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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 20

"We twa hae run aboot the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine,
But we've wandered mony a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne."

"THERE is nothing so strange in life as living!" That we must live when we do not want to, and cannot when we do! Our cherished plans are as naught in the eyes of the Master; just while we are pluming ourselves in anticipation of much pleasure and profit resulting from a well-laid plan, He draws a line clear across the face of it, and we must begin anew. It is hard to see our work defaced: to have to begin at the beginning, on a new sheet, this time fearful of the result. Yet, as we work on, and on, the work is easier, the lines are truer, firmer, and the design is purer: it is not so much of the earth, earthy: until many plans have been destroyed, and many new ones made, and thought is given to the character of each, as well as to the symmetry; then, and then only, will the Master say "Well done." We look backward and see how crude the work of our apprentice days was; we have climbed, step by step; we are nearer the Master.

As Margaret lay and thought, when it was all she could do, for the doctor had forbidden her to knit—which was the only thing she could do lying in bed—many strange fancies flitted through her brain. With all of Jamie's and Jean's enforced cheerfulness she realized that her condition was a serious one. She looked around on her household gods and felt that the time was short until they— those treasures that she had gathered and cared for—would have passed by right into other keeping. More than ever she felt that the lassie whose tottering steps she had guided should be her heir. Jean, in spite of her independence, would some day marry and awa', then none but Phemie should reign here as she (Margaret) had done. Her first plan had gone "aglee," but she began over again, this time with less thinking of self. Now, in "her mind's eye," she could see Phemie tripping through the house, adding deft, dainty touches, as Margaret knew Jean could, if she would let her—which she wouldn't—and Douglas happy, and contented to stay in the home she had helped build for him. For herself there was now no thought of earth, save a grassy mound on which the dews of heaven would fall; and yonder, a seat, if might be, at the foot of the Lord's table.

"Jean, lass," said Jamie, a few days after the doctor had spoken to him of the necessity for more than ordinary surgical skill in the treatment of Margaret's injuries; "th' doctor wull hae 's tak' your mither awa' till ither doctors."

"I'll ha' been waitin' for you to say 't, faither," said Jean, in a hushed voice; "I'll kenned she's been waur than she'll telt us o'."

"Th' doctor says 'at th' ither doctors 'll ken mair than him, an' will hae better ways o' workin', an' can dae 'r gude," said Jamie; "but I'll no ken hoo we're tae get 'r awa' an' whatever t' dae wi' th' fairm 'n th' beasties; she'll no' hae things gang wrang, 'n we'll daurna cross 'r."

"Did you think tae gang wi' 'er yer lane, faither?" asked Jean.

"Na, na, lass," said Jamie in affright. "Ye'll nae leave 's; I'll couldna care her alane; she'd weary for a lassie's hauns 'round her."

"I'll no' leave you, faither, whiles ye'll need me," answered Jean.

"Ye're aye a comfort t' me, Jeanie, lass," Jamie replied, stroking her hair, "'n noo ye'll hae tae tak' your mither's place 'n tell me hoo we'll can get a' things best dune; I'll no' ken when we's tae gang, 'r where, 'r hoo lang we'll be tae bide 'till th' doctor has his say."

"Wad ye no' like Douglas tae coom hame, faither?" asked Jean.

"Ay, lass, I'll thocht on 't, but I'm maist feared till ask him, feart he'll say na," said Jamie.

Then Jean told him of Margaret's well arranged plan, so sadly broken in on. There were tears in Jamie's eyes when she ended.

"Puir lassie," he said, "she'll left th' heather for me; she'll could hae had ither lads an' bided at hame; gin I'll could gie 'r my ain life, I'd dae it wullin'."

"Gin th' docthers can help 'r wi' 's, faither, happen we'll tak' her ower th' sea yet," Jean said, in cheery tones of comfort, though her own heart was like lead.

A few days later the doctor said: "Can you fix a sleigh comfortable enough to drive by easy stages to Montreal."

"I'll can fix th' sleigh so there'll be no' much joltin'," answered Jamie, "aiblins 'twould tak' a week; could she staun th' trip?"

"She had a wonderful constitution to begin with, which is greatly in her favor," replied the doctor; "with the care that you will know how to give her, she can make the trip without additional injury. I have written Dr. Powell, and expect to hear from him next week; then, if you can get affairs here in shape to leave, you might go in two weeks."

"We'll gang whenever you say't Marget can be moved, doctor," answered Jamie, "gin we'll hae t' leave th' hoose 'n byre tae care itsel'."

The doctor broke the news to Margaret.

"Jamie and I are talking of treating you to a trip to Montreal, Mrs. McAlpin, as soon as those bones are knit so there will be no danger of their shaking apart again. Would you like to go on a junketing tour?"

"Gin 's faither 'll write for th' lad till coom hame, I'll gang, gin ye'll think I'se better," Margaret answered.

It was easy, after all. Jamie wrote Douglas, but as letters did not travel by steam in Ontario in forty-three, the two weeks were up before Douglas answered—as he did—in person.

Margaret knew his step, and forgetting, in her joy, that the hand of affliction had been laid on her, she started to rise and meet him; but, almost as soon as the effort was made, her head was on the pillow again, and she was compressing her lips to keep from an expression of pain. Highland women are not, as a rule, demonstrative, but this was what official correspondence termed an "extraordinary" occasion. Douglas realized now, as he never had before, how deeply his mother loved him, and that a certain unreasoning jealousy, born of this love, was the ruling cause in the deed that had blighted his life.

Margaret did not say, as many mothers would have done:

"Forgive me, lad, I have caused you sorrow. I see everything clearer now, and will do what I can to make amends."

In fact, she carefully avoided any reference to the past, but of the present and the future she chatted gaily, thus very much relieving Douglas' mind as to her condition.

"Did yer faither write ye 'at the're tae gie me a trip tae Montreal, that I'll haena seen sin' the day I'll cam thro', juist aff the 'Commerce'," she said, in as light-hearted a tone as though the proposed trip was purely a pleasure jaunt.

Douglas could not so easily recover himself. The year and a half, in which we have wholly lost sight of him, had worked far greater changes with him than with any one of the other three; with them, only the "to be expected" had happened. To Rob self-reliant young manhood, to the girls added grace and dignity, had come. Douglas had aged; there was a reserve and gentle dignity in his manner which compelled even Margaret's respect. The lad she sent away was gone forever: had she seen him buried she could not have realized this more keenly. But the mild, grave, seemingly middle-aged man who had come in his place endeared himself to her in the few days that elapsed between his coming and her departure for Montreal.

He knew just how to arrange for her comfort and safety during the trip that was either to help her or to assure her that her work here was finished.

Jamie, too, was somewhat in awe of this man who had come back in place of his lad, and deferred to him in every arrangement.

"If we'll could ony hae a kiver tae pit awa' oop ower her heid, like thae gipsy lads," Jamie said; "do ye no' think, Douglas, we'll could fashion ane?"

"I'll gang doon 'n spier at William Rutherford," replied Douglas; "gin he'll could mak' me soom hoops, I'll soomway think I'll could fix a bonnie wee hoosie, 'n sae warm she'll ne'er ken she's awa' frae hame."

William Rutherford stared at him, when he entered the shop and extended his hand.

"'N wha's this?" he said, "it'll seem I's ought tae mind ye?"

"It'll be a puir welcome hame, William, wi' naebody till mind ane; mony a stoot ash I'll hae helpit ye choppit."

"Gude save 's, it's Douglas McAlpin! gie 's yer haun, Douglas, lad,—'r happen I suld say mon; fegs, I's hairdly believe ye yet."

"Sae lang a time awa' 'ill be makin' a differ'," replied Douglas.

"Ay, it'll hae mad' a differ', aiblins th' time 's no' sae muckle lang either, 'n ye're aulder noo 'n yer faither," grunted William Rutherford; "ye were a bonnie lad, wi' a skin like a lassie's, yer hair in gowden rings, an' yer een sae bright; noo, th' rosies hae left yer cheeks, 'n th' gowd's faded frae yer hair. Oh! aiblins lads hae tae grow oop men, no' wumman bodies. What'll ye hae me dae for ye th' day?"

"Ye'll ken we're till tak' mither till Montreal; I'll want a braw kiver mad' ower th' sleigh, sae she'll no' feel th' cauld blasts," replied Douglas.

"Mon, 't wad tak' a month till mak' 't richt," answered William.

"It would no'," Douglas said; "I'll ken whaur th's soom ribs o' a tent, gin Captain McMillan 'll sell them tae me; 'n the's piles o' gude, stoot tent-claith doon 't th' auld store in a muckle box; faither helpit William Pitt pack't awa' himsel'; I'll bring th' sleigh doon aifter dine 'n thegither we'll mak' 't."

"You can have the sticks, and right welcome, Douglas," said Captain McMillan; "your father paid for them in many ways long ago, and your mother was always a good neighbour. I will come down and see how you are getting the sleigh fixed."

Col. Taylor had charge of the unused implements, etc., and was very glad to exchange so many pounds of tent-cloth for an adequate sum in currency. Douglas then went to a blacksmith's shop and had wire coiled into five springs. Early in the afternoon they began construction, everything having been gathered at William Rutherford's. The springs were fastened firmly to the bottom of the sleigh, on these a home-made mattrass was to be spread; the corner was made with the back end loose, to be raised or lowered at pleasure; blankets were tacked up inside the tent cloth, caught every few inches as comforters are tacked. On one side the two centre ribs were sawn in two and fastened again with a leather hinge, and the canvas loose— fastened, when closed, with buttons—this for convenience in lifting the patient in and out. When completed you could not fancy a cosier carryall for a winter journey.

The whole town gathered to see it.

"Gadsooks, sir!" Doctor Thorn said; "I never saw a finer ambulance. If ever I see service again you shall command an emergency corps."

Rev. William Bell commended it. "It is an exceedingly well contrived cairriage for an eenvalid." Mr. Bell was an especial friend of the young men, and they all held him in high esteem.

When Douglas drove away up the Dine with it next day, the town was pretty well represented in the street on which William Rutherford's shop was built, and when he was out of sight a few who were not needed at home remained in the shop to exchange opinions on matters of importance.

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