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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 2


"Sae flaxen were her ringlets,
Her eyebrows, of a darker hue,
Bewitchingly o'er-arching
Twa laughing een o' lovely blue."
—Burns.

ONE summer eve Jean McAlpin's favorite heifer strayed, and when her other cows were milked she caught her pail, which was like a mirror with much scouring, and went lilting over the braes after the truant.

Jean had "gowden hair, wi' a pickle o' red in't, blue een wi' a glint o' th' sun," milk-white skin, and lips like the red. red rose. "Come ower th' water to Charley" and "Jock o' Hazledean" floated out bravely on the air, while feet and swinging pail kept step and time. By-and-bye words and tune changed to "Co-o-o bos, coo-o-o bos—Come Bess, come Bess."

There was a crackling of dry twigs behind a cedar bush; she quickened her steps; then a crackling further off—a rushing, panting, and Bess bounded past, tail and nostrils in the air, followed close by a strange dog, snapping and snarling at her heels.

Jean whistled on the dog, but all to no purpose; Bess, as though a fiend incarnate were in her wake, went on and on.

Another whistle, unmistakably a masculine one, sounded out through the summer air; this time the dog obeyed, then, at a word of reproof, returned skulking to his master's side.

Bess, too alarmed to notice that her tormentor had been called off, still with uplifted tail and nostrils distended, careened wildly through the bush.

The man—a not bad-looking fellow in shooting togs—started forward, overwhelmed with remorse at the mischief he had done, or had been an active promoter in, stammered regrets with his tongue, while his eyes looked a not very carefully veiled though entirely respectful gratification at having so fair a picture thus thrust in his line of vision.

"Oh! 'I say, I am no end sorry," he blurted out; "cannot I do something."

Bess was half way to the line fence by this time —and the boys were going to take Phemie and Jean to the village when the chores were done. Jean, therefore, answered curtly.

"The ony thing ae one can dae is gang to th' cross-roads fence and drive Bess back an' thro' th' bars, an'," returning his admiring, albeit respectful, gaze with a severe look of disapproval, "gin ye'll be gude eneuch t' move oot o' th' way an' keep your dog quiet, I'll juist gang for her mysel'."

"Oh, no, no! " distressedly, "I am sure " (with inward trepidation), "I could drive a cow."

At a "Down, Carlo! " with the spot indicated, the dog obediently hid in a clump of bushes, the gun was laid beside him, and before Jean could think the intruder was taking a man's strides in Bess's direction. The pretty heifer, tired with her mad scamper and perhaps feeling the fiend was sent in judgment for her defection when the milking hour arrived, allowed herself to be driven to and through the bars, whence, a sadder and wiser cow, she wended her way to the milking-yard.

Jean, defeated in her intention of milking in the shady wood—how could she, with a strange dog, man and gun there?—nevertheless repenting of her harshness to one so willing to repair a mischief, waited at the bars and very prettily thanked the new cow-herd, while he stammered out some more apologies, managing very adroitly meantime to find out just which of the two houses she belonged to ; then, raising his hat, he went off in the direction of his dog and his gun.

Jean was not above half an hour late, and the trip to town did not suffer from this unlooked-for advent of a stranger in the maple bush.

Jean said only, "Bess was frighted by a dog 'n' ran awa." In the hurry of milking and donning a muslin gown she even forgot the good-looking stranger.

Rob McGregor drove, and Jean sat beside him; behind, Douglas and Phemie were exchanging confidences of the most commonplace character in a refreshingly interested way.

So it had always been and no one had questioned the arrangement. I doubt if even one of the young people had ever asked themselves why. Douglas had carried Phemie's books from school from their ABC days, and Jean's burdens had been lightened by Rob ; when they drove, when they walked, or set apart and talked, it was thus they divided.

And between brother and sister, between the two boys and the four together, there had ever been harmony, with never a discordant note.

There was a good deal to talk about that night. Rob had been drawn on Grand Jury for the first time, and would be in Brockville for several days (North Elmsley was yet in the County of Leeds). Then some prospectors had been over North Burgess way—mica, phosphate, iron were found; this was food for many conjectures. Perhaps some one of the three might be under the deep furrows their own ploughs turned. If anyone found a mine, what would they buy first? The lads said the lassies would buy more flower seeds; the lassies averred the lads' share would be invested in harness trimmings and an extra row of fringe for their buffalo robes.

To town and back, there was not under that June moon a happier quartette. In town the boys went off to have some blacksmiths' work done; the girls stayed at the store while Mr. Meighen weighed their butter and counted the eggs, then they "traded out" the amount due for them. When necessaries were "put up," there was a margin to buy each lassie a ribbon to tie up her bonny brown hair, and a kerchief with a pink border for each of the boys.

Going home, the man in the moon looked, I am not sure but he winked ; if he did he saw something neither of the four saw. And the Tay gurgled and babbled, and, like the moon, glinted at them. Because—although the white man's love story was new to her—many a dusky youth and maiden had wandered together along her banks, many a vow had she heard, many a love-glance caught; and she knew the signs.

They had returned by Glen Tay (feeling, as young folk will yet, that "the longest way round is the shortest way home"), and the McAlpin's gate came first. Douglas helped Jean out—Rob was holding the horses—and with hearty "gude nichts" each sought his own place.

Next morning everybody was at the front fence to wave good-bye to Rob as he started off on horseback to be sworn in on Grand Jury. A trip to Europe undertaken by Rob's son wouldn't cause half the feeling of loss in his family this journey of Rob's to Brockville for a three days' stay did in the McGregor and McAlpin families that June morning in 1841.


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