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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 13


"O! a' ye flocks, o'er a' the hills,
By mosses, meadows, moors and fells,
Come, join your council and your skills,
To cowe the lairds."
—Burns.

A LESS stern nature than Margaret McAlpin's would have melted at the Christmas she had prepared for her man and her bairns—would, on the anniversary of this bringing of peace and good-will, have built an altar and sacrificed thereon her selfishness. I will not say that, had this occurred to her as the right thing to do, she would not have done it: from the first, had she felt that anyone else but herself should be considered in the matter—had her meagre light told her that she was the one intended for the sacrifice—she would, grimly and stoically, have mounted the pile—have even lighted it herself; but she would not be the "ram caught in the thicket." "Ae lassie was's gude 's anither," and from time immemorial lads had to serve other seven years, or seek further, but "lads couldna get mithers b' turnin' roun';" therefore it was mete that the lassie should be the "ram caught in the thicket," or the lad, or both; certainly, not she.

A week of lowry sky had told of the coming snow. Christmas day the ground was covered a foot deep, and the air was thick with fine dry particles. Jean helped her father take care of the stock, each one thinking, were Douglas here, this need not be, though neither of them spoke of it. In the house each tried to be cheerful. Jean played checkers with Jamie, while Margaret knit socks for a box she intended sending Douglas, though no one but herself yet knew it; in fact, Margaret's intentions were quite apt to be of a private character.

In the evening a few neighbors dropped in, the women with knitting, to keep Margaret company (be it remembered, Christmas was not observed as a holy-day).

Much skilful questioning was yet done anent Douglas' departure; but, bless you! Margaret was as skilful in parry as the others were in thrust.

"Douglas 'll b' needin 's winter claes up yon by noo; he'll no' hae taen them wi'm on sic a sudden upstart."

"Oh! ay, he'll ha's great coatie; he'll said, happen Mr. Fraser'd hae need o'm a bit i' th' snawy weather; it's no' muckle t' cairry on th' boat, 'n whiles 't 'll be rail conveenient t' hae 't," said Margaret, composedly.

"Th' lassies 'll miss 'm sair," commented another. "I misdoot, they'll get less ganging tae toun. They'll b' mair used t' th' toun th' noo than th' country. I'll wunner wad Phemie like t' leeve in Taranta."

It was pretty hard for Margaret to give no sign at this ; but, on her guard, she was able without betraying anything to say—

"It's for a lass till aye be satisfied wi' whativer 'n whereiver th' Laird sends 'er."

"Ye'll be gaun t' Smith's Palls t' kirk, Mrs. McAlpin. 'S Mr. Romaines soonder 'n Mr. Wilson?"

"We'll hae na faut t' fin' wi' Mr. Wilson's doctrine—he's ay screeptural; aiblins Mr. McAlpin 'll hae reasons o's ain fur likin' t' hear Mr. Romaines," answered Margaret. "It is a great haver tae gang sae far, whiles."

In every carefully considered conversation, Mr. and Mrs. were invariably used; in common, everyday conversations, Janet and Leeby, Jock and Dooncan answered every purpose.

In the men's corner they were no less inquisitive.

"Th' lad'll be gaun till hear the claishin's oop yonner at Parleeament. We'll be hearin' muckle o' their ways when 's hame. He'll be winnin' hame suue, I'se warrant; he 's aye a lad for 's mither."

"It's an ower lang trip b' laun, 'n I'll no wunner if he'll wait fur a boat t' Kingston. He'll can coom ower frae there fast eneuch," answered Jamie. "I tell't 'm tae gie oor Malcolm a call: he'd be fine 'n glad t' hear frae 's auld hame."

"Fegs, he wad thet! He'll be hammerin' awa b' noo at th' abuses o' pooer o' thae lads in th' Family Compac'. Yon Morris, noo, he'll t' stick in wi' thae 'n b' fillin 's pack wi' plums."

"Ay, he'll ken on whilk side his bread is buttered," said Jamie McLaren; "but for th' rest o's, gin we'll mak aething oot o' this new warld, we'll need tae hae mair t' do wi' th' makin' o't."

"We wull thet," said Peter McPherson; "we didna coom ower till this wilderness t' fin' th' sam' things we'll groaned unner 't hame—launlairds ownin' a' things 'n an areestocracy makin' laws 'n admeenisterin' them till we'll no can tell what we we hae 'r whaur we are."

"They're no that bad, a'thegither," said Alex. McFarlane; "they gaed 's th' canawl, whilk's a vera great conveenience."

"Sandy, mon, you're surely no' a' there!" said Jamie McLaren, "th' canawl was built by th' Guv-erment 't hame, no b' th' tories here."

"Weel, till be a' th' same thing, Guverments 's Guverments," said Sandy, no whit abashed, "an' th' bit water t' run a wee bairge on 's better 'n car-rin' a pack on oor backs frae Brockville."

"Mony a pack I'll hae carriet," said Jamie McLaren, accepting the change of subject, "an' no' what t'd be th' noo ower gude roads, but ower sticks an' stanes, n' intil pits o' black water an' oop agen, on till a stump 'n doon, till a mon's banes 'll fair crack wi' th' shakin'."

"'N th' cauld winter o' twenty-two gaed 's oor haunsfu' t' keep things by 's; d' ye min' th' bit hoods John Caldwell's wumman oop by Lanark made fer 'r mens?" asked Peter McPherson.

"I'll weel min'," said Jamie McAlpin, "hoo she sheart th' lammies, cairded 'n spun th' wull, Jock wove 't, 'n she wrought 't intil hoodies a' aifter deener 'n Jock an' th' lads wus awa' tae Brockville afore daylight drawin' their haunsleds wi' a grist on thae, an' th' wee bit hoodies on their heids."

"Ay, th' wumman bodies stood weel by 's," said Peter McPherson; "mony times they wus readier 'n we wus oorselves. Back yon 't Rideau Lake when we cam' first, when Francis Allan's wife stepped on th' log 'n said she'd set first fut on th' lann o' promise 'n show th' rest o' 's th' way ('a she did 'n landed safe 'n sound wi'out wettin' her petticoaties), I'll said till mysel', ' my leddy, its weel sein' ye're juist oot o' th' barracks 'n feel like a wee coltie. Whiles ye'll ken a' th' havers o' settlin' 'n ye'll no be so freesky;' but I was wrang, they'll nane o' 's men bodies mad' better settlers nor the gude-wives did."

"Ye're richt, Peter," said Jamie McLaren, "n' they's mony things the puir bodies did wi'out. I'll seed Colin Campbell's wumman comin' 'till kirk in a black silk goon her mither gaed 'r in th' auld coontry 'n her footies wi' naething on but their ain skin."

"'Deed so," said Sandy McFarlane, "we'd nane o' 's muckle t' coover oor footies wi' thae days, but what my Meg wearyed maist aifter wus 'r tea; th' rosberry, pepmint, catmint, 'n wintergreen 's weel eneuch in their place, aiblins the're no like a cup o' young Hyson."

Peter McPherson was laughing consumedly.

"Did ye ever hears," he asked, when he could speak, "o' th' trick Thummas Cuddie's wumman played hersel'." Everybody had heard it, but they maintained a polite silence and Peter told the story.

"Tummas had a gude crop th' year 'n 's wife d wrought hard wi' 'm in th' clearin' 'n th' boilin' 'o potash 'n 'twasn't mair 'n richt 'at she suld hae 'r share o' th' profeets. Sae 'n th' first snaw Tummas took th' oxen t' draw th' sled wi' th' barrel o' potash on't tae Brockville 'n Janet mad' 'm some bannocks till his deener on th' road. He juist gied a look roun' th' shanty before he stairted, t' ken what she'd maist like, 'n thocht o' tea. Weel, he bocht hauf a pun 't Billa Flint's 'n 't took a gude bit o' money 'n when he'll cam hame ye'll ken hoo pleased Janet wus. Oop by on a bit cupboard she 'd some wee crocks; she juist took ane doon 'n pit in th' tea an' coovered it doon ticht t' loose nane o' th' flavour. Whiles she'll pit on her hoodie an' awa' she'll gang till Alex. Kidd's 'n Francis Allen's 'n William Olds, tae Ann Holderness 'n Consitts 'n Frasers, 'n gied them ilka ane a bid t' coom ben th' next day 'n hae a sup o' tea wi' 'r—juist th' wumman bodies, no' a mon ava. Weel, they'll cam a' o' them unca snod, 'twas a graun occasion. Janet was walkin' roun' on 'r tippy toes layin' th' cloth 'n pittin' wee bit cakes on th' plates; syne 'twas time th' tea was brewin' she reeched oop an' vera cautiously leefted doon th' crock, dipped her wooden ladle in, an' ye'll ne'r hae thocht o' 't," he stopped a moment and looked round impressively, "'Twas brewed already, she 'd pit th' tea in a crock o' veenegar."

Expressions of sympathy were plentiful; even in eighteen forty tea was tea, and most of the listeners had gone through the times when it was worth nearly its weight in gold. With the light of modern knowledge and ways, Thomas Cuddle's wife might have made a special brand of Russian tea from the above mixture, but the culinary lore of eighty years ago did not include any methods of using the leaves of the Chinese shrub, other than brewing in clear water, dressing with cream and sugar, when you could get them, and drinking when hot.

While the minds of their men were running on the past, those of the women were much more concerned with the future. Hints delicately put, but clearly understandable, as to Jean's prospects were deftly introduced. To Jean it had seemed wise to keep her own counsel in regard to the interview of last night, therefore Margaret received the hints with more complacency than she would have done had she known the exact situation. She had fully made up her mind to like this "man frae th' toon" as a son-in-law, and so wrapped up was she in her own likings she never once asked herself whether or no his mother was going to be pleased. I am inclined to think that if she had considered the matter from that standpoint, if anyone had submitted the question to her she would have answered, "Lads must aye choose for thersels," and that so far as a mere abstract proposition went she would have been thoroughly honest when thus expressing herself; she would have said so of every lad (save one) on the Line, let who would have thought differently. "Th' lads suld hae th' lass they wanted;" as for her lad,—well her lad was hers, there was really no analogy between the cases.

After the guests had gone, Jean spoke.

"Mither, yon be aye spierin' at 's, an' belike there'd be things said I'll no want 'm t' hear, sae I'll juist tell't, an' ye'll ken hoo t' answer thae. Mr. Maxwell 'asked' me last nicht, an' I'll said na. He'll no' coom here mair; but happen he'll be oot on th' Line, 'n I'll no want onything said't 'll vex 'm."

"Ye'll said na!" almost screamed Margaret, in surprise, mixed with disappointment; "wha 'll ye be looking fur? th' Duke o' Kilmarnock? that ye hae said na till a douce decent lad when he's asked ye!" Margaret was fast working herself into a spell.

"Mither," Jean spoke quietly but firmly, " I'm no lookin' for aebody; I'll hae summat else tae dae wi' my e'en; aiblins I'll hae nabody—sh'ld 't be my ain mither—puttin' haun 'r tongue t' what concerns ony me. Ye 'n da marrit t' suit yersels, happen my grandmither didna like 't 'n happen th' wus claishins ower it: that's in th' auld coontry, where ilka body'll hae t' spier at soom ither body higher oop can they please eat th' dinner they've earnt: this is a new laun, 'n ilka ane's free t' dae's they like—gin they dinna tak what belongs to soom ane else—faither 'n mither, lads 'n lassies. I'll be a gude dochter t' ye as lang's ye're a gude mither t' me, 'n na langer. I'll dae juist 's ye did—say na when I'll choose, 'n ay when I'll choose; an', gin I'll like it best. I'll say na a'thegither, an' live my lane. I'll no gang awa, for this 's the hame I was born into, 'n I'll bide in it whiles I'm a single lassie, s'uld it be till I dee; aiblins I'll hae na claishins ower't, 'n nane 'll do wi' me's they did wi' Douglas."

Jean calmly walked out of the room. Margaret sank into the nearest chair, speechless. This was a domestic application of the reform Malcolm Cameron was "hammerin' awa at"! It might be a good thing "oop at Taranta," but here on the Ninth Line its desirability was questionable.

Margaret had had her own times in her youth. Granny McAlpin did object, and there were hot words and cool treatment. Granny's resentment had hardly worn off when the couple sailed for America—in fact it had something to do with their deciding to come. Scotland was dearer to Margaret than Canada ever could be; the old wound always rankled when she thought of the heath-clad hills. She had never told this to Jean, and Jean did not know she was probing a still open wound ; had she, she would never have hurt her mother by the allusion; and the provocation that would make her less a loving daughter than she was would be strong; but in a little corner of her brain there would have been musings over the unaccountable crookedness of human nature.

"Jean was ae fashious, an' gin she'll ken she's richt, would staun oop against th' kirk 'n sessions," was said of her in her childhood. She had opinions, and a freedom in expressing them, far in advance of her time, but somehow this very new young woman succeeded in making her opinions and rights respected, and—also strange—no one loved her less for either holding or expressing such ultra radical views.

Margaret let her go quietly up stairs, and it was the last time she said "ay, yes, or no," in Jean's strictly personal affairs.

Philip came, a week later, to say good-bye. He was going down to Montreal, and in a few days would sail for Scotland.

"If there is a message, or perhaps some token of remembrance, you would like to send the old friends, and will entrust to me, I will see it safely delivered," he said to Margaret.

This was Margaret's opportunity. In material things she was generous almost to a fault; so a big box was packed, that, be it now recorded, was safely delivered, and that long before Philip Maxwell reached auld Scotland.

Philip very quietly said good-bye to Jean in the presence of her father and mother, telling Margaret to have her box at Patterson's early next morning.

He had been calling at Sandy's right along; therefore, on his way back to town, stopped to make his adieux. Phemie he had always liked—quiet little Quaker-like maiden that she was, with a quaint reverence for mankind that spoke volumes for those with whom she had been associated, and was soothing and gratifying, to any who were fortunate enough to be at any time near her. She had a suspicion of what took him, so suddenly and alone, back to Scotland. She was very, very sorry for him, and wondered in a mild way that Jean failed to appreciate such admirable qualities and such evident good looks.

When he shook hands with her, as she raised her eyes, they must have expressed something of this sympathy, and surprise at the occasion for it.

Philip read this: the sympathy was sweet, and in the other thought his self-love was appeased.


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