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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 17


"Breathes there a man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land;
Whose heart within him ne'er hath burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned."
—Scott.

THE fall set in early, cold and rainy. Help was scarce; laborers sought fields of steady employment. Nearly everyone on the line did their own work, especially during winter; much was done by bees, but these did not arrange for the regular routine of farm work, housing and feeding cattle, milking, and getting out wood; yet these were among the most important items in farming, and branches that could not be left in abeyance waiting for suitable weather.

Jamie missed Douglas this fall, more than he had last; he had gone through a hard summer, did not seem to have as much strength, and tired easier. Jean helped all she could. They were "packing" butter in firkins now for the Montreal market; the hens had ceased laying, and Jean did not have to go to town semi-weekly, as she had done during the summer. Still, she had to "make" the time she spent out of doors; there was spinning of both wool and flax, keeping the house clean, and the fires burning, and getting the meals, besides churning and packing the butter.

Always, in the years now gone forever, on extra occasions the "chores" of the two families were divided up, and shared by whichever of the men was left at home, as, after the boys grew old enough to help, it was always possible to do. Now, with the boys gone, and each household depending solely on itself, the lack of the old neighborliness was at times keenly felt. So high had the fence been built, and so strictly had the families persevered in their determination to live apart, neither family had known anything of the movements or affairs of the other, unless from an observation dropped by one of the more distant neighbors.

After "butchering"—which means getting the pigs killed and ready for market—Jamie went to Brockville with the pork, under contract with Mr. Flint. With such a load the trip could not be made inside of four days. The overnight stop was made at Franktown, the route from Perth being over the road Captain Fowler, first Superintendent of Settlers in Upper Canada, had had cut in eighteen sixteen. Jamie tried, ineffectually, to get someone to stay at the house with the "wumman bodies," and do the outside work. Most of the other settlers were also under contract with Mr. Flint to deliver pork at the same date (when they were under headway, quite a procession filed along the old road), and no one could be spared from the other houses. Sandy had gone the day before ; but Rob had insisted on furnishing a man in his place, so Elspeth and Phemie were well cared for, the man being thoroughly trusty, and employed by the year.

With many misgivings, Jamie drove away. "If the lad were only here!" he had said to himself more than once that raw morning, as, long before daylight, he went round with a lantern and made sure everything was, then, all right. His load had been made up the night before, and the first faint glimmer of light was chasing away the shadows as he drove through the gate. He turned and looked back until Margaret called sharply to him to "win on," and not bring bad luck on them all by "gapin' ike a gowk."

The last summer Margaret, "wearying" for Elspeth—though never a word of this did anyone hear—amused herself raising some fine calves, half a dozen of them; many an hour—which would otherwise have been so lonely, even she, Spartan though she was, could not have borne it—was whiled away tending them and watching their gambols. At last they proved an expensive luxury.

The first day everything went well; the sun came out, and Margaret thoroughly enjoyed having once more the responsibility of the byre. Many little extra touches were given the work, which the kye duly appreciated.

It took Margaret back to the days when her bairns were bairns; to the times when, with a blazing pine knot, she drove the wolves from the sheep-pen; when, through fear of wolverines, she dare not let the lad and lass out of her sight from the log shanty to the barn. But these were happy times. The four children played together while she and Elspeth did the work at both barns when the men had to be away. It did not take as long then; they were rich when they had their second cow tied in her stall, two or three piggies, and half a dozen sheep filled their byre.

After the "chores" were done the wheels were brought, sometimes to Margaret's kitchen, sometimes to Elspeth's. When we say "kitchen," we simply mean "ben the hoose," for there was only one room, lighted by three windows two feet square —but it was their own.

Margaret was thinking of this home to-day, and of the companionship, then she thought of Jamie: "supposing she had to live without him, would she have been just as happy with some one else; would some one else have made Jamie as happy; would some one else have caused Jamie as much sorrow?"

It had to come, though months had rolled by ere the still small voice was heard.

Retrospection and introspection are two great formative agents; for if we look not on the mistakes of the past, how can we know how to avoid perhaps more serious ones of a like nature in the future? One of the greatest of life's lessons is the learning what not to do, and one of the greatest benefits we can bestow on our surroundings is the study of how we can make the most of ourselves, for the nearer we come to individual perfection the more valuable a member of a community we will be.

"Lord forgie me, hae I'll bin haird wi' the bairns?"

Save He who hears the faintest cry, there was no one but the cattle—who were contentedly ruminating—near to hear or answer. Jean had gone back to her spinning; the work had all been done and Margaret was just looking round—

The awakening had come, and with Margaret to be aroused was to act. Still she had her own way of acting, which was different from some other people's way of acting. She did not go to the girl whose amour propre she had wounded so sorely, nor to the mother whose daughter she had offended ; there was another way to undo the past.

The first was as direct and straightforward as turning back a wheel—she had times out of mind turned back her wheel to take the kinks out of her yarn—but that was not the way she thought of doing. Could she go to the lassie, acknowledge herself wrong and humbly sue for forgiveness? That way, to a Highlander, was entirely out of the question.

"Jean, lass," she said, five minutes after confession had been made to her Creator and herself, "wad ye think th' lad 'd coom hame gin's faither shud write a letter till 'm?" She was busying herself hanging up her hood, and with her back turned Jean did not see her face, and if there was a wist-fulness in her voice Jean misinterpreted it.

"I'll no' ken, mither, he'll b' getting on fine wi' Alek Frazer, he'll happen no' want t' leave; faither 'll no' likely hae t' gang t' Brockville mair till spring, an' we'll can min' the chores fer ance." She thought her mother bothered over the extra work.

Margaret was disappointed ; this was not at all what she expected, and made saying anything further very hard, yet she could not wait until Jamie came home.

"Belike 's faither 'd do 's weel by 'm 's Alek Fraser." The tone was not sharp and Jean began to understand there was something more than the "haver o' th' chores," but wise lassie, she did not press for particulars.

"Faither 'll can write 'm 'n happen he'll be gey pleased wi' 'n inveetation till mak' 's a veesit ony way," she said, as though this was an ordinary every-day matter, though to her it meant more than Margaret dreamed of.

"I'll hae 'm write we's a' like t' see th' lad," said Margaret, as though nothing had happened and the invitation might have been given at any previous time had it been thought of, and with no existing reason for it being declined.

All day Margaret was abnormally happy, she and Jean talked together over the far away past like old friends long absent from each other. Of course Douglas would marry—she wanted him to marry, and she would have no one here but Phemie.

She remembered Phemie's soft, cool touch when the fire of fever seemed consuming her; yes, Phemie should live here and bye-and-bye in the years to come—well, there were many possibilities. There would be no sacrifice in this, all of these things would transpire because she was not only willing, but aided and abetted the "power that shapes our ends " in bringing them about.

In the evening she told Jean stories of Scotland as she used when the lassie was in pinafores; of the braes with grass so green; the rippling burns; of the snowy hawthorn hedges; the hills where the purple heather grows; of the stately castles with their ramparts and battlements, moats and drawbridges; of ruins centuries old; tales of border chivalry; of Wallace and of Bruce; of the Douglas who carried to the Holy Land the heart of his King according to a promise made to his beloved monarch while he yet lived.

Jean had never been much impressed with tales of the banks and braes in her childhood, and in the gorse and the gowan could see no superiority to our own "daisies" and clover fields. Scotland had nothing sweeter than hepaticas, more luxurious than trilliums, daintier than babes-in-the-woods. Jean had been to Westport and had viewed the "Hill;" had rowed on Rideau Lake when there was just wind enough to wrinkle its surface, as heat does that of a pan of far-famed Devonshire cream; had sat on the bank and watched while storm clouds gathered, watched the changing shades of yellow, gray, blue, black and green, rolling together and away, mingling and separating; the water meanwhile growing blacker and blacker in resentment at being disturbed—it quivered too in righteous anger; then white crests appeared and were blown back and forth, and the water dashed itself against the rocky shores,—of shores there were many for the lake is island dotted. With a sound of moaning, a gray atmosphere settled over land and sea and it was time to go indoors,—then the water of the lake, rushing wildly back and forth, seemed to rise up and meet half way the water that tumbled from the sky, and the whole grew white.

Jean knew Scotland produced nothing grander than this, so she smiled indulgently while her mother talked of Loch Lomond and the heather. It was natural and right that one born in Scotland should love the old land best, but she had a strong feeling of commiseration for anyone who was born anywhere else than in Canada.

But to tales of men of "kingly name, and knightly fame, and chivalrous degree," she listened as became one whose line went back beyond the days of the "Bruce," She sang the "March of the Cameron Men," and "Blue Bonnets," with a fire worthy any Hieland heroine of them a'. And not less than did Cameronian legends stir her, was she roused by tales of the black Douglas, even to that of the taking of Edinburgh Castle, and the mother hushing her babe" or th' Douglas would tak it."

Margaret was a good story-teller—as what Scotch woman is not? She had also been "anunca bonnie lassie " (Jean was her counterpart) and much sought after, which was the reason James McAlpin's mother objected to her son making her his wife. She had said of her just what Margaret had said of Phemie, and with just as little reason—for, whatever else Margaret was, she was not that—"she's a feckless body."

She had made Jamie a good wife and the bairns a good mother; she was supreme in her own realm, in this backwoods of Canada, up to its invasion by the lass whom she had watched grow up, and it was against this—from her standpoint—invasion that she took up arms; the time when she had felt that lassies had rights was too far in the past for her to apply the opinions she then held to the case at issue in her own family circle.

But she had experienced a change of heart, i. e. a change of inclination, and at the moment of which we write, nothing would have given her greater pleasure than to look up and see Phemie in bridal robes leaning on Douglas' arm, and no little amount of family pride in prospective was incorporated in tales—true and legendary—of the Douglas.

When Jean's enthusiasm was sufficiently marked she thus abruptly shifted the scene, and made a long jump in dates from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, without pause or due notice.

"Your faither aye promised till tak' me back in twenty years. It'll be past thae th' noo; th' fairm's no' so bad cleared; we hae a bit in th' bank doon yonner 't Pairth, oor bairns 'r growed oop, 'n th's naething 't hinner's tae gang ae time," she said in an ordinary tone, though if a bomb shell had exploded under Jean's feet it would not have startled her more.

But Jean did not read all that was transpiring in Margaret's mind ; this is the plan which—from its completeness and the rapidity with which it was formulated—shows Margaret's executive ability to have been of a high order.

She and Jamie would go on a visit to Scotland —Douglas would first come home,—he and Jean could very well take care of house and farm. What more likely to happen than the lassie and Douglas taking matters into their own hands while she and Jamie were away? Then she would have only to forgive and bestow her blessing; any awkward situations would thus be avoided. It was really a brilliant strategical move, and looking at it as Margaret did, the only doubtful element was the acceptance or rejection by Douglas of the invitation or request to return.


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