Loyalty and Betrayal

In 1972 Marcus and his wife are traveling through Scotland. Marcus is Scottish, and the tour is, among other things, a tracing of family history. It’s a cold, hard trip, and his wife is frozen stiff before they’ve half-started, so Marcus starts casting about looking for a blanket she can wrap herself in while they’re on the road, or a rug, as it’s termed in Scotland.

“I’m looking for a rug,” he’ll say.

“Sure,” says the clerk. “And what pattern would you like?” Meaning which plaid; which clan does Marcus belong to?

“Campbell,” he says, confidently at first.

The clerk’s face closes like the thick iron door of a bank vault. “No,” he says. “We don’t have any of those here. No Campbells.” He doesn’t apologize.

When the power of the clans was broken at last under Bonnie Prince Charlie, it was due largely to the Campbells, who were working with the British at the time. That they had betrayed their country was bad enough, but the grand gesture of their betrayal, and the one that put it forever over the line, was the turning over of their rebellious guests to the British. It’s this outrage against guest-right that has destroyed the name of the clan, and made it a slur in most of Scotland.

Marcus doesn’t manage to buy a rug until nearly the end of their trip, though he is always looking for one, increasingly furtively as he comes to realize the depth of his clan-guilt; when he does it’s a brown paper bag affair in Edinburgh and he can’t look at the rug until he’s paid for it and is back in the car, and at that it isn’t a true Campbell, but some other clan, close enough as makes no nevermind according to the clerk – who is also a Campbell, of course.

Now, that the Scottish have held on to a grudge for almost two hundred years is nice enough for a story, and I’ll admit my sympathies are mostly against the Campbells – the guest-right’s an old, old thing, and breaking it’s worse in my mind than the more abstract treachery of a Benedict Arnold; Macbeth did worse killing the king under his roof than he did by killing the king – but the best part, to my way of thinking, is that Marcus didn’t just buy another rug, an Argyle or a MacIntosh or whatever. The idea, he says, didn’t even occur to him. If his clan was anathema to every other Scot it was still his clan and there was no getting away from that.