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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 23

"I knew his heart, I knew his hand,
Have shared his cheer, and proved his brand;
My fairest earldom would I give
To bid Clan Alpin's chieftain live."

NO more welcome summons was ever received than the one which called Elspeth McGregor to Margaret's bedside, and no infant was ever crooned over with more fondness than Margaret was when Elspeth reached her bedside. All bitterness was forgotten, the past of twenty years syne was resurrected, and, further back still, the auld days in Scotland. Elspeth told Margaret that Phemie was there, under the shadow of Ben Venue, and Margaret, too weak to be surprised at anything, was, like a child, pleased at the prospects of word direct.

Elspeth stayed a week and left Margaret progressing rapidly towards recovery, but her visit was really more of a God-send to Jean and Jamie; the latter was noticeably failing. When he escorted her to the boat she promised to send Sandy down directly after potato digging, Rob had reached home in the evening, and a boat for Montreal called at Oliver's Ferry next morning. He insisted Elspeth should go on this, leaving no time for conversation. Thus there were few questions asked by either Rob or the folk at home; that Margaret was sick and wanted Elspeth was enough for everybody. Rob drove his mother to the Ferry, bought her ticket, secured a comfortable state-room and saw her safely established therein, then watched the boat steam off toward Poonamalie.

Directly he had his horse "put up" at home, he sought Douglas, and could not "believe his eyes" when he found him; that bent old man with the long, straggling faded hair, the scant beard, the drooping mouth (so like a tearful child's), and colorless eyes—that Douglas McAlpin! Had Rob McGregor been less a gentleman than he was, or had this been in the days of our forbears, there might have been words uttered which are always best left unsaid; but he was a gentleman, and they who had done this were near of kin to them both. Rob's own heart was aching, no one could feel for Douglas as he could; not Margaret and Jamie, they had not been disappointed; nor Elspeth and Sandy; neither could his sister Jean, or Phemie, what knew they of this? the one had found her alter ego, the other was not caring. But he (Rob) knew what it was to have the light of one's life go out just at the beginning of it.

He held Douglas' hand in the strong clasp that from man to man means so much. Douglas was glad to see Rob, and returned the clasp in a mild way. He was no way surprised that Rob had seen and talked with Jean in Montreal, and was pleased that Elspeth had gone down to see his mother. The two walked on, following the burn.

"D' ye mind th' nicht, twa year last June, 'at we fower druv tae Pairth, Douglas?" asked Rob, trying to lead up to where Douglas might talk of his life during the months which had passed since then.

"Ay, I'll mind o' 't," replied Douglas; "it's th' last time we a' went thegither."

"An' we'll hae traivelled mony a weary fit sin', you an' me, Douglas," said Rob.

"We hae, Rob, an' the's mony things coom 'n gane; aiblins we'll canna a' be pleased wi' this warld; happen it's best so, we'll no' ken a' things."

"Na, Douglas, we'll canna a' hae aething we'll want, but th'll be mony ither things,"—Rob unconsciously echoed Jamie's words of that morning many months ago.

"No' for me, Rob," answered Douglas, interrupting; "I'll ken weel a' you'd say,—other men maun hae a' these things, but no' me; wi' naebody t' fend f'r but mysel' I'll care naething hoo th' warld gangs."

"Tut, tut, mon," Rob said, laying his hand on Douglas' shoulder, "we'll can carry mony an ache in oor hairts; aiblins th'll be bricht spots, t'll no' be a' dairkness: I'll ken that mysel'."

"Rob, ye'll ken naething aboot 't," replied Douglas; "ye'll ne'er had th' lassie ye lo'ed, an' faither 'n mither, an' the mither o' th' lassie wha was like th' aipple o' yer eye, a' turn agen ye, juist when ye'r hairt 's fu' o' joy, an' a' things looked like th' rosy mornin'; ye'll ne'er seen th' lassie, wha's wee steps ye'll hae guided, turn frae ye like 's ye was th' plague."

"Na, Douglas, I'll haena an' I'll say it noo:— 'twas waur than th' heathen, whilk they're sae fierce tae Christianize ; it's the queer auld warld ways 'at 'll stick tae them yet. But, lad, ye'll no' be wearyin' ower this mair; coom awa oop tae th' bush wi' me, an' in th' Spring we'll gae doon to Boston thegither; th's muckle tae see, an' mony men tae meet wha 'll hae dune graun things wi' their lives."

"Ay, Rob, I'll ken that; an' aince, lang years ago, seems like it micht be a hunner, I'll thocht o' th' graun things I'll dae mysel, aiblins I'll no' care noo, th's no ane till wrought f'r; a lad 'll coom an' tak Jeanie awa syne; faither 'n mither 's had sair sorra—th'll need me, an' it's a' I'll can dae, Rob."

More from the tone and the look than the words, Rob realized that what Douglas said was true; there was no strength of purpose left to wrestle with outside problems.

"Douglas, a mon being sorra f'r anither canna help th' ither muckle, but gin I'll could dae mair, ye suld ony say what't 'd be, it couldna be too muckle —gin I'll could gie ye hauf my years, an' we could gang awa thegither, haun in haun, ye suld hae them'; th'll be naebody f'r ane o's t' fend f'r; happen oop yonner thae'll be summat f'r 's t' dae," Rob said in a choked voice, and, turning, strode home, clearing the well kept line fence at one bound.

"Hae ye ne'er bin ower tae see hoo Douglas fared, faither?" asked Rob, that evening.

"Na," said Sandy, "I'll bin sorra f'r th' lad, aiblins I'll couldna let Marget Cameron think we's wantin' 'm."

"Faither! 'n ye'll let the lad, wha near did ye hairm, be crushed till th' life's gang frae 'm, f'r summat anither body'll said! "

"I'd no' hae dune 't f'r anither reason," Sandy said, rather shamefacedly; "it'll been haird on 's a', yer mither 'n me, 'n Jamie, aiblins ye'd no' ken 't 'd hurt Marget any till th' noo. Happen th' lassie was ower quick tae tak it oop, but what could a lassie dae?"

"Gin she'd lo'ed the lad, she'd no' 'a been sae quick," said Rob, rather bitterly for him.

"Na," Sandy said, "happen 'twas that she'd been wrangly accused, an' she'd no staun 't; but she's ony a wee lassie then; she'd tak mair time till think noo;—an' happen it's the Laird's wull."

"I'll noticed, faither, th'll be mony times when th' Laird get's blamed f'r doin's 'at anither, no' sae near Heevin, 's had th' biggest haun in," dryly remarked Rob.

Rob went over, after that, and tried to induce Douglas to return with him, but all to no purpose.

"I'll canna gae, Rob. Dinna think it'll be through ony haird feelings: I'll hae lang syne gotten over thae; aiblins I'll ne'er could gang t' th' door again."

Rob noticed a blue, pinched look, and something of—well, more dread than fear—as the memory of that terrible morning, when, hoping so much, all at once every door seemed closed against him.

"May I coom an' see you, then, Douglas?" asked Rob; "I'll no' blame you, gin ye'll no' care t see ane o's."

"Ay, coom, Rob," Douglas said, "'n bring yer faither, gin ye'll wull, ae time ye'll like; but I'll ne'er could gang ower the bit path again."

Rob could scarcely give Douglas up; he was Jean's brother, and it was his (Rob's) sister for whom —to Douglas—"the world was lost;" but he felt himself utterly helpless: what he couldn't do was, recall the past, and what he was able and willing to do was of no avail.

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