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The McGregors
Building To Last


As June slid by, Jim and Janet's attention was divided between the daily progress of the baby and the steady rise off the new house. Adam Buie and his helpers ate tremendously of all the good things Janet provided. She needed to work overtime cooking and baking while tending young John.

They were drinking a last cup of tea before resuming the afternoon's labours when Adam said, "We'll hate to leave the place, missus. The bread is so good and the pies and all. It's a lucky man indeed your husband is, and a fine boy you're raising up to help him, and more to come, no doubt. You make me wish I had looked about more in my young days, but it's too late now." Janet had recovered quickly from the birth of young John, and she turned to Adam, flushed from cooking, over the hot stove, her eyes sparkling, eager to tease the dour, man she had grown to like.

"It's never too late, Mr. Buie. Matty Wilson at the post office was asking kindly for you. I could have her out some, evening, just to see how the house is coming."

"Don't do that, Mrs. McGregor, if you want the house finished. Mr. Buie is gun-shy with old maids and widows. We'd never catch him again." Tommy Murray, who mixed the mortar, having delivered this broadside, returned to the business of eating, in which he excelled.

"Ah, ye impudent young pup, I'll rub your nose in the mortar for that! But truly, missus, we are grateful for the good food and the kind treatment. We'll try to repay you with extra care in the building. I'll see that young Tommy here mixes the mortar twice as long. It will set all the smoother for it."

The house walls rose steadily, two feet thick. Much of the stone was already broken, but Adam discarded some of it. Nothing must go in the walls that marred the symmetry or jarred the colour scheme. The blocks of stone, never quite evenly square or rectangular, were held in place by stone chips as they were set in the mortar. The most uniform blocks were saved for the corners, and Adam took a good deal of care in choosing the sizes; nothing must look out of place. He had a perfect eye for perspective and proportion, knowing exactly how to balance height with breadth, how to place the windows, and what size to make them.

"I hope you don't tack on woodsheds and whatnot to the back of the place as some do," Adam said. "They reach halfway to the barn, and the houses look like caterpillars. You must have a woodshed, of course, but put it out of sight."

Jim made the door and window frames himself, and put the joists in place. They had agreed to set cedar blocks between the stones so a lath-and-plaster wall could be attached on the inside. Adam had advised them to do this, for houses plastered directly on the stone were as cold as vaults.

Andrew Murdoch's gang came and spent a hilarious day, and somehow, in the midst of all the fun, the roof went on like magic. They all worked long into the twilight, until the last shingle was nailed, and then one of the gang danced a precarious Highland fling on the rooftop to the accompaniment of a mouth organ played from below. Ben McAdam tried to restore order, but gave up at last.

"They're always ready to break their damn necks, saving your presence, ma'am," he complained to Janet. "And Andrew Murdoch will be ready to break mine. I suppose old age is creeping up on me, for I was ready to do the same myself at one time." He came closer to look at the baby in Janet's arms. "My dear, I'm happy to see the fine boy and how lucky Jim is. I used awfully good judgment when I went to your door for help that night. How well it has all turned out."

"When little John is baptized we want you for godfather, Ben."

"Me, ma'am? But of course I will if you wish." Ben's freckled face broke into a wide grin. "Just give me time to get a new suit. Tailor-made it will be this time. I never did have a tailored suit.

You do me an honour, Janet, and I must look my best for your sake and Jim's. It will need all the help clothes can give, for I am a man better suited to a barn than a church."

Janet reached out, pulled him to her, and kissed the rough brown cheek. "There now, Ben, don't be silly. Fine clothes make no difference to Jim and I. You are our friend in barn or church, the friend who brought us together, and we'll be glad to have you stand up with us, new suit or old."

When the roof was complete, Adam Buie began work on the fireplace.

"I leave it to the last, Jim, because I like to build fireplaces. If you don't mind the time, I will use extra care on this one."

The best stone had been saved for the arch and the facing, and Adam arranged the large slabs to make a broad hearth.

"I want the stones to match on either side for colour, shape, and size," he said. "The simple way to do that is to break the stone through the middle, turn each side of the break out, and, of course, it matches perfectly."

It was a good deal of trouble to cut the stones of the arch so they would match. Many had to be discarded because of one tap too many with chisel or hammer. For the mantel, Adam had saved a long, narrow slab four inches thick. He worked on it half a day and then was not entirely satisfied. "That will have to do; if I keep on I will knock a corner off, and where would we get another piece such as this?" The fireplace had grates to take cold air from the floor and send it heated through the room. "The grates are a new idea," he informed Jim proudly. "You get about twice as much heat as the old way. The air circulates behind a steel shell. It's almost as good as a stove, and the draft is cut down, too. You'll get some real heat from this fire."

The fireplace was the final touch. They stood looking at it, feeling it to be the centre of the house, of the entire farm. Adam put down his trowel at last and turned to Jim and Janet.

"I fear that I would have been a sinner in the old Bible days. I would have been the one to make idols of brick and stone. But the Lord gave us hands to work with and eyes to see and I think he looks on with favour when we build a thing as true and as beautiful as it is in our poor human power to do."


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