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The McGregors
Helping Out


Dan MacDonald had kept the driver and the cow. Jim and Janet thanked him as they picked up their charges.

"No trouble, Jim, but you should fence a bit for them."

"I haven't the time to split the rails, Dan. We're trying to do too many things at once, I guess."

Dan leaned against a fencepost and spoke slowly, in a deep bass. "There's balsam where I'm clearing now, nice straight stuff, carries its size well. Cut it and take it away, won't cost you anything. Make a fence."

"But it won't last, Dan. Balsam rots quick."

"Last a few years. Good enough."

In the morning Janet appeared in trousers. Jim was taken aback. "Lord above us, where did you get those things?"

"They're pants that Peter grew out of. I was going to make quilt patches, but now I think I'll work in them."

"And what work had you planned?"

"I thought if you would get your fancy new saw we would go and cut the damn trees."

"The what trees?"

"Dan's balsam. The trees that would make such a good fence."

So they made a good-sized paddock. Gamey and the cow were grateful, although with a little more enterprise they could have easily jumped the fence or pushed it down. Fortunately for Janet and Jim, well-bred livestock did not do those things. Gamey and the cow played by the rules.

At the end of July Jim took the team to David Ross's farm, a mile away, and helped his two boys take off the hay.

"Pa's sick half the time now," said Willie, the older son. "He's got the aig. First he burns up he's so hot, and then he shivers and shakes so the whole bed moves. It makes it bad that he has to get sick right in haying time. He might even die and the harvest will be on soon, too."

The "aig", or ague, was malaria, a common complaint until more of the forest was cut down and the land drained. When Janet seemed shocked that Willie would say such a thing, Jim explained to her that Willie was not so unfeeling as he sounded. It was just that work on the farm became so demanding that it almost took precedence over the welfare of its occupants. As payment for helping the Rosses, Jim took a load of hay home every evening; he would soon have enough to last the winter. Janet built the stacks as he pitched the hay to her and yelled instructions.

"Tramp it well in the middle so that the sides will settle the most. That runs the rain off. That's all there is to it."

"I'm not worried about the rain so much. It's me that might fall off. I'm getting dizzy."

Jim laughed. "That's the trouble with women; they're too giddy for haystacks. Slide down then; I'll catch you."

They finished off by capping the stacks with grass from the beaver meadow. The hay crop was ready for the winter.

It was several weeks after their return from town before Janet found an opportunity to introduce Gamey to the saddle. It was Jim who insisted they take the time from their busy day.

"He must have had a saddle on some time or other. Want me to try him out?"

But Janet was firm. "No, dear. Let's face the fact that you're not the best rider in the world; besides you're too heavy. I think I can handle him."

Somewhat miffed, Jim retired to watch: She was right. Gamey did his best to please this woman who was so good to him. Soon Janet was riding him everywhere: to the village to buy things, to visit Margaret, her mother-in-law, or just for a wind-in-the-face gallop.

It was Mrs. McIntosh who spoke to Mrs. Robb about it. They were buying groceries at Neill's store. "What do you think of our lady on horseback?"

"I think she's a forward lassie who doesna care what the men see. But it's all one with the young people now; the world, I fear, is coming to a bad end."

Delighted to find mutual agreement, the two women paused in their shopping to take the subject a bit further. "That is true, Mrs. Robb, and this young woman and others like her are the cause of it. I think we should ask the Reverend McLean to speak to her. I hear she wears breeks at home, too, and works with her husband a great deal. If you ask me a woman's place is in the house, though they tell me she has little enough in that. Perhaps not enough to keep her busy."

"She's English, you know," said Mrs. Neill. "They are a big feeling lot. They say you can tell an Englishman anywhere, but not anything. I doubt if Mr. McLean could get her off that horse."

"It's true the man goes around in a fog, he wouldn't know if she had breeks on or went bare naked, but Jamie McGregor should know better. Someone should tell him that she is making him a laughing-stock."

Mrs. McIntosh closed her mouth with a snap, picked up her groceries, and sailed out. Her husband was waiting, as a good husband should, to drive her home respectably in a buggy. Only a few people in this part of the country thought of getting on a horse's back, and if they did they rode like a sack of wheat. In most people's estimation, for proper locomotion a horse had to be attached to something: a buggy, a cutter, or a wagon. Even at the races a horse had to have a driver in a sulky behind him.

Mrs. Dan MacDonald spoke up to Mrs. Robb. "The lassie is young and her ways are different, but she means no harm and Jamie McGregor is a very lucky man. He's also a very quick and tough man, they tell me. I pity the one who would speak slightingly of his wife before him."


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