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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 21


"To see her is to love her,
And love but her forever,
For Nature made her what she is,
And never made anither."
—Burns.

JAMIE thought he recognized the horses coming up the road, but so much did the completed work surpass his wildest expectations, he was beginning to think they had been "pressed" into Her Majesty's service; one little thought of the Duke of Kilmarnock popped into his head and popped out again just as quick, for now the horses were turning into the yard.

"Wow, lad! but ye did weel! " he ejaculated.

Jean came out to see it. "Ye'll hae mad' a paillace oot o't," she said, peeping inside. "Mither 'll be gey pleased wi't."

Next morning was clear and crisp. The doctor came out and helped fix the bed inside, and he, too, was loud in its praises.

"She could stand fifty miles a day in this better than the often lifting out and in," he said; "could not you get relays of horses and drive through in three days, making only two nights' halt, at Iroquois and Cornwall?"

"I'll thocht on 't, aiblins was feart 'twouldna be richt," answered Jamie.

"With a bed like that to lie on, she's as well travelling' as in a house, and a deal more comfortable than she would be in some," said the doctor; "drive right through, if you can get the horses; we are sure of three days of good weather, and we might not be of more."

While the doctor and Jamie were talking, Jean and Douglas were having a few parting words.

"Tell me summat aboot Phemie afore ye gang, Jeanie lass; I'll hae 't till think ower th' lang winter whiles ye're awa'," Douglas said, quietly.

Jean looked at him sadly. "Wull ye no' try till see her yersel', Douglas? " she asked.

"Na," answered Douglas, "'twould ony fash 'r, 'n I'd no' dae that. She'll said me nay; whiles she'll micht hae minded me, gin aething 'd been a' richt; noo 't 'll ne'er be. I'll hae pit it a' past me, an' I'll be content gin she's no' wearyin' for aething." This was said in the tone of a man to whom hope would no more return.

Jean, looking at him as he spoke, felt that for him there was nothing to look forward to; but she saw, too, that the struggle was over—he had ceased to care for a future for himself: he would never make a future for himself: he would not bend to the blast and "rise again to greater heights": the spirit was broken like a reed. He had not Rob's recuperative powers, or earnest, sanguine temperament, which could through disappointment yet make something worth living for. In the past twenty months his own entity had been completely effaced ; he answered to the name Douglas McAlpin, and felt in a sort of half-dazed way that he was responsible for that individual, but where or in what company Douglas McAlpin might find himself next year did not concern him. He would never take a downward path; the spirit of his covenanting ancestors was too strong in him for that; neither would his love for Phemie let him do anything that she would condemn. The kind, loving heart was yet there, and the devotion that would only expire with his last sigh.

It cut Jean to the quick to note this—to see how ready he was to do for others, and how skilful; and to know that for himself the story had been told. There was no good speaking a word of hope; it would fall on deaf ears; so, choking back her sobs, she told him what to do about the house, where to find everything to make himself comfortable, advised him to have one or another of the neighbor boys with him whenever he could get them to come, told him about the books Philip Maxwell had brought, and that he must go down every week for a letter from her.

Margaret threw her arms round his neck and kissed him, over and over again, when he stooped to bid her good-bye, as she lay in the sleigh.

"Ye'll no' be wearyin', Douglas," she said; "ye 'll gang oot; ye'll find gude company no' sae far awa'."

"Ay, mither, dinna be fretted," he replied; "I'll find muckle tae please me no' far frae hame."

Margaret smiled in perfect content as they drove off. The Rideau was frozen over, so they crossed the ice at the Ferry. At Toledo they offered to help carry Margaret in, but Jean and Jamie understood how best to work together and not hurt her. At Unionville, Jamie got a relay of horses, again at Iroquois, Cornwall, and Lancaster ; the evening of the third day they were at Montreal.

Douglas went quietly back into the house, freshened up the fires, and, leaving everything safe, went down to the bush to chop. Phemie could see him from her window, and the bent head and drooping shoulders told her a story of suffering that hurt her cruelly. This was the first time she had seen him; she had purposely kept out of the way, lest it would seem that she was watching for him. Her eyes showed traces of tears when she came down, leading to anxious inquiry by Elspeth.

"What'll be the maitter, lassie, that ye'll hae been greetin'; is 't the lass gaun awa'?"

"I'm sorry for all of them, mither; if, after all, they should be disappointed, and the doctors in Montreal not be able to help Margaret, what a blow it will be to them, they were so hopeful. But that is not all, mither, have you seen Douglas?"

"Ay, your faither 'n I saw 'm yest'reen," replied Elspeth; "he's no' the same lad at a'; his head 'll be a wee affeckit wi' th' shock he got that ither morn."

"Mither,he will no' lose his mind?" cried Phemie.

"Na, lassie, na fear o' that th' noo," answered Elspeth; "ye're faither speired at Dr. Thorn; the's a' clackin' aboot 'm doon 't William Rutherfords' shop, 'n aboot th' differ' in 'm, an' nane o' them kenned what for; yer faither speired at Dr. Thorn wad 's heid be ganging awa' frae 'm."

"'Losing 's mind? ' sed Dr. Thorn, sharp-like, 'na, the's na fear o' thae, he's got mair gude common sense 'n his heid than hauf o' th' village a' pit thegither, aiblins there'll be something wrang wi' 'm 't I'll canna mak' oot.' "

"I wish I had not said I would never speak to him," said Phemie.

"Lassie!" cried Elspeth, in alarm, "you would n't-------"

"Na, mither, I said in the beginning what I meant, and if there had been nothing more said, Douglas would have gotten over it. I have prayed for it this morning, but I cannot yet feel the sympathy for Marget I would like to."

"Dinna be too haird, lassie, a mither 'll hae feelings ye'll no understaun', an' 't 'ill aye coom haird till 'r t' fin' th' bairn she'll raised hae'n a wull o' 's ain. Marget Cameron was as bonnie a lassie as ere crumpled th' heather wi' 'r fut, aiblins Jeems Mc-Alpins mither wrought wi' a' 'r might tae keepit Jeems awa' frae Marget; it'll happen mad' 'r no' sae tender 'n th' hairt."

"Oh, mither, was I too hasty?" asked Phemie.

"Na, lassie, ye couldna hae dune differ; gin ye'd lo'ed th' lad, ye'd been richt t' bide wi' 'm agen a' Scotland; an' ye didna, na lassie suld thole bein' flouted ower a lad. Th' hairm that's coom 's Mar-get's ain wark, 'n 't 'ill fa' th' hairdest on her, aiblins I mysel' 'll greet mony times for 'r an' th' sorra' she'll wrought hersel'."

"Here are Mr. and Mrs. Wilson," exclaimed Phemie, who stood near the window.

Not until dinner was over did the guests broach the particular errand on which they came.

"Mrs. Wilson has a request to prefer, Mrs. McGregor; she sits there in fear and trembling lest it be denied, and trying by delays and in divers other mischievous ways to make me spokesman."

"I'm not at all afraid," retorted Mrs. Wilson, "I was waiting for a propitious hour, and as I find with you this is always just after you have dined, I have applied the same rule to Mr. McGregor's case, and, like any canny Scot, have bided my time."

"What is 't that 'll need sae muckle care in th' tellin' o' 't?" asked Sandy jocosely; "will ye be wantin' t' tak' th' lassie back tae Scotland wi' ye?"

"How did you guess it, Mr. McGregor?" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson in surprise. "You must have the Highland gift of second sight." Mrs. Wilson was lowland Scotch.

To tell the truth Sandy had not guessed it, in fact he had picked that—as the most unlikely thing to happen—to make a joke of; now, being too polite to tell Mrs. Wilson that he was making a joke of a pet project of her building, he accepted credit for the Highland attribute, though he confessed to Elspeth that night that he was fair "dunnered" when Mrs. Wilson announced the correctness of his guess.

So the project was launched, and with rather favoring winds.

Phemie sat hushed; this was something she had never dreamed of in her wildest flights of fancy, and she was addicted to "biggin' castles in the air." Of a harmless sort was this foolishness she indulged in, and since she had been so much alone, much gratification of an ephemeral sort had come from those "Chateaux d'Espagne," peopled with all who were near and dear to her.

Elspeth spoke first: "We'll thank you both for sae kin' a thought, but it's a muckle road for a lassie tae gang frae her faither 'n mither."

"I will admit that, Mrs. McGregor," said Mr. Wilson, "and it is something that, as a rule, I am opposed to, but Mrs. Wilson has set her heart on this. I would very much like to have Phemie go myself, there would be a fine opportunity for study during the voyage; I would like to act as her cicerone through the classics."

"I would like to show the folk in Perthshire a lassie from the Line," Mrs. Wilson said.

This was one of Elspeth's weak points: she was as thoroughly Canadian as Rob and Jean. She was also proud of her lassie, she would willingly endure a year of loneliness for the sake of giving this object lesson. Phemie was beginning to look eager, and this had its effect on Sandy; neither was Elspeth loath—if the lassie wanted to go—to pleasure her.

The whole arrangements were discussed, and the more they thought of it, the simpler it all seemed. Phemie demurred at leaving her father and mother alone, but Sandy, seeing the self-sacrifice which lay behind the objection, thus waived it: This was just the opportunity he and Elspeth needed to get acquainted with each other; the first few years of their married life had been spent in keeping the wolf from the door, both literally and figuratively ; since then there was a house full of bairns.

"Wi' thae a' awa' th' gudewife 'n me 'll juist sit by th' aise 'n get acquaint a' ower again." Everybody laughed at this, and everybody saw through the ruse, but this way of looking at the matter settled it. Phemie would go with Mrs. and Mr. Wilson.

That night Sandy and Elspeth discussed the necessary preparations; Sandy felt with Elspeth that Phemie must go well gowned, the object lesson must be given in the choicest tints. This was the last of January; the first boat that came down the Rideau must find them in readiness. The "kist" that Elspeth brought over wouldna do at all, at all, to carry Phemie's wardrobe. Mr. Meighen had once in a heedless moment "stocked up" with a huge hair trunk. We say heedless, because people had come to Perth to remain, and there were many things more saleable than trunks, but—more by good luck than good management—this purchase found an appreciative customer. Then the rest of the stock was taxed to fill in. And the girls in town and on the Line invited themselves out to sewing bees, which furnished an excuse for the lads to come in the evening. Many a staid elderly couple of the seventies were proud to point to that winter, and Sandy's house, as the time and place when they got "first acquaint". It was, in truth, the first introduction of the Line to the town.

In April there came a box, by stage from Brock-ville, to Phernie. It was not very large—but "Valuable, handle with care," was marked on it. Sandy could hardly wait until he got it home to have its contents investigated. At the post office they said it came from Toronto. When the cover was thrown back, the contents almost took their breath away.

In folds and folds of tissue paper lay a dress, the palest blush rose and pearly white "changeable" soft, lustrous silk; with it a "bertha" of Duchesse point; when these were, amid wondrous exclamations, lifted, in one corner lay a jewel case. With fingers trembling with delight, Phemie touched the spring: they were pearls—a necklace, bracelets, and bands to fasten on the shoulders the loops in her sleeves.
Phemie at once taxed her father with being the fairy godmother; he stoutly denied it, and when she saw he was as much surprised and delighted as she was, she saw it must have been Rob, but how could he have known just exactly what would fit her, and how well he remembered that pearls were her favorite gems—but could he afford it? for she knew these had cost no small sum.

Everyone in Perth knew of the arrival of the box, so all who came had to see its contents, and many sighs from many maidens' hearts were uttered in consequence; not that anyone would have deprived Phemie of her gift or the pleasure it gave her, but they would have liked a shower of fairy benefits to fall on their heads.

Phemie was surprised to receive, in the first mail after she reached Strathkennis, a letter from Rob, enclosing a draft for fifty pounds, saying as he was not where he could purchase anything, and did not know what would please her best, he sent the money, and she could make her own selection. She replied by return mail:

"Dear Brother,—

"Nothing could have pleased me better than the selection you did make; and, while I am very grateful, I am afraid I am receiving more than my deserts,"

The limit of her sojourn in Scotland had been extended from a year to fifteen months, and she had worn more than once her beautiful fairy gifts, ere she learned that Rob knew no more about the sending of them than she and Elspeth and Sandy had.

Years afterwards, one of the village boys, then grown to manhood and married, told his wife how "That quare Mr. McAlpin once gimme a dollar to go over to Mr. McGregor's and stale a dress belonging to the young leddy; he tould me, 'fore I'd go, he just wanted to look at it; so I got two and sixpence for getting it, and two an' sixpence for lavin' it back. Thim Highlanders is quare people."


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