Praying Donald's rumbling voice had arisen again. "Yes, oh yes, the evil will be growing; and the Judge will be coming in His wrath and we will jist be like Sodom and Gomorrah!"
"Oh, indeed," broke in Store Thompson, "the good Lord is slow to anger and of great mercy, Donald, ye mind!"
"Mercy!" roared Praying Donald. "Eh, James, do not be deceiving yourselves! He will be just. We must be reaping what we sow. This place is sowing the wind and it will be reaping the whirlwind. 'For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.'"
Long Lauchie came suddenly to the surface, this time with a precious pearl: "And showing mercy unto thousands," he continued softly. "Oh, yes, indeed and indeed, unto thousands, mercy unto thousands!" He sank again into the ocean of his imagination, and the tide of conversation flowed over him unheeded.
"'Visiting the sins of the father upon the children,'" repeated Big Malcolm bitterly. He dropped his head into his hands and groaned.
There was a long silence. These men were facing a great problem in the building up of this new nation, one which presented graver difficulties than they had met even in the toil and stress of breaking the forest. In the early days the social problem had not arisen; the settler had been too busy to permit of its troubling him. He needed all his time and strength to battle with this new land and compel her to give him his due of bread and shelter. But now, the stern young stepmother was yielding to those whom she recognised as worthy to be her sons, and was rewarding them with wider pasture-lands and waving fields of grain. Now the pioneer found time to draw breath and look about him. All through the years of weary hardship, homesickness for the old land had been heavy on his heart and his love for it had grown. And now, with some time for sentiment and reflection, he found his thoughts turning thither; old loves were re-awakened, old traditions revived, old enmities fanned into flame. The still wild stretches of forest called on all sides for wild, free action; the wind swept down over the Oro hills, straight from the vast expanse of the Great Lakes, setting the blood leaping for vigorous action. Little wonder, then, that in their first days of leisure men should go a few steps farther back towards the savage stage from which we are all such a short distance removed. And little wonder, too, that the wiser ones trembled lest their new land of promise, now so smiling, so prodigal of her favours, might be scarred with the marks of evil.
And so, these simple seers, these men, ignorant in the world's wisdom, but many of them secure in the knowledge of One, whom to know is life eternal, turned in their fear and perplexity to the fountain-head of righteousness.
"We must be having a prayer meeting, lads," said Praying Donald at length. "We could be having them all this winter, once a week, and maybe the good Lord will be sending us a minister."
"Eh, if we could get a meenister like auld Angus McGregor!" said Store Thompson. "Ah jist heerd him once, but it was a veesitation, aye, jist a veesitation, like. D'ye mind yon sermon, Lauchie, on 'Simon Peter, lovest thou me'?"
Long Lauchie awoke from his reverie with a start. The mention of the great Scottish preacher set going a train of tender memories. "Eh, Mr. McGregor!" he cried, "Mr. McGregor,—eh, there will not be such men nowadays I will be fearing. He was the man of God, indeed—yes—oh, yes——"
And as he faded away into the distance, the others made the necessary arrangements. They would hold a series of prayer meetings in the Oa and the Glen to last during the winter. Store Thompson made a feeble suggestion that they might join the Methodists, Tom Caldwell's faction in the Flats. For Tom, who was as active at wrestling in prayer as in any other sphere, in company with the population of the Tenth, had secured the services of a primitive Methodist preacher, and was holding nightly meetings in the schoolhouse, where much good was done. But the noisy devotions of the Flats met with little favour in the sight of the Oa. Praying Donald, conscious of the purity of their motive, had visited the Methodists once, and had now little to say in commendation.
"They will be doing the best they know, James," he declared, "but the Lord will be taking no pleasure in tumult and confusion, and we will jist be holding our meetings at the neighbours' houses, whatever."
And so the first meeting was arranged to be held at Long Lauchie's, and, before parting, the little group knelt about the boxes and bales, and in low, solemn tones like the breaking of waves on a rocky shore, Praying Donald besought the Eternal Father for a blessing on this new land and an instilling of the righteousness that exalteth a nation.
The news of the meeting was spread through the community, chiefly by Weaver Jimmie; and was received with much thankfulness by most of the people, who had been longing all the days of their exile for something resembling the church services of the old land.
When the night of the first meeting arrived, Scotty was in a state of carefully subdued excitement. He knew by his grandfather's manner that the occasion was one calling for solemnity of demeanour; but he could not help feeling very much worked up over the thought of going away from home after dark; it made one feel almost as big and important as Callum. He could scarcely believe his senses when they covered the fire, closed the door and all drove away in the big sleigh. Granny sat on the front seat beside Grandaddy, another strange circumstance, for Granny never went anywhere either by day or by night, except when a neighbour was sick. Scotty further emphasised his grown-up feeling by sitting behind with the boys; they conversed in low tones, and Callum said he'd "a good mind to skedaddle off into the bush." But they were unusually quiet. Rory even forbore to whistle, and the boy found he had to amuse himself by peering into the silent blackness of the pine forest, or gazing up at the strip of clear star-spangled heavens that shone between the lines of trees.
Long Lauchie's house, which stood on a hill at the end of a very long lane, was brightly lighted and very silent. This last fact was worthy of note, for what with the misdemeanours of Long Lauchie's own sons, and the assistance they received from Big Malcolm's boys, the place had long been a rival of Pete Nash's establishment for noise, though, happily, it was of a much more innocent character.
The room they entered, kitchen, dining-room and living-room, was furnished, like all the pioneers' homes, with the plainest necessities; but Long Lauchie's family had grown-up girls in it, and the place showed the touch of their fingers; a few bright rugs on the floor, and on the wall some pictures in homemade frames. Then there were some oil lamps, replacing the candles, and the house was so far in the van of progress as to possess a stove, which added not a little to the comfort, and detracted much from the picturesqueness, of the room.
The family consisted of a troop of boys and girls, all ages and sizes, from big, six-foot Hector to little tangle-haired Betty. They were already gathered, and several of the neighbours' families had arrived and were seated on the improvised benches along the wall. There were Praying Donald's family, Store Thompson and his wife, several others representative of the Oa and the Glen, and, of course, Weaver Jimmie.
Jimmie's face shone with soap and excitement, and his manner was a series of embarrassed convulsions; for Kirsty John, the cruel object of his hopeless love, was there. A fine, big, strapping young woman she was, with a strong face, and a pair of fearless, black eyes. She sat bolt upright against the log wall, talking to Mary Lauchie, a sweet, pale-faced girl; and occasionally casting a withering glance in the direction of the bench behind the stove, where the Weaver was alternately striving to efface himself and to attract her attention.
Scotty soon managed to slip away from his grandmother, and join Betty and Peter in a corner. He found them in the same state of subdued excitement as he was himself. Peter informed him in a joyous whisper that there was a big cheese in the cupboard, and a johnny cake and blackberry preserves for the visitors, before they left. Scotty's interest in this delightful disclosure did not prevent his noticing Callum's entrance. Callum had gone with Hector to put up the team and now came marching in, the object of many admiring glances.
He displayed none of Weaver Jimmie's diffidence; but went straight over to where Mary Lauchie sat, and whispered in her ear, and Mary flushed and smiled and her plain face grew quite pretty. Even Kirsty was gracious to the handsome youth, and poor Jimmie nearly twisted his neck out of joint in his jealous efforts to do something commendable in her sight.
But all sounds were suddenly hushed, for Praying Donald was rising to announce the first psalm:
"I waited for the Lord my God, And patiently did bear, At length to me He did incline My voice and cry to hear."
His deep, rumbling voice had just completed the first few lines when he was interrupted by a clatter of bells. The door swung suddenly open, and, to the amazement of all the assembled Scots, in stalked Tom Caldwell with his wife and family!
The appearance of the leader of Methodism in the stronghold of the Presbyterians was naturally unexpected; but Tom Caldwell had been very friendly with the MacDonalds since the day they "cleared the Glen of Popery," as he said, and hearing that they were about to imitate the Flats in having a season of prayer, had journeyed all the way to the Oa, resolved to give the neighbours a helping hand in the good work, and infuse a little life and fire into the dead bones of Presbyterianism.
The leaders arose and shook hands with the newcomer solemnly, but heartily; while Long Lauchie's wife and daughters welcomed the family.
"Sure, it's the right track ye're on, Donald!" cried Tom Caldwell heartily, as he seated himself and gazed happily about him; "the Glen's gettin' to be like Sodom, that's what it is, an' it's mesilf that couldn't be lettin' the matin' pass widout comin' up an' givin' ye a helpin' hand. We'll bring down a blessin', glory be; so let's jist fire ahead an' have a rousin' time!"
The MacDonald brethren looked at each other rather aghast. Tom Caldwell's fervour, though well-meant, was a foreign element, savouring of irreverence and Methodistic confusion; but his hearty good will was irresistible; Long Lauchie gave him the place of honour next to the leader, and the meeting commenced.
Scotty scarcely heard the words of the psalm, for to his delight he found that Nancy had come, too, and was there seated beside her mother. In spite of the fact that Nancy was Irish and tainted with Orange sentiments, Scotty had found it impossible to tear her from his heart. He had long since made up his mind that when he grew big he would go to see her instead of Betty in the evenings. He wondered what Callum would think of her, and glanced up to see that young man staring with all his might at the subject of his thoughts. Nancy was certainly worth a stare; in spite of the fact that she was still at school, she was quite one of the young ladies of the Flats, and when occasion demanded could deport herself quite becoming the name. Her black, curly hair was tied up with a scarlet ribbon that matched her cheeks, her eyes were Irish blue, limpid and dancing, and she had a dimple in the centre of her saucy chin.
Seeing Callum so absorbed, Scotty slid softly up to him. "That's Nancy!" he whispered proudly.
"Is it?" said Callum, with an air of surprise. "Where?"
"Why, there beside Granny, where you're lookin'. Ain't she pretty?"
"Oh, I guess so." Callum showed an indifference that greatly disappointed his nephew. Probably, though, he considered, Callum would not think of admiring an Irish girl.
At that moment the girl raised her eyes and glanced in their direction. She encountered Scotty's eager gaze, and returned it with a brilliant, laughing glance; then her eyes met Callum's and she instantly turned away with a coquettish toss of her head. Scotty felt she surely might have smiled at Callum, too. He glanced up at the young man again and was rather troubled. He was sure Callum must be very angry at either him or Nancy, for he had never seen his face get red like that unless he were in a rage.
But, meantime, Praying Donald had finished the interrupted psalm and Roarin' Sandy had started the tune. The elder men caught it up, then the women, and lastly the young men about the stove, and the song swelled out slow and solemn, the deep, full-chested notes rolling out into the winter night where the glittering stars and the solemn, silent forest seemed to give back in grand reverberations the words:
"He put a new song in my mouth Our God to magnify!"
In the hush that followed, Praying Donald read a chapter from the Holy Word, read it in tones that arrested the most careless listener, and even Scotty felt a little tingle go over him at the yearning words:
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God."
And then they all knelt in prayer, old and young, serious and careless; all bowed before the God for whom their souls, whether they realised it or not, panted as the hart for the cooling streams.
The prayers were all the heartfelt repetition of the sentiment expressed in the psalm. These pioneers were children in a strange land, surrounded by new conditions, and in their wise simplicity went as children to a father for what they most needed. After Praying Donald came Big Malcolm, then Store Thompson, and Roarin' Sandy, and then the leader called upon Tom Caldwell. Tom Caldwell's big Irish heart was overflowing with good-will to his Scottish neighbours; and carried away by his emotions, he prayed long and loud and shouted hallelujahs in a manner that rather alarmed the company. Indeed, Store Thompson's wife, who was considered quite a genteel person in the community, declared afterwards that "it jist garred her ears tingle," and Store Thompson himself, though never given to censure anyone, admitted that though Tom certainly had a fine gift of prayer, he was, "jist a wee thing tumultuous-like."
The meeting had been very solemn and the youngest person there very well-behaved during the earlier prayers, but after Tom Caldwell came the host of the evening, and the young men began to grow restless. For Long Lauchie was never so long as when at his devotions. Indeed, for years it had been the scandal of the Oa that his sons were in the habit of slipping out during family worship to attend to the "chores" about the stable, returning to appear decorously upon their knees when their father arose.
At Callum Fiach's suggestion the "Lauchie boys" even arranged a competition in which the five sons strove to see who could make the longest excursion during prayer-time. The palm was yielded to Hughie, the third son, who crossed the swamp on skis one evening, and saw Kirsty John chase the Weaver from her door with the porridge stick, arriving home, breathless but triumphant, just before the amen was pronounced. No one quite believed Hughie's story, until it was ruefully corroborated by Jimmie himself; whereupon the limit was declared to be reached, and the boys turned their attention to new fields.
But on this first prayer-meeting night, spurred on by the enthusiasm of the company, Long Lauchie bade fair to give his sons ample opportunity to journey through the length and breadth of the township of Oro and return before he was finished. The pious old man had a fine poetic temperament, and to-night he soared beyond anything his family had ever heard. The petition ramified and expanded to an alarming length, and still showed no signs of stopping. Even Mrs. Lauchie, whose chief pride was her husband's devotional fluency, was somewhat concerned.
There was a restless movement among the young men about the stove. Scotty twisted and squirmed and tried in vain to be still. It was very wicked to open one's eyes during prayer, he knew. Roarin' Sandy's Johnny had told him that if he did he might see the Deil standing behind him. And since then Scotty had been divided between dread of the awful apparition and a natural desire to see what his Satanic Majesty looked like. He was ashamed of his restlessness, for Callum was kneeling beside him motionless. Callum would think him a baby if he moved. He peeped cautiously through his fingers at his uncle. Callum was kneeling at the bench, absolutely still, indeed, but with his eyes wide open and staring straight at the black, curly head of Tom Caldwell's daughter.
Scotty felt that if it were not very wicked, he would like to straighten up like that and stare at somebody, too. It looked so big and manly. Mastering his fears, he turned cautiously in the direction of Betty, but Betty had slipped to the floor with her tousled yellow head on the bench, and was sound asleep. Scotty closed his eyes again, the droning voice of Long Lauchie floated farther and farther away, he felt himself going, too, somewhere, into immeasurable space, until at last he dropped into the gulf of oblivion. He half woke to find Granny tying a muffler round his neck. He made an ineffectual effort to stop her, for she was saying, "Eh, eh, Granny's poor, wee, sleepy lamb," and he dreaded lest Peter should hear her; only Peter, like all the other people, seemed an immeasurable distance away. Someone else was bending over him, too, and saying, "And you'll be sure to let him come, then?"
"But I'm afraid he would jist be a trouble to yer mother, Kirsty," Granny answered.
"Tuts, not a bit!" was the reply. "Mother'll jist be glad o' him, an' the wee Isabel would be lonely. Ah'm glad she's comin', for mother's jist wearin' to see her again, an' Miss Herbert's sick, poor lady.".
"Oh, well, indeed he can go, Kirsty, an' I hope he will not be rough with the little lady."
"Not him." Scotty felt a strong, rough hand pass gently over his curls. "When she comes Ah'll send ye word by yon loon o' a weaver. It'll give him somethin' to do, an' the buddie's jist fair in want for a job."
"Ah, Kirsty, Kirsty!" whispered Granny, "it's too hard ye'll be on poor Jimmie. Take my advice an' marry him, he'll be a good man to you, indeed! There's the sleigh. Come, Hamish, lad, take the lamb out, he will be jist dead asleep, whatever."
As Scotty passed out like a sack of potatoes on Hamish's shoulder, the rush of clear, cold air partly revived him. He cuddled under the blanket close to Granny, and dimly heard the good-nights as each sleigh-load moved down the long lane, not gaily spoken as when the neighbours came in for an evening, but low and subdued, for all were under the spell of the season of prayer. He heard Granny say, "Where's Callum? Don't be leaving the lad," and a voice answered, "He's yonder helpin' Tom Caldwell to hitch," and then Callum sprang in, and the sleigh creaked slowly forward, and Scotty slid away once more down the dim road of dreamland.
AN IGNOMINIOUS TASK
Into the dim woods full of the tombs Of the dead trees soft in their sepulchres, Where the pensive throats of the shy birds hidden Pipe to us strangely entering unbidden, And tenderly still in the tremulous glooms The trilliums scatter their white-winged stars. —ABCHIBALD LAMPMAN.
Winter passed, and then came the spring, with its fresh, warm winds coming up from Lake Simcoe and sweeping away the ice and snow in a mad, joyous rush of water.
Scotty went barefoot just as soon as there was enough bare ground to step upon. He seemed for a time to cast aside all restraint with his shoes and stockings, and when not in school lived a freebooter's life in the forest.
He and Bruce spent much time wandering, plundering and exploring from the edge of the corduroy road where the musk and marigolds and fleur-de-lis grew in glorious profusion all through the green and golden depths to where the River Oro slipped from its sweet enthralment of reeds and water lilies to go bounding away down the valley to Lake Simcoe. The whole place was a plantation of treasures and teemed with sounds of life: the blue-jay, the song-sparrow, the robin, the noisy, red-winged black-bird, the plaintive pee-wee, the far-off, clear-ringing whitethroat, the jolly woodpecker, the noisy squirrel, and the shy raccoon—Scotty knew them all intimately, learned their ways and lived their life.
He was given to much idle roaming through the swamp, on the way to and from school, too, and when he went to bring home the cows he remained longer than even Granny could excuse. For that simple task should have been performed in a very short time. He could trace the cattle through the woods with the sure instinct of a sleuth-hound, could distinguish Spotty's tracks from Cherry's, and might have found his own little heifer's in the midst of the public highway. But his skill did not help to make him any more expeditious, for he often forgot his errand and would lie full length upon the ground, gazing up into the restless, swishing, green sea above, and dreaming wonderful dreams. Callum declared he was a lazy little beggar and ought to be cowhided to make him move, though where one could be found to perform that necessary operation the MacDonald family were not prepared to say.
That he did not altogether develop into a little savage was entirely due to Granny's tender care. Nowhere was the influence of her beautiful character felt so strongly as by the little grandson. She, who could command her grown-up sons by her mere presence, and who was slowly but surely transforming Big Malcolm's wild nature, was quietly moulding the boy's character. Scotty early learned the great lessons of life, the lessons of truth and right, and was well grounded in the knowledge of the things that are eternal. He could read the Bible before he ever entered school, and could repeat the Shorter Catechism with a rapidity that sometimes alarmed Granny, as savouring of irreverence. He learned a verse of Scripture by heart every evening of his life, and the Sabbath was a grand review day.
Sunday was always a red-letter day in Scotty's life, for he generally had Granny to himself. Not that the others were away; for Big Malcolm, who generally ruled his household rather laxly, sternly forbade Sabbath visiting. But the boys wandered off to the barn or the woods after morning prayers, and Big Malcolm dozed, or smoked, or read his Bible. And then Granny and her boy would climb the little hillock beside the house and sit under the Silver Maple. This was a fine position, for one could see Lake Oro, stretched out there blue and sparkling in its ring of forest, and far away to the south, a glittering string of diamonds and turquoise where Lake Simcoe lay smiling in the sun, and now and then, where a clearing opened the view, the blue flash of the river. And there, with the soft rustle of the green and silver canopy above, and around the scent of the clover and the basswood blossoms, Scotty lay with his head in Granny's lap and heard wonderful stories of One who sat on a hill and spoke to the multitude as never man yet spake. And never afterwards, though he sometimes wandered from Granny's teachings, did those Sabbath days lose their hold upon his life.
And so the spring slipped into summer, and one evening a new element came into his life. He was lying on the doorstone, his feet in the cool, dewy grass, dreamily watching the fireflies sparkling away down in the pasture by the woods, and listening to the hoarse cry of the night hawks as they swooped overhead. It was a warm evening, and the leaves of the Silver Maple, still touched by the hot glow of the sunset, hung motionless in the still air.
Rory came out with his fiddle, and, sitting with his chair tilted against the house, droned out a low, sweet, yearning song for Bonny Prince Charlie who would return no more, no more. Grandaddy sat near on a bench smoking contentedly. Since the day of the first prayer meeting at Long Lauchie's, Big Malcolm had lived a life of peace, and had once more regained his attitude of happy, kind complacency. Old Farquhar was gone; he had disappeared when the Silver Maple was putting forth its buds, and had gone "a kiltin' owre the brae," as he musically expressed it to Scotty; but everyone knew that he would come back in the autumn as surely as the wild ducks went south. Indoors, close to the candle, sat Hamish poring over "Waverley," and Callum could be heard tramping about in the loft, preparing to go off for the evening. Callum took great pains with his toilette these evenings, Scotty noticed, though the boys did not tease him any more about going to see Mary Lauchie; indeed, there were no more good-natured allusions to his courtship. Instead, Scotty had overheard Rory tell Callum, in the barn one day, that "he'd go sparkin' old Teenie McCuaig, though she was seventy and hadn't a tooth in her head, before he'd be seen going down to the Flats to see an Irish girl." And Callum had seized him by the shoulders and flattened him up against the wall until he roared for mercy. There was always something in the home atmosphere when Callum started off of an evening now that vaguely reminded Scotty of those terrible days following Grandaddy's fight in the Glen. He felt anxiously that his hero was doing something of which his family disapproved, and wondered fearfully what it might be.
His mind was turned from the contemplation of these difficulties by a sudden change in Rory's tune. He stopped in the midst of his low, wailing dirge and struck up loudly the lively air that told again and again of the mirth produced when "Jinny banged the Weaver." Scotty raised his head and looked across the pasture-field. That tune always ushered Weaver Jimmy upon the stage, and there he was, coming over the field, easily recognisable by his huge feet. Before he reached them, the MacDonalds could see that his face was shining with unusual joy.
"Come away, Jimmie, man," called Big Malcolm, "it will be a warm night, whatever."
But the Weaver was too happy to notice anything wrong with the weather. "Hoots, it will be a fine night for all that, a fine night; and how will you be yourself, Mrs. MacDonald?"
"Perhaps you'll find it chilly enough if you go round by Kirsty's, Jimmie," suggested Rory.
"Hooch!" Jimmie flung one leg over the other with more than usual vigour. "And that is jist where you will be mistaken, Rory Malcolm, I will jist be coming from there," he admitted with an embarrassed quiver.
"That's what you're generally doin'; how fast did you come?"
"Whisht, whisht, Rory," cried his mother. "It's the foolish lad he is, Jimmie, don't be listening to him. And indeed it's Kirsty John will be the fine girl, so good and so kind to her poor mother. And how would the mother be to-night, Jimmie?"
"Oh, jist about the same, jist about the same; but," he lowered his voice confidentially, "what do you suppose she would be doin' the night?" "She" was understood to mean Kirsty; for Jimmie never dared take her name upon his tongue.
"Giving you a clout on the head, most like," ventured Rory.
The Weaver did not deign to notice him. "She would be sending me over here on a message!" he cried, and his face shone as if illuminated from within.
"Hech! yon's good news, Jimmie!" cried Big Malcolm. "You're comin' on!"
"She'll be sendin' you on a message to another world some o' these days," said Callum coming to the door, looking very handsome, ready for departure.
"Oh, indeed it's yourself had better be lookin' after your own sparkin', Callum Fiach!" cried Weaver Jimmie jovially. "You'll not be likely to find it as easy as I will, whatever."
Callum turned away with an embarrassed laugh, Rory following him. He did not answer Weaver Jimmie's raillery, as he would have done under other circumstances, for he had caught a look on his father's face that betokened trouble. Big Malcolm's eyes flashed angrily and he took his pipe from his mouth as though to call after his son; but his wife's gentle voice interposed. She had, so far, by her quiet tact, kept the father and son from an open rupture.
"And what would Kirsty be doing?" she asked, striving to keep her anxiety from showing in her voice. A spasm of joy jerked one of the Weaver's legs over the other.
"She would be sending me over here on a message. A good sign, I will be thinkin'," he added, lowering his voice, for the young men were scarcely out of earshot. "Yes, indeed, a good sign, I will be thinkin'. The wee lady from the Captain's came the other day and she would be sending me to get Scotty to come and play with her."
Scotty raised his head. "Hoh!" he scoffed, "play with a girl!"
Big Malcolm laughed indulgently. "See yon, Jimmie!" he said, "he'll not be so anxious to go to Kirsty's as some people, indeed."
Jimmie grinned delightedly. Nothing pleased him more than to be twitted about his devotion to his lady.
"Oh, but he must be going," said Granny. "The little girl would be lonely and I would be promising Kirsty last winter that he would go."
"Grandaddy don't like her uncle, anyhow," said Scotty. Big Malcolm took his pipe from his mouth. The boy had mentioned a fact for which his grandfather had excellent reasons, but he did not choose that it should be made so apparent to the general public.
"That will be none o' your business, lad," he said sternly, "an' when Kirsty wants ye, ye'll go." Scotty made no reply; he was not quite so chagrined as he would have others think. He really wanted to see the little girl with the yellow curls and the big, blue eyes, and demonstrate to her that he was not English, no not one whit.
So the next morning he set off across the swamp towards Kirsty John's clearing. It was a relief that Grandaddy and the boys had gone for a day's work to the north clearing. This was a tract of timber on the shore of Lake Oro which was partially cleared, and upon which Callum hoped some day to settle. The distance to it was some miles, and they had taken their dinner and supper; so Scotty felt his disgraceful secret was safe.
He was a long time on the way, of course, for Bruce had gone to the north clearing too and his master had to do double work in racing after chipmunks. Then he loitered purposely, for he was going for the first time in his life to pay a formal visit, and that to a girl. The situation was such as no discreet person would plunge into without due deliberation.
So the sun was high in the heavens when at last he saw ahead of him the golden light that betokened a clearing, and heard the sound of farm life echoing down the forest avenues.
Kirsty John's farm was a small, rough clearing near the Scotch line. There were two or three fields, and in the centre of them a log shanty and a small stable. Everything about the place was very neat; for Kirsty's mother was a Lowlander and one of the most particular of that great race of housekeepers. The little barnyard, ingeniously fenced off with rough poles, the small patch of grass around the doorway, the neat little flower garden, all showed signs of a woman's tasteful hand. But Kirsty could do the man's part as well. Black John MacDonald had died some years before, leaving his invalid wife to the care of their only child. And Kirsty's care had been of the tenderest; and if in the rough battle of life she became a little rough and masculine, the poor crippled mother felt none of it. Kirsty managed everything with a strong, capable hand, from felling trees to spinning yarn and making butter. She received plenty of help, of course; Big Malcolm and Long Lauchie were her nearest neighbours, and their families vied with each other in seeing who could do the most for her. Weaver Jimmie, too, would have been willing to let the weaving industry go to ruin if Kirsty would but let him so much as carry in a stick of firewood on a winter evening; but Kirsty kept her despised suitor so busy saving himself from violent bodily injury, when in her presence, that his assistance was not material.
Scotty could see her now as he came down the forest path. She was working in the little rough hayfield, pitching up the forkfuls of hay on to a little oxcart with masculine energy. Her skirt was turned up, showing a striped, homespun petticoat, and beneath it her strong bare ankles. Her pink calico sunbonnet made a dash of colour against the cool green of the woods.
Scotty took a leap at the low brush fence that surrounded the clearing and went over it in one bound. Then he stood stock still with sudden surprise; for there, right in front of him, seated on a low stump with an air of patient expectancy, was a small figure almost enveloped in a big, blue sunbonnet.
"Oh!" cried Scotty in amazement.
"Oh!" echoed the Blue Sunbonnet. It came suddenly to life, leaped from the stump and pitched itself upon him. "Oh, oh! I've been watching for you just hours and hours, and I thought you weren't never, never coming!"
The visitor did not know what to say. He was scarcely prepared for such an effusive welcome, and was suddenly seized with a fit of shyness.
"You're Scotty, aren't you?" she asked. He nodded and the vision laughed aloud and clapped its small hands. The blue sunbonnet toppled off, showing a shower of riotous golden curls, tumbled about in delightful confusion; her eyes, big and blue, danced with joy. "Oh, oh, I'm so glad!" she cried. "I 'membered you ever since I saw you in that funny little shop!"
Scotty stared still harder. To hear Store Thompson's establishment designated by such terms was beyond belief.
"I 'membered your eyes!" she added, nodding confidentially. Her baby way of saying "'member" restored Scotty's confidence in himself.
"Well, I will remember you, too," he admitted sedately.
She laughed again and capered about him, while he stood and looked at her rather puzzled. He did not see anything to laugh at, and did not yet comprehend that here was a creature so joyous by nature that she must laugh and dance about from sheer spontaneous delight.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" she reiterated for the tenth time. "I'll race you to the house!"
She darted down the hill like a swallow, her golden hair blown back, her little white bare feet twinkling over the grass. But Scotty was a very greyhound for speed. He leaped after her and in a moment forged ahead. When he had gone sufficiently far to show her how fast he could run, he looked back to find her limping slowly after him. The boy's tender heart, always quick to respond to the sight of pain, suddenly smote him. He ran swiftly back. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"A fisel," she said plaintively, dropping upon the grass and showing him the sole of her tender little foot. Running barefoot was not even to be mentioned at home, and she had not yet grown accustomed to the "freedom of the sod." Scotty, whose sturdy little brown feet were shod with leather of their own making, stared contemptuously; she must certainly be a baby to be hurt so easily. Nevertheless, he bent down and extracted the tormentor with the skill acquired in many summers' apprenticeship. Then he regarded her with half-disdainful amusement, his shyness all vanished.
"Can't you say thistle?" he inquired.
The big blue eyes regarded him innocently. "I did say fisel," she declared wonderingly.
"No, you didn't, you would jist be saying 'fisel.'"
She stared a moment, then laughed aloud, a clear little bubbling irresistible laugh, and this time Scotty laughed with her.
He seated himself cross-legged upon the grass and proceeded to catechise her.
"Your name will be Isabel, won't it?"
"Imph—n—n," the blue bonnet nodded emphatically, "Isabel Douglas Herbert, an' my mamma was Scotch, an' my Uncle Walter says I'm his Scotch lassie."
Scotty nodded approval. He could not quite understand, however, how she could be Scotch and live with the English gentry on the shores of Lake Oro instead of in the Oa.
"Where does your mother live?" he inquired dubiously.
"In heaven," said the little one simply, "an' my papa lives there too."
"Oh," said Scotty, "an' my father and mother will be living there too, whatever." He was not to be outdone by her in the matter of ancestry.
"Do they? Oh, isn't that nice? I guess they visit each other every day. An' you live with your granma, don't you?"
Scotty nodded. "Have you got a Granny too?"
"No, only Granma MacDonald here, but I've got an auntie an' an uncle, an' a cousin. His name's Harold. Have you got a cousin?"
"No." Scotty's face fell. "No, I don't think I will be having any, unless mebby Callum an' Rory an' Hamish would be my cousins, whatever."
"Who's Callum?" Scotty sat up straight, his eyes shining. Callum! Why, he was the most wonderful man in all the township of Oro; and thereupon he proceeded to give her a detailed account of the wonderful achievements of "the boys"; how Callum was so big and so strong and could run the logs down the river better than anyone else; how Rory could play the fiddle and dance; and, oh, the stories Hamish could tell!
The blue eyes opposite him grew bigger. "Oh," their owner exclaimed delightedly, "I'm going over to your place to see you some day, an' we'll get Hamish to tell us 'bout fairies an' things, won't we? You'll let me come, won't you?"
Scotty hesitated. A girl at home might be a great inconvenience and at best would certainly be an embarrassment; but his whole life's training had taught him that one's home must ever be at the disposal of all who would enter, and anyone who would not must be urged, even though that person were the niece of Captain Herbert. So he answered cordially, "Oh, yes, 'course, if you want to come."
Miss Isabel sighed happily. "Oh, I think you're awful nice!" she exclaimed. "And is your name just Scotty?"
"Yes!" cried Scotty, very emphatically, "Scotty MacDonald."
"But that isn't all, is it? There's sumpfin' more?"
"No!" exploded Scotty, "there ain't! Some bad folks would be saying that would be my name; but it will be jist Scotty, whatever. And," he looked threatening, "I don't ever be playing with anybody that would be calling me that nasty English name."
His listener seemed properly impressed. "I won't never call you anything but just Scotty!" she promised solemnly.
A call from the house summoned them; Kirsty had hurried in and was searching the milk-house for bannocks and maple syrup. The children ran through the little barnyard, causing a terrible commotion among the fowl, and up the flower-bordered path to the shanty door. Scotty had not been at Kirsty's since the summer before, when Granny took him to see the poor sick woman who lay in bed weary month after weary month, and now he drew shyly behind his little hostess.
"Come away, Scotty man!" called Kirsty heartily. "Come away, mother's wantin' to see ye!"
The door of the little log shanty stood open, revealing a bare, spotless room with whitewashed walls. There were a couple of old chairs and a rough bench scrubbed a beautiful white like the floor; a curtain of coarse muslin, white and glistening, draped the little window, and a picture of Bobby Burns in a frame made from the shells of Lake Oro, and another of the youthful Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort in a frame ingeniously wrought from pine cones hung on the wall. A tall cupboard and an old clock with its long hanging weights looked quite familiar and home-like to Scotty. But over in the corner by the window was a sight that struck him painfully and made him draw back. An old four-post bed stood against the log wall and in it lay the shrivelled little figure of Kirsty's mother propped up with pillows. She was bent and twisted with rheumatism, like a little old tree that had been battered by storms. But her face was brave and bright, and from it shone a pair of brown eyes with a pathetic inquiry in them as of a dumb, uncomprehending creature in pain. She wore a stiff white cap on her thin grey hair, a snowy mutch covered her poor crooked shoulders, and everything about her was beautifully neat and clean, showing her daughter's loving care.
"Heh, mother!" cried Kirsty cheerfully, "here's Marget Malcolm's boy at last. Come, Scotty, and mother will be seeing how big you are."
The old woman took the boy's sturdy brown hand in her own poor crooked ones as well as she was able, and peered eagerly into his face.
"Eh, eh!" she cried musingly. "He will be some like Marget's lass, but he's his faether's bairn; eh, he's got the set an' the look o' yon fine English callant, forbye the MacDonald eyes."
The aforementioned MacDonald eyes drooped and the rosy MacDonald lips pouted at the word English.
"He's awful nice, isn't he, Granma MacDonald?" whispered the little girl.
The old woman gazed at the little fair face, and then back at the boy.
"Strange, strange," she murmured, half audibly. "It's a queer warld, a queer warld, the twa here thegither, an' ane has a', an' the ither has naething. Mebby the good Lord will be settin' it right. Och, aye, He'll set it richt some way."
The children gazed uncomprehendingly at her, but just then Kirsty came forward with a plate of bannocks soaked in maple syrup, and for a time they gave it their absorbed attention.
Then Kirsty soon had to leave them for her work, and after giving the children the freedom of the clearing, provided they did not go near the well, she rearranged her mother's pillows very gently and returned to the field.
The two sat silent by the bedside. Now that their feast was over, the little girl looked with longing eyes through the doorway; but Scotty felt constrained to wait a few minutes, for Granny had said that Kirsty's mother was sick and lonely and needed comforting.
The old woman looked up with sudden brightness in her eyes. "Can ye read?" she asked eagerly. Oh, yes, Scotty could read, had been able to do so for a very long time.
"I can read too, can't I, Granma MacDonald?" cried the little girl. "I read to you sometimes, don't I?"
"Yes, yes, lassie, ye're jist a wee bit o' sunshine. Eh, what would yer puir auld Granny do if ye didna come to see her in the simmer? But Ah want the laddie to read me the wee bit that Kirsty reads me; ye ken it, bairnie?"
She pointed to the old worn Bible lying on the window sill, with a drowsy blue-bottle fly droning about it. The little girl tripped over and brought it to Scotty.
"I know the place, Granma, don't I?" she chattered; "it's got the blue mark in it. There!" Her rosy finger pointed to a well-worn page, marked by a piece of woven scented grass.
"Aye!" said the old woman, with a satisfied look, "that's the bright bit, lassie; Kirsty leaves a mark for Ah canna read. Eh, Ah wish Ah could jist read yon bit. Ah wouldna mind ony ither, but jist yon. Ah'd like to see hoo it looks." Her wrinkled face quivered pitifully, but she made a brave attempt to smile. "Read it, laddie," she whispered.
Scotty took the book and read where his little friend indicated. He read the Bible every day, and this extract was quite familiar; one wonderful story among the many of the Master's love and tenderness towards all the suffering; Luke's beautiful tale of the poor woman who was bent nearly double and was made whole by the potency of a Divine word. The boy droned laboriously on, and as he came to the words, "And Jesus called her to Him," the old woman put out her feeble hand and caught his arm, her bright brown eyes shining, her withered face flushed. "Aye!" she whispered eagerly, "d'ye hear yon? D'ye hear yon? He called her! Aye!" she continued with an air of triumph, "that's it! Sometimes Ah canna quite believe it, but ilka buddy reads it jist the same; that's it! He called her Himself. Aye, an' a' the ither buddies fleein' aefter Him, an' botherin' Him, but no her, no her! Eh, wasna yon graund! Go on, laddie, go on!" She made a feeble attempt to wipe away the tear that coursed down her wrinkled cheek.
"Eh, isna it bonny!" she cried as the boy finished. "Isna it bonny! Ah suppose Ah'm too auld to learn to read, but Ah'd jist like to read yon bit," she said wistfully.
Little Isabel went softly to her, and tenderly wiped away the tears from the poor old face. "There now, Granma MacDonald," she said in the tender tones she had heard Kirsty use, "you mustn't cry. Maybe Jesus'll come and make you straight too, won't He?"
"Eh, lassie," she whispered, "Ah'm jist waitin' for it. Ah'm houpin' He will. Ah'm jist a burden to puir Kirsty, an' whiles the pain's that bad. Eh, but Ah wish He would. Surely He'd think as much o' me as o' yon auld buddy. Don't ye think He micht, lassie?"
"Course!" cried the little one with the hopefulness of childhood, "course He will, won't He, Scotty?"
Scotty hung his head shyly.
"If Granny was here, she would be tellin' you, whatever," he whispered.
"Aye, that's true, mannie," said the old woman brightening, "Marget McNeil kens aboot Him, aye, she kens fine. Eh, but mebby He will," she whispered. She lay back and gazed through the little window, away over the forest-clad hills and dales to where Lake Oro's shining expanse sparkled through the jagged outline of the treetops. Her lips moved, "He called her to Him," she whispered, "an' He said unto her, 'Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.'" She lay very still, a happy light shining in her eyes; the children waited a moment, and then slipped softly out of doors.
When he found himself alone once more with his new acquaintance, Scotty suddenly became shy again. But his diffidence was put to flight in a summary manner. The young lady gave him a smart slap in the face and darted away. "Last tag!" she screamed back over her shoulder. Scotty stood for an instant petrified with indignation, and then he was after her like the wind. As they tore through the little barnyard Kirsty called to them not to go near the well, but neither of them heard. Into the woods they dashed, over mossy logs and stones, tearing through the undergrowth and crashing among fallen boughs. In spite of her fleetness Scotty caught his tormentor as she dodged round a tree; he held her in a sturdy grip and shook her for her impudence until her sunbonnet fell off. He was somewhat disconcerted to find her accept this treatment with the utmost good humour. Betty would have wailed dismally, but this girl wrenched herself free and laughed derisively.
"You can't hurt like Hal," she said rather disdainfully, "he pulls my hair."
"Well, I'll be doing that too if you slap me again," said Scotty, grateful for the suggestion.
"No, you won't," she declared triumphantly, "'cause then I wouldn't play with you. I'd just go right back to Granma MacDonald and leave you all alone in the bush. An' I wouldn't show you all the places here. There's a king's castle an' a hole where the goblins comes out of, an' a tree where a bad, bad dwarf lives, an'—an'," she was whispering now, "an' heaps of dreadfuller things than that 'way down there." She pointed into the green depths with an air of proprietorship. Scotty felt a deep respect rising in his heart.
He had thought he knew the forest as the chipmunks know it, but here it was in a new and romantic aspect.
"Where are they?" he inquired quite humbly; and, satisfied with his demeanour, his mentor led the way. Though the royal castle proved to be only a rock and the other enchanted places equally familiar to Scotty, she clothed them with such an air of mystery and related such amazing tales concerning each, vouched for by no less an authority than Weaver Jimmie, that her listener regarded them and their exponent with something like awe.
They journeyed on, every new turn revealing untold wonders and giving an added stimulus to the leader's lively imagination. And indeed the forest was a place in which anyone might expect to meet a fairy or a goblin behind every tree. The happy sense of unreality lent by the uncertainty of distances, the airy unsubstantial appearance of the leaf-grown earth; the dazzling splashes of golden light on the green, the sudden appearance of open glades choked with blossoms; and through all the ringing harmony of a hundred songsters combined to make the woods a veritable fairyland.
And Scotty soon found to his joy that he was to have his part in interpreting its beauties too, for Isabel came to the end of her tales at last and was full of questions. What was that sad little "tee-ee-ee," somebody was always saying away far off. It must be a fairy too. But Scotty had come down to realities now, and felt more at home. That? Why, that was only a whitethroat. Didn't she hear how it said, "Hard-times-in-Canady!" She laughed aloud and imitated the song, setting all the woods a-ring with her clear notes. And what made those bells ring up in the tree? Those weren't bells, they were just veerys, and they said, "Ting-a-ling-a-lee!" But the bobolinks had bells; they would go back to the clearing and hear them ring in the hayfield, and there was a meadow-lark's nest there, and lots of plovers; yes, and if she would come down to the creek that ran across the Scotch line he would show her a mud turtle, and they could catch some fish, and there was a boiling spring there, where the water was so cold you couldn't put your feet into it, and it bubbled all the time, even in the winter.
And then they found flowers, oh, so many flowers, big, pink, bobbing ladles' slippers, and delicate orchids and great flaming swamp lilies; and there were wonderful pitcher-plants, too, with their tall crimson blossoms. Scotty explained the workings of the perfidious little vessels, and they sat down and watched with absorbed interest the poor foolish insects slip happily down the silken stairway to certain death. And under Isabel's magic touch the little green pitchers became dungeons, presided over by a wicked giant, and filled with helpless prisoners.
And so they might have rambled in this enchanted land all day had not the woman nature asserted itself. Isabel had had enough of fairies and goblins. They must give up this wandering life and settle down, she declared. They would build a house in the fence corner and carpet it with moss and have clam shells from the creek for dishes. Scotty had fallen quite meekly into the unaccustomed role of follower and was willing that they should go housekeeping, provided he was allowed to play the man's part. He would be Big Wind, the Indian who lived down by Lake Simcoe, and he would go off shooting bears and Lowlanders all day, and she would stay at home and be his squaw and make baskets. But Miss Isabel would be nothing of the kind. She did not like "scraws"; they were very dirty, and came to the back door and sold their baskets. But Scotty might be a great hunter if he wanted, and she would be the lady who lived in the house, and she would cook the dinner and go to the door and call "hoo-hoo" when it was ready, the way Kirsty did when Long Lauchie's boys worked in her fields.
"I see Kirsty now!" she called, seating herself upon a log which formed one side of their mansion. "I see her 'way over yonder!" Scotty seated himself beside her, flushed and heated with the unwonted exertions of house-building.
"Oh, don't you love Kirsty," she cried, giving him an ecstatic shake. "I do; an' I love you, too, Scotty, you're a dear!" Scotty looked slightly uncomfortable, but not wholly displeased.
"Don't you love to run away off in the bush like this, and have nobody to bother you?" she inquired next.
"Yes." Scotty could cordially assent to that. "When I get a man," he said, in a sudden burst of confidence, "I'm goin' to live in a wigwam like Big Wind an' shoot bears!"
"Oh, my!" she cried in delight. "I wish I could live with you, only I don't want to be an ugly scraw, I want to be like Kirsty when I grow big, an' live up here in the Oa, an' pile hay; but I'll have to be like Auntie Eleanor an' wear a black silk dress, oh, dear!"
"Wouldn't you be liking a silk dress?" asked Scotty in surprise.
"No!" she cried disdainfully. "You've always got to take care of it. I want a red petticoat like Kirsty wears, and I want to go in my bare feet all the time, and live in the bush."
"Don't you go in your bare feet at home?" inquired Scotty in amazement.
"No," she admitted mournfully. "Auntie Eleanor says 'tisn't nice for little girls, an' I have to play the piano every morning, an' not make any noise round the house, 'cause you know my poor auntie has headaches all the time. Do you know what's the matter with my auntie?"
"Well, don't you tell, it's a big secret; she's got the heartbreak!"
"The what?" cried Scotty in alarm.
"The heartbreak. Brian told me. Brian's our coachman, an' I heard him tell Mary Morrison, the cook, and he told me not to never, never tell; but I'll just tell you, and you won't tell, will you, Scotty?"
"No, never. Will it be like the rheumatics Granny has?"
"No-o, I 'spect not; it's when you have headaches an' don't smile nor eat much; not even pie!" She gazed triumphantly into Scotty's interested countenance. "That's what my auntie's got."
"Would she be catching it at school?" he inquired feelingly, moved by recollections of an epidemic of measles that had raged in Number Nine the winter preceding.
"No, she just got it all by herself. She was going to be married in the church, 'way over in England, and she had a beautiful satin dress and a veil and everything, and he didn't come!"
"Who?" demanded Scotty.
"Why, the gempleman; he was a soldier-man with a grea' big sword, an' he got bad an' went away, an' my auntie got the heartbreak. An' that's why she's sick an' doesn't want me to make a noise or jump."
Scotty looked at her in deep sympathy. "Won't she be letting you jump?" he asked in awe.
"Not much," she said with a fine martyr-like air. "She says 'tisn't lady-like, an' she's going to send me to a school in Toronto when I get big, where it's all girls, and not one of them ever, ever jumps once!"
They stared at each other in mutual amazement at the conception of a whole jumpless school.
"I wouldn't be going!" cried Scotty firmly. "I'd jump—I'd jump out of the window an' run away, whatever!"
Her eyes sparkled. "Oh, p'raps I could do that too! I'd run away an' come to Kirsty. She doesn't mind if I jump an' make a noise, an' Kirsty never makes me sew. Oh, Scotty, you don't ever have to sew, do you?"
"Noh!" cried Scotty in disdain, "that's girls' work."
She sighed deeply. "I wish I was a boy! Harold never has to sew, but Harold goes to school 'way in Toronto all the time an' maybe they don't let him jump there. I'd jump!" she cried, springing from the log and laughing joyously, "oh, wouldn't I! Last tag, Scotty!" and she was once more off into the woods and Scotty after her.
Such a happy day as it was, but it was over at last, and after they had eaten their supper, where Kirsty served it to them in their playhouse, Scotty went to the house to bid the old woman good-bye, and started for home.
The little girl followed him sadly and slowly to the edge of the clearing.
"When'll you come back again?" she asked pleadingly.
"I'll not know," said Scotty patronisingly, "I don't often play with girls."
The blue sunbonnet drooped; its owner's assurance and independence had all vanished. "You might come next Saturday," she suggested humbly.
"Well," said Scotty handsomely, "mebby I'll be coming."
"I'm going to ask Kirsty if I can't go to school with you some day!" she cried audaciously.
Scotty looked alarmed. In reality he was most eager to return and resume housekeeping in the fence-corner, but to have this stranger go to school with him would never do. The boys would laugh at him, and already he had sufficient trials with Betty Lauchie since Peter stopped going to school.
"Oh, it's too far!" he cried hastily, "an' there will be an awful cross master there!"
"I don't care, you wouldn't let him touch me, would you?"
"If you don't ask Kirsty, I'll come over all next Saturday, an' mebby she'll be letting you come to my place; it's nicer than school."
So thus comforted, Isabel climbed the stump and swung her sunbonnet as long as the slanting sunlight showed the little figure running down the fast darkening forest-pathway; and just before the shadows swallowed him up, he turned and waved his cap in farewell.
THE AVENGING OF GLENCOE
Now the dewy sounds begin to dwindle, Dimmer grow the burnished rills, Breezes creep and halt, Soon the guardian night shall kindle In the violet vault, All the twinkling tapers Touched with steady gold Burning through the lawny vapours Where they float and fold. —DUNCAN CAMPBELL SCOTT.
The sound of a tinkling bell, crossing the pasture in tuneful harmony with the music of the summer evening, had come to a pause in the barnyard, and the boys had gone out with their pails to the milking.
Scotty came capering up the path from the barn, making mischievous snatches at Granny's rosebushes, which surrounded the house all abloom in their June dresses. He seldom returned from his evening task of bringing home the cows in such good time. Generally he lingered in the woods until he had almost worn out even Granny's patience, and caused Callum to threaten all kinds of dire punishments, which were never inflicted. But to-night he had been very expeditious, and with good reason; for hadn't Granny warned him that Isabel might arrive at any moment? She had come to Kirsty's a few days before, and Weaver Jimmie had promised that, if the lady who ruled his heart was in a sufficiently propitious mood to admit of his leaving her door intact, he would, without fail, bring the little visitor over that evening.
She and Scotty had become quite intimate since the first summer of their acquaintance. Miss Isabel was possessed of a vitality and high spirits that sometimes became unbearable to her invalid aunt; so every summer, to her own delight and Miss Herbert's relief, she was packed off to the home of her old nurse. For Kirsty John's mother had been a servant in the Herbert family in her youth; and when the little Isabel had been left an orphan in the Captain's family, Kirsty herself had been nurse-maid to both her and Captain Herbert's little son. Sometimes, too, during the winter, when her cousin was away at school, the child came for a lengthy visit to her Highland home, for Miss Herbert had often to go to the city for medical attendance, and her brother always accompanied her, glad of an opportunity to be with his son. Indeed, the family at Lake Oro had what Kirsty called a bad habit of "stravogin'." She declared they were always "jist here-away there-away," and never settled down like decent folk in one place. But then there was no accounting for the ways of the gentry, and these people were half English and half Irish, anyway, and what could a body expect? She was thankful herself that the wee bit lassock had some good Scotch blood in her, anyway. Kirsty often shook her head over her little charge, declaring that if the father or mother had lived, or even the Captain's wife, who was a smart, tidy body, even if she was a lady, the wee one would have had better care. Not but that the Captain's folk were fond of the lamb; Kirsty declared it was clean impossible not to love her; but what with a poor girnin', sick body for an aunt, and an uncle who was such a gentleman he didn't know whether the roof was falling in on him or not, was it any wonder the bit thing was wild?
Whatever neglect Miss Isabel may have suffered troubled her not a whit. For neglect spelled liberty and always contributed to the general joyousness of her existence. Her poor aunt's illnesses, even, were associated in her childish mind with the keenest delight, for they brought her what she enjoyed most in the world, many days spent in the Oa. Nominally her home was with her old nurse, but she really spent the greater part of her time at Scotty's home. And here Weaver Jimmie became indirectly a partaker in the joy of the little one's presence; for Kirsty entrusted her girl to him in her journeys between the clearings; an honour of which Jimmie boasted from one end of the Oa to the other, and fulfilled his commission with a vigilance that kept his lively young charge in a state of indignant rebellion.
In the meantime Scotty had grown to like this new comrade and to respect her. Of course she was only a girl, but she was immeasurably superior to Betty, for she rarely cried, was always merry, had a marvellous inventive genius and never failed of some new and wonderful scheme for enjoying life and escaping work. His big, generous heart experienced no jealousy, but only a great pride in her, when she usurped his place and became the centre of interest and admiration in his home. One visit had been sufficient to establish her as the ruler of Big Malcolm's household. Everyone came at her beck and call; Rory fiddled, Callum danced, Old Farquhar sang, and Hamish spun impossible yarns at her command. And Granny, who was the most abject subject of all, would fondle her golden curls, calling her Margaret, the name of her own little girl whom she had lost, and would let her help make the johnny cake for supper, apparently not a whit disturbed by the fact that everything in the room was strewn with flour. Big Malcolm himself seemed to forget that she belonged to the man against whom he had sworn lifelong enmity, and like the rest, opened his heart to her unreservedly. And she returned his affection with all the might of her warm happy nature. She called him "Grandaddy," as Scotty did, and would climb upon his knee and coax and tease him into doing things that even his grandson would not have dared to ask.
The little visitor always came at a time that Scotty found very convenient, just when the closing of school had deprived him of Danny Murphy's companionship; and to-night he looked forward to her coming with more than usual pleasure, for he needed her help and advice. Of late the boy's tender heart had been worried by signs of discord at home. Something he could not fathom was wrong with Callum. That old trouble that had arisen between him and Grandaddy the first winter of the prayer meetings had been suddenly aggravated. Scotty had heard rumours at school, and was vaguely conscious of the cause of the dissension. Isabel was so quick, perhaps she could help him to find out just what was wrong and suggest a remedy.
"Yon's a queer-lookin' thing comin' over the bars, Scotty," said his grandfather, smilingly, from his place at the doorway.
Scotty turned eagerly; yes, there was a little blue figure scrambling hastily over the fence into the pasture-field, followed by Weaver Jimmie, as anxious and flustered as a hen with a wayward duckling. A joyous scream announced that she had really come.
"It's her!" shouted the boy. "It's wee Isabel!"
He darted down the hill to meet her, but Callum was there first. Callum was on his way up from the barn, and the little blue figure flew to him and made the rest of the journey to the house perched triumphantly upon his broad shoulder, screaming with delight, and calling upon Scotty, her own dear Scotty, to come and meet her.
But for all his joy, as she approached Scotty drew back shyly behind the rosebushes. The first meeting with Isabel was something of an embarrassment, for she always pitched herself upon him and insisted upon kissing him, more than once sometimes, if he wasn't watchful, and it was certainly an unseemly thing for a boy of his size to be kissed by anybody. But the ordeal was soon over, and when they had all rejoiced over her and measured her height against the door-frame, where two niches showed how she and Scotty had stood last summer, and admired her growth, and warned Scotty to take care or she would soon be as tall as he was, the elder folk gave their attention to Weaver Jimmie and left the children to their own devices.
As usual the Weaver was the bearer of important tidings.
"It's a fine job Tom Caldwell thinks he's got this time!" he declared with an embarrassed hitch of one big foot over the other, and a rather nervous glance towards Callum.
"What's that?" inquired Rory, coming up to the door with his two pails of foaming milk. "We always like to know what our relations will be doing," he added with a sly chuckle.
Weaver Jimmie looked more embarrassed than ever. He attacked his whiskers and became so absorbed in their subduing that his audience grew impatient.
"Out with it, man!" cried Callum, and thus adjured, the Weaver told his story. When he had finished, it appeared that a much graver danger than a Fenian raid threatened the Glen, for what should Tom Caldwell and all those Irish louts from the Flats be up to now but an Orangemen's raid!
Big Malcolm removed his pipe and glared at the speaker.
"What is it ye will be saying, man?" he demanded harshly. Weaver Jimmie looked encouraged, and avoiding Callum's eye, he gave further details. Tom Caldwell had lately been the means of organising an Orange lodge in the Flats, and at their last meeting the brethren had decreed that, upon the coming 12th of July, they must have a celebration. It was to be no ordinary affair either, Pete Nash himself told him; but such a magnificent spectacle as the pioneers had never yet witnessed. Pete had received orders to prepare dinner for fifty guests and whiskey for twice as many. There was to be a grand rally early in the morning at the home of Tom Caldwell, who was to personate the great Protestant monarch, and at high noon a triumphal march up over the hills and down into the Glen to the feast,—with fifes and drums and a greater display in crossing the Oro than King William himself had had in crossing the historic Boyne.
Big Malcolm sat silent, his fists clenched. He was a Glencoe MacDonald, and, like all his clan, had an abhorrence of the name of Orange running fiercely in his veins. But he was saying to himself over and over that he who had repented of all his strife, who had set his face firmly against the evils of the day and become a leader of the new movement that was bringing the community into a higher and better life, he certainly must not be the one to stir up dissension. And yet, to have a celebration in their own glen in honour of the MacDonalds' betrayer!
"It will be a low, scandalous, Irish trick!" he vehemently burst forth.
Weaver Jimmie's eyes brightened. "They would be needing to learn a lesson, whatever," he suggested tentatively.
"Malcolm," Mrs. MacDonald's voice came in gently, "we will surely not be forgetting that Tom Caldwell would be joining us at the meetings these last winters, and indeed we would jist all be praying together that the Father would be putting away all strife from our hearts."
Callum cast his mother a look of gratitude; for, though generally the first to scent the battle from afar and hasten its approach, for very good reasons of his own he was on this occasion strongly inclined for peace. Big Malcolm looked at the gentle face of his wife and the fire died out of his eyes.
"Hoh!" he exclaimed disdainfully, "I will not be caring; let them have their childish foolishness if it will be doing them any good, whatever!"
Weaver Jimmie looked disappointed, but, seeing no encouragement in the faces about him, he reluctantly dropped the subject. The conversation soon turned from war to a topic even nearer Jimmie's heart, for Rory had brought out his fiddle and now struck up gaily the song of the cruel Jinny and the hapless weaver.
Before the departure of the guests Scotty found an opportunity to confide his troubles to Isabel. He could not tell her exactly what was wrong, for that meant confessing that Callum and Grandaddy were capable of mistakes. But he vaguely hinted that he was worried over their hero. Callum was going to do something, something strange and new, but just what he could not discover. Isabel was equally perturbed. Why not ask Granny? she suggested. She would tell them. But no, Scotty explained, that was just what they must not do, for it was something that made Granny sad. But Peter Lauchie knew; Peter had told him that the shanty at the north clearing was to be fixed up for Callum to live there, after harvest; and then he laughed and would tell him no more.
As usual Isabel was quick to suggest a way out of the difficulty. Why should they not go over to Peter's place some day and make him tell all about it? She wanted to see Betty again, anyway, and perhaps Hughie would put up a swing for them in the barn again.
This was a fine plan, and the next week they proceeded to put it into execution, and with Kirsty's permission set off early one morning for a day's visit at Long Lauchie's. Isabel was almost as well known there as Scotty himself, so he soon managed to leave her in Betty's company and go off to the fields to seek Peter.
By judicious and persistent questioning he learned the confirmation of his fears. Yes, Peter and all the boys knew what the trouble was. Callum was to be married, and to an Irish girl at that, and of course all the MacDonalds were highly disgusted.
Scotty listened in dismay. Callum to be married! That itself was bad enough, people were always laughed at and chaffed when they got married, and he writhed at the thought of his hero being in such an ignominious position. But to be married to an Irish girl! Surely the MacDonalds would be disgraced forever.
And yet Scotty's heart forbade his taking sides against Nancy. She was Irish, certainly a deplorable fact, but still she was Nancy; and though she had not been at school for some time, the boy had not forgotten her. He sighed deeply over the complexity of human affairs. This, then, was the cause of their unhappiness at home, of Grandaddy's muttered threats and Granny's distressed looks.
He did not understand that there were stronger objections to Nancy in Granny's mind than the girl's nationality. Big Malcolm's wife was growing old, and the work of the farmhouse weighed heavily upon her. Ever since Callum had grown up she had cherished the hope that one day she would have sweet, trim Mary Lauchie, the finest girl in the Oa, and a MacDonald at that, to take the reins of government in her household. The loss of Mary would have been disappointment enough, but Callum's new choice was a great trial to his patient, gentle mother. The thought of Nancy Caldwell as a daughter-in-law, even though she was to live at the north clearing, instead of with her, filled her with fear. For Nancy had a reputation that had spread beyond the Flats. Since the day she left school, where she had defied McAllister at his best, she had ruled supreme in her own home from sheer dauntlessness of spirit. Many were the tales told in the Oa of her wild outlandish doings; how she would dress up in her brother's clothes and drive madly all over the country; how she could ride an unbroken colt bareback, and shoot like a man, things which everyone in the Oa knew no right-minded young woman could ever learn. And hadn't Store Thompson's wife been, as she declared, clean scandalised by seeing the hussy cross the Oro at the spring floods, standing erect in a canoe and spreading out her skirts to the gale, "Makin' a sail o' mesilf!" as she had laughingly declared when she leaped ashore.
Scotty could not force himself to tell Isabel the disgraceful truth; he was very quiet and gloomy as they walked homeward through the golden-lighted forest. But Isabel had had a grand day with Betty and had forgotten all about the original purport of their visit. She danced along at his side full of busy chatter. Didn't he love all Long Lauchie's folks? She did; for Betty was a dear and Mrs. Lauchie was 'most as nice as Scotty's Granny. But she loved Mary most of all, because she was so kind and so good. And did Mary have the heartbreak too, like her auntie? No; Scotty did not see how that was possible; for Mary had never had a dress ready for a wedding; nor a fine soldier man who did not come. But Isabel was sure he was mistaken. Yes, that was certainly what Mary had, for her face was so pale, and she had the same look in her eyes that her auntie had when her wedding day came round, only Mary's eyes were kinder. But Scotty was not interested in Mary. Callum absorbed all his thoughts, and he left Isabel at Kirsty's and hurried home.
He found the boys all gone and his grandfather sitting alone by the door. Big Malcolm was not smoking, which was a bad sign, and his grandson saw by the look in his eye that he was not at peace. In his perturbation over Callum's difficult case the boy had not noticed that a new undercurrent of excitement was running through life's everyday affairs.
For, though Big Malcolm had, with wonderful self-control, put aside his indignation at the Orangemen, all the MacDonalds had not done so. Weaver Jimmie had gone up over the hills of the Oa like a bearer of the fiery cross, and wherever he appeared the beacon-fire of anger had blazed forth. The Orangemen celebrating! The MacDonalds arose as one man, and in all the inherited fury of generations, combined with as much more produced for the occasion, banded together and swore that before the soil of this, their new home, should be polluted by a celebration in honour of the MacDonalds' betrayer, it should first be soaked with the MacDonalds' blood!
To do Tom Caldwell justice, he did not at all comprehend the enormity of the offence he was about to commit. Of course the Orangemen anticipated some trouble among their Catholic brethren, but rather looked forward to it as part of their entertainment. For though Pat Murphy and his friends prophesied death and destruction to the procession and all that had part or lot in it, what matter? The country had been growing far too quiet since the fighting MacDonalds had taken to praying instead of pugilism, and a little row at the corner would just stir things up a bit and make it seem like old times. But while they gleefully looked for tempests in the Flats, they were innocently oblivious to the fact that the formerly peaceful hills of the Oa had been converted into raging volcanoes. Occasionally vague rumours of an eruption in the MacDonald settlement did float down to King William and his men, drilling in the long June evenings, but they drowned them in the tooting of fifes and the banging of drums and went gaily on to their doom.
But while the MacDonalds raged, Big Malcolm remained at home alone or in company with Long Lauchie, and fought with himself the fiercest battle in which he had ever engaged. Not since the day he had seen Rory go down under Pat Murphy's feet had he been so sorely tried. And the MacDonalds would say he had failed them because his son was about to unite with one of the Caldwell crew. That was the sting of it! Callum had always been the first in any aggressive enterprise of the Oa, and Callum was now conspicuous by his absence. Sometimes Big Malcolm was fiercely resolved to plunge headlong into the commotion and compel his son to join him. And then calmer moments ensued; he could not forget those winter prayer meetings and the wonderful leavening effect they had had upon the community; nor could he forget Praying Donald's prophetic warnings that all strife and enmity must certainly bring retribution. No; he had forever put all feuds behind him, he finally decided, and if the MacDonalds were about to engage in strife with the Orangemen they must learn that he, Big Malcolm, was far above and beyond any such unseemly brawlings.
But upon this evening when Scotty found him alone at the doorway, his grandfather was experiencing none of the settled calm that might be expected to follow such a laudable decision. For to-night the MacDonalds were holding another mass-meeting at the house of Roarin' Sandy to decide finally what punishment should be meted out to the reckless Orangemen, and his very soul was crying out to be with them.
Scotty could elicit no answer to his remarks, and sat upon the doorstep, a small, disconsolate heap, wondering sadly how his hero could have made such a mistake, and finding in his own forlorn heart an echo of the sweet, melancholy evening music. Around him the mosquitoes wailed out their dreary little song; away down by the edge of the wet, low pastures, where the fireflies wandered, each with his weird little torch, the frogs were piping mournfully. The whitethroat was sending out his "silver arrows of song" clearly and pensively from the depths of the velvet dusk. The discordant twang of the swooping night-hawks came down from the pale clear sky where one silver star had come out above the black jagged line of forest.
Granny was moving about indoors; the boy could smell the sweet fragrance of the new warm milk she was straining into the pans. The air was heavy with the scent of clover, the world was very peaceful, but very sad.
And then, out of the soft murmurs of the summer night, there grew a strange new sound. At first it seemed merely a movement of the air, a peculiar thrilling vibration. But gradually it grew into a note, a high, weird musical note, alluring, electrifying. Scotty raised his head from the grass. "What's that, Grandaddy?" he asked sharply. Big Malcolm did not answer; he was sitting bolt upright, alert, tense, listening as if for his life. For a moment the sound faded away, there was a wondering silence. And then, suddenly, a little pine-scented breeze came sweeping up from Lake Oro; and on it, high, clear, entrancing, commanding, came again that wild penetrating call—the bagpipes! playing up gloriously the MacDonalds' pibroch!
Big Malcolm leaped to his feet. It was the first time he had heard that sound since it came ringing to him over the heather moors of his native land. The pipes! The pipes on the hills of Oro! There was neither prophecy nor precept, no, nor iron bands that could have held him at that moment. With a wild outpouring of Gaelic, he sprang forward, overturning the bench and the water-bucket by the doorstep; and, coatless and hatless, went tearing across the fields and down the road in obedience to that imperative call.
"Granny, Granny!" cried Scotty, running indoors in alarm, "what's gone wrong with Grandaddy, will he be gone daft?"
Granny raised her hands in amazement and stood listening.
"Eh, eh!" she cried, "it will be the pipes! Och, och, lad, things will be going wrong with Grandaddy now!"
The great day, the 12th of July, dawned radiant in sunshine like any other Canadian summer day. Mr. Nash had made tremendous preparations for his guests. He had his family up long before dawn and by dint of much fluency of language, for which he was famous, managed by eleven o'clock to have the banquet in readiness. Tables were set in the dining-room and barroom, which two chambers constituted the ground floor of the hotel proper. The lean-to kitchen at the back was steaming with all the good things Mrs. Nash and her daughters and the assisting neighbours had prepared; and by half-past eleven the host, in a clean shirt and his Sunday trousers, stood on the front step ready to receive with due ceremony the expected company.
Store Thompson's place across the way was surrounded by a crowd of eager spectators, for such a spectacle as a procession had not been witnessed in the Glen within the memory of the earliest settler. Then there were rumours of trouble too; Pat Murphy and his friends were there ready to produce it; and besides, everyone suspected that the MacDonalds had some scheme afoot. Store Thompson himself was excited. He had not seen Big Malcolm for more than a fortnight, and he was anxious about his war-like friend. Surely, he told himself a dozen times, Malcolm would never break forth into strife again after the stand he had been taking during the past few winters for the bettering of the community. And yet, as the kindly old gentleman confided to Sandy Hamilton, who had stopped the mill and come up to see what was transpiring, he could not help feeling "a wee thing apprehensive-like."
A few minutes before twelve, the appointed hour for the procession to appear, the patience of the crowd was rewarded. Pat Murphy had just assembled his satellites in the middle of the road and was haranguing them and, incidentally, all the township of Oro upon their duties, when a loud, shrill yell from the hilltops rent the air; there was a dull thud, thud of marching feet. The procession was coming! For a moment nationalities and creeds were both forgotten in a common desire to witness the spectacle. English, Irish, and Scotch crowded eagerly into the road; every eye was turned towards the south hill. Yes, the procession was certainly coming, but what was this unearthly noise it was making? And where were the fifes and the drums? And why, in the name of all the cardinal points, was it coming down the north hill from the Oa, instead of from the Flats?
And then there were no more questions, but just a sea of silent faces held upwards in gaping amazement, for out from the pine grove of the northern river-bank, with a shriek of pipes and a flutter of plaids, whirled Fiddlin' Archie MacDonald in full Highland costume; and behind him, armed and menacing, tramped every available male of the clan MacDonald, from Long Lauchie's seventeen-year-old Peter, up to—yes, alas, for the new era and its reforms!—Big Malcolm himself, all in perfect time to the wild yell of the MacDonald pibroch!
Down they swept like a Highland charge, the pipes screaming out a fierce challenge to anyone reckless enough to stand in their path, and awakening such warlike echoes in the Oro hills as they had not given back since the days when they rang to the war-whoop of Huron and Iroquois braves.
And, indeed, had an army of redskins in war paint and feathers appeared upon the hill, it is doubtful if it would have created any more excitement. For, though the Oa was a Highland settlement, the bagpipes had hitherto been an unknown instrument in the township of Oro. Hard work and hard times had precluded the indulgence in any such luxury, so the startled population of the valley witnessed for the first time that magnificent combination of sight and sound known as a Highland Piper.
Upon Pete Nash the effect was almost disastrous. The expectant host had been fortifying himself rather copiously against the duties and trials of the day, and his brain was in no condition to bear any such strain as the appearance of Fiddlin' Archie put upon it.
At the first sound he rushed into the road, his eyes bulging with horror, his hands held up as if to ward off a blow. For Peter had once been a good Catholic and knew he was committing a deadly sin in harbouring these Orange heretics; and here, surely, were the hosts of the Evil One, coming with shrieks of wrath to snatch away his guilty soul in the midst of his iniquity. His distracted wife bounded after him, a half-washed frying pan in one hand, a dishcloth in the other; and seeing what was descending upon them she dropped both utensils and wailed, "Och, the Powers come down, Pater! is it Gabriel's trump, then?"
No one noticed the stricken pair, for all eyes were fixed upon the advancing column. Right up to the tavern door it marched, and when the pipes ceased with a final defiant yelp, Big Malcolm, his eyes blazing, his head erect, stepped forward and addressed the still trembling, but much relieved, proprietor.