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The McGregors
Drought


The glorious twelfth went by without the usual downpour, and the heat lay flat on the land. Day after day the sun hung brassy in the sky with hardly a cloud in sight. Men worked hard harvesting the hay crop. They expected rain at any time, but none came. The pastures showed brown, and the green of the oat fields was flecked with a sickly yellow. The settlers talked of little else but the weather, returning to the subject like a tongue to a sore tooth. They sought reassurance from each other. After all, there had never been a crop failure in this new land. Or had there? Some said yes. They were terrified of a drought - of a famine like the famines of ancient Egypt, so familiar from the Old Testament. They looked every morning at the eastern sky for a bank of cloud or to the west in the evening for a rising thunderhead. But the sun continued to rise bright, shine bright, and go down bright. The elders asked Mr. McLean to pray for rain, but he hesitated.

"The Lord will send rain in His own good time," he said.

But the drought remained unbroken and Mr. McLean became concerned.

"We will have prayers for rain this Sunday coming," he announced to his congregation. "And I ask you all to come and lend your hearts to my supplication that God may graciously grant relief to our crops and our pasture fields, and that our animals and even we ourselves may be preserved from starvation."

On the Sabbath the church was full, the congregation somewhat cheered by the dark look of the western sky. There was an air of confidence as the minister began his prayer. It was a sincere entreaty, asking only that the people's wishes might be granted if it was indeed the will of the All-Seeing One to look on them with favour and to vouchsafe unto them this their humble supplication. As the congregation filed out there were already some rumbles in the west and cool air came in damp puffs, stirring eddies in the dust. Little time was wasted getting away from the church as scattered drops spattered on the hard ground. Some had buggies with tops to turn away sun and rain; others, in open buggies but strong in the faith, had brought umbrellas. It was not long until the prayers were indeed answered. Wind and sheets of rain swept in from the lake, and the faithful huddled in their buggies, damp, chilled, and happy. Grandma Haig's umbrella blew inside out and her son, William, reined in the startled horse.

"Losh, William, my bonnet will be ruined. I'm glad of the rain for by, but the man might have held it off a bit. I thought he was a little forward pressing the Lord so hard."

"It's all splash and runoff," William muttered grumpily, "but we must be grateful, I suppose."

The rainy weather continued. Jim and Ian McLeod met at the chopping mill.

"A most beautiful rain, Jim; it saved the crops. How is your wheat?"

"Better than I ever thought to see it. No reason we should not have a good crop now, and the pastures are green again. People speak well of Mr. McLean. His reputation has been made."

"Yes," agreed Ian, "though there are those who thought he should have spoken out a week sooner. But I think he had best leave the rainmaking be for a time or we will be after him to turn it on and off like a tap. And this is an odd thing, Jim. The man got soaked on the way home Sunday. He drives an open buggy and he brought no umbrella."

Jim's wheat continued to flourish after the rain; the grain filled plumply and ripened evenly. The field was more level now, the cradle knolls smoothed and most of the stumps and stones gone. He used Dan MacDonald's reaper to harvest the wheat, for he and Dan worked together for the harvest. There was little ready cash to pay for labour, nor were there many spare workers available, so neighbours "changed work", and implements were shared whenever needed. It was to be years before people on these farms grew so selfish in their prosperity that they began to think twice before helping a neighbour. And even today the tradition has not entirely disappeared.

"A great crop you have there, Jim." Dan MacDonald was setting up the last stocks of the heavy wheat. "They say at the mill it will go to a dollar and a half a bushel, but that is hard to credit. You should get well over a dollar, though."

"I wish it were threshed, Dan. I can't think even now of having so much money; something is sure to happen."

"Oh, man, only rain could hurt it now and it would take a lot of that. I doubt if Mr. McLean will ask for more, though I must say he did very well when we needed it and so I told him. But the man was very quiet; he didn't want to talk about it."

"I must see Andrew Murdoch," Jim said to Janet. "I have enough for his payment now and I want to talk to him about our plans and about the house and if we should buy the lot west of us."

Janet looked up from her knitting, surprised. "Have you enough money to think of that, Jim?"

"Not really, but it doesn't hurt to talk about it. I'd like to get Andrew's feeling on the matter."

"Well, you haven't any gold teeth. If you had, I'd say keep them out of sight. I guess you're safe enough. As Grandfather used to say, `You can't take feathers off a toad.' Just the same, don't sign anything until we talk it over."

"We'll go in the morning then. I'll see Murdoch and there is the shopping you want to do."

"It's odd, but I feel nervous about going into shops again. We get shy living away back here in this quiet place." "Somehow I can't see you so very bashful if you have money in your purse. I can spare fifty dollars, is that enough?"

"More than enough. I have egg money saved, but I'll take it anyway just to keep it out of Andrew's clutches."

The maid smiled this time as she answered the door.

"Mr. McGregor, isn't it? I'll let Mr. Murdoch know that you are here."

They sat in Andrew's office and drank the good brandy in the wide-mouthed goblets.

"A pleasure to see you, James. You have the payment, you say. That's good, that's very good."

"The wheat did well, Mr. Murdoch. That was good advice you gave us." Jim paused. "There are some things I would like to speak to you about. For instance, the lot to the west of us. I would like to buy it, but we also plan to build a house. They ask one thousand for the lot, which is more than you asked for our own place, and there is nothing cleared and no buildings on it and much is hilly land of little use."

"Aye, one thousand seems a lot, Jim, but times are changing fast, so many people have come in. Land is worth more now, and it will go up yet. You know, I get about a good deal looking after this and that, and I see something of what is taking place, though it is hard to get the whole picture. I see a country in the making and a new people coming in to fit this new country. Most are Scots here, like you and me, and they are the best - or so some think. We just accept this as a base from which to view all others. It is, we think, a self-evident truth, like the proposition that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. But the English do not hold with this idea at all. It is quite plain to them that England is the centre of the universe, or was, because some of them have already begun to move it to Bruce County. But anyway, it is clear to them that no Englishman need be told anything when he is already full to the ears with all the knowledge that is needful. And there are the Irish, Catholic and Protestant, at each other's throats here as in the old land, never so happy as when they are in a fight. And a more pleasant people you could not hope to meet when they forget their quarrels, so witty and quick with the tongue they are that we Scots seem clumsy beside them. I meet Germans, too, in the eastern townships. I think they will forget the old country more quickly than we of British stock. Oh, I would like to live another hundred years, Jim, to see how it all turns out. We call the country Canada but we have barely begun to think of ourselves as Canadians. Still we are English or French or Scots or Irish. It's our children who will be Canadians. But I am blathering away. My tongue is parched with all the talk, and you must find the listening dry work. Let me fill your glass, Jim. You are a good listener. It is an art, you know, and one that I find it hard to practise myself."

"You should talk to my wife, Mr. Murdoch, she is full of these things that you mention. For myself I am too tied up with work, with the clearing and the sowing and the reaping and so on. My nose is too close to the grindstone to see all this. But to get back to the bush lot, you think it worth the money then?"

"Aye, Jim, put a good payment down and I will lend you the rest. You will need cash for the house - more than you think. What about the lot to the east?"

"Oh, it's mostly swamp and hard to drain. I want nothing to do with it. The creek would have to be dredged, which is out of the question now and I hope always will be. It's such a pleasant little stream, steady all year, and a dredge makes such a horrible mess - though few would care, Andrew, for we slash and burn and scar the whole countryside. I suppose it will grow smooth and green again like the settlements down south. When I say these things to my brother Angus he always says that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."

"Aye, he's right, Jim; and as for the lot, some fool will come along and settle on it, swamp or no. Buy it now, and in a year or two it will be worth the money you spent for it. Your money is safe in land, lad. Taxes are only a fleabite. Of course, they will grow with the country, but then there's always a fly in the ointment."

"Why don't you buy the place yourself, Mr. Murdoch?"

"I'm spread out a bit thin as it is, and I would rather back a man like yourself. I look for good things from you, Jim; a man in debt is like a dog with fleas - very active. I need you and you need me and a very good team we will be."

"I'll talk to Janet then. We may take your offer."

They discussed it over supper. "Andrew says he will lend us the money to buy the west lot. He makes it sound like good business, and I am somewhat tempted."

Janet was quiet for a moment, frowning as she thought. "I hardly know what to say, Jim. I think it might be a good idea. We have credit, and sometimes it is good to take advantage of that. I know we have both been brought up to abhor debt, but if we want to do the things we plan we will have to borrow money. Otherwise we could scratch along here and succeed after years of hard work, but be so worn out and not benefit by it. We have to use brain as well as muscle."

Jim smiled to hear his pretty wife saying such sensible things. "I think you and Andrew should have been in business together; between the two of you I am persuaded. Now I have two people to blame if things go wrong! I wonder, at times, why women do not have more say about affairs in general. My mother knew much more than Father, yet she let herself be guided by him. Only occasionally she dug in her heels, and nothing would move her then."

"I suppose it's only natural," Janet answered reflectively. "On these farms someone must be in control and it's logical it should be the strong one. Even though he may not be the most intelligent, he should have the command. Of course, I am not talking here of my own dear lord and master, who rules so wisely and so benevolently."

"Now you stop right there and don't overdo it. I'm afraid, as our Indians friends say, that you speak with a forked tongue. But seriously, I don't know why women are always considered inferior. 'Servants, obey your masters.' Was it St. Paul who said that?"

Janet nodded. "Something like that. He wanted to concentrate on the spiritual rather than the practical, and because it is in the Bible it is a sacred, untouchable idea that perhaps we misinterpret. We are going to have to think about the Bible more, not just bow down and worship it. All the best opinion holds that it is the word of God, although some say it is the word of God as man thinks it should be. There's been a lot of talk in England of something called evolution, which is at odds with the story of Creation in the Bible."

"Well, I don't wonder at that. The Creation story seems plain silly to me, but it might not have seemed silly to the people of past times."

"Well, the evolution story has a lot of holes in it too, my dear. Plain people like us are puzzled if we dwell on these things. We don't have the equipment to 'speir' into it, as Grandma Haig says. Our grandchildren may know more, though I doubt it. It seems the more we learn, the less we know, which is an odd statement, and I smell my biscuits burning." Janet gave him a kiss. "Go on outside now and be lord and master, while I run the house."


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