THE widow was at home, and as she saw Muckle Peter
coming down the lane, she trembled lest his mission boded evil to Colin.
Although Peter was a great, rough man, Mrs. McNabb had always a kindly
feeling towards him since the night on which her husband died. Peter had
been there, and as the dying man breathed a parting message to his wife
and children, Mrs. McNabb observed the tears stealing down Peter’s rough
face. When he took her hand that night his voice shook with emotion as he
said : —
"Goad has left
ye all alane in th’ warld tae ficht its battles, but ye mauna forget His
proamises aboot th’ wuddow an’ orphans, an’ uf ever th’ burden becomes sae
sair upon ye that ye canna carry it yersel’, dinna forget thet Muckle
Peter stauns ready tae help ye. It’s no thet Ah hae muckle mair than
eneuch fer masel’ an’ th’ bairns, but Ah’ll be pleased tae divide wi’ ye
uf it’s ever necessaire."
Not infrequently, during the years
that followed, Muckle Peter, in his own rough style, would take a
roundabout way to discover, without offending the sensitive widow, if she
needed assistance; but Mrs. McNabb’s invariable reply, "The Lord is
keeping His covenant with the widow," set his mind at rest.
When he entered Mrs. McNabb’s house
that forenoon, there was a kindly expression on his rugged, bearded,
bronzed face, which immediately dissipated the widow’s misgivings.
"Ah wuz thinkin’, Mustress McNabb,"
without circumlocution, "noo th’
maister’s gane an’ th’ ‘skule’s
vacant, thet it micht no’ be a bawd plaun uf we could get Lizzie, yer
eldest lassie, tae tak’ hold fer a time at least, tull we could look aboot
us an’ get a trained an’ certified maister. Ah hae no’ mentioned it tull
th’ ither trustees but forbye Nathan, an’ he disna coont. Ah’m conveenced
we could arrange it uf ye wuz only wullin’ yersel’.’ Sae Ah thocht Ah
would jist hae a wurd wi’ ye afore speekin’ wi’ ma coalleagues."
Mrs. McNabb was deeply touched with
Muckle Peter’s thoughtfulness, because she perceived in it an effort on
his part to do her a friendly turn. When she expressed some doubt about
Lizzie’s qualifications, Muckle Peter broke in :
"Ah, dinna ye mention
thet, ma guid woman, Lizzie’ll dae gae weel fer a time. It’s true she’s a
trifle young an’ may lack th’ masterfu’ quality, but she hes guid sense
an’ lots o’ self-respeck, an’ Ah’m thinkin’ wull dae a michty sight better
than th’ scoonrell we’re sae weel rid o’ (for Peter knew of Simon’s
conduct towards Kearstie), an’ wull mak’ a first-rate skule missus."
And so it was arranged that Lizzie
should take temporary charge of the school. Of course, Nathan objected,
but he was in the minority. As Muckle Peter was leaving the widow’s that
day he encountered Colin in the lane.
"Come hither, ye young scapegoat!"
he said, in his great, strong, rough voice, and striking a menacing
attitude. "Come hither, tull Ah see what stuff yer made o’. I’m gaun tae
give ye a taste o’ th’ kind o’ treatment thet ye meted oot tae th’ maister
th’ ither afternoon."
For an instant Colin was disposed to
think that Peter, of whom he generally stood in awe, was in earnest, but
there was a good-natured twinkle about the corners of the precentor’s
eyes, which enlightened him. As Colin approached, Muckle Peter seized the
boy in his great, strong arms (for he was a mighty man), and held him
aloft as easily as he would a child of five.
"Hoo daur ye interfere wi’ th’
maister an’ pit th’ whole settlement in turmoil?" said Peter, lowering
Colin and standing him safely on the ground. "Dinna ye ken, ye young
hoodlum, thet ye were interferin’ wi’ th’ Queen’s beesiness, an’ thet ye
are liable tae be transported fer yer action?"
Colin smiled good-naturedly, for he
recognised that Peter was having a bit of fun with him.
"Th’ young rascal’s no’ a bit fear’d
0’ me," said Peter. "Weel, weel, me maun," he continued, feeling
Colin’s biceps, "I dinna blame ye, an’ uf Ah hed been in yer place, Ah’d
‘a’ knockit his daumed heed aff. But Ah say, Coalin lad," said Peter, as
he moved away, "th’ trustees’ll get th’ stairt o’ ye after thus, fer we’re
gaun tae pit a lassie in chairge o’ th’ skule, an’ ye are tae much o’ a
mann tae thrash her, are ye no’, Coalin?"
Colin was soon informed by the widow
of the object of Peter’s visit, and he rejoiced over the prospect of the
family earnings being increased by the employment of Lizzie as
Nothing was heard about Simon
Smallpiece’s whereabouts, and nothing was known of him, till John Malcolm
returned from his trip "up the Grand River." Malcolm would never adopt the
new name "Ottawa," but stuck to "Grand" as long as he lived. John had
learned that Simon had made his way out of the settlement to Prescott,
where he crossed the St. Lawrence and disappeared in the United States.
"Ye see, Mustress McNabb," said Auld
Peggy, who had dropped in on the widow "tae hae a bit crack," the day
after Kearstie died, "it’s like thus. Th’ puir lassie deed o’ a broken
hairt. She never rallied after she realised f’r hersel’ thet Simon hed
really gane aff an’ left her. She grew sae thin an’ weak thet verra soon
she hadna ony strength left, an’ whan th’ doactor wis ca’d yester morn, he
knew at a glance it wis aw ower wi’ puir Kearstie. Th’ lassie wis tarrible
far through, an’ hadna strength tae recooperate. She jist turn’t her heed
ower in th’ bed sae tired like, an’ gied ane lang wearisome look at th’
sorrowin’ attendants. Then she sighed, oh, sicna deep sigh, an’ —she wis