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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 22


"A whispering throb did witness bear
Of kindred sweet,
When, with an elder sister's air,
She did me greet."
—Burns.

DR. POWELL, had spoken to a house agent about quarters for Jamie and family. On making inquiry the agent learned that Lieut. Mel-drum, formerly of the Canadian Fencibles, who had been at Perth a year or two in its early days, had recently been ordered to Halifax, and would be very glad to lease his house, furnished, to Mr. McAlpin. Therefore, the second day of their arrival found them settled in the house that was to be their home for many months.

Margaret had borne the journey as well as could be expected of an invalid; still, the changing about and the novelty of the surroundings in the place she was to call home, was all conducive to feverish-ness. Dr. Powell came to see her, the morning after her arrival, and prescribed with a view to relieving this, and also gave her a mild tonic; then left her to rest and get accustomed to her surroundings before making an examination.

When he did make an examination, he found, as Dr. Weekes in Perth had feared, that a tumorous growth had begun. This he gave a Latin name of several syllables, which we do not remember, so, if we thought it necessary—which we do not—to tell our readers, we could not do so. This, however, has not slipped our mind. When the proper time came it would be removed by an operation. With all conditions just right, this could be successfully done. Should complications set in—as might happen—the result would be serious; he would carefully watch every phase and variation of the case himself, and what medical skill could do should be done.

Then began for Jean duties and responsibilities that would have told severely on a less buoyant nature, and a less determined nature. The doctor had said it was possible, unless certain unfavorable conditions arose, to save her mother; it was his business and her business to see that these conditions did not arise: it was, to use her own words, "something one could work for." Thus, between watching her mother, as a cat would a mouse, lest the drooping of an eyelid should escape her ; minding the house, and fixing up Scotch dainties to tempt her father's appetite that his strength might not fail, there was no fear of the days dragging.

In a few weeks Margaret was able to sit in an * invalid's chair nearly all day, but there was nothing she could do to amuse herself, and the extra burden' of finding entertainment fell on Jean. The chair could be moved to a front window, and, until her eyes tired, the passers-by afforded some occupation for the mind. Jean brought books of plates and engravings from the library—to which Dr. Powell had secured admission for her—and Jamie patiently turned these over for her by the hour, and read to her until she would fall asleep.

But the change from an active to a sedentary life was telling on him, and soon Jean had to manufacture all sorts of errands to get him out of doors. Then she must write long weekly letters to Douglas; these were in great part written by Margaret's chair, that she might dictate, and these one-sided chats with Douglas were a great pleasure to Margaret. She gave minute descriptions of the quaint panorama that moved steadily past her window: of the officers, in their gay uniforms; the habitants, in blue or red tuques, sashed jerkins, short culottes, parti-colored long hose, and moccasins; and of monks and nuns, in the different habits of their orders. Each day she watched diligently for something new to tell "the lad."

At home, Douglas was pleased with these descriptions, because it pleased "mither" to give them. He was best pleased, though, with the encouraging postscript which Jean always added. He wanted his mother to get well again; although she had never hinted it by word, he someway knew she was sorry for the irrevocable past. He thought she must have spent some very sad months; he would like to have all those months forgotten, and everything return to the status of the old happy days, as might be—all but his past, and that did not matter.

When the boats started, they had many familiar callers; merchants then went to Montreal for goods, spring and fall, and it was quite usual for their wives to accompany them. Jean was pleasantly surprised many times that spring, on opening the door, to find a familiar face. Mr. and Mrs. Mei-ghen and Mr. and Mrs. Clark called, Mr. Romaines and Mr. Milburn. They each knew of the cessation of friendly relations between the McAlpin and McGregor families, and thoughtfully avoided any mention of Phemie's journey. Douglas had, on a private sheet, written Jean of this as soon as it had been announced, and she was in dread lest her mother should someway learn of it, knowing it would have a disturbing effect. But the callers were all discreet, and nothing but good came of their visits. Mr. Milburn took Jamie on a long jaunt up the mountain, which—tramp and visit together—livened him up wonderfully.

Then the summer had set in, and Margaret had begun to suffer a great deal of pain from the growing tumor. She longed for her fields and woods, and wimplin' burn; she struggled hard against irritability of temper, but stretched on a bed of pain, with the thermometer at ninety, the most amiable disposition will turn. The all-compelling disposition, which Margaret had made such bad use of, stood Jean in good stead. She meant to take her mother back to Perth, if not restored to perfect health, at least so far recovered that she might hope for many years of useful life. Nothing discouraged her, nothing caused her to abate for one half hour the close, careful, intelligent watching of the case. They had changed places, Jean was the mother now and Margaret the child, and no parent was ever looked up to with greater reverence than both Jamie and Margaret had for Jean.

When September's mellow, golden days came, —fulfilling the promise of the blossoming time,— Dr. Powell told Jean that, so far, all was well, and they would begin now to prepare themselves and patient for the ordeal.

Margaret took the announcement quietly, in fact expressed her satisfaction that the long anxious time was drawing near a close. When the doctor had gone she said to Jean:

"Jean, lassie, whiles I'm thinkin' o' Douglas 'n th' lass Phemie. I was ower quick tae speak till th' bit lassie. I'll no kenned till he cam' frae Taranta, sic a quiet like auld mon, 'at laddies 'll no' aye be bairns; tae hae the wee, sonsie weans grow oop and gang awa' frae them 'll aye tear a mither's hairt; but I'll hae learnt syne th' doonfa' I'll got that oor hairts 'r mad' t' be rended, an' gin we juist tak' 't as the Laird's wull, an' no' fash oorsel's wi' 't, 't 'ill a' be richt. Gin I leeve, I'll tell this tae Douglas 'n th' lass mysel'; gin it's th' Laird's wull that I dee, when they pit me tae sleep ye maun tell them for me, tell them I'll no' hae kenned it a' till I'm lyin' here awa' frae hame, and I'll thocht hoo lang my puir laddie was awa', wi' no' ain o' kin to say aught to 'm, an' th' bonnie lassie whilk was ae sae kind------"

"Hush, hush, mither, ye're talking ower much; ye'll can tell them a' you like yoursel' when you'll gang back tae Perth: ony this I'll ask, do you want a' th' auld times back?"

"Ay, lassie, gin Elspeth Douglas an' th' lassie 'll forgie me a', Douglas an' th' lass may hae th' hoose 'n gear, an' I'll sit by th' fire an' knit for th' bairns."

"That's richt, mither," said Jean, stooping and kissing her; "keep oop a gude hairt; ye'll win through, an' a' will be happy yet."

Now was no time to tell her that her happy dreams of complete restoration could never be fulfilled, and, as Elspeth said, she (Margaret) would be the keenest sufferer, in and through just the sentiments which had caused so many months of sorrow to them all, her mother love and her mother pride.

The dread day came and passed and Margaret still lived. To Dr. Powell's manifest delight the operation was successful; a week after, he told her " unless she fell in the river and got drowned—in which case he could do nothing for her—she would outlive many a younger woman, but she would have to remain very quiet and under his charge for some months yet, that he might guard against a recurrence of the growth."

Jean, relieved of anxiety, was beginning to feel the physical strain, and the doctor insisted on her ing for short walks. Margaret would sleep more, now the trouble was removed, and might be safely left more to herself; and, fearful of being laid up before she completed her work, Jean began short rambles round the quaint old streets, enjoying it all, but feeling lost among so many strange faces; sometimes she forgot her surroundings entirely, her "hairt was in the Hielans." She smiled to herself when, in such a reverie one day, she heard her name spoken. She was sauntering along, wholly absorbed in her dreams of the past, and thought the voice part of the dream at first; at a repetition she said to herself: "I'll no' be th' ony Jean in Montreal, th'll be ither Scotch lassies here." At the third call she looked around and found herself looking into Rob McGregor's eyes.

"Jean," he said again, "did I frighten ye, lassie?"

"Rob," said Jean, holding out her hand with her old saucy manner, "I'se be fine an' glad tae be frichted thae fashion a dizen times a day," but the next minute there were tears in her eyes, reaction had set in. All those long, weary months she had been bearing others woes, there had been no one to whom she dare breathe her own sorrows and fears.

Rob looked at her compassionately; her face was thin, the color had left her cheeks, and her eyes were big and hollow.

"Puir lassie, ye'll hae had your ain times; coom awa' till thae bit pairk an' tell me a' aboot 't an' hoo ye're mither is th' noo. I'll no hae had a letter frae hame these many weeks, an' ken nae-thing aboot aebody."

Rob led her to a nice shady seat, thinking all the time what a poor, pitiful chap Maxwell was to leave the lassie he loved to bear all this trouble alone, but he finally said to himself sternly that was not his business; Jean had shown by her eyes and in her voice that she was glad to see him (Rob), as glad as Phemie would have been; if in any way he could help her now he was going to do it. Who had a better right, " weren't they bairns the-gither?"

"Noo, Jean, what'll be th'maitter?" Rob asked, when he had seated himself beside her; "'ll yer mither be waur?"

"Na, Rob, it's no' that, th' doctor says she'll get weel, aiblins I'll hae feart sae lang I'll greet noo for joy."

"Juist greet then, Jeanie, happen it 'll dae ye gude."

With the contrariness of her sex, Jean wouldn't cry when told to, but looked up at him archly and moved to the other side of the seat.

"I'm no' sure that it's you," she said; "still, ye look as ye micht be soom relation." She looked at him intently, and Rob said nothing.

"Can ye tell me hoo far doon th' burn is th' wee folk's aik? " she asked, her eyes twinkling.

"Ay," Rob said, as though repeating a "task " in geography to the schoolmaster, "ye'll pass ane beech-tree, twal' maples, a muckle stane wi' a loof on't, twa basswoods, four-and-twenty muckle cedars, 'n ye'll see 't staunnin' alane."

Jean laughed merrily, "It 'll be Rob, sure eneuch!" For a moment, in the joy and the suddenness of the chance meeting, she had forgotten the miserable two years last past—forgotten even that she had said to Philip Maxwell, " she had no hairt to gie"—forgotten everything except here was the Rob McGregor of her childhood, changed in looks, but still Rob. It was with the camaradarie of old days that she had met him. This was piling the earth on his buried hopes ; yet there was a crumb of comfort in being thus assured that she had all the old sisterly feeling for him. He sat watching her until she spoke again, fearful of the announcement he might have to listen to.

"Rob, I'll maist wunner 'at you'll speak till me," she said, at last, "aifter a' that's gane."

"For why suld I nae speak t' you, Jean? " Rob asked.

"Hae they at hame ne'er tauld ye 'at mither flouted Phemie acause Douglas asked 'r? " said Jean, in her direct way.

"They'll said summat aboot 't, aiblins I'll no' thocht 'twas aething t' pit you an' me frae speakin' till ither," answered Rob.

"Mither 's sorra noo, an' bid me tell yer mither 'n Phemie, gin she'll no get better, 'at she'll be wullin' an' glad tae hae Phemie mairry Douglas 'n hae a' she'll laid by ; but that canna be: Phemie 'll ne'er wanted Douglas, 'an noo Douglas is—oh! Rob, you suld see 'm!—Douglas is an auld mon; his mind's no' gane, but ye'd think he's aulder 'n faither!" now, without restraint, the tears did flow.

Rob's own sorrow, just then, was like a dagger piercing his heart. Many times, in her childhood griefs, had he wiped Jean's tears away; now, to comfort her was the province of another. There was little he could do, but this little he offered, putting away his own sorrow.

"Jeanie, ye'll hae had muckle sorra in th' years whilk I'll thocht brocht ye ony gladness, an' it seems like ye'll had tae thole it alane. Gin mither 'd coom doon tae see yer mither, wad it help ye? "

"Oh, Rob! wad she?" cried Jean, "I'll thocht on 't, an' thocht on 't, an' I 'm wearyin' tae see 'r mysel'."

"Ay she'll coom, Jeanie, gin 'twill dae ye gude till hae 'r," Rob said. "Th'll be a boat gangin' oop in an hooer: wull I tak 't and gae hame, 'n send mither richt awa,' 'r wull I'll gang oop wi' ye tae see Jamie?"

"Gang awa oop 'n send yer mither doon: tae see 'r agen would be maist like a taste o' Heeven," said Jean, eagerly.

In spite of his better judgment, Rob wanted an excuse to stay longer ('twas the old story of the moth and the candle); but in Jean's sorrow he knew no law but Jean's wishes; therefore, swallowing his disappointment and chagrin at having everyone preferred before him, he quietly said:

"I'll leave ye hame first—th'll be time."

By the time they reached the door, Jean began to remember herself and what she had said to Philip Maxwell. When Rob shook hands good-bye, if there had been leads attached to her eyelids they wouldn't more persistently have remained down. And foolish Rob augured ill from this, and went away very sorrowful.


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