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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 19

"But here, alas! for me nae mair
Shall birdie charm, or floweret smile;
Farewell, the bonny banks o' Ayr,
Farewell, farewell! sweet Ballochmyle."
—Old Ballad.

PERHAPS never in Margaret's life had the future looked brighter to her than it did that night. She had thought everything out to her own satisfaction, and the future she had arranged for everybody was all that anyone could ask for; she was pleased with herself, and was thoroughly imbued with the comfortable glow that people feel after doing a good action. Jean slept with her, and she talked far into the night—long afterwards Jean remembered this, and how busy her mother was that day, doing all sorts of odd work, arranging for Jean's comfort while she was away. The more she thought of it, the more feasible her plan appeared, until she could almost smell the heather. Jean, rejoicing at anything that brought back the old happy conditions, encouraged her mother by a lively interest in the project. It was in the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal'" ere she closed her eyes.

There was the faintest glimmer of light when she awoke, with a strange feeling; she thought someone was calling her; her feet were on the floor ere she was half awake; she looked to see if Margaret was asleep, and she was not in bed. Donning her dress with trembling hands, she ran into the outer room, calling "Mither, mither!" There was no reply. The back door stood ajar, through it and down to the barn she ran, still calling, and still getting no answer; the calves were huddled in one corner of the byre—Jean just glanced over the big fence at them—something on the ground attracted her attention. Her heart stood still: Margaret lay motionless, the calves gathered round gazing won-deringly at her. In less time than we are telling it, Jean was over the fence and beside her mother; stooping, she laid her hand over Margaret's heart.

"Thank th' gude Laird, it's ae beatin'," she said; "mither, mither, canna ye speak till me?"

Running to the brook, which was only a few steps away, she filled a dipper always kept there, and returning dashed the water in Margaret's face. In a moment she slowly opened her eyes.

"Oh, mither, what'll be the maitter? Are ye sair hurted?" cried Jean.

"I'll feel's I'll be broken in twa," said Margaret. "I'll canna move."

"Can ye bide a bit 'n I'll rin ower till Sandy's 'n get some one till helpit me cairry ye ben th' hoose?"

"Na, na," said Margaret, in as near a scream as her physical condition permitted. "Ye'll no bring Elspeth Douglas 'n th' lass till me noo I'll be want-in' help. I'll sent them awa' when I's weel."

"Mither," reassured Jean, "you'll canna lie here, 'n the's no' ane near but thae."

"I'll no' hae ony o' Elspeth Douglas' till coom an' keek at me; ye'll no' bring ane o' thae." Margaret tried to rise, but fell with a groan.

Jean screamed at this, but there was no one near to heed her. She was afraid of the effect on her mother if she disobeyed her. She was nearly beside herself; finally she asked:

"Mither, can I'll go till Pat. Copeland's, his wumman'll happen cud help me?"

"Ay, ye'll can gae an' dinna be lang."

There was no need to have given this last caution; Jean ran like a deer to the house first, and fetched a warm shawl and a pillow; after making Margaret easier with these she was off again. In less than half an hour she and Pat. Copeland's stout good-natured wife had let down the fence, carried Margaret into the house, and laid her on her own bed.

Saving a low moan as they lifted her, Margaret did not utter a sound, but perspiration stood in great drops on her forehead, showing that she was suffering keenest agony. Jean had to tell Mrs. Copeland her mother's positive commands that none of Sandy's family were to be called on for aid. Mrs. Copeland understood and appreciated this feeling, and as she lived nearest the McAlpin's, and had had many a good turn from them, she was very willing to help at such a time as this.

The doctor must be brought; the horse Jean always drove to Smith's Falls was in the stable; between them they harnessed this, and Mrs. Copeland drove off as fast as the horse was capable of travelling, coming back with the doctor in less than two hours.

The doctor looked grave, after making an examination. There was a compound fracture of the femur, with possibilities of spinal concussion. He reduced the fracture, moved Margaret while the feather bed was taken off, left medicine to correct feverish tendencies; told Jean to keep the patient perfectly quiet as to both mind and body—particularly to not allow any mental excitement.

"And Jamie's away! that's it, never knew a man to be at home when he was wanted," he grumbled, while deftly arranging around the bed for the patient's comfort; "here, you're going to be cross as two sticks, and you'll wear this girl out. Sandy's "—he started to say Sandy's wife had better be sent for, when, noticing the flush creeping over Margaret's face, he remembered in time the estrangement between the families and changed to—"Campbell's wife is getting along famously now; I will drive old Dobbin back, and send Granny McCulloch up to you; she'll keep you where you belong, and I will come up again to-night myself."

Mrs. Copeland stayed until Granny came—not that there was much to be done, for Margaret had been slandered when the doctor said she would be cross; she just lay there, quietly thinking, and making no plaint whatever; little by little she told Jean how it happened. There was a great bawling among the calves in the byre; she dressed hastily and went out with a lantern to see what was the trouble; what was annoying the pets must have left at sight of the lantern, for there was nothing in the byre but the calves themselves when she reached there. Coming out again, the board which was placed, one end on the ground, the other on the next to the top log, must have slipped, for just as she got to the top she fell, and how long she had been there she had not the faintest idea.

Granny McCulloch, as everyone knows, was a past-master in nursing; this was before the days of the "trained nurse." When she arrived Jean found her occupation gone, but this only left her time to look the whole situation squarely in the face.

She went up-stairs and threw herself on her bed in an agony of sobs, it was so dreadful; how happy her mother had been yesterday, with hopes and plans for the future; and Jean knew, by the grave, sympathetic look on the doctor's face Margaret would never see Scotland again. The estrangement with the McGregor's was nothing to this, but just now Jean would have given a great deal could Phemie have knelt by her bedside and comforted her. Rob she did not dare think of, this sorrow was too great for one selfish thought, but "if Margaret could only have Elspeth beside her." Jean hoped Elspeth would come to them when she knew their terrible trouble.

What a shock all this was going to be for Jamie; there was no way of reaching him, or getting him home any sooner than the day after to-morrow, the day he had intended returning. There was no immediate danger, that was as far as Jean dared hope. She knew that trouble came to all, that sorrow and death entered every family, but that thought never made grief the less poignant. Yesterday had been so full of bright promise, to-day the cup of sorrow was flowing over.

She could not stay long upstairs, neither could she work; she crept down and sitting close beside her mother, took her hand and held it as though she could keep her that way.

"Dinna be frighted, lassie," said Margaret to comfort her; "I'll no' be that bad, baynes 'll oft get splintered but th' aye mend."

"If 't d' ony been me, mither," wailed Jean.

"Na, na, lassie, it 's no' for th' bairns t' be lyin' here. I'll be auld, happen I'll could dae wi' a rest; aiblins I'll be unca sorry for your faither; tae think that my bonnie bossies suld hae dune this!"

It was bad enough in the day-time, but through the long dreary hours of the night it was the keenest torture; how the hours dragged, every one seemed a week long. Granny dozed, but wakened and was alert enough on the slightest stir. At midnight she had her cup of tea and vainly tried to persuade Jean to join her; Jean thought she would never eat again, she was choking now.

Next day the neighbours began to come in; this in one way dulled the keenness of Jean's grief. She had to tell, over and over again, how it happened. Margaret couldn't be talked to; feverish symptoms had begun, and Granny excluded everyone from the room unless for just a look. Jessie McLaren insisted on remaining all night, and she really was very good company, and comforted Jean not a little.

Jean had plenty to do, for most who came had either dinner or supper (to enter a neighbour's house and go away without eating was a thing unheard of). The byre was to mind and the butter to make, and every fifteen minutes she had to run in and ask her mother how she felt.

Some one told Jamie before he got to his own gate, and the first shock was over before he came in the house; but the lines of sorrow on his face told of a depth of feeling, quiet easy-going Jamie might not have been deemed capable of.

Granny came out to caution him against exciting her patient, but she needn't have done it; Jamie might tease a "well body," but, though his experience was limited, he knew just as well what to do in a sick room as Granny did.

He hushed Margaret and would not let her talk —told her it was no' so bad a way to keep her in the house, that now he would have a chance to show her how he could mind bossies. Jean brought his supper, and he ate it by the bedside—he made great pretences at eating, but the dishes were carried away nearly as they came. Jean told him, in the course of the evening, how her mother felt about Sandy's family, but adding her hopes that Elspeth would come of her own accord.

It was not because Elspeth did not think of it that she did not go, or that her heart did not long to be with the friend of her girlhood and to comfort Jean,—just as Jean was hoping she would come, she was hoping they would send for her.

"Oh, mither, it is so sad!" exclaimed Phemie; "what shall we do?"

"We'll can do naething, lass," answered Elspeth. "I would gie Margaret McAlpin th' half o' what I'll hae this meenit; but till gang ower 'n hae 'r think I'll was sae muckle peart t' get rid o' my lassie I'll took th' chance when she's on her bed 'n needin' help tae mak oop till her—we'll canna gae near 'r,' 'n I'm sick 'n sair at th' thocht o't."

When Sandy came home he commended El-speth's position.

"I'll gied my left haun till help Jeems McAlpin, 'n I'd maist gie my richt th' noo, aiblins I'll no' hae 'm think I'll took th' time o's trubble t' thrust my family on 'm."

As soon as Jamie recovered sufficiently from the shock to discuss Margaret's condition, the doctor told him she must be taken to a larger place, and where there would be greater conveniences for treating trouble that was going to result from her striking against a sharp edge of something—probably the board—as she fell. Proper treatment now —or as soon as the fracture was sufficiently repaired to admit of her being moved—might be beneficial; did she not receive it, she was in a serious condition.

"She wull gang whaure'er ye'll tell me," said Jamie; "gin ye'll ken what'll save her, dinna be feart t' speak o't. I wad leev on a crust mysel t' keep her wi' me."

"Jamie, I am sorry for you," said the doctor, extending his hand; "but don't give up hope—she may be with you many a year yet; and we will arrange about the change as soon as she can be moved."

Jamie wrung the doctor's hand in silence and then turned back to the house, which was so forlorn, feeling that the sun of his life had set.

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