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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 28


"Preserve the dignity of man
With soul erect,
And trust the universal plan
Will all protect."
—Burns.

IN January, 1844, Sandy McGregor received the following letter:—

Dear Sir,—I address you with some diffidence, notwithstanding a pleasant recollection of a very kind and hospitable reception tendered me when in Canada two years ago, for I feel it is one thing to extend the hospitality which may be tendered any guest and another to grant the boon for which I am about to pray.
I love your daughter, Sir, and crave your permission to address her. Personally you are not unacquainted with me, and I dare to hope that what you know is in my favour. Mr. Wilson will write you that from inquiries he has made he can state that I am able to comfortably provide for a wife, and that I come of a race whose wives and daughters are cherished, and guarded from the cauld blasts.

I have as yet addressed no word of affection to your daughter, feeling that away from home as she is, it would be taking an unfair advantage and having—as I have just acknowledged— been hospitably treated by you, I do as I would wish to done by, and anxiously wait your reply.

I am, Sir, Your very humble servant,
Philip Maxwell."

Also this:—

"Dear Sir,—I was waited on this morning by Mr. Philip Maxwell, whom you will remember having been in Perth two years ago. He has been stopping in the neighborhood, and Mrs. Wilson and myself have made him welcome at the Manse. In many ways he has assisted in our efforts to make Phemie's visit pleasant, in fact Mrs. Wilson and myself are indebted to him for valuable aid to this end.

This morning he astonished me much by preferring a request that I would write you, favoring an affirmative reply to his own letter to you. Knowing what I do of Mr. Maxwell I could not— nor would I wish to—refuse his request. Personally I have found him here all that you knew of him while in Perth. As to his means and social standing, he has demonstrated to me that they, are all the most exacting parents could ask.

What Phemie will think of it, of course I do not know; the secrets of a maiden's heart are well guarded, nor would we wish to pry. Lord Kinburn has also been calling here, and the Honorable Jack Herries, who will be Lord Jedburg. If ever again I undertake the guardianship of a Canadian young lady I shall build the same kind of a wall round the Manse Mr. Radenhurst built round his grounds, and engage an Argus to watch the gate.

Now, my dear Sir, having unburdened myself, I will hope to hear from you by return ship, as I shall rest on nettles until I do. I do not urge the acceptance of Mr. Maxwell's proposal; I have done all I can conscientiously, and that is to tell you from every inquiry I have made I cannot find the slightest thing to object to.

Mrs. Wilson and bairns send love to Mrs. McGregor, And I remain, etc.,

"Weel, Elspeth, what'll ye think o' 't?" asked Sandy, when both letters had been read.

"I'll aye kenned Phemie wad no' mak' 's ashamed," said Elspeth, which is really the highest form of praise a Highlander ever gives anything belonging to themselves.

"We'll hae t' say aye or nay till yon Maxwell lad b' th' nex' mail ganging oot; what'll it be?" asked Sandy.

"What'll ye think, Sandy?" questioned Elspeth.

"Nay, lass, I'll left 't t' yersel'; th' mither suld ken best what's f'r a lassie's guid," Sandy said; "there's th' twa lairds, what 'll ye think o' thae?"

"You'll say th' first say, Sandy, gin I'll no' agree wi' ye, I'll quick tell ye," said Elspeth.

"Weel, I'll say 't whilk ever ane th' lassie her-sel' 'll say aye to 'll please me. Mr. Wilson 'll no' say what like lads yon Herries and Laird Kinburn 'll be, aiblins we'll no' hae t' hae dealin's wi' thae 'till th'll ask. I'll wad say 't th' Maxwell lad, wha we'll ken, 's a douce, decent, sober chiel, gin th' lassie says aye, we'll no' object."

"It's what I'll thocht o' Sandy," said Elspeth; "a lassie 'll hae na coomfort oot o' a leddyship gin her hairt 's deid, 'n Philip Maxwell 's a braw lad, gin th' lassie 'll hae a fancy f'r 'm, aiblins I'll thocht 'twas Jean he'll wanted."

"It'll be haird t' tell; th' be canny fowk thae lads whiles th're coortin'; th'll be near 's haird t' guess at as th' lassies themsels, an' ye'll ken, gude-wife, a mon 'll no' ever ken whaur till fin' your kin'."

To hide a smile at this, Elspeth arose, got the pen, ink and paper, and a letter was written the receipt of which gladdened Philp Maxwell.

Then a letter inclosing Philip's was despatched to Rob; this I am sorry to relate did not reach him, the courier-de-bois, who had the mail in charge, drank too much "whiskey blanc," and when lighting his pipe let a match fall on the canvas mail sack with fatal results. And this was just as well, for it was something Rob would not have understood, and in eighteen hundred and forty-four it was more difficult than now—in the dawn of the twentieth century—to ask a man what he meant, across a thousand miles of ocean. So Rob went from the shanty to Boston with nothing more disturbing on his mind than what we already know, to be sure this is enough.

But Rob was under his own tuition, and he was an excellent schoolmaster. This compulsory renunciation was doing him good; he was throwing all his energies into the busiest sort of an outside life, he was seeing and hearing everything within sight and hearing. He had schemes for extending and developing many industrial branches, had interests in mills manufacturing wooden articles of different sorts, from doors and shutters to toothpicks ; and had talked with John Roach of a shipyard at Quebec.

Small business tricks found no place in his plans, men who had been years in the business world and who considered everything that succeeded (that is, that lined their pockets) right, quailed before a few words from McGregor, who, though little more than a boy in years, had a curt way of expressing himself when a questionable transaction was broached, that caused the proposer to shrink into such insignificance, that those listening—perhaps having started out to endorse the scheme—dropped it very quickly, at least so far as McGregor was concerned.

By questionable transactions we do not mean robbing hen roosts or issuing counterfeit coin ; uttering a counterfeit sixpence and stealing chickens are mild forms of crime compared with some of the schemes floated in the forties, as centuries ago, and as now. We of Upper Canada, in the instance of the Bank of Upper Canada, had a taste of what Canadians are capable of formulating and executing in this line, and of how far they will go without any sort of punishment being meted out to them.

It was this sort of thing that Rob McGregor discountenanced. His name could not be dragged through the mire of a business transaction, the blocking out of which had a Mephistophilean aroma. Very soon the class of men around whom there is an all-pervading odor of brimstone went elsewhere with their conspiracies, while many who had been dupes or careless about their names and associates, dropped objectionable associates—even though they were "good fellows"—and began to demand that the spirit of the law should be obeyed. As a little leaven will in time leaven the whole lump, so the influence of one righteous man will in time purify a wide business circle.

Rob's word was as good as his bond; he was of the lineage of the "Bleeding Heart," and as Lord James Douglas carried over land and over flood, and into the thick of battle, the heart of his dead King, because he had so promised, so personal considerations weighed nothing with Rob in a scale where a promise was in the balance.

In Boston he was urged to become an American citizen, and many very flattering and alluring prospects were held out. In a country where the Chief Magistracy is in the gift of the people, a man has many chances to distinguish himself, and there were certainly inducements that demanded consideration.

And Rob did consider the case on its merits; for himself he might do well to go, for Canada it was possible for him to do well by staying. Suppose half of her lads deserted her, where in one hundred years would she be, this mother of stalwart sons? Sitting in the ashes of hopes that had had no fruition. She, the mother, had given of her best; she had nurtured them, from her they had drawn sustenance. Should they act the part of ingrate and carry away to an alien land this the mother had given them— sturdy robust manhood?—leaving the mother to fill the old home with adopted children, who by-and-bye might do what they would with her.

Others might, but no' oor Rob, he said to those who talked to him.

"Th'll be wark eneuch 't hame, an' th'll be places in Canada f'r a mon gin he'll hae ability, aiblins we'll be gude friens. I like your country, an' I like your people, tho'—exceptin' th' trips I'll mak doon till see hoo a' things 'll gang—I'll bide at hame."

And this decision in no wise decreased their respect for Robert McGregor.


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