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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 30

"What though upon her speech there hung
The accents of her mountain tongue,
Those silvery sounds, so soft, so dear,
The listener held his breath to hear."

THE three men were impressed by Jamie's dream.

"You have given us encouragement, McAlpin," said Lewis, as they were saying good-night.

"It may be only a day-dream, as you say, McAlpin, but even the thought of it will pay a man for many 'days of toil and nights of waking'," Dr. Christie said.

"Keep on 'dreaming,' Jamie," said Mr. Lees, "it will give us heart to work."

Jean and the Misses Fitzgibbon entered on a pleasant and instructive interchange of civilities. They had a slight previous acquaintance, through purchase of floss and Berlin wools made for Jean— from a carefully prepared memorandum—by someone going and returning via the canal, which was only a couple of blocks from the store kept by these ladies, at the corner of Rideau and Sussex. This was in the days when the outside of letters (there were no envelopes, letters were neatly folded and sealed with wax) bore, besides the address, more often "By kindness of -------" than a Government stamp. Jean had not been idle while in Montreal; that is, she had made the most of her opportunities while there, and had mastered not a few new stitches, which were exchanged with Miss Fitzgibbon for other few of a different kind, to the profit of both parties. And she revelled in the pretty things with which the store was filled, goods devoted exclusively to women's and children's use. Beautiful sheeny ribbons, in pale shades, with knots of flowers in color and form so natural you would want to pick a bunch for a nosegay; chenilles in rainbow tints and dainty fluffiness, gorgeous patterns for "Berlin wool work," dogs, cats, lions and birds, that were to have yellow beads for eyes. Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazine were also kept, and many more things that we will never think of again.

Jean had many commissions to execute for people on the Line, and great care must be taken in the selection and matching; this gave her more than one hour in this attractive spot, the exclusive-ness of which was one of its principal attractions.

But the hours that pleased Jean most of all were those spent with Mrs. Stewart, when Mrs. Stewart called to see Margaret, and when Jean went to see her in her pretty cottage on Wellington street at the bend of Lyon. Mrs. Stewart was "frae th' Hielan's," and a Presbyterian—the bonds of sympathy were strong; and with Mrs. Thomas McKay —both gentle, gracious ladies whom it was a pleasure to meet. At their request Jean sang in St. Andrew's Church.

"I wish we could keep you here, lassie," Mrs. McKay said, after the first Sunday.

"I would like 't mysel," answered Jean. "I'll ne'er thocht I'll could like ony place that wisna hame sae weel."

Mr. Cruickshank came next day to personally thank her. He had several times assisted Mr. Wilson on Communion Sundays, so was quite well acquainted.

"You gave us a treat, Miss McAlpin, that we will remember a long time," he said. "It is a Divine gift, this gift of song, and brings us very close to the Great White Throne, and the harpers' harping."

"I'll ae feel better mysel' when I'll hae sung th' Psalms on th' Lord's Day," responded Jean.

"You are a true worshipper, and I almost envy Mr. Bayne. You must sing for us as long as you are here," Mr. Cruickshank said.

" I'll sing in St. Andrews 's lang 's I'll be near you, wi' pleesure; it's no muckle t' dae f'r th' Laird."

Jean was a beautiful woman, tall and slender, with a crown of golden hair, and clear, true, blue eyes; softest and whitest skin, and the old ready, merry smile. More than one turned to look after her as she came out of church, and more than one, in their mind's eye, looked after her when at last the day came when the homesick wanderers could feel, as they stepped on board the Beaver, that the last stage of their journey was begun.

Douglas, Sandy and Elspeth met them at Oliver's Ferry, and they were borne in triumph back to dear familiar scenes. It was May-Day when they left Bytown, and at daybreak next morning they were shaking hands "wi' th' fowk frae hame." They all rode in the one wagon, three women in one seat and three men in another.

And what a "clattering" there was, all—save Douglas—talking at the same time. Elspeth told Margaret all about the hoose 'n byre.

"Ye'r bossies 'r fine growed oop kye th' noo," she said: "I'll wunner 'll th' knaw ye? Douglas 'll hae dune weel wi' th' chuckies. He'll hae soom o' thae Shanghai's 't 'll hae nae need till fly, th' 'll can juist step ower a fence.''

The fence that had with so many heartaches been put up had again been razed, a log at a time, until an ordinary barnyard fowl would have found little difficulty in stepping over.

The branches of the trees as they drove along looked like huge green marabout feathers, so flimsy and dainty was the new leafage, and the air quivered with the songs of birds, that, since the advent of the English sparrow, have gone from us. Bees were busy—as they proverbially are—and more than once the men pointed out a "tree" to each other; hepaticas, the sweet blossoms that come before old winter is quite away and bid us hope, were gone now the spring they had come to herald was herself speaking to us, but trilliums ran riot in great banks of red and white. The three who had missed one year of this drew in great draughts of it as they drove along.

"Phemie 'll see naething like this," said Jean. "Wull she no' be hame 'till th' spring's gane?"

"She's tae sail th' first ship in April," said Elspeth, with a note of joyful expectancy in her voice, "aiblins I'll no' ken th' noo hoo 't 'll be."

She did not say any more; she and Sandy had discussed the question of announcing the contents of Philip Maxwell's letter, and decided, as Phemie might not consider the matter favorably, they had better wait until a letter came from her, and, if there was to be nothing more to tell, they would never speak of the receipt of the letter.

Before nightfall Jamie had been over every cultivated field of his farm; he was proud of Douglas' farming as he had been of his ambulance building. Philip had put him up to a good many clever ways of doing things, these he had been making use of during the year he had been in charge, and Jamie noticed many marked improvements. Crop rotations, new ways of caring for stock, mulcting with wood ashes, and many other new kinks. Douglas had tried everything with such good results that last year's crop astonished Jamie, while Margaret was like a child over the byre. But what best pleased Jamie was to once more see Margaret walking about the kitchen, slow and limping her movements were, but she had eyes for everything, and—must we say it—her tongue was not much tempered, and this Jamie found no fault with, indeed, he seemed to derive much comfort from a round rating.

Margaret began very cannily to find out how matters stood between Douglas and Phemie, and experienced no little disappointment when she learned, from Douglas himself, that he had not spoken to her ; in fact, had made no effort to meet her since coming home. Margaret did not like this, but was cheered by the thought that Phemie was coming home soon; and with the old relations re-established, there would be nothing to hinder a speedy and satisfactory arrangement. Douglas was changed she knew, but this would only dispose the lassie's heart towards him.

So she went very contentedly to work re-adjusting her household, for Douglas had also introduced innovations here of which she did not fully approve, though they might be well enough for the kind of housekeeping a man would do; and Douglas was very glad to resign his post as housekeeper and now be able to spend all of his time on the farm.

Mr. Romaines came out to see them, and was rejoiced at the reconciliation, though regretting the losing them from Smith's Falls; they would all go to St. Andrews together again. In Smith's Falls they would miss Jean's singing, and Jamie had been a tower of strength financially; this, however, they could yet depend on, for Jamie would never forget the welcome extended to them in the Smith's Falls St. Andrews, and the Smith's Falls people never forgot them. As soon as the McAlpins had had time to rest from their journey, and get settled down to routine living, they all came out.

One came whom Jean was sorry to see—though she could not refuse him a welcome—and he came alone. When in Montreal he had called on them, Jean had, with a woman's intuition, noticed something that grieved her. She was growing wise in her generation; to-day she knew she would have to say "no" to John Milburn.

He tied his horse outside the gate and came up the path, lightly swinging a whip and humming in a musical tenor, "Home again, home again from a foreign shore."

"A thousand welcomes, Mrs. McAlpin," he said cheerily, meeting Margaret first.

Jean had slipped out of sight in a vain endeavor to put off the evil day. Not seeing Jean, he asked a little anxiously:

"Miss McAlpin has not given us up and returned to the greater attractions of the mountain city, has she?"

"Na, na, Jeanie 'll be as glad till get hame 's ony o's; she 'll be no' far awa," answered Margaret.

Jean would not give her mother needless steps in searching for her, so made her appearance.

"Here she is," he cried, joyfully, as she opened a door. "I had quite a turn, Miss McAlpin, at not finding you; I feared you had deserted us and gone back to the attractions of the city.''

"I'll be aye sittin' on a bit bench b' th' dure so 't aebody wha'll want till see me 'll no' hae till speir whaur I'll be," quickly responded Jean with her old sauciness, wishing, at the same time, she could say enough to "pit him frae thinkin' o'r."

"Montreal has not spoiled you; I was afraid I should find someone else whom I would have to get acquainted with all over again," replied Mr. Milburn, laughing happily.

"Happen 't would be juist 's weel; variety 's th' spice o' life," Jean said, precipitating what she would have liked to avoid.

"No, it would not have been as well, for me, at least; it is the bonnie Scotch lassie I love, and to have found her speaking in another tongue would have disappointed me sorely." He was not looking at Jean as he spoke, else he would have seen how useless all this was.

Jean had been trying to signal Margaret to remain in the room, but Margaret seemed both blind and deaf, for she walked out without paying the slightest attention.

"You must have seen how much I care for you, Miss McAlpin, Jean, I have loved you since the day we washed dishes together at the pic-nic. Your mother will not need you now, Jean; will you be my wife?"

Poor honest John Milburn. It was too bad, but I am afraid the uppermost sentiment in Jean's heart towards him that minute was a feeling of irritation—not for publication; she will guard it as carefully as the editor-in-chief does pro bonum publico's every-day name—still, it was there, and she had to wait a second to prevent her voice betraying it.

"I'll appreciate th' honor ye'll hae dune me, Mr. Milburn, but I'll ne'er could mairry you. I'm sorry you'll thocht on me as aething but a frien'." She was relenting as she saw his downcast looks.

"I knew I was not worthy of you, Miss Mc-Alpin, but if love would make up for many deficiencies, you have my whole heart and might command me to all of my kingdom. I never knew anyone to be compared to you in the least, and the Scotch tongue, which has been the sweetest music to me, will now always seem to be chanting a requiem."

"Dinna say that, Mr. Milburn; th'll be ither lassies bonnier far than me; whiles you'll forget me and be happier wi' some ane else," she said, kindly, beginning to feel very sorry for him ; perhaps, after all, he couldn't help it—Douglas could not help loving Phemie.

"I will never forget you," he said huskily; "I am sorry I------no, I am not," he added, correcting himself; "it has been a relief to tell you this—and why shouldn't I tell you I love you? I am glad to love you, and glad to have you know it; but I will not weary you any more."

He turned to go, as Margaret re-entered the room and hospitably urged him to remain to supper.

"Thank you very much, Mrs. McAlpin, but duty beckons me in another direction. Remember me to Mr. McAlpin, and say we will be glad to see him at the Falls again," and he was gone.

"A fine lad, yon; he'll mak a mark in th' warld soom o' thae times," was Margaret's only comment.

Jean had a great deal to say to herself on the subject, but what it was we cannot record.

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