Campbell's Crossing

It happened in the year of the great flood and the big freeze. First came the rain. It had started to rain at the end of November and it went on raining more or less without stopping till Christmas. The rivers rose until they flooded the low-lying land along their banks. Glen Lochie was badly affected by the flooding. The bridge at Inverlochie was washed away in mid-November. That meant that the people with crofts and farms on the north side of the river were more or less cut off. It was just possible to get across the river by boat - but terribly dangerous.
Colin Campbell made two trips before Christmas to bring back supplies for hinself and the two crofts up on Ben Dun. The second time his small boat almost capsized as it came in. The Campbell farm lies way back from the river but, during the floods, the river came almost up to the farmhouse itself.
Inverlochie was the only village for miles, and very isolated. The three of them had grown up there together. Colin Campbell's father had a farm down in the valley. Angus McLeod lived up on the mountain on a small sheep croft, alone with his father. His mother had died when he was a baby. And Flora lived in the village itself. Her father, James McIntosh, ran the post office and the small general store.
The three of them were the same age and became close friends. They did all the things that naughty children do in school. After school they would go up the glen together and pretend that they were outlaws being hunted by the hated British soldiers. Or sometimes the two boys would attack the ruined castle on the hill to rescue Flora from her captors.
As she grew older, Flora became more and more beautiful. By the time she was fifteen, she was very striking. She had fine white skin and thick red hair. When she walked in the streets of the town on market days all the heads would turn.
It was obvious that both Colin and Angus were hopelessly in love with her, even then. They still went around as a threesome but there was now a growing rivalry between the two boys.
Gradually Angus and Flora started to spend much more time together. They were both great readers. He took to studying with her in the back roorn at the post office after school, before making his way back up to the croft. They would walk together on Sunday afternoons after kirk. Colin sulked. He began to spend his free time alone. He would set off early with his fishing rod and only return late in the evening. He stopped seeing Flora. If he saw Angus coming, he would turn away.
By the time they were eighteen, Flora and Angus were inseparable. They were always together. Everyone in Inverlochie expected them to get married. Colin had lost the contest.
In his last year at school, Angus won a scholarship to St Andrews University. In the four years he was away he wrote to Flora once a week and told her everything about his new life. She kept him up to date with affairs back in Inverlochie. They spent the vacations together. In his final year he proposed to her. They were engaged to be married the following year. They were just twenty-one years old.
Colin stayed on in the glen when he left school. He took over the family farm when his father died. He rarely went into the village and avoided all contact with Flora.
The summer they were due to marry, Angus told Flora that he'd been offered a research fellowship at Harvard. It was something he could not refuse. It would mean postponing their marriage for at least another year. Flora was very upset by it but she loved him very much, so eventually she agreed. He left in September of that year and that was the last she saw of him for ten years.
Who knows what goes on in people's heads? Or in their hearts? We think we know someone, then suddenly they do something completely unexpected. So it was with Angus. For the first six months he wrote to Flora as regularly as ever. Then the letters came less and less frequently, until they finally stopped. Flora tried to hide her feelings but it was obvious that she was suffering terribly.
People tried to cheer her up but some wounds cannot be healed. Then, one Saturday night a few months later, Colin met Flora at a 'ceilidh' in Killiecrachan. Her parents had taken her there. She had gone unwillingly. Who knows exactly what happened between Flora and Colin that evening? Perhaps it was the dancing, or the fiddle music, or the whisky ... who knows? Anyway, from then on they began to go about together, and within a year they were married. Miss Flora McIntosh became Mrs Flora Campbell. She moved into the farm across the river and began a new life.
They seemed to be happy together. Flora was a good support to Colin and he was full of attention for her. They never had any children but perhaps children are not everything in a marriage.
Life went on like this for the next nine years. Perrhaps it would have continued too, if Angus's father hadn't died. He was a grand old man but he loved his whisky, and one day he went to bed after drinking too much and never woke up. It was Colin who found him the next morning. He and Flora had taken care of the old man since Angus had gone away. They would pass by most days to see if he needed anything. Angus was working at a university in California by then. Forty-eight hours later he was home - for the first time in ten years.
Everyone went to the funeral down in Inverlochie. The old man had been well liked and respected. The McLeod croft was too small and too remote to receive so many people. So afterwards everyone went back to the Campbell farm for refreshments. It felt strange. There was the embarrassment of the old relationship between Flora and Angus. You could almost feel the electricity in the air. But everything passed off well. Angus said little. Flora smoothed away any awkwardness with her quiet dignity and charm. Colin was courteous and considerate towards Angus. In the end it was almost like old times.
Angus stayed a few days to put his father's affairs in order, then returned to the States. Before leaving, however, he went down to Glasgow to visit Strathclyde University. They offered him a professorship. He accepted it, and a year later he was back. He moved back into his father's croft and commuted from there to Glasgow on weekdays.
Sometimes he and Colin would go fishing at weekends. Occasionally he would have supper with the Campbells down at the farm by the river. Life seemed to have come back to normal again. And it had - until the great flood, and the big freeze that followed it. Who knows, perhaps it would have happened anyway but it was the flood which caused it.
It was Christmas Eve. At midday the rain stopped and, for the first time in weeks, the sun came out. By mid- afternoon the floodwaters seemed to be slowly subsiding. The river was still running very fast though. Colin insisted on taking the boat across the river to fetch the Christmas mail and to greet his mother. She had moved to the village when they married. Flora was not happy to see him go, but he insisted. He promised to be back before nightfall. Only a fool would have tried to cross in the dark.
At five o'clock Angus arrived at the farm - bringing gifts for the Campbells. Flora asked him to stay till Colin returned. He would surely not be long. It was the first time they had been alone together for over ten years. Who knows what they said to each other? We can only imagine. At five o'clock it was already dark. Colin had not come back. Six o'clock came and went, then seven, then eight. Flora kept going to the window to look out for the returning boat - but no boat came. Angus could notleave Flora alone. He stayed on with her. They ate supper together. The night wore on and still Colin did not return.
No one knows what happened between Angus and Flora that night. The feelings men and women have for each other are a mystery. But Angus did not leave the farm until the next moming.
Colin had still not returned. Overnight the great flood had become the big freeze. The grass and trees were covered with glistening hoar frost. The ground was frozen hard. Angus walked towards the water's edge. The flood had receded. The Campbell boat had been hauled up well out of the water. A set of footprints, frozen hard into the mud, led from the boat to the bedroom window. They came to a stop outside the window. Another set of frozen prints, made by the same boots, led back to the water. They disappeared in the ice which was rapidly covering the open water.
They found Colin's body three days later. It was stiff with ice, caught in the debris by the remains of the bridge. His eyes were frozen wide open.

ca. 1500 Wörter

From: Campbell's Crossing and other Very Short Stories by Alan Maley, pp.7-12
Penguin Books 1995

1. Why do you think Colin's footsteps led up to the window and then back into the water? What happened?
2. How would you have felt if you were Angus or Fiona? Why?
3. What do you think became of Fiona and Angus afterwards?
4. Do you know of any other love stories which end in tragedy?

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