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Fraser's Scottish Annual
An Exile of Thrums


BY GEORGINA FRASER NEWHALL

Or did misfortune's bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw;
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a', to share it a'."

OUR first knowledge of the new girl in the kitchen was the unwelcome news that as she had displaced her kneecap, we, the boarders, would have to accept with resignation any diminution in the quality of attendance, or the quantity of the menu which our landlady might consider necessary under the circumstances. I have called her the new girl, I should have said new woman but that I feared the reader might think I meant the new woman who is going the round of the newspapers. The girl in the kitchen as I became aware later was probably sixty and certainly Scotch :also a dauntless old woman, which last named characteristic is a quality not only indisseverably connected with the names of Baroness Nairne, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jennie Geddes, Janet Hamilton and Flora Macdonald, but with that more insignificant host who are only Scottish mothers. And when one remembers the value which Scottish women have always placed upon education, their appreciation of the vast responsibilities and exaltitude of the maternal privilege,—their perfect confidence in their right to have a finger in the political—which was almost always the religious— pie of their country, the conviction arises that the newness of the new woman is after all only an attempt to attain that strength of character which seems to be inherent in the native born Scotchwoman.

To return to the point, after only three days' trial the new girl fell and displaced her kneecap.

Knowing how little time and. sympathy the somewhat shrewish head of the house had at her disposal I tapped at the new girl's door to ask if there was anything I could do. It was then I first became aware that the girl was quite an elderly woman. Her grey hair brushed smoothly back under her plain nightcap—decently apparelled in every particular she lay there amid the most forlorn surroundings - a sonsy, motherly, patient old soul.

"Is there anything I can do?" I asked.

"Naething, thank ye, mem, I'm no what ye cud ca' ill. I hae slipt ma kneecap and there's naething to be dune but tae lie here till't mends."

"Have you had a doctor?"

"Aye, Maistress Pairsons (one of the boarders) insistit on sendin' her doctor. He's been attendin' the wee fellow that's doon wi' the croup. So she said t'wad be nae trouble for'm to luik at ma knee. I thocht I'd juist glen it a bit twest but he tells me I've slipt the kneecap."

"That is too bad."

"It micht hae been waur," she responded cheerfully. "Hooaiver I wiz juist thinkin' Dauvit wad be distractit if he knew I viz lyin' in a strange place, no able to pit a foot aneath me. Dauvit—yon's my man."

"Oh?" If I pumped her it was with only the faintest rising inflection.

"Aye. I left him on the fairmaway up in Muskokay—did ye hear tell o' a place call't Bracebridgefar away ayont that."

My surprise being visible she vent on, by no means garrulously, but as if under the pressure of some motive which drove her to explanations and confidences she would not, in other circumstances, have entered into with a mere stranger.

"Ye see, mistress, I didna expaict to wark whan I cam' to Toronto. I expcctit to stay vi friends. But losh! I hadna been in the ceety for years nor baird tell o' the Jaicksons for mony a day. Sae whan I gat off the train an' gaed to the hoose they used to occupy, the neebors tell't me they movet away bag an' baggitch tae Weenipeg mair nor six months ago. Sae I asket ma way to th' Intailigence Office an' got the vark here. An' here I am laid oot on ma back as helpless as a bairn."

When I offered to rub her knee with the liniment she consented gratefully, confessing that the effort to do so for herself only resulted in a further displacement. She lay quietly submitting to the process subjecting me, in the meantime, to a keen scrutiny. At last she broke the silence, " Mistress, the verra meenit I set eyes on ye all, yon fairst evening—I cud see ye a' at the table frae the kitchen- I said to masel',—yon's the only Scotch yin amang the lot." She took nonotice of my remark that I was merely of Scotch descent, more than to say "Ah, wed, as St. Paul says to the Galatians, as ye'll no doubt mind, 'a little leaven, leaveneth the hale lump.' Its the cheek banes, Mistress, ye can ne'er mistake the cheek banes. Noo, Mistress Pairsons, she's Englishy. Still," with an air of overlooking a serious objection, "she's a kind cratur."

On further acquaintance she proved to be a winsome old woman, wearing the common jewels of her experiences with blithe reminiscent enjoyment. In our journey through life, fate, with impartial hands, bestows upon all of us the rough jewels of varied experience, jewels which the majority of us accept with disdain or resentment, holding them with lax fingers in utter unconsciousness of their decorative merits. But the wiser minority finding in each of these experiences, the flash of a gem, whether it be the gay though common ray of the garnet or the sombre splendor of the sapphire, grasp them firmly, cherish them carefully, polish them to their full beauty with much pondering, and arrayed in them pass through life radiant figures gladdening even the listless and ready with their garnered jewels to enter upon the building of that great mosaic of infinity which lies before us all.

Of this wise minority was my sonsy Scotch woman. An opulence of quaint phrases, personal experiences, shrewd deductions, fragments of song and verse which would have put the girl in the fairy tale to shame fell from her lips.

"Ma feyther," she said, "viz a verra specelatif man at one time, aye findin' doobtfu' pairts o' the Bible an' stayin' away frae the kirk rale frequent because, he said, he cud na endorse a' the doctrines o' the kirk. Ye'll can guess, mistress, what ma mither's feelins wiz when I tell ye I've haird her call ma fcyther 'doubtin' Tammas' monys the time, and she a wumman wi' a grand commando' hersel'. But what diz she an' the Raiverent Mr. Dishart "-

"Of Thrums!"

"Aye, what diz Mr. Dishart dae but gets ma feyther appointet beadle. He viz a maist ambeetious man, ma feyther. An' what became then, think ye, o' his doots an' the doctrines o' the kirk. Lash, Mistress, he never missed a day for twenty-two years he wiz sae tceckelt tae be placet in a poseetion of sae mitch importance. An' he lairnt what maist 0'S lairns in time that doctrine's o' nae mair importance to the truth o' God than the spume o' the tide is tae the deeps o' the ocean. But I tell ye, mistress, its a grand thing to hae sae mitch seempathy for a man's weak p'ints that ye can mak' them the verra ladder tae help him up tae righteousness. Yon viz Mr. Dishart tae a T.* * * *

We were na weavers, mistress. Dauvit had a bit smiddy doon on Duchess street, an' I keepit a few boorders. We were dam' rale wed. An' Dauvit's awn tie, twiz her at gat us oat frac the auld country,—her man viz dead—an' I've nae doot she viz lanesome, an' the puir cratur wiz gettin' fond o' the drink an' Dauvit an' me cud na bear the thocht o'er gaun doon tae a drunk- art's grave—she viz an awfu' kind cratur—sae Dauvit tauld her we'd be willin' to gi' up everything to tak her oat o' taimptation if she'd come wi's tae Muskokay. Yon'sthe way, we went to Muskokay. An' mind ye, mistress, she never tastit liquor frae the day we left Toronto til her deeth. An she left sair, sair hairts at oor fireside the day she set oat an yon journey we maun a' tak. Manys the time Dauvit an' me hae said we were weel repaid for a' we'd gien up, for there's mair jay in heaven over ae sinner that repainteth. * * But there's sae many gaun yon ro'd afore us it must be avfu' weel beaten—that's ae comfort. No like yon ro'ds up into Muskokay—losh I'll ne'er forget it! It viz bonnie mind ye, mistress, but the stillness viz fearsome. * * I mind weel I kneadit ma fairst bread on a clean towel on the ground wi pegs in the corners to haud it doon, an' I wheetlet the spunes for oor parritch oat a' the lags the men were cuttin' for oor hoose; the box xvi' ma silver spunes an' ma bed linen viz lyin' mair nor a mile away whaur it fell off as we foordit the stream, an' we just left it there twa three days, for there viz nane to steal it. * * Did ye hear tell a wild cat, mistress? vVeel, ane a' they beasts got up on the roof ae nicht an' yowit an' yowit for mair nor an' hour—an' me all alone, mind ye, vi' ma bairn at ma breist —Dauvit an' awntie away tae the nearest toan. Ae pairt o' the roof viz na sae secure at yon time, an' I expaictet the beast to drop on me every meenit. But I'd Dauvit's gun on the table aside me an' the puir beast went off an'never hairmed onything. * * * D'ye think the swellin's gaun daon, mistress. It's weary work lyin' here." A few slow tears stale warily out of her brave eyes, and ashamed of such a revelation of weakness crept stealthily to a hiding place in her hair.

"Mistress," in carefully careless tones, "did ye e'er hear tell o' a gir-ri ca'd Miriam Anderson?"

"Miriam Anderson? No, I don't think I ever did," my slow tongue out run by quicker conjecture. It occurred to me that I had heard the name Miriam recently; it is a sufficiently uncommon name to make an impression.

"Its her I cam' to the ceety to luik for. She's ma youngest. We've lost traick o'er for a time back. She used to write sac reg'lar an' then juist drapt off by degrees until it stopt a'thegither. An' I said to Dauvit 'at I'd come doon here masel'. An' he said I should hac nane o' his money to gae huntin' an ungratefu' hizzy 'at cud treat her mither in yon way. If I e'er had a fau't xvi' Dauvit it viz this— he aye hauldit me up sac high abune the balms. T'wiz aye 'ye'r mither first,' 'honor ye'r mither,' ye'11 ne'er can repay ye'r mither for a' her care.' After a' mistress, what did I e'er do for they bairns that wiz na pure pleesure. I gat ma pay as I went along. At ony rate Dauvit an' me had some maist bitter wairds, an' then I hauldit ma tongue an' pit by the money frae ma butter an' eggs until I'd ma fare to the cecty an' then I said, 'Wed, Dauvit, I'm gaun to the ceety. Ye've been a guid husband tae me I will say that, but nae bit better than I've been wife tae you. My conveection is that oor responsibilities is tae oor children. We a' settle vi oor ain consciences. Do the best ye can vi yours but I'll no gie up the child I brocht intae a wand o' temptation for the best man that ever leevt.' Sae 1 laifthim, no' in anger, mistress, but in conveection—an' I wiz in such haste to come that I had na ower mutch in ma poket an' whan I found the Jaicksons wiz aff to Weenipeg, there was naething but to luik for work.

"Could she have gone with the Jacksons?"

Na; they laift mair nor six months ago; an' I've haird frae Miriam until fower months ago."

"What did she look like, Mrs. Anderson? Your name is Anderson?"

"Janet Anderson. Black hair an' black eyes, and an' awfu' bonnie skin—wi' fraickles." The tears stole faster from one hiding-place to another.

"Well," said I as hopefully as I could, "I'll be looking for her until you are able, Mrs. Anderson," after which I smoothed her hair back under her nightcap, pulled the bed- clothing over her, patted her shoulders, and was greatly prompted to kiss her. Sometimes, when I recall that obvious sin of omission, I wonder if the Recording Angel made this foot-note in my behalf:

"A fault of character probably due to Scottish origin."

An invalid myself in those days, walking very close to the junction of the finite and the infinite, I was one of the ever-varying throng which congregated day after day in the waiting-room of the kindest and most skilful of physicians for his verdict of doom or deliverance. After leaving Mrs. Anderson's room I recalled more fully a circumstance which had flashed into my mind when she mentioned her daughter's name. Fully a month previous to Mrs. Anderson's appearance, among my companions in waiting at the Doctor's was a slim girl, who sat in a moody attitude as far from the remainder of the patients as she could withdraw. A plainly dressed, respectable looking girl, with nothing out of the common but her unquiet eyes and worn appearance. Shortly before her turn came for admittance to the Doctor's presence our melancholy assemblage was augmented by the entrance of an over-dressed woman of—to her own ideas—considerable importance. Her slow survey of her surroundings brought her at last to a surprised recognition of the girl. "W'y, Miriam 'Ave you come to see the Doctor ?" "Yes, Mrs. Pearse." "Hit isn't your 'cad that's troublin' you yet, Miriam?" "Yes, ma'am." " W'y, you foolish girl! you ain't lettin' them silly idears trouble you still ?" The girl wept in a nerveless, passionless fashion, more distressing than the wildest grief. "Nobody h'ever thought of blaming you, Miriam." "1 could hear them whispering wherever I went." "W'y, Miriam, that's nothing but a foolish notion. You make me h'owt of patience with you." Thus the dreary contention went on —the feeble-minded persistence of the younger surpassed by the teasing insistence of the elder woman. The Doctor's appearance was a welcome interruption. At his signal the girl left the room. We heard him dismiss her with an oft-repeated injunction to give his note to Dr. C—. Beyond noticing that this injunction was a confirmation of my suspicions as to the girl's condition I gave no further thought to the matter, the proverbial selfishness of invalidism, I suppose; having warped my sympathies.

Piecing these recollections together and trying not to attach to them too great value, I was glad to remember that I was due next day at the Doctor's. Sure of his sympathy, I told him of Janet Anderson's misfortunes, her quest, and my surmises. "It seems to me that was the girl's name," he said. "Yes, I have it here, Miriam Anderson. I remember her, poor thing—a nervous wreck—melancholia, in fact, from overwork and —there wis another trouble. What are you going to do about it?"

"I shall have to tell the mother," the painfulness of the task dawning on me. "I think she has been dreading-what was the other trouble?"

He looked at me irresolutely. Then concluded the facts justified him. "Oh, is it love which makes the world go round," he said, ironically. "Upon my word, it seems to me quite the most clogging article in the world's machinery. The girl was, and is, quite respectable. The man, for there was a man in the case, had a wife in Quebec, of which fact he kept everyone in ignorance until the girl was deeply attached to him. When the shock of discovery came, being in a run-down condition, she became mentally unbalanced. Imagined herself the butt of scandalous tongues. I had the story from her former mistress—the hatchet-faced woman who was in the same morning. The girl was broken down in her house. Then when the girl became queer the woman sent her off. She knocked about from one place to another until, realizing that she was losing her grip, she came to me. I sent her to C—., and beyond a telephone message saying she had been admitted for treatment I have not heard of her since."

"What shall I say to the poor mother?"

"While there's life there's hope."

So, hugging this brief phrase, and trying to give to it a weight it does not actually possess, I hastened home. It was a shock to find my patient had been dismissed to the hospital. When I went there, which I did immediately, she read me like an open book.

"Ye've gotten word o'er?"

Beyond an uncontrollable paling and trembling, I saw that, whatever of shattered joy or pride she apprehended from my news, neither to me nor to anyone else would she bare her bosom for either scrutiny or sympathy. She clutched more firmly the arms of the chair in which she sat.

"She has been ill—very, very ill." "For lower months?'.'

For really longer. She was breaking down from over-work, and a great trouble, from no fault of hers in the least, came upon her, and, being in such a weak condition, it—affected her head. But she was very wise; she went to a doctor for advice. Wasn't that very sensible to take it in time—and she is under treatment. I have not had time to find out if she is improved—I came right away, because I wanted you to know that it was only illness which had come between you and your daughter, Mrs. Anderson."

"Whaur is she?"

"Up at the asylum."

We ignored the tears which plashed on the bosom of her "lellac" gown.

"I am going up to-morrow to ask the doctor about her." "Thank ye, mem."

"The very first thing in the morning." She did not dare to speak.

"I'll bring the news to you right away."

She wrung the arms of the chair until the insensate thing found voice and groaned for the weight of human anguish it upheld. I took her hands gently off the chair and rubbed them, for they were frightfully cold. "There is quite a chill in the air," I said; "I feel it myself," when her hands were warm. "Your dress," said I, nonchalantly, in a queer hard voice which cracked, "is unbuttoned," and I swear I should not have buttoned the dress to this day, for the buttons bobbed about so in my fingers, and the buttonholes were so large and watery, that first I buttoned it too high, and then again too low, until, taking them out of my hand, she said, "Hoots, wumman !" in a voice whose bravery told me that out of the bitterness of death she had come again with a heart for any fray. * * *

She was well enough to go to the asylum in a few days. I had seen the doctor, and surprised him with the intelligence that Miriam's mother was looking for her. "She told me she had lost her parents," he said, with a puzzled smile. "The regulations, of course;" but here the doctor was interrupted by a telephone call, and I never was enlightened as to the regulations. I had written to Dauvit, whose conscience, combined with a heart that was fond at bottom, prompted him to telegraph that he was coming to take them home.

"Remember, Mrs. Anderson," I said, "the doctor says a pleasurable shock will be the best thing in the world—that she is very much improved. You will not forget "she looked at me with eyes of quiet scorn, so I said nothing further. Though she shivered as if with ague all the way to the asylum, she rallied heroically as, accompanied by the doctor, we followed an attendant to where her daughter sat, gazing gloomily into space, the broom and duster, which had been allowed her as a diversion, lying on the floor beside her.

"Ma leddy," said the mother in atone of raillery born of that same invincible spirit which animated a Bruce or a Wallace, "ye'll ne'er mak salt for your kail yon way."

The girl sprang from her seat. "Mother !" she said, wonderingly. A smile, which is to the dark night of insanity as the dawning of morn, trembled into her eyes. Her slim figure drooped to the sturdy bosom which throbbed beneath the "lellac" gown. "Oh, mother, mother, where have you been. I have lost you for so long." And the only one with voice to speak was the doctor, who said, "Good! She'll do."


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