so worthily, represented the Queen in Canada still seemed to me a command. I was abundantly, rewarded; for in addition to the Highland hospitality which was a matter of course, I met the Gordon Highlanders, recently home from Dargai and already whispering to each other that they would be sent to face the Boers as soon as they got hack to the castle of Edinburgh.

I shall not soon forget my first sight of the Gordons, as they, swung down the avenue and past Haddo House to the field where they were to camp. It was in the afternoon, about 5 o'clock. They had been on the march since 10 o'clock in the forenoon, under a cold, pitilessly-pelting rain, which had kept every one of us indoors. Not for a moment did the rain cease to fall or the wind to drive it home to the marrow. The men had been soaked for hours. From plumes to boots they were drenched, and every kilt must have held gallons of rain. But they marched past with lithe and regular steps, as if they had just come out of a band-box, cheering spontaneously and lustily, every man looking fit as a fiddle, and the whole presenting an appearance of ordered strength which one felt would have dared anything that man could do. I saw them an hour or two after in a big marquee, seated at dinner, with their kilts exchanged for dry trews, and they polished off that dinner in a way to satisfy the most exacting cook. The same evening and the next forty-two sat down to dinner in the House, but there was no more apparent strain than usual on the domestic service. Lady Aberdeen has been accused of spoiling servants, and let that be my excuse for saying that I have never been in contact with so well managed a household.

Well, in the evening there was a dance in the big hall for the officers, and for friends from the neighborhood representing the volunteers, and others from different parts of the county; and a bonny, sight it was to see the scarfs and the sashes and tartans flashing in and out between the sober dress coats and outshining in attractiveness even the ladies' dresses. The heavy day's march had not wearied any one's legs; that was quite evident. But, as it was Saturday, the dancing ceased before midnight, though bonfires, at which the men dried their clothes as best they could, continued to burn all through the night.

On Sunday forenoon the rain still poured steadily down. It was impossible to go to the Parish Church, so service was held in the beautiful chapel which the present Lord built soon after his marriage, a copy of which on a small scale he built of wood, in connection with Rideau Hall and presented to Canada for the use of his successors in office. At noon, the rain ceased and the the sun came out, to the joy of every one, for it had been announced that a special service for the soldiers would be held at 4 p.m., to which the volunteers of the neighboring parishes and the people generally, had been invited.

I shall long remember that afternoon, and shall not forget even the sermon, though ministers are said from sheer forgetfulness—so to forget what they have preached that they repeat themselves over and over again. The Chaplain took the devotional part of the service, the band of the regiment led the singing, Lord Aberdeen read the lessons, and I preached. The good Chaplain had previously impressed upon me that the men couldn't stand long sermons. ''Whatever you do, be brief," he urged with a tone that had so much entreaty in it that I asked why he was so anxious, and whether he was ignorant that I was a Chaplain before he was born and was still Chaplain to the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Army. "Oh," he replied naively, ''the men have heard that you are very eloquent and consequently they are afraid that you'll preach for more than an hour." He added with a ring of modest self-satisfaction in his voice, ''I give them fifteen minutes, or at the most," and he paused to make sure of being strictly accurate, ''perhaps seventeen." I gave him no assurance of being merciful, except what he might gather from one of my reminiscences, that I had often preached to the Seaforths for nearly an hour and no one had complained. How long my sermon to the Gordons was I shall not say, but I must tell what a fine gentleman Colonel Downman is. He gently rebuked me for having cut it short! He did, and I rewarded him when saying good-bye at Edinburgh Castle, by an assurance that I would cross the Atlantic to preach to the Gordons again, when they returned from South Africa. How many of the fine fellows to whom I spoke at Haddo shall I meet again, when I go back to fulfil my promise? Who knows? None but God. But this we all know that the honour of their Queen and the Empire is safe in their hands, and that whether a man sleeps his last sleep under the shadow of a Kopje or the shadow of Benachie matters nothing in comparison with that.

"How many of the men stayed away from the service on account of yesterday's drenching?" I enquired of the Sergeant-Major. He looked surprised, ''Not one, sir. Pfuh," he added with the faintest touch of scorn at my ignorance, "that was nothing for the Gordon Highlanders."

Since the above was written word has come that Colonel Downman, fell at Modder River, face to his foes. and near their trenches. Honour to the brave, all the more when, as in his case, the brave are sweet-natured and gentle? He and his gallant brigadier, General Wauchope, sleep side by side far away from Edinburgh Castle, and many kindly Scots have sore hearts this Christmas. G.M.G.

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