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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 3

"On Teviot's side in fight they stood,
And tuneful hands were stained with blood,
Where still the thorns white branches wave
Memorial o'er his rival's grave."

DOUGLAS should have been hoeing potatoes, but he dawdled over his work, finally brought the hoe back, hung it in its place in the barn, took his gun, and went off to the woods. (There were no game laws in those untrammelled early days.) The lassies ran back and forth until Margaret and Elspeth chided them roundly for idleness, while they themselves found numberless occasions for consultation. Sandy and Jamie needed no excuse for "occupying" a log in one backyard, and discussing the important question arising before the Grand Jury now sitting, and in deciding which their own Rob would play a part.

Only a week ago, just as the sun was sending out a company, with gleaming lances, and banners of purple and crimson, to herald his return, and the opalescent dewdrops made a short-lived carpet of gems for their feet, while the birds overhead were fearlessly singing matins, and the tiny four-footed creatures of the woods and fields were lingering in their way curious and unafraid (the white man's residence among them had been so short, they had not learned his needs and his wickedness), four men went down the fragrant fields, three only came back, and there was blood on the gemmed carpet, and blood on a man's soul.

This had been called the Field of Honor in the old and experienced world. Many a widow, and many a mother, bereft, had cried out, all in vain, against this legalized crime in the Motherland, where thought moves slow, and what has been will be.

The question was important. Should the monster be allowed to rear its head in this new land to which they had come to "better their conditions." Might the sword never be sheathed, even here? Must it be that here a man when in flush of health and strength could, by taunts and inuendoes, be made accessory to his removal from the path of a rival, in any degree, and any cause? Must scenes, as enacted in the Spanish West Indies, redden the soil and deplete the population of what we had considered our more favored and more Christian country?

And this case right at home had particularly grievous features.

The seconds had loaded with blank cartridges, shots were exchanged, each man had shewn himself willing to die in and for the cause he maintained. This would have been supposed to satisfy any but the veriest fire-eater, appeased their wrath, and satisfied, their honor. It did not: someone said, "One must fall"; a consultation between seconds and principals was held; the seconds retired ; loaded. Again the principals stood face to face. One, two, three—the handkerchief dropped—two shots rang out simultaneously, one man fell to rise no more, the other turned, scathless, to justify himself before a jury of his peers.

They had carefully refrained from discussion before Rob, for though neither James nor Sandy feared the law, both had a wholesome respect for it, and as Rob was to be an arbiter, he must not be biased. Now their pent-up thoughts found expression.

"Its no that I'd tak th' lee off ony mon mysel," Sandy is saying, "an' happen my fist wad be readier'n my tongue to tell't."

"'Deed an' that same fist wad tak as gude care o' ony man's honor as a pistol-ball could," chuckled Jamie, in gleeful remembrance of some "settlements "in days of auld lang syne." "Aye," he continued, "an' no need for a crowner to tak tent o't neither."

"That's the kernel o' th' nut, Jamie—the need for th' crowner. Is there no t' be room for a mon till he's kilt someone else? An' for why? To fill Heeven wi' those fittest tae gang? Lang before we cam frae Auld Scotia I'll aye noticed it'll not be always the mon wha's richt wha leeved t' tell th' why o't."

"I've minded that mysel'," said Jamie, "an' I've whiles wonnered at. We hae need o' gude people doon here, amang's a'."

"It's the wiles o' th' deevil, Jamie, an' th' honor that taks th' killin' o' ither men t' preserve 't, is ain o' his geefts. A pickle chesteesment 's aiblins gude fer ae body, an' there be words said in haste that nae mon 'll thole wi'out a blow; but when 'tis dune an' ower, ye'll can gie'm your han', an' mony a gude turn ae may do th' ither a' your lives aifter. But tae rid a mon aff th' face o' th' airth because ye'll want his hoose or his gear (or happen the gudewife hersel), sal, mon, Dauvit himsel found th' Laird 'd no staun that."

"Aye," said Jamie, "an sin He's gie's th' pooer, He'll expect us tae warstle wi' th' enemy an' destroy sic plans. We can doo't noo, as yon did in th' beginnin' o't, th' evil o' keepin' men's bodies in bondage."

"Yon did excel't that, Jamie," said Sandy, "'twas a sair thing tae haud men an' wimmin t' answer t' an airthly maister for a' their doins 'n sayins, till they'r feart t' hae een a thocht feart 't'd slip oot unawares. But thae's warse, f'r th' ither kenned richtly wha was his maister, and wha he maun mind, but at this, a man daurna draw a breath o' air feart some man, he michtent ken wha, shud hae want'd 't, an bein' a better haun wi a gun, or cleverer wi' tricks, micht send him tae Heeven maist before e'en th' Laird himsel' had time t' ken o't."

"It's richtly ye say't, Sandy," said Jamie, "an' oor Rob 'll gie 's word tae the doon-puttin' o' sic sinfa wark, aiblins there'll be ithers wha'll no' want their ain plans interfered wi'."

"Ye ne'er cracked truer nor that, Jamie. It's th' deevil gettin' in high places make a' th' comether."

"Would you be so good as to inform me where Captain Joshua Adams lives?"

The tone was purest English, something rare in this new Scotland. With true Highland impurturbability, Sandy and Jamie merely turned their heads in salutation.

"Ye'll find him doon th' road a mile, a bit wast till ye coom till anither road gaein' north, then win on till ye coom till a wee bit mill, an' thae's he," answered one of the men, " and," expecting a fair return, "what micht ye'r name be?"

"My name," said the stranger, with the utmost frankness, realizing, no doubt, that the desired information merited an exchange, "is Philip Maxwell, and I have come out to look over some mining land in this vicinity. Captain Adams is an interested party, and I am anxious to confer with him."

Neither Sandy nor Jamie were insensible to the advantages which accrue to a mine owner, therefore, with a desire to learn more of what might prove of personal interest, together with a Highland hospitality which has never been impeached, Jamie in whose back-yard they were sitting, bid the man with the mining knowledge "Bide an' sup wi's till be past th' houer ere ye'll coom ben at Joshua Adams."

That this was a not unwelcome invitation will be realized when one recognizes the master of poor Bess's enemy of the night before.

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