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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 18


"And much of wild and wonderful
In these rude isles might fancy call;
For thither came in times afar
Stern Lochlin's sons of roving war."
—Scott.

THE procession of wagons laden with dressed pork, the horses, good stout roadsters—and they had need to be, for neither they nor their drivers had a sinecure in this annual trip to Brockville; it had to be made when the roads, always bad, were at their worst. They crossed at Oliver's Ferry, by ferry, early in the forenoon; ate dinner at Eumbar's; rested a couple of hours, then pushed on to Franktown, and nightfall had overtaken them before they reached the village. Stiff from the day's ride and the chill November air, they were glad to leave their wagons for a seat at the supper table, and the open air for the warm kitchen. Steaming "rye and injun" bread in generous chunks was soon cleared from the plates, and bowls of buttermilk pop drank,—perhaps I had better say now what buttermilk pop is: Boiled buttermilk thickened with Indian meal or flour—it tastes good, and is good; a little better, sweetened with maple sugar, and this was the way the men had it that night.

When supper was over they pushed back the long benches that the women might clear the table, and, lighting their pipes, prepared for a "crack wi' each ither," and many were the yarns told before the fire that night, ghost stories, too, some of them of the most blood curdling sort.

"What's become of your Duke of Kilmarnock that you Perth people were so much set up about?" asked Bill Jarvis, mine host, while cutting a fresh chew from a plug someone had handed him by way of courtesy.

"We'll ken naething whatever aboot 'm," answered Jamie McAlpin; "we'll juist ken he'll did-na coom next or near us."

"It's afraid of his neck he is, some of you hot heads out there might challenge him to a duel, get shot, and then have the poor man off to Brockville to get tried for manslaughter. Chances are another man mightn't get off as easy as------did."

"'Twas quare, too," said Pat. Copeland from the Ninth Line, "ayther th' man shuddent 'a ben ar-risted at all, at all, 'r they shud 'a hung him; shure if it wusn't agin th' law they shuddent 'a arristed him, an' I'm thinkin' th' sheriff 'd mabbe be in a box if-------shud take it up, an' if it wor agin th' law, how cud thim twilve min say he worn't guilty whin he sed himself he kilt th' man."

It's ane o' th' things we'll no can tell th' why o'," said Jamie Taylor, "'t 'll no seem juist recht t' hang a mon for killing anither wha was willin' t' staun 'n be shot at, an' wha was pointing a gun at ye're ain heid, but gin a mon escapes th' tree he'll hae 't on his min' till he gets into eternity, 'n happen 't 'll be waur then iver ower yon."

"Ay, he'll be cairryin' th' thocht roun' wi'' m till he'll no' daur look ower his shouther," said Peter McPherson.

"You Scotchies see some queer things over there at Perth, don't you?" said Elias Soper, a U.E. who was also Bill's guest for the night.

After mature deliberation they each mentally decided to take this as a compliment.

"Th'll whiles be things happen 't 'll mak' a mon think th' ither warld's no' far awa' after a'," said Peter McPherson.

"Ay, the's Jock McMillan noo," said Jamie Taylor; "ye'll min' hoo he'll wrought 'n 's hoose 'n said it's th' first ane iver he'll owned, 'n ilka mon wha helpit 'm 'n b' fair worrit till death, fer the'd be naething dune richt. Ane day he'll wrought all day 'n th' rain 'n got a cold 'n 't carried 'm awa', afore th' ruff's feenished, so 's 't he'll ne'er bided a nicht in's ain hoose." Jamie took two or three puffs at his pipe to steady his nerves for the recital of the sequel. "Th' wumman cuddent do wi' th' fairm, sae sh'll gang awa' oop till Kingston, 'n th' plaice 's fer rent. Jeems Cawmall got 't; first he pit a ruff 'n th' wee hoose 'n moved in wi' 's wumman 'n three bairns; sic a like racket ye'll ne'er heerd 'o wus throo th' hoose a' nicht, windys wus rattlin', doors shakin', 'n whiles the'd be greetin'; Jeems got oop 'n he looked roun' 'n naething cud he see but th' bit hoose juist 's he'll left 't th' nicht afore, 'n th' wumman's too frighted till gang t' sleep 'n they juist sat oop n' keepit th' fire burnin' a' nicht till gie them licht."

"'N that's ne'er the warst o' 't," said William McLaren, when Jamie Taylor stopped, ' till hae another pull at th' pipe.' William was one of the second generation and had heard the story when young enough for ghost stories to have had a hair-raising effect—not exactly from eye-witnesses but from those who had seen people, who had heard others tell,—so it was nearly as good, or as bad, as seeing a ghost himself.

"Jeems said 'at he'd pit a ruff on th' hoose an' h'd 's gude richt to 't 's Jock McMillan an' h'd no' leave; 'n they had till sit oop anither nicht 'n by mornin' Jock belike thocht they's deuce decent people 'n 'd pay th' rint so he gaed awa' 'n th' was nae mair clatter—"

"That's no' a' o't," broke in Jamie Taylor, whose story it really was.

"I'll ken that weel eneuch, I'll be juist gettin' 't th' ither pairt," said William; "you'll hae rested th' noo, tell 't yersel."

"I'd suner smoke, gae on wi' 't," answered Jamie.

As those gathered there from the "Front" seemed interested, William McLaren proceeded.

"Weel, things went a' richt till ae day in th' evenin' Jeems' wumman 'd t' gang oot fer a pail o' water; she'll left no ain in th' hoose on'y th' wee bairn 'n th' cradle, 'n oot doors the's no ain in sicht; she'll drawed her pail fu' o' water 'n coom ben th' hoose 'n there was Jock 'n 's best claes sittin' in Jeems' chair b' th' fire; when she'll coom ben he'll juist riz 'n walked oot wi' never a word. Aifter that whinever they'd be oot he'd be in, whiles the'd see 'm thro' the windy rockin' th' bairn in th' cradle, sae they juist like that halved oop th' hoose atween them.''

The listeners from the Front looked incredulous at first, but as the Perthites seemed to have no doubts—hadn't they seen the house?—they began to feel chagrined at not having any "manifestations" to relate of their own particular neighborhood.

After a severe mental struggle Elias Soper called to mind an occasion that had not just come under his observation, but it was as true as—well, there was no doubt at all about it—it happened to his grandmother in fact.

"She'd bin a gatherin' cream fur a churnin' quite a spell; bein's 'twas in the fall o' the year, grass gone an' cows not milkin' 's much as they did; bimeby she thought she'd enough sight to make a roll of butter, she slapped her into the churn an' my brother Ike—Ike's older 'n me—went to sloppin' the dash up and down an' the blamed thing began to froth, up over the dash an' spatterin' the floor, an' he churned an' churned, and when the whole thing had gone into froth, an' half o' it on the floor at that, he had to stop an' eat his dinner, but he was gritty, an' soon 's he got barely enough to eat, he went at that old churning again. Bimeby Miles McGuigan came in an' wanted Ike to go for beechnuts, an' he couldn't leave that dratted old churn."

"Why don't yon put in a horse-shoe ?" says he, "that churnin's witched."

"Pshaw!" says Ike, "what good would a horseshoe do a blamed cantankerous old churning? It's pounding it wants," an' he kept battering away. Miles he slipped out meanwhile and got a horseshoe out at the barn, and 'thout washin' or anythin' plumped it into the churn; now, maybe ye'll think this yer a little stretched, but the old churn stands in the back kitchen yet fer any one to see who wants to—well, as I was sayin', before you could say Jack Robinson, along comes old Granny Vaughan."

"'Let me in, let me in,' says she at the door; 'Im bur-r-r-nin'.' Miles says: 'Keep her out, it is good for her,' but he had not been churnin' all day an' Ike had, so Ike he opened the door an' Granny hobbled straight as a bee-line to the churn an' took hold of the dash. 'O-o-o-o-h!' said she, ' give me some hot water, quick.' Grandmother Soper had gone off, and there was no one but Ike in the house. Ike he brought the kettle full of bilin' water, and the way Granny danced round and round that churn, pourin' the water in and sayin' things over to herself the way them witches in Macbeth do. But in five minutes there was butter in that churn—not very much, because most of the cream was on the floor, and not very good on account of the horseshoe not being washed, but 'twas butter. Ike he said it was a caution to see Granny dancing round and blowing on her fingers, all the while she was churnin', but he couldn't make out what words she said; however, next churnin' he had to do he tried the hot water and blowin' on his fingers, and cricky! if it didn't go without any words at all."

The "settlers" from the "Line" loudly applauded the story from the "Front," as was courteous.

"I'll no' ken muckle aboot weetches, aiblins I'll hae seen Alloway Kirk 'n the bit brig ower whilk Tarn o' Shanter 'n 's mair Meg wan ower 'n awa' frae a hail string o' thae," said Peter McPherson, thus considerately settling any question as to the reliability of Elias' story.

"Th' McWhinney lass was no' a weetch, aiblins she'll kenned muckle things 'twas quare," ventured Jamie Taylor, who had now finished his pipe.

"She did that," said William McLaren; "Clergy Bill," the town folk distinguished him by, he having bought a clergy reserve.

"I'll mind aince we's winnin' hame frae school, and there 's naething in sight on th' road fur 's ye could see; she'll called me, 'Coom awa' ower th' fence, the's a funer'l coomin',' 'n tae pleese 'r I'll jumped ower the fence 'n looked thro' the craiks atween th' logs 'n could see naething; 'wheest,' she'll said, 'it's coomin,' 'n the's a braw new sleigh wi' muckle red on 't, wow! but it's fine—'n it's yer uncle drivin'.' Sure eneuch, in no' mair 'n a month m' uncle had 's sleigh hame, 'n 'twas a bonnie red, 'n Donald McDonald's wumman died 'n he drove her t' th' burying."

"Ay, she'd tell funer'ls weel eneuch, 'n she cud tell mairrages 's weel, she'll seen me 'n Leeby staunin' afore th' meenister afore I'd asked her," said Jamie Taylor.

"Onless we'll be after goin' to bed, somebody will see us stuck at Unionville," remarked Pat. Copeland, who was eminently practical, albeit of a somnolent temperament; the other men declared he slept most of the trip, the man behind having to mind his horses. However, the above advice was good enough to be immediately acted on.

Next day the men dined at Unionville, and before supper unloaded their pork at Flint's.


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