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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 10

"But if, beneath yon southern sky,
A plaided stranger roam,
If loose drooping crest, and stifled sigh,
And sunken cheek, and heavy eye,
Pine for his Highland home.

DOUGLAS wakened refreshed and hopeful in the middle of the afternoon, rather abashed when he discovered the sun was past the meridian; but this was an important epoch, and "what was ane day in a body's hail life?"

He had not seen Phemie since last night, and immediately thought he would go up through the fields to Sandy's before going home. How sweet it would be, by-and-bye, to not have to go 'cross lots to see Phemie! As if the thinking of her had brought her before him, he could soon see the flutter of her sun-bonnet, flitting in and out among the plum-trees (for chickens must eat, though hearts break). Quickening his steps, he was beside her before she was aware of it.

"Phemie! Phemie! " he cried, eagerly.

Phemie at first tried to reach the house and a sheltering room, before he caught her; but to no purpose. He came up to and in front of her, looking into the depths of her sun-bonnet. What he saw there staggered him; he stopped to get breath, and to know what to say (we have written he was a lad of few words). She sped past him, and gained the desired shelter.

He still kept on to the house. Elspeth met him at the door.

"Gae back tae Marget McAlpin, an' tell'r we'll hae nane o' her lads or lassies—'n th' grass 'll grow lang on th' bit path mony a year ere ane o' mine— mon, bairns, or mysel'—'ll set fut on Jeems Mc-Alpin's side o' th' fence agen."

"Elspeth, has my mither been here?"

"Na," answered Elspeth, "aiblins my wee lassie's been there. Ye'll can ask Marget McAlpin th' rest. But Phemie's ta'en an aith on the gude buik t' ne'er cross wards wi' ye agen. She's a Christian lass, 'n she'll keep 't"—and the door was shut.

Douglas staggered home. There he saw from Jean's looks that the matter was as grave as Elspeth had intimated.

"Whaur's mither? " he asked.

"She's ben th' room. Dinna look sae, Douglas —it'll happen coom a' richt." But, even as she said this, she knew better, "Jean, ye'll ken I'll hae aye been a gude lad t' faither 'n mither; but, when a lad's coom to man's years, he's a richt t' th' lassie he luves fur 's wife, gin she's wullin; 'n shootin' a mon in a duel, 's------- (wha faither's sae fierce fur hangin') did, 's na waur nor rendin' a man's soul wi' pairtin' 'm frae th' best o's life; fur what's th' rest, noo she's gaen?"

"Douglas, Douglas! dinna look sae! We'll a' tell't Phemie 'twas na meant," cried Jean.

"Phemie'll ne'er unsay 'r word, Jean." Going to the door of the room he called his mother; there was no answer ; then he tried the door—it was, as Jean said, barred. He called again ; still no reply. Putting his foot to the door, with a quick burst he opened it. Margaret sat in a rocking chair, knitting; hard lines on her face, and a somewhat triumphant look in her eyes. She looked up, not heeding the unceremoniousness of Douglas' entrance.

'The lassie 'll no' hae ye! she'll 't ne'er speak t' ye agen."

"Mither!" said Douglas, in a tone that shook Margaret. "I'll no say 't I'll ne'er speak t' ye, but I'm gaun awa, 'n ye'll greet fur this day's wark mair nichts than ye ken o' ere ye'll see me again."

Margaret sprang up at this, realizing what she had done, but, changing her mind, sat down again ; and Douglas, fearing what he might say if he remained longer, went up to his own room.

Jean followed him. Sitting down—he was too weak to stand—he bowed his head on the table, and shed the tears a man sheds when his heart is wrung past endurance. Jean knelt beside him, and mingled her tears with his.

"Jean, Jean! gin I'll cud ony hope, I'd bide a hunner years! but I've kent Phemie syne she was a bit creepin' lassie. She'll ne'er brak her word. It's a' ower wi' me. I'll canna stay 'n see her 'n no hear 'r speak."

"Dinna greet—dinna greet, Douglas," soothed Jean, as she had done in their not-so-far-past childhood, her own tears falling like rain.

By-and-bye, when they could cry no longer, Jean got Douglas' promise to wait until morning. Many times through the night she slipped in to see how he fared.

At supper-time Jamie had to know. Margaret was going round her housewife duties, tightly compressed lips and rigid face giving no sign of the tumult within. Jean, knowing Jamie must be told that Douglas was upstairs and would not come down, met him on his way from the barn and explained something of the situation. Dike most men, Jamie did not like scenes; up to the present time his life had had an unusually even tenor; therefore this was very upsetting. He blamed everybody—first and foremost, the girl for living; then Douglas, for caring for her; Margaret, for saying what she did when she did; Phemie, for paying any attention to what Margaret had said ; Douglas, for taking Phemie at her word; and, lastly, Jean, for not preventing the whole affair.

A United States President once remarked regarding a national matter: "It is a condition, and not a theory, that confronts us." There was a condition, and a serious one, now facing Jamie, and he finally pulled himself together and braced up for it. A look at Margaret's face showed him she did not need comforting: she was glorying in her triumph. As Douglas had not immediately rushed out of the house, she concluded he had thought better of going. She knew Phemie would hold to her word. Matters were turning out very satisfactorily. Therefore, although the medicine was drastic and would cause the patient some inconvenience, yet it was effectual, and she was feeling the pride of a physician successful in a particularly serious case.

When he saw Douglas, Jamie's heart smote him. Perhaps had he come down and talked with Margaret when the lad first spoke to him (this time honestly fixing the blame where it really belonged), all would have been well.

"Dad, lad," he said, "is there naething I'll can dae fur ye?"

"There's naething th' noo, faither!"—at which Jamie winced. "I'll juist hae tae gang awa. Ye'll no hinner me."

"Ye're no' o' age yet, lad; but gin ye'll no can statin' it here—an' I'll no say ye cud," said Jamie, compassionately—"ye'll can gang oop t' Taranta till Aleck Fraser—he'll give ye aething 'r anither t' do i' th' mill."

When this was announced to Margaret, she must have felt as the above-mentioned physician might when forced to take some of his own medicine in order to induce confidence in his patient. Jamie was firm in his promise that the lad should go if he wished to. She had conquered, but at a heavy cost to herself.

Douglas bade his mother good-bye next morning, but she would almost rather he hadn't—there was so much of reproach, so little trace of the old affection. She was stung to the quick, still she gave no sign, and, after he was gone, for long months she scarcely spoke of him. Yet, though she too had to share the bitter draught, she did not regret having mixed it. "Douglas was her lad still; driven from home he might feel himself; his heart torn with grief, and a deep sense of wrong and of anger against her; yet he was hers—this she could roll as a sweet morsel under her tongue : evil might befall him in his exile—this other woman could not be his comforter; he even might die in this land far away—the lassie couldna hae first place at his coffin."

These were comforting thoughts to Margaret, and in all that followed she never made a wry face at the bitterness of her own share from the cup.

Jean, too, who was neither patient nor physician, had to drink. Philip Maxwell came that evening, bringing some chemical apparatus to show an experiment that was interesting him.

"I will just arrange this," he said, "and then wait until your brother comes in; and will we have to send word to Miss McGregor? Perhaps I had better go and fetch her."

Jean could not tell him that Phemie would never come again; she could not say to him, "Do not go for her"; yet it seemed cowardly to leave Phemie to account for the estrangement. Sandy truly said, the very least wrong has a wide-spreading influence.

The question as to Douglas was answered by Jamie, who just now came in.

"Th' lad's off fur Taranta," said he, quite cheerfully, partly through not sensing the gravity of the situation, and partly through a Highland desire to put the best foot forward.

"Indeed! I believe I had not known of his intention to make the trip," said Philip.

"'Twas juist thocht on, 'n he's awa tae Brock-ville t' tak th' boat. Things gae fast thae times," answered Jamie.

Philip had noticed Margaret's grim smile when he spoke of Phemie, and drew a conclusion which pleased him very much, and was, in effect, that Douglas had gone out to carve a better future for Phemie to share than apparently offered itself on the Ninth Line. He quickly decided the kindest way was to leave Phemie to her own meditations on this first evening of Douglas' absence. So Jean was granted a respite; he left the apparatus at Jamie's, and thoughtfully took an early leave.

"Hoo's th' brown colt th' morn?" asked Jamie of Sandy next morning. Sandy must have suddenly become deaf, for he made no reply.

"Sandy, mon! d' ye no' hear? Hoo's the colt th' morn?" Still no reply.

"Sandy! . . . Wha's coom ower the mon?" sotto voce.

At the third call Sandy turned. "Wad ye be speakin' till me, Jeems McAlpin?"

Jamie nearly fell over. "I'm askin' aifter the brown colt."

Sandy walked slowly toward the fence, of not always even one log high.

"Jeems McAlpin, gin ye'll canna keep ye'r wumman bodies frae onsultin' mine, we'll no be mindin' hoo my brown colt 'r black coo is: it's as weel tae tell't ye noo, an' we'll hae na mair claishin's ower 't."

"Sandy, ye'll no let a bairn's havers pairt you 'n me," wailed Jamie; "th' lad'll sune forget a' aboot 't, 'n what's 't tae you 'n me whativer."

"A bairn's havers!" shouted Sandy; "div ye no ken thet my bonnie wee lassie's as muckle tae me as Marget McAlpin's simple lad's tae her? Gin th' lad 'd haud his ain wi'r, she'd ha daurna said the wards she did tae th' lass he'd askit. Oor Rob's 's gude a lad as e'er leev'd, aiblins Elspeth 'n mysel' 'd daurna cross 'm in 's ain affairs. Th' lass 'd said 'm nay: it's th' lass Jean she'll greet fur, no the lad, though happen she'll miss him too, fur they wus aye thegither. An' noo, Jeems McAlpin, we'll canna live thegither in peace 'n luve, we'll juist pit oop th' fence atween 's, 'n we'll hae na quarrel but th' ain thet's broken frienship 'twixt yours 'n mine."

"I'll no say ye nay in this, Sandy: mine hae broken th' bond o' frienship, 'n till ye spoke, I'd forgotten th' lassie in the haver o' Douglas flittin'. I'd thocht th' trubble was a' oor ain, as it's o' oor ain makin', 'n I ne'er thocht on th' bonnie bit lass I hae dandled on my knee wi' my ain in the days lang syne. Gie 's yer haun, Sandy, mon! we'll pit oop the fence, but we'll hae na mair wards: 't 'll juist be as though ain ud buried th' ither."

Solemnly the two men clasped hands across the log that constituted the line; a lump in each man's throat choked him, and, each fearing to have the other see the moisture under his eyelids, turned and silently walked away.

The fence was put up, each man doing his share of the work when the other was in the back fields. The summer was getting well worn away. Rob did not come back for the harvest, but wrote his father to get a man for extra work, and he would pay him. The estrangement fell hard on Jean and Phemie; many times in the night each would waken with a sense of some trouble overwhelming them ; the first thought on awakening would invariably be to go to the other for comfort, and the sadness would be intensified when fully roused to the situation.

Jamie was the more patient with Margaret in the matter, through feeling that a word from him in time would have set matters right. Jamie, though slow of perception, was the soul of honor, and he felt that, had he done by his lad as he would wish to have been done by, the whole affair might have had a different ending; but his Scotch love of teasing got the better of him, with disastrous consequences to more than one. As if by common consent, the incident—even the existence of the other family—ceased to be mentioned. One thing Jamie insisted on: Sandy should not be driven out of his church. St. Andrew's had been their home for many years. So Margaret, Jamie and Jean went to Smith's Falls; it was a twelve miles drive, but the trips seemed to have a wonderfully soothing effect on his mind: yet, stern Protestant that he was, he would not liked to have had it called doing penance. To Mr. Romaine he told—taking as much blame to himself as possible—what happened, as he must give a satisfactory explanation for leaving St. Andrews. Mr. Wilson also was made a confidant. Jean finally told Mr. Maxwell, because there was no way of getting rid of doing so. Everyone else was left to draw their own conclusions, which, of course, everyone did—no two exactly alike, and no one absolutely correct.

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