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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 1


"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?"

THE houses stood side by side—I nearly said grew side by side, so much did they seem a part of the landscape.

Stone, a story and a-half, low-pitched roofs, a dormer window in the center, each as like the other as two peas in a pod. Plum trees growing rank, and leaning for support and shelter against the sturdy walls; lilacs hugging the bare stones so closely that the spicy purple and white blooms nod through the open windows of a May morning, and make, underneath their thick-growing branches, an ideal retreat for the wary biddy with cherished hopes of motherhood and an unpleasant recollection of previous hopes frustrated.

Cotton shades at the windows, as white as the virgin snow, tied with cord of twisted candle-wicking, tassels of the same material for decorative purposes. Deep window-seats which are the outgrowth of lavish use of stone and mortar in wall building.

In each sitting-room stood that acme of home comfort in our Canadian by-places, a double stove: the stoves were twins, separated only by a line fence, not always in a state of repair. The floors were painted the clear, bright yellow that sheds a cheerful radiance and makes glad alike the heart of the housewife and the home-coming gudeman. A new coat each year kept undimmed the brightness. One year the McGregors purchased paint for both, the next the McAlpins—thus, with true Highland thrift, saving some pennies by buying in quantity.

The rags for the carpets were sewed by the girls of the families—first in one house, then in the other —the brothers on both sides pretending to help, but (as this is a truthful tale) hindering not a little by way of tangled threads, untied apron strings, etc.

The coloring of the rags for the stripe, too particular a work to trust to young heads and young hands, was done by the mothers at the same time in the same kettle.

When, during the yet snowy months, the momentous question, "Which will we take?" as seed catalogues (then something very new and not at all the elaborate affairs of to-day) were eagerly scanned, became the question of the hour. Phemie McGregor took blue lupins and Jean McAlpin golden pansies; Jean mixed boquet asters, Phemie best German stock mixed, and each religiously divided with the other.

Douglas McAlpin held the string taut while Rob McGregor fashioned the wondrous shaped parterres that later would hold a wealth of blossoms in Phemie's garden, and in turn Rob held the string for Douglas, the lassies looking on meanwhile and applauding.

Elspeth McGregor and Margaret McAlpin knitted their men's socks, boiled their soap, made their yeast and gathered herbs as if for one family and by one family.

James McAlpin and Sandy McGregor leaned over the line fence, filled, smoked, and refilled their pipes, it mattered not a whit out of which man's tobacco pouch. If Sandy's shoats got a pound or two the better of Jamie's, Jamie only expressed admiration thereat, and Sandy would be "fair gone wi' pride" over Jamie's yearlings.

All this was at the time when my story commences. Before this the ties had been not less strong.

When Elspeth lay at death's door—Sandy, wild with grief and not daring to leave her—James McAlpin walked forty-two miles to Brockville, through snow sometimes to his armpits, for the nearest doctor. His feet were badly frozen, and he had to stay at Brockville for weeks, the doctor, accompanied by two other men, going on to Perth immediately.

Once, when in the shanties up the Madawaska, in a broil with Shiners, a gun aimed by a drunken, half-crazed habitant straight at James McAlpin's breast, was caught by Sandy McGregor, who received an ugly wound in his left arm that permanently crippled it.

They had come from Scotland together, proud and fond of their shy, bonny brides, each thinking that, next to his own, his cronie had gotten the pick of the land.

Margaret and Elspeth had dressed each other's babies, had tended them in croup and measles, had cut tiny garments from the same patterns; each had taken to market the other's butter and eggs— when they could not go to town together—and traded them to equal advantage with their own, and to the entire satisfaction of the other.

Neither family had ever known a joy or sorrow that the other did not share.

In the neighborhood, a "Come over to-night," addressed verbally in the unconventional manner of the time and place, to one family was understood to include the other.

Of course there were knowing neighborhood whispers and nods over the intimacy of the families, all unsuspected by those interested. But no one, not even Auntie Hunt, could look far enough into the future to, of a certainty, predict, and not being Highlanders, their probabilities were nowhere near what really did happen.

I have just said their nearest neighbors were not Highlanders. James and Sandy came in the wake of the Military Settlement, and got grants on the Ninth Concession—not on the "Scotch Line"— which, at the time of their arrival, had some good clearings and several crops had been raised. Their neighbors—speaking in a sense of those who lived nearest—were of mixed nationality, more of everything else than Scotch.


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