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Deeside Tales
Chapter IV

"The bad penny’s ill to tine.”—Proverb.

SOME ten years passed away, and nobody knew, and nobody cared, what had become of Morven Jamie. That he had taken ship at Aberdeen was kept no secret at the time, and was felt to be a relief by all stockholders for miles around his former haunts. These ten years had nearly effaced the recollection that such an one had ever been. Times, too, had changed so greatly that, if the story of his cattle-lifting chanced to be told of a winter’s evening, people marvelled how such lawless deeds would have been permitted in a civilized country.

About this time a British soldier, plodding his weary way over a dusty road on the plains of Hindostan, was overtaken by a grand carriage rolling along at a rapid rate. It had no sooner passed the soldier than it drew up, and the great man within, shining in gold and jewels, looked out, and beckoned him to approach. With his hand at his cap he obeyed the signal, when the following colloquy took place—

“Well, my man, where are you bound for?”

“I am for Madras, your Honour.”

“Ah, a long journey before you. Will you come up here? I’ll take you on a league or two.”

“Please, sir, it would not be proper for me to be seen in your Honour’s carriage.”

“Oh! I don’t mind; I want to speak to you a little.”

The soldier still seemed to doubt the propriety of taking a seat in the grand carriage, but really suspected some dark design on his liberty; for at that time it was generally believed in the British army in India, that the Mahratta chiefs had in their pay English emissaries to decoy or kidnap soldiers, and carry them off to the interior, where they were bribed or tortured to disclose any knowledge they might possess of the manufacture or use of munitions of war.

The great man, divining the grounds of the soldier’s scruples (some think he had given too good cause for the general belief), continued in an assuring tone—

“You are perfectly safe here, Duguid, I know you well” Hearing himself called by name, the soldier now made bold to accept the proffered seat He then, as they sped onwards, gave a long and full account of the service he had seen in India, led on to it, as he afterwards acknowledged, by the seemingly careless, but really designing questioning of his new acquaintance.

“And now, tell me,” continued he, “why you are going to Madias.”

“I have been,” replied Duguid, “twenty-one years in His Majesty’s service. My health of late has not been very good; and I have applied for and obtained my discharge, and now I am bound for home.”

“For Strathdon?” interposed his lordly companion.

“Yes, your Honour; but you have the advantage of me."

“Notice is hereby given to the heirs of Mr. James Coutts, who left the county of Aberdeen, North Britain, about the year 1780; and in especial to John and William Coutts, now or then residing near the foot of Mount Mar, in said county of Aberdeen, N.B., them or theirs, that by applying to the firm of -, Madras, they may hear of something to their advantage.”

There was no hill in Aberdeenshire known by the name of “ Mount Mar,” and the district called Mar is so rich in mountains that it might have been difficult to fix on any particular one as meriting that appellation, had not the names of the individuals mentioned in this rather vaguely expressed advertisement led the reader to conjecture that “ Mount Mar” was a corruption for “Morven,” which had somehow found its way into print John and William Coutts were now both deceased; William had died childless, but John had left a lawful daughter, who was the wife of a respectable farmer at some distance from the skirts of Morven. Anderson, who was well acquainted with all the families in the district, concluded at once that the Mr. James Coutts mentioned in the advertisement could be no other than Morven Jamie. He accordingly procured from mine host the copy of the Journal, and hastened with it to the house of his fHend and neighbour. Then a grave consultation ensued, the result of which was that a bundle of old smoked papers was taken down from their perch on the upper shelf of the wa’ press, and among them were found the letters Morven Jamie had given John Coutts on the quay at Aberdeen. These were supposed to contain satisfactory evidence that the farmer’s deceased father-in-law was the John Coutts alluded to in the advertisement.

The big dram bottle, without whose presence no important business could be becomingly transacted, was thereupon brought to table, and under its stimulating influence bright visions of wealth arose before the minds of the two farmers. No apprehension of slips between cups and lips overshadowed the prospect of coming greatness, or gave rise to doubts of ultimate fruition.

They accordingly took counsel whom they should honour with the important matter of claiming the fortune on their behalf; and their choice naturally fell upon a neighbouring laird, who was at that time a leading partner in a famous Indian firm. A plan was laid to bring the matter before him, and to engage and authorise him to act for his fortunate client In a short time an opportunity offered for carrying out their views. The important documents were lodged in his hands, and, as the laird was just about to visit India, the fortune was thought to be as good as won.

The rumour of such an one’s luck spread rapidly, and gathered mighty dimensions as it went Fabulous wealth was within the grasp of a worthy neighbour. Speculation was rife as to what he would do with it, how he would comport himself; would he forget his old friends, would he give employment to country people, or would he take up with strangers and act the great man ? On one point all were agreed—he would buy land and become a laird. Some even already sought his favour, petitioned for employment in various departments of his imagined service, or bespoke his influence with the government for more ambitious trusts. It was a wonder the poor man’s head was not turned. For a brief space he had a sort of shadowy taste of greatness, perhaps fully as enjoyable while it lasted, as the reality is to many of its actual possessors. It was fortunate for his nervous system that before the spell was broken, and the vision had vanished into thin air, some years elapsed to tone down his ardent expectations, and allow space for doubt to creep in to break the shock of disappointment.

At length the laird returned from India, and soon received a visit from his client, who, after the usual salutations, introduced the subject of the legacy in his own homely way—

“I hope, sir, ye managed to mak’ something o’ my concern.”

“Well, Charles,” replied the laird, “I am sorry to say it came to nothing. You see there was some doubt about the identity of the person referred to in the advertisement with the man you mentioned; and it would have taken a great deal of proof to establish the point. Indeed, it would have been necessary to send witnesses from this country to prove it, and that would have been very expensive; and then very likely on the back of that there would have been a long and costly law suit, for there were more claimants than you; and altogether, when I considered the matter, it appeared to me not advisable to proceed. And the truth is, Charles, that though you had made good your claim, you might never have got a shilling, for it is next to impossible to get money out of that country.”

With this very sensible answer, Charles appeared to be content, for he never made any other effort to establish his claim. Many of his neighbours, however, were not so easily satisfied of the cogency of the reasons urged by the laird; and to this day doubts are expressed, whether, had every man got his own, there are not those within view of the Cairn of Morven now following the plough who would have been driving in their carriages.

Be that as it may, happiness and virtue dwell in no peculiar abode, and the following sentiment, expressed by a descendent of John Coutts, from whom the facts of this narrative were obtained, proves that he at least would not have been unworthy of the fortune expected by his ancestor, and forms an appropriate moral with which to close the story of Morven Jamie. On being asked whether he did not regret the miscarriage of his father’s application, he replied—

“Weel, sir, the money wad nae doubt hae been vera eesfu’; but what wisna to be couldna be. An’ fa kens how that wild c&teran had made it? What’s bred i’ the bone’s nae easy taen out o’ the flesh; an’ I’ve never seen muckle good come o’ ill-gotten gear—we’re maybe better without it”


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