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