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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 11


"With future hope, I oft would gaze
Fond on thy little early ways."
—Burns.

GRADUALLY each family drew about it a circle of friends, not new, but never before on terms of intimacy. Phemie's gentle disposition, and her truly orthodox views on relative positions in the various conditions which life presents, had made her a favorite among the people they knew in town; but, as the two families had always seemed sufficient unto themselves, her society had been hard to secure. As soon as a little of the situation was understood, the lads and lassies in other houses became importunate, and Phemie was ofttimes carried away against her will, until presently she came to enjoy this getting "out and away."

Ladies of the exclusive military set began to remark "that rather nice girl of Sandy McGregor's."

The settlers of the "Line" had not mingled with the military set—we might say, had not been received on equal terms—although, in a matter of genealogy, most of them could show a cleaner, longer sheet. With half a dozen exceptions, the military set was as mixed as to quality as it was in nationality. But the glory of the Military Colony was waning. Many, finding a settler's life not to their taste, had departed to take up the profession of arms in the United States, where they were afterwards employed in the war with Mexico. Those who remained were of a better class, given to peace unless duty called them to war. The younger generations were Canadian, with higher aims than brewing rum punch; new men had come in, bringing with them a fresh, breezy atmosphere from the Canada outside, where men were doing, not merely living. Some choice spirits were growing here that, ere their calling home, would leave an impress on the life of the nation. The Perth of yesterday, which required twelve-foot walls to keep it within bounds and hidden caves in which to store its bread and butter, had given way to a Perth of seemly behaviour and culture. Bright, keen intellects rubbed against each other in legal and political contests; women of gentle manners and high attainments graced the homes. The infancy of this Settlement on the Rideau was troublous and troublesome; but, to those who watched it in its cradle-age, the fair promise of its youth was a guerdon.

Mr. Wilson came to call as soon as he understood the situation at the McGregor's and McAl-pine's; he visited both houses, but at Sandy's he broke bread.

"You will have to spare this lassie to us for a week, Mrs. McGregor," he said when leaving, "she has studiously avoided hard work in the Sunday School and we will have to give her a course of training. Let her come to Mrs. Wilson next week, Wednesday; she is a capital recruiting sergeant, and we need just such soldiers as this in our work for and with the bairns," he continued, as he shook hands with Phemie when leaving.

"I'll canna leave mither for sae lang, Mr. Wilson, though I'm glad an' thankfu' t' ye," protested Phemie.

"Tut, tut, lassie," said Mr. Wilson, "you must not say no to your minister; you have a call to the work now and I'll not want to mark you delinquent. Mrs. Wilson will expect you, and remember," turning to Mrs. McGregor, "it will require at least a week for the drill." Mr. Wilson was not the stern taskmaster the above would seem to imply. The mild benignant gleam in his eyes told of a thought for more than one cause.

"She'll can go," said Elspeth, "happen we'll no hae been mindfu' eneuch o' th' lassie's place in th' battle for the Maister."

Phemie's preparations were not elaborate, but very pretty she looked in her second best, a light brown muslin sprigged with white. The waist was made with long shoulders coming half way to the elbows, the sleeves gathered full at the wrists, and at the arms-eye, finished at the wrists with buttoned bands; the skirt was in two flounces of the same length, one from the waist half way down the skirt, the other beginning just under where the first left off; prunella shoes, the color of the muslin, were seen beneath the last flounce; a leghorn bonnet with a flare, trimmed with a brown gauze ribbon, tied with plain silk strings, completed an attire that was all through like an oak leaf in autumn, for her hair was a sunny brown and her eyes were just like her hair. Elspeth was of Douglas blood (she had given Douglas McAlpin his name) and neither of her children had Scotch blue eyes or the hair that accompanies them.

Mrs. Wilson met her at the door of the manse and kissed her.

"I am very glad to see you, my dear," she said. "Mr. Wilson tells me of a great field of usefulness open for you, and has given me the very pleasing task of enrolling your name and guiding your first steps."

Mr. Wilson greeted her cordially at supper time.

"Has she been a hard task-mistress, Phemie?" he said, nodding towards Mrs. Wilson, who sat smiling near by, just in her element with this "bit wummany" to lead and help.

"'Deed no, Mr. Wilson; the Maister's wark 's ower easy gin this 's th' hairdest o't."

"Consecrated to it, the Master's work is always easy, Phemie," said Mr. Wilson; "He never forms his soldiers in battle line without giving them weapons, courage, and strength; and the battle is always sure. Walls may have to be scaled, paths made through a tangled forest growth, deep rivers crossed; but through and beyond them all is the Beacon Light, and there, too, is our Prince and Leader, who scaled the walls, brushed aside the thick tangle in the forest, blazing the road for his army to follow, and crossing the deep stream, stands signalling to us that victory is nigh."

"It's a' wunnerfu', Mr. Wilson," said Phemie, a soft light shining in her eyes, "wi' a' th' hairt scaulds o' waitin' when we'll no can even fecht; 'n th' fut-weariness wi' long marches, 'n th' wiles o' th' enemy tae pit's on the wrang road: tae ken, gin we ony look for it, we'll can see th' licht shinin' near us, warnin's o' the pitfa's, cheerin 's in the lang tramples, an' bidin' wi's when we'll can dae naethin' but ony bide."

"Phemie, I thought rightly : you are well and strongly armed already, and, please God, your company will be in the vanguard."

At Mr. Wilson's, there was no turning over for another nap Sunday morning; rather earlier than usual they were stirring, though, so well ordered was the household, there was nothing to do but get breakfast over and dress for church. Phemie carefully and quickly made her preparations, and was downstairs before Mr. Wilson himself. This morning she wore her best dress, as was customary. It was of lilac delaine, "poudre" with tiny golden-eyed violets of a darker shade; thread after thread had been run in the skirt from the waist down— these were "quilled"; the tops of the sleeves were treated the same way; the fine, straight, close lines making a dress Quaker-like in its simplicity; a little embroidered collar, fastened with a cameo brooch; a bonnet of Neapolitan braid, lined with lilac silk, a trifle more flare to the brim than the other; this time the gauze ribbon was white, with the palest purple flowers; and the shoes were drab prunella.

Sandy had prospered. The two children were all he had to look forward for; Rob had been laying by for himself these many months. Phemie's wishes —always reasonable—were gratified; she had nimble fingers—taste—and her wardrobe had the best of care, nor was there ever more thought given it than was seemly.

Sunday school was held immediately after church to give the families who came from a distance an opportunity to all go home together. Phemie had a class of little girls, who at first looked askance at their new teacher, then crept nearer, until, finally, all who could came into the same seat. She told them the sweet old story, of the baby cradled in a manger, mild-eyed oxen, meek sheep, patient donkeys, quietly sharing their shelter with the Prince of Peace; of the star which the shepherds saw; of the wise men, who crossed mountain, river and sandy plain with their gifts. The story was not new, even to such wee maidens, and sometimes in their eagerness they helped the teacher.

"I 'member, Jesus was a weenty-teenty baby, like my bruvver," said one.

"'N' He came into the world to save sinners. What's sinners, Miss 'Gregor?" said another, who never missed a sermon.

"Sinners," said their teacher, "will be those wha dae th' things whilk God has forbidden. Ye'll happen dae what your mither tells ye not, an' ye ken 'tis wrang"-------

"Yes, I know my mamma told me not to go on the fence, 'n I did, 'n tored my ampern."

"An' what did your mamma say?" asked Phemie, trying hard to curb her Scotch tongue lest these children of English and Irish birth should not understand her.

"She made me wear my tored ampern to Minnie Taylor's party."

"Noo, if ye had an aulder sister, Emily, 'n your mamma said, if someone else would wear th' torn apron, you could have a clean new one, an' your sister would say,' I'll wear the torn yin, mither, an' Emily may have a bonnie new ane—she's a wee lassie, 'n happen didn't ken eneuch t' keep aff th' fence,' 'n your sister wore the old torn one, 'n you had a new one white as snaw."

"But what for should mamma make Kitty wear a tored ampern when she never tored it? " queried Emily.

Phemie was beginning to fear these small women were going to tax her capabilities as an expounder of Holy Writ, but she quietly said to this:

"Dinna ye think, Emily, that ye 'd mind 't langer, seein' Kitty wearin' th' torn apron, 'n lang whiles aifter thinkin' o' hoo gude she was, 'n hoo sorry you was 't you disobeyed your mither so Kitty had t' wear 't, 'n ye wouldn't do it mair."

Emily looked thoughtful. "I wouldn't, Miss 'Gregor; if Kitty had to wear a tored ampern to a party 'cause I went on the fence 'n 'sobeyed mamma, I'd never, never go on a fence again."

"A very prompt application of a lesson, Miss McGregor; let me commend your trite way of instilling truths."

Malcolm Cameron was a visitor that day and had stopped at Phemie's seat.

"I'm weel pleased gin ye think I'll can do ony gude i' th' wark; it's my first day wi' a class," said Phemie, simply and earnestly.

Mrs. Malloch came and welcomed Phemie on their teaching staff, and invited her to meet the other teachers at her house the week following on Saturday afternoon. Those Saturday afternoons at Mrs. Malloch's grew to be a feature of the winter, and Phemie to be a valued addition to the circle gathered there.

Her innate piety made the estrangement with the McAlpin family hard to bear. Had the cause been anything else than what it was she would long ago—for her father's and mother's sake, as well as because she wearied for Jean, and because she would be at peace with all—have gone over again and sought for reconciliation, but for this cause she was held back as with a three-fold cord.

"She'd happen flout me again," said Phemie to herself, arguing out what was best to do. "I'll no could staun't an' 'twould mak' a clood 'twixt me an' th' Lord. No ane's hurted, an' we's better leave weel eneuch alane."


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