"We will be needing our dinner, Peter," he said very mildly, "for we would be having a long walk, and mebby some work ahead of us, whatever, so I hope you will jist be bringin' it on queek."
There was something in the intense politeness of Big Malcolm's tone that aroused Mr. Nash's worst fears; a MacDonald was never so dangerous as when he was courteous.
"And is it dinner for all this raft ye'll be after wantin', Malcolm MacDonald?" he cried in alarm. "Sure, ye know I can't give ye a bite nor sup the day, man; the byes from the Flats——"
"Whisht yer tongue, Pete Nash!" Big Malcolm's suavity vanished like a wisp of straw in a flame. "Bring on yer grub, man, or"—he brought down his big fist upon the nearest table with a crash that made both the crockery and its owner leap—"we'll be eating your old carcass on the doorstep!"
Mr. Nash gave a prompt and obsequious obedience. The Fighting MacDonalds individually must ever be treated with respect, but the Fighting MacDonalds in a body! Surely not the most vivid Orangeman could blame him in his extremity. Perhaps the distracted landlord felt that, after all, here was a providential means of escape from the crime he had been about to commit, for very soon he had all Glencoe seated about the well-spread tables, devouring the banquet prepared for William of Orange.
The MacDonalds attacked the unholy viands with a zest that not even a long tramp and a pioneer appetite could quite explain. Mrs. Nash flew back and forth hospitably, explaining to her satellites, to cover up any apparent irregularity in her husband's sudden change of patronage, that indeed they were always pleased to have the MacDonalds with them, and that she, for one, was very glad to see a Scotchman dressed the right way.
"Sure Oi've got a sister in the owld country, married to a Scotchman, thin," she explained quite proudly to Judy Connors. "He's in a Kiltie rig'ment, an' his name's Pat O'Nale, an' aw now, it was him that had the foine way o' swishin' his kilt whin he walked, indade!"
Meantime the feast was progressing; the great roasts of pork, the pies, the cakes, and the puddings were vanishing like the snow on a March noonday, when once more the assembly outside the tavern was electrified, this time from the proper source. For from the summit of the north hill there arose such a mighty banging and tooting as might have been heard had the new sawmill, lately built on the shore of Lake Simcoe, taken legs and gone on a mad excursion up over the Oro hills.
Down the slope with waving banners and thumping drums rode King William himself in brave array, mounted on a white steed which bore a strong resemblance to Tom Caldwell's old grey mare, and followed by a troop of loyal subjects, all to the stirring squeak of "The Protestant Boys."
At the sight of this magnificent army marching straight into the jaws of disaster, Pat Murphy uttered a yell of triumph that put the fifes and drums to shame. Reckless with joy, he flew into the middle of the road, and standing there facing the oncoming multitude, his wild eyes blazing, his red beard and hair flaring out in all directions, he shook his huge fist at the unoffending skies and called upon the sun and the moon and all things created to witness the downfall of his enemies.
Fortunately for the usurpers, the steed of state which King William bestrode, though old and decrepit, still adhered to a youthful habit of shying, or the procession might never have reached the MacDonalds. But, as the old grey mare approached the raving obstacle in her path, she swerved coquettishly and King William curvetted round his enemy with royal indifference. His subjects wisely followed his example; the procession divided and streamed noisily on both sides of the profane wedge which had cloven it, and which gallantly held its position waving its arms and howling forth derision until the last Orangemen had swept past.
But as the revellers tooted their victorious way down the street towards the tavern, a strange sensation of impending disaster made itself felt. The unwelcome fact began to dawn upon the Orangemen that the clamour about them was neither composed of acclamation, nor yet of the expected tumult of the outraged Murphys.
The suspicion grew to a horrible certainty by the time their destination was reached, and the instant the procession halted, King William, forgetting his royal dignity, scrambled from his horse and led a hasty charge against the doors and windows of the tavern. Their apprehension had been too correct. There, sitting at the Orangemen's feast, were forty-nine armed MacDonalds, while the fiftieth swept round the tables, his plaid flying, his kilt waving, his ribbons streaming, and his pipes shrieking as if they would fain split the roof!
It was a crucial moment for the Glen; and, looking from his vantage point on the verandah, Store Thompson held his breath. That the Orangemen even hesitated to pitch themselves headlong upon the usurpers showed that in the past two years the forces that make for law and order had been steadily working. However it might be, they hesitated. Perhaps they were assisted to a pacific decision by the sight before them. There is nothing so disastrous to a man's fighting qualities as an empty stomach. King William and his followers looked at their dinner rapidly disappearing into the capacious interiors of Glencoe; they looked at the stout clubs beneath the table; they glanced over their shoulders at Pat Murphy and his men, waiting eagerly for the MacDonalds to strike; they gazed at the terrible spectacle of Fiddlin' Archie, whirling round the room in an eddy of defiant yells; and the sights counselled discretion, rather than valour.
Slowly and sullenly they began to fall back from the doors and windows. Even King William was about to join the retreat when, in glaring fiercely round the tables, his eye chanced to fall upon the man whose family was so soon to be connected with his own. At the sight, the royal rage, already at boiling point, burst all bounds. Sticking his crowned head far in through the window, and forgetting that he had made a league with the MacDonalds to bring about a season of peace and good-will in the community, Mr. Caldwell burst into wild and profane vituperation. Commencing with Big Malcolm at the head of the table, and, taking each in turn, he roundly and lengthily denounced the MacDonalds and all their generation; and ended his mad tirade by vowing by all things in heaven and on earth that before a daughter of his should unite with any such scum of savagery as was produced in the Oa, her father would strike her dead!
Such snatches of the royal ultimatum as managed to penetrate the scream of the pipes the MacDonalds heard in silence. Occasionally a pair of fierce eyes would dart a look of inquiry towards the leader, and once or twice Weaver Jimmie half rose from the table; but, with wonderful endurance, Big Malcolm held his men and himself down. He had broken his great resolution, but even in his abandonment he could not quite get away from the strong influence at home. No, he would not fight, not unless Tom Caldwell pressed him too hard, and this refusal to accept Callum into his family was nothing short of a blessing.
At last, through sheer dearth of remaining epithets, the royal address came to a termination. With much brandishing of fists and shouting of threats, the chagrined and hungry would-be revellers melted away before the sound of the MacDonalds' jig and the Murphys' jeers.
And when the last atom of the banquet had been demolished and the landlord paid to the utmost farthing the MacDonalds arose, and, headed by their piper, went roaring up to their native hills, fired with the triumphant assurance that they had that day performed a great and glorious deed, and that at last Glencoe had been avenged.
THE END OF THE FEUD
There was a time I learned to hate, As weaker mortals learn to love; The passion held me fixed as fate, Burned in my veins early and late, But now a wind falls from above— The wind of death, that silently Enshroudeth friend and enemy. —ETHELWYN WETHERALD.
To Scotty the days following upon the Orangemen's defeat were filled with misery. Even when he spent the time at Kirsty's, fishing in the streams or racing in the woods with Isabel, he could never quite forget that there was trouble in the lately happy home beneath the Silver Maple. For Granny's face was full of pain and anxiety, though she was so brave and patient; and Grandaddy walked the floor at nights or tramped up and down beneath the stars, and Callum was silent and gloomy.
Scotty did not understand just how much reason Callum had for gloom. That young man had to contend with foes both at home and abroad. Tom Caldwell had lost no time, upon his return home the never-to-be-forgotten night of the Orangemen's downfall, in making very clear to his daughter his views upon the burning MacDonald question. Nancy had responded, with her usual spirit, by declaring that, when the day arrived, she would marry Callum Fiach if the heavens fell. The father understood his daughter's spirit and took no risk; the Caldwell homestead was guarded by armed men in quite a mediaeval fashion; Nancy was kept in strict seclusion and a cordial invitation was sent to Callum to come on the wedding day with all the MacDonalds he could muster and take his bride.
Callum would have gladly accepted the challenge had there been any hope of assistance. But when Big Malcolm returned from the glorious defeat of the Orangemen, his spirit still aflame, the sight of his son, who had taken no part in their triumph, stirred him to fierce resentment.
"Callum!" he cried sternly, "I will be hearing no more about you and any o' yon low Eerish crew. It is not for my son to be disgracing the MacDonalds after this day's work!"
Callum's face went suddenly white and he rose from the table. "If you mean Nancy Caldwell," he cried, "let me be telling you that I'll marry her if she was the daughter o' the Deil, himself!"
Big Malcolm rose to his feet also, and the two men faced each other fiercely. "The day ye marry any kin to that son o' Belial, Callum MacDonald," he roared, shaking his fist in his son's face, "you will be no more a son of mine!"
Callum laughed harshly, and flung out of doors. Scotty's big heart swelled to bursting. Grandaddy and Callum quarrelling! It was too awful to be believed. He dared not look at Granny's face, for he dreaded what he would see there, but he crept up close to where she sat by the bare table, her face in her hands, her breath coming in long sobs. Granny's heart was breaking, he was sure, and his own heart was breaking, too, for her, and for Callum, and for everyone.
The days that followed did not lighten the misery. Big Malcolm's repentance came over him like a flood of many waters. He left the farm to the care of the boys, and sat in the house, or wandered in the fields, plunged in the deepest humiliation and despair. One look at his wife's sad face would drive him to the barn or the woods, where he would sit, Job-like, and curse the day he was born. Like Job, too, he had three comforters who, though well-meaning and kind, served only to deepen his spiritual gloom. Neither Store Thompson's solemn admonitions nor Praying Donald's hints of stern retribution were calculated to relieve his mind; and when Long Lauchie came across the fields on a Sabbath afternoon to mourn over him and see dire fulfilment of prophecy in his woeful case, he was driven to the verge of desperation.
There was no pleasure at home, and whenever Scotty had an opportunity he went visiting in the direction of Kirsty's. Isabel's companionship afforded him much solace, and through her wonderful ingenuity came at last a way out of his despair.
At first he had been reluctant to confide his troubles even to her; he knew that Granny would speak of them to no one except the one great Comforter, no, not even to Kirsty's mother; so he nursed his mournful secret through one long miserable day. But Isabel's eyes were very bright and soon spied the trouble in Scotty's face. So one day, as they sat on the edge of the old log bridge and swung their feet in the cool, brown water, he opened his heart fully.
To the boy's relief she seemed to think none the less of Callum for wanting to marry an Irish girl. Some Irish people weren't bad, she declared. For her Uncle Walter and Aunt Eleanor were half Irish. Maybe she was some Irish herself, she generously conceded, but, at Scotty's look of incredulous dismay, she hastily concluded that she must be entirely and exclusively Scotch. But there was Danny Murphy, that nice boy who brought her the maple sugar and the butternuts, he was Irish; yes, and old Brian, their coachman, was Irish and said "begorra," and Brian was a dear. And very likely Nancy must be one of the nice Irish, or Callum would not want to marry her. And if they did not let him marry her, then that would be an awful thing, for if Callum failed to appear on the wedding day Nancy would certainly take the heartbreak, like Aunt Eleanor, and be sick forever and ever, and have to lie for days in a dark room and have headaches and nasty medicine.
Scotty's heart was wrung at the awful prospect. Was Isabel sure? Why, of course, she knew all about heartbreak and disappointments and such things. Scotty declared desperately that something must be done. And without an instant's meditation Isabel burst forth with the brilliant suggestion—why could they not take their pirate ship, sail down the Oro to the Flats and carry Nancy off bodily?
Scotty was dazzled. This was a thrilling project, entailing, as it did, an adventure in their wonderful vessel. For some time before the close of school he and Danny Murphy had been copartners in a tremendous secret enterprise. Down in the green tunnel made by the "Birch Crick," where it foamed along through a tangle of timber and underbrush, until it found its way into the Oro, they had discovered, early that spring, a derelict punt. This craft had come like an answer to prayer; they had patched it up, launched it, and, before the holidays, had spent aboard its rotten timbers days of perfectly abandoned joy. Several times, indeed, they had made adventurous voyages out upon the Oro itself, and had had hairbreadth escapes, for the vessel leaked and accidents were frequent. But every boy of Number Nine school was an amphibious animal, and such small things as shipwrecks mattered little. With the close of school these happy excursions had to be given up. Only once had the boys been on a voyage since, and then Isabel had accompanied them, and they had not gone far. But here was a chance to go on a wonderful tour. They would sail down to the Flats and steal Nancy; perhaps they would even take a voyage down to Lake Simcoe and away out upon the Atlantic Ocean and have fights with pirates and Fenians. Scotty's ambition was fired to be away at once, but there was one trouble—Isabel herself. She was all right at home, but her habit of hanging on to his coat with both hands when danger threatened would be embarrassing in public, and he did not even dare to think what Danny would say if he saw him in such a disgraceful plight. And then he conceived the rest of the brilliant plan himself. They would not steal Nancy away this time, but they would go to the Birch Crick, and if Danny was there they would send a message by him to Nancy, asking her if she would not like to be kidnapped, and he mentally resolved that Isabel could be put off while he and Danny performed the glorious deed.
Isabel, quite innocent of his traitorous plot, agreed to this modification of her plan; and the next morning, having obtained Kirsty's reluctant permission to go on an indefinite fishing expedition, they set off down the Scotch Line, bursting with excitement.
The Birch Creek crossed the road, flowing cool and brown beneath the old log bridge; a fine place for paddling with bare feet, but the two adventurers had no time for any such trivial pastime. They plunged into the undergrowth and followed the stream through a riotous confusion of long grasses and shrubs, where the yellow touch-me-not, the pink willow weed, the tall white turtle-head, and the blazing golden-rod grew in a tangle of wild beauty. They scrambled along with joyous shouts, sometimes on land, more often in the water. Frequently they had to stoop and crawl beneath the green canopy of birch and elm and willow that covered the stream and through which the golden sunbeams scarcely struggled to the cool, brown surface. Out in the open spaces the dragon fly darted here and there like a little blue spear. The shy trout fled dismayed before the two noisy intruders; the waxen blossoms of the arrowhead, the broad shining leaves and golden-hearted blossoms of the water lily and the stately blue spikes of the pickerel weed bent before their ruthless tramping. A kingfisher, startled from his day's work by the uproarious pair, shot down the stream, his derisive laugh echoing far through the leafy avenue. The two almost forgot the great import of their journey in its delight. Scotty splashed ahead, capering from fallen log to sunken stump; and after him came his faithful follower, bespattered with mud, dripping wet, even to the crown of her golden curls, and filling the air with her joyous shrieks of laughter over Scotty's wild antics.
And to crown their happy excursion, as they came round a sudden bend in the stream, there came a splashing sound ahead; a welcoming shout greeted them, and here was Danny sailing down upon them, his red head shining like a beacon in the stern of the pirate ship! They wasted very little time in making known the grave reason for their visit, and to their surprise they found that Danny knew much more about the Caldwell-MacDonald trouble than they did.
Sure, wasn't his brother Mike telling them only last night that Nancy wasn't allowed to go outside the gate, though she fought like a tiger about it; and Tom Caldwell had said he'd kill Callum Fiach if he came near the place; and Nancy had said she'd murder anybody that laid a finger on him. Nancy was good stuff, and if there was any scheme for outwitting the Caldwells, Danny was their man.
But this was grave news, and somewhat dampening to the ardour of the adventurous spirits.
So they pulled the old punt up under the birches and sat in it with their three heads, black, gold and red, very close together, and concocted a new plan. The line of procedure finally settled upon was not quite so romantic as Scotty had intended, but it answered. Danny had access to the Caldwell home; no one would suspect him; he must see Nancy, and offer their services as well as those of their vessel, and meanwhile Scotty was to interview Callum, and if he had any message to send to Nancy, then Danny would carry it.
They all went home bursting with their prodigious secret; and Scotty, whose forest breeding had made reticence easy, never ceased all the way home to warn Isabel of the fearful consequences of disclosure.
He could scarcely wait for an opportunity to speak to Callum alone, but at last supper was over and the chores all done; and he crept out to the barn where he had seen the young man disappear. He found him in the loft, lying gloomily upon the hay; and, hesitating and fearful lest Callum would ridicule or blame him for his interference, he made his confession. Callum suddenly sat up and gazed into the bright eager face with its big sparkling eyes. He sprang to his feet.
"Horo!" he shouted, and catching the boy up flung him over his head into the hay; and when Scotty came laughing and breathless to his feet he was filled with amazement and concern to see that there were tears in Callum's eyes.
And so a letter was carried, but not without difficulties encountered. Kirsty proved the first obstacle. She declared she was just going to put a stop to such stravogin', and would not let the lass go near that dirty crick again, for she always came home wringing wet. Isabel swept away this barrier in a flood of tears, and all other difficulties were met and dealt with in an equally summary manner. Danny's dangerous part of the task was executed with wonderful skill and an answer was piloted safely back.
They were all three somewhat disappointed when Callum announced that the proceedings must stop there. Danny was inclined to rebel, and Isabel failed to explain such conduct. But Scotty found ample compensation for their restriction in the happy change in Callum. His old gaiety came back, his eyes sparkled, and he would snatch up Isabel and go leaping about the house with her perched shrieking upon his shoulder, just as he used to do in the happy days before the Orangemen came to blight their home.
Matters were improving in other places too. Big Malcolm's second stage of repentance, a period of prayer and fasting, had passed; he had come once more into his old contented state, sure of the forgiveness of his Heavenly Father for the wrong done, and determined by His grace never again to fall. News reached the Oa, too, that Nancy Caldwell had suddenly given up her rebellious outbursts and had settled down meekly to her fate, and Tom Caldwell boasted all over the Flats that she wouldn't take Callum Fiach if all the MacDonalds in the Oa came to back him up.
And so Scotty found life happy again, and he and Isabel once more settled down contentedly to housekeeping beneath the Silver Maple. But the summer passed and old Brian came and took his comrade away, and Scotty wept secretly in the haymow all the evening after her departure.
The next morning he arose with a distinct consciousness of loss sustained. Isabel was not the only one who had left apparently. When they sat down to breakfast Callum had not yet appeared. No one marked his absence until Big Malcolm came in from the barn.
"Where will Callum be?" he inquired as he helped himself to his porridge. Rory kept his eyes upon his plate, but Hamish answered in a troubled tone, "I'll not know, father. Mebby he would be at the north clearing, whatever. He would not be coming home last night."
Big Malcolm continued his meal with knitted brows. Suddenly he looked up and caught a startled expression in his wife's eyes.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously.
Mrs. MacDonald's fingers were working tremulously with the hem of her apron. "I would be thinking," she faltered, "it will be the day—the day that was set!"
"Hoots!" cried Big Malcolm, "that will be nothing, whatever."
But a sudden ominous silence fell over the breakfast table; this was to have been Callum's wedding day, and Callum had not appeared. The stillness was broken by Bruce, who rose up from underneath the table with the short bark that announced a well-known visitor. A shadow fell over the threshold, still pink in the glow of the rising sun. Big Malcolm looked up in surprise.
"You will be early, Jimmie!" he called heartily as the Weaver stood in the doorway, "come away, man, and be having a bite!"
But Weaver Jimmie shook his head; he stood at the door struggling with feet and whiskers, and apparently more than usually overcome by embarrassment.
"I would like to be speakin' to you, Malcolm," he said. There was a look in his face that brought the three men instantly to the doorway. Scotty, straining his ears to catch their low remarks, could hear only, "Run-away—Lake Simcoe." Granny arose, her face white.
"Malcolm," she whispered, "Malcolm, what is this about our son Callum?"
Big Malcolm turned. There was a look in his eyes that had not been there since the day the Orangemen were defeated; but it suddenly faded at the sight of her white, pained face.
"It will jist be nothing, whatever," he said gently. "They would be saying the girl was off this morning, but Jimmie will not be sure. Come, lads."
The four men went away without another word, passing quickly through the barnyard and up the path that led into the woods. The mother arose and knelt by the bedside in the corner so long that Scotty could bear his burden of guilt no longer. He crept up to her, and when she put her arms about him he sobbed out his dreadful secret; how he and Isabel and Danny had carried a letter to Nancy, and another one back to Callum; and perhaps that was what made Callum run away. And oh, oh, he didn't know it was wicked or he wouldn't have done it; only she must not blame Isabel; it wasn't her fault.
But Granny blamed no one. She listened gravely to his story, and to Scotty's supreme relief seemed a little comforted by it. And she comforted him, too, patting his head lovingly and declaring that he was Granny's own boy with the big heart, indeed, and together they watched and waited through the long dreary day for the men's return.
But Scotty was tired out and gone to bed long before they came. He was half-awakened in the night by the sound of voices; strange voices, too; not angry or clamorous, but hushed and solemn. Once he distinguished Grandaddy's voice, broken as though with weeping, and Granny's, too, speaking as though she were comforting him, but with a sound in it that made the child's tender heart contract with pain. There seemed an awesomeness about the strange, soft movements below that sent a chill over him. None of the boys had come to bed yet; the light from below shone up through the cracks in the floor, and he crept to the hatchway and listened. And then he distinguished Praying Donald's low, deep voice raised in supplication; then Grandaddy had been fighting again and they had come to pray for him. The boy crept miserably back to his bed and, childlike, soon fell asleep.
He awoke in the rosy dawn, when the shadows of the forest still stretched up to the doorstep, and found to his surprise that Hamish was sitting by his bedside. He remembered with a chill the anxiety of the day and the awesomeness of the night before, and asked suddenly, "Where's Callum?"
But Hamish did not answer directly; only said that he must be good and quiet and not ask Granny any questions, and added after a second question that Callum was gone away. And when would he be back? He would not be back, Hamish whispered, with his eyes upon the floor. Would not be back? Scotty stared uncomprehending. And where was Nancy? Nancy was with him. Had they gone to the old country? he asked in a whisper, but Hamish shook his head and turned away. The boy's heart seemed held by an awful dread. He wanted to ask another question, and yet he dared not. But as the young man turned to go down the stairs something in his white face opened a flood of awful intelligence upon the boy's mind.
"Hamish," he cried in a sharp whisper, "is—is—Callum—dead?"
But Hamish made no reply, only gave him a glance as though he had been smitten with a mortal wound, and went hurriedly down the stairs.
But Weaver Jimmie told him all about it as soon as he descended. For, to his surprise, Scotty found not only Jimmie there, but many others of the neighbours. Store Thompson's wife sat by the bed in the corner, and Granny lay upon it white and silent. Something lay in another corner, stretched upon boards, a figure so muffled and still that, without knowing why, Scotty glanced at it with a feeling of terror. Grandaddy was nowhere to be seen; but Praying Donald was there, reading by the window. His deep voice, hushed to a solemn, low rumble, filled the room; "Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses," he was saying, but Scotty did not listen; he followed Weaver Jimmie out to the barn full of awe-stricken questionings. And Jimmie, his kindly face quivering with sympathy, told him all. Yes, that still, dark form he had seen in the corner was Callum; they had brought him home last night, and had taken Nancy to her home. But Hamish had said Callum was gone, Scotty argued, and Nancy with him; had they come back then? No, they had not come back. They had run away and tried to cross Lake Simcoe in a canoe. A storm had come up suddenly, and though the Caldwells and the MacDonalds, who had tracked them to the shore, tried to rescue them, they were too late. And Callum was gone, gone never to come back, and Nancy was with him; and if Store Thompson could get the great preacher who had lately come to Barbay, they would bury them both in the Glen to-morrow. Scotty did not hear any more; Callum to be buried, and Nancy, too, to be put away in the ground as they had put Kirsty's father! He crept off into a corner of the haymow as soon as Jimmie had left him, and lay there, his curly head hidden deep in the hay, his small body shaken with long convulsive sobs. Callum, his Callum, Granny's hero, as well as his own, gone never to come back!
Voices reached him once, and lest he should be discovered, he pressed his small hands over his quivering face and manfully strove to hold down his grief. Praying Donald and Long Lauchie were walking slowly with bent heads past the open barn door.
"It will be the will of the Almighty to be visiting us through this calamity," Praying Donald was saying, "but the Father will never be leaving His children comfortless, for the man of God himself will be coming to the funeral."
"McAlpine?" asked Long Lauchie in an eager whisper.
"Aye, John McAlpine himself; the Lord will be very merciful to us. But, eh, eh, that the man that poor Malcolm would be praying for all these years should be coming to us over his dead! Eh, it will be a mystery, a mystery!"
RALPH STANWELL AGAIN
Johnnie Courteau of de mountain, Johnnie Courteau of de hill; Dat was de boy can shoot de gun, Dat was de boy can jomp an' run, An' it's not very offen you ketch heem still, Johnnie Courteau! —WILLIAM HENRY DRUMMOND.
Scotty was setting out for what he hoped was his last winter at school. It was a performance he considered quite too juvenile, and a single glance at him would convince anyone that it was high time he had put away childish things. His great, strong frame, over six feet in his "shoepacks," his brawny arms and hands, well developed under the toil of the axe and the plough, all spoke of his having reached man's estate. But his growth had somewhat outrun his years, and he had not yet reached the age when he might with propriety remain away from school during the winter. Besides, he had held a conference with Dan Murphy and "Hash" Tucker during the Christmas holidays to consider the matter of further education. Should they abjure the whole trivial business, was the question discussed, or should they attend school this winter just to see what the new master would be like, and, if possible, make things lively for him?
The latter course, being the more uncertain, offered the more entertainment and was unanimously adopted; so here was the young man, on this dazzling January morning, swinging along the silent white forest path, ready for any kind of adventure.
For Scotty had arrived at a period when the unknown and the forbidden were the alluring, and the lawful and the restraining were the irksome. Indeed Rory was wont to grumble that that young Scot was just going to ruin; he had never been made to mind anybody when he was little, and now he was just growing up clean wild. For since Rory had given up fiddling and dancing and had settled down with Roarin' Sandy's Maggie in the north clearing he had become a very staid householder and frowned upon all youthful frivolity. And though his prophecies were perhaps overpessimistic, there was undoubtedly some cause for disapproval in the matter of Scotty's conduct. Even Big Malcolm and his wife, who, as old age advanced, were more and more inclined to make an idol of their grandson, could not quite shut their eyes to his imperfections. He was the same big-hearted Scotty he had been in his childhood, lavishly generous and swift to respond to the call of suffering; but his high spirits were sometimes too much for the narrow confines of his life, and he was wont to break out into wild, mischievous pranks.
During the last winter of poor old McAllister's feeble misrule, Scotty and his two leal followers, Dan Murphy and "Hash" Tucker, had contrived to make the hard name of Number Nine notorious. So long as the three confined their misdemeanours to the school the public had winked at them. Disorder and ill-behaviour always seemed associated with old McAllister, everyone felt; and indeed Mr. Cameron, the minister, was suspected by most of the section to have had reference to the old broken-down school-teacher when he preached that solemn discourse upon the blind leaders of the blind. As the sermon was delivered on the Sabbath after Scotty and Dan had knocked over the stovepipes and almost burned down the school-house, Store Thompson declared he was "convinced of the certainty of the application-like."
But when the boys perpetrated acts of lawlessness beyond the precincts of school life people began to look upon them askance. Scotty had distinguished himself rather unpleasantly on the last Hallowe'en; for besides the usual small depredations which everyone expected on that historic night, someone had gone to the extremity of elevating Gabby Johnny Thompson's wagon, heavily loaded with grain, to the top of the barn; and everyone in the Oa knew that nobody would have conceived of such a daring thing except Big Malcolm's Scot.
Of course, the neighbours could not fail to see some poetic justice in the affair, for Gabby Johnny, who was famed for his astute bargaining, had been voicing a wailing desire for high wheat ever since that grain had begun to grow along the banks of the Oro. Nevertheless, though the neighbours might secretly approve of such retributive acts of Providence, the medium through which they descended was liable to be regarded with disfavour.
For while Scotty was growing up the social life of the Oro valley had been undergoing a great transformation. John McAlpine, that great preacher whose words always awoke his hearers to a terrible realisation of the solemnity of life and the certainty of death, had come to the Glen with his imperative call to higher things. And at his coming the Sun of Righteousness had arisen over the Oro hills and the whole countryside had awakened to a new day.
Other influences had been at work, too; the spirit of the pioneer days was passing with the forests, the little isolated circles of cleared land had widened out and merged into each other like the rings on the surface of the Oro pools, and with the broader outlook came gentler manners and more tolerant views. Then this young land was slowly but surely absorbing into her own personality all the discordant elements and making of them a great nation; for within the last few years a new race had sprung up in the Oro valley, a race that was neither English, Irish, nor Scotch, Highland nor Lowland, but a strange mixture of all, known as Canadian. The community in the Glen had grown to quite a respectable village, the post office adding a touch of dignity and necessitating the new name, the name of Glenoro. And best of all, there was the church just at the bend in the river, with the manse beside it where the minister lived; and such had been its influence that a fight at the corner now would have brought a shock to the whole township.
So Scotty and his followers did not properly belong to these improved times; they were mediaeval. The boy had been too young when Mr. McAlpine came to be deeply affected by his great sermons; but he had not outlived the stirring memory of the old fighting days when Callum kept the Oa lively. Callum was still his hero, the dear old handsome Callum, of whom he could never think even yet without a pang of regret. Hamish and Rory had grown beyond him with the years, but Callum was always young and bright and dashing; and Scotty was determined to be like him and to do the great deeds Callum would certainly have done had it not been for his untimely end.
The bell was ringing when the three conspirators met at the school pump. Number Nine had a bell now, and there was even some agitation for a new building. Poor old McAllister's wasted life had gone out the autumn before like the quenching of a smouldering fire, and now that a new man was to take his place the section was beginning to pick up courage and look for a hopeful future.
The young men lounged in at the end of the procession and flopped into their seats with the proper air of insupportable boredom. Scotty's first task was to take the measure of his new instructor. At the first glance he was conscious of a distinct sensation of disappointment. He had expected the stranger to be young and callow, but this man had grey hair and was apparently nearing middle age. His face, which was pale and showed signs of ill-health, was clearly cut and refined. His frame was well-built and wiry, and he had a pair of steady grey eyes and a quiet, dignified manner which seemed strangely incongruous in the position old McAllister had so long made ridiculous.
Nevertheless Scotty regarded him with strong disfavour. His white collar, his smooth hair and his English way of sharply clipping off his words stamped him as hopelessly "stuck-up"; and Dan Murphy reported with derisive joy that he had worn gloves to school, a weakness of which no one who called himself a man would be guilty. Besides all this, he had obtained his position through Captain Herbert; indeed, he had been a close friend of the Captain when they lived in Toronto, it was rumoured, and he probably belonged to the aristocracy, who were hated of Scotty's soul. On the other hand, he wasn't an Englishman, for his name was Archibald Monteith, that was one thing in his favour; but he stood for order and good behaviour, and the young man was arrayed against all such.
The new master himself was quietly taking note of his surroundings. He had been thoroughly informed of the bad character of Number Nine, both by Captain Herbert and the trustees, not to speak of the unsolicited advice and information that had been pouring in upon him ever since his arrival. Upon the first night of his stay at Store Thompson's, a burly man with a great bushy head and beard had come suddenly upon him; and after a warm handshake and welcome had given him absolute power in the matter of dealing with his family.
"You lay it onto my Danny," was the generous admonition. "Sure, the young spalpeen's mad wid the foolish goin's on, an' it's a latherin' he needs ivery day. You mind an' lay it onto Danny!"
Quite as cordial but more ominous had been the advice proffered by Gabby Johnny Thompson. In his capacity of Secretary-Treasurer of the School Board that gentleman felt it incumbent upon him to inform the novice of the unsounded depths of iniquity he had to deal with in Number Nine. His darkest hints related to "yon ill piece o' Big Malcolm MacDonald's." A scandalous young deil he was, and Mr. Monteith would have to keep an eye on him, for him and yon young Papish of a Murphy were a bad pair. It was young Scot Malcolm who had nearly burned the school down, over McAllister's head; yes, and would have burned up old McAllister, too, without a thought, he was that thrawn and ill.
Monteith was regarding with deep interest the owner of this evil reputation. He was a rare reader of character, and understood at once the nature of Scotty's malady. His man's frame and boy's face, his keen, bright, inquiring eyes, and the signs of abounding life, all fully explained the cause of the trouble. The schoolmaster found something irresistibly attractive about the boy too; there were signs of intellect in every line of his face, and he dearly loved brains.
As the school passed out for their morning intermission he beckoned the youth to him. Dan Murphy made a covert grimace expressive of his whole being's revolt against any such degrading task, and Scotty went forward reluctantly. He wanted to disobey, but the man's courtesy held him.
An old school register in which were written some seventy names lay open on the desk.
"I am hopelessly entangled in all these MacDonalds," said the new master, in a tone one man would use in addressing another. "Here are four Betseys and six Johnnies, and Donalds without number. Would you be so good as to assist me?"
Scotty's inbred Highland courtesy and the generous desire to help which was part of his nature, impelled him to answer politely. Striving to ignore the violent pantomime being enacted by Dan in the porch, he gave the man the key to the situation. His big finger ran awkwardly down the page as he gave the name by which each pupil was known. The stranger listened in some amusement and not a little bewilderment to the list: Roarin' Sandy's Donald, Crooked Duncan's Donald, Peter Archie Red's Donald. They were rather unwieldy, but he planted them down heroically, and then proceeded to disentangle the Murphys and the Tuckers after the same fashion.
"I am very much obliged to you," he said with the same quiet seriousness when the work was finished, and Scotty took his seat wondering if the new master ever smiled. Most likely that grave, unbending manner was just the natural outcome of his inevitably stuck-up nature, he reflected.
Affairs went harmoniously enough until school was dismissed for the noon recess. As soon as the word was given dinner-pails were seized, bread-and-butter, meat, pie, and cake began to appear and disappear again with equal rapidity; a crowd of the bigger girls made preparations for brewing tea on the stove; and before the new master could get on his overcoat and gloves preparatory to leaving, dinner was well under way, and the room was filled with a strong aroma of tea and pork.
Scotty had gone to the door to administer a farewell snowball to the unclassified aliens who went home to the village for dinner. A prompt answer came hurtling back, and as he dodged into the porch with a derisive yell of laughter, he barely escaped knocking over the new master. He hastily stepped aside to let him pass, but the man paused.
"I forgot to ask you your own name, among all the others," he said, more for the sake of engaging the youth in conversation than to gain information. "You are a MacDonald, too, I believe?"
Scotty had long passed the time when he felt his English name a disgrace. Of course he would have preferred one of another sort, but he scarcely thought of it now, and most of his schoolmates had forgotten that he possessed one. And, in the face of this grave man's courtesy, he felt it would be childish to pretend, so he answered, not without some dignity, "No, my name will not be MacDonald, it will be Stanwell, Ralph Stanwell."
The new master's grey eyes grew suddenly narrow; he was well acquainted with all the small tricks to be played upon a newcomer, and had many a time seen this one of a fictitious name successfully practiced. He had been prepared to find this boy hard to manage, but he was disgusted that he should descend to such a small, childish prank. He knew Scotty's name only too well, and, in any case, for a youth with a marked Highland accent, dressed in the grey homespun which seemed the uniform of the clan MacDonald, to stand before him and give himself such a name as this was as stupid as it was insulting.
"That is a very clumsy lie," he remarked quietly.
Scotty dropped his snowball and stared; for a moment he did not quite comprehend.
"What?" he cried artlessly. His look of innocent amazement doubled his listener's indignation.
"I said," returned the man very distinctly, "that you have told me a lie, and a very stupid one, for I know your name to be Scot MacDonald, and a rather notorious one you have made it, too."
And turning his back in disgust, the new master walked quietly down the snowy road. For an instant Scotty stood glaring after him, every drop of his rebellious blood tingling. He snatched up his snowball again and took aim. If he could only smash that conceited looking hat, or better still, the insufferable white collar! But there was something in the commanding air of the figure that went so steadily onward, not deigning to look back, that held the boy's arm.
Instead, he sent the missile crashing into the last remaining pane in the porch window, and went leaping into the school, determined to find Dan and relieve his feelings by working some irreparable damage.
The schoolhouse was in a condition to invite depredations. Late in the previous autumn, as soon as the news of the new master's expected advent had come, the matrons of Number Nine had organised a housecleaning campaign in the school. Store Thompson's wife, that queen of housekeepers, headed the expedition against dirt, and even the minister's wife took part. The former lady had long declared that the condition of the schoolhouse was clean ridic'l'us, and now demanded that something be done to better it, for as the new master was coming from the Captain's he was sure to be a gentleman, and most like would be terrible tidy.
So the army of housekeepers had charged down upon the schoolhouse, and such a washing and cleansing and renovating as took place had certainly never been paralleled except when the spring winds and waters came swirling down the Oro hills. The poor little building was scarcely recognisable when it emerged from its baptism of soapy water and whitewash. The big girls added an artistic touch by decorating the spotless walls with cedar boughs, until the place smelled as sweet as the swamps of the Oro; and to crown all, the minister presented it with a fine picture of Queen Victoria to be hung above the master's desk.
And this was the immaculate condition of the place where, when his dinner was finished, Scotty's roving eye sought something upon which to work off his burning indignation.
It had always been the custom heretofore in Number Nine to employ the noon recess tearing round the room in a cloud of dust, yelling, throwing ink and breaking furniture. But to-day the awe of the new master had had a restraining influence, and most of the wilder spirits had betaken themselves to an outdoor campaign. So there were only a few of the smaller pupils and the larger girls grouped round the stove when Scotty started his new enterprise. The cedar wreath above the door was quite dry and rather dusty and offered a fine field for a unique exploit. Lighting a splinter at the stove, he set fire to the garland, allowed the flames to mount up, and just as they threatened to get beyond his control, beat them out with his cap. The girls shrieked in horror; Betty Lauchie screamed that he was a wretch, and the minister himself would be after him, and Biddy Murphy vowed she'd pull every hair of his worthless head out for him if he tried it again. But Scotty was joyously reckless and quite beyond fear of even Miss Murphy.
When Dan returned from the slaughter of the Philistines, who lived over on the Tenth, he found his chum the centre of a wildly excited group, and engaged in beating out his third conflagration. Dan was immediately fired to emulation. He would be disgraced forever in the eyes of the Flats if he allowed Scotty to get ahead of him, and already the room was filling with admiring MacDonalds and envious Murphys. So, in spite of the imploring shrieks and commands of the girls, he struck a match and soon had the festoons along the wall crackling merrily. When this rival blaze was extinguished Hash Tucker stepped into public notice. Considering his blood and breeding, this son of the house of Tucker should have been a phlegmatic Saxon. But no one can say what Canadian air will do with the blood; and under its influence Hash had long ago commenced a reversion to type, the aboriginal wild Indian. Whatever Scotty or Dan did therefore, that he could outdo. Seizing a burning brand from the stove, he scrambled up on the teacher's rickety old desk, and the next moment the triumphal arch, reared in honour of the new master's coming, was in a blaze. But just as he reached up to beat out the flames he was gripped violently round the knees, and down he came to the floor, Scotty on the top of him. Hash roared lustily for his followers; the Tenth responded gallantly, Scotty was engulfed in their on-rush, and, to help on the good work, Dan Murphy headed a rescue party from the Oa to extricate his friend from the yelling heap.
What the outcome of this affray might have been is doubtful, but just at its inception a terrified cry of "fire," from the remainder of the school parted the combatants. They came to their feet to find the flames leaping up the walls, and clouds of smoke rolling through the room.
It was no joke this time and the boys wasted not an instant. Scotty leaped from the floor to head an impromptu fire brigade, and for a few moments they worked desperately. They dragged down the burning branches and flung them out of doors; they flew to and from the pump, they flung snow and water among the flames, and after a short but desperate struggle the fire was conquered.
It was all over in a few moments, and the victors stood, begrimed and breathless, and rather ruefully surveyed the havoc they had unwittingly wrought. The lately spotless walls were scorched and blackened, the decorations depended from the fastenings, charred and ugly, and the floor was swimming in inky water.
"Horo!" cried Scotty, with a long, dismayed whistle.
"It'll be bad for the gent's white collar if he comes in here," said Dan solemnly. "Murderin' blazes, who's that?"
Now, it happened that by an evil chance Gabby Johnny, the Secretary-Treasurer, had been driving past the school on his way to the woods, and seeing smoke issuing from the windows of the building over which he considered himself the especial guardian, he stopped his team and rushed upon the scene, and there he stood now, in the silent crowd of frightened girls and sobered boys, gazing at the devastation with such an expression of aghast horror, that at the sight of him all Scotty's compunction vanished and he laughed aloud.
Gabby Johnny peered through the smoke and discerned his enemy, evidently rejoicing over his evil work.
"Ah, ye ill piece!" he shouted, stepping up to the boy and shaking his fist in his face, "Ah kenned it was you! Aye, Ah kenned! If there's ony scandal'us goin's on ye'll be in it! It's an evil end ye're comin' til, wi' yer goin's on; aye, that's what ye are! Ye neither fear God, nor regard man! Sik a like onceevilised——"
Now Gabby Johnny was prepared upon all occasions to prove his right to his sobriquet, and Dan Murphy well knew he would not stop until he had driven Scotty to extreme measures, so here he mercifully interfered in his friend's behalf. He had no mind to defy a trustee, so, being of a diplomatic turn, determined to divert the tide of wrath by the simple expedient of producing a counter-irritant. He slipped out quietly from the line of culprits, and snatching up a well-packed snowball hurled it straight and true at the team standing in the road. The missile was a hard one, and the nervous young colts, their heads erect, their nostrils indignant, went jingling off down the road, their heels sending a fine snowstorm over the old bobsleigh, leaping in their wake.
Gabby Johnny heard his bells and his eloquence suddenly ceased. At the same instant Dan burst in upon him, his eyes starting from his head, his breath coming in gasps.
"Sure, your team's runnin' away!" he bawled. "They're runnin' away! I can't stop them; they're gone clane wild!"
Gabby Johnny waited neither to hear nor deliver more. He darted out and down the road, followed by a hailstorm of snowballs and the joyful cheers of Number Nine. And as he went he howled breathless anathemas, alternately at his wayward horses and back at the yelling mob behind him, both couched in language little calculated to raise the moral status of the already besmirched school.
But the boys' trouble was not over; they returned from the rout of the trustee only to find the new master entering the scene of destruction. He stood and looked about him with a manner just as quiet, but no graver, than usual.
"How did the fire start?" he asked calmly.
The dauntless three stepped forward, headed by Scotty. In the old days confession to McAllister did not appear in the code of schoolboy honour; but there was something about this man, even though Scotty cordially hated him, which demanded fair dealing. The new master looked them over in a manner that was hardly complimentary. His eyebrows rose.
"Children!" was all he said, but the word made Scotty writhe. Then he did not scold or rave as the boys half-wished he would. He quietly dismissed all but the three culprits, and saying he would give them that afternoon and the next day to bring the school back to the condition in which they had found it, and that done, he would prefer that they remain at home under their parents' control for a month or so, he turned on his heel and walked away with an air that said plainly that this was no affair of his and was regarded by him with calm indifference.
The boys were completely taken aback. Hitherto school discipline had consisted exclusively of thrashings, which though uncomfortable had some honour attached. But here was a new departure; to have to undo all one's mischief, and then be contemptuously dismissed was a serious affair. The new master acted as though he were the King of England too, and certainly, with Gabby Johnny at his back, he was not to be trifled with.
When the three arrived the next morning, armed with whitewash and brushes, Dan and Hash were rather inclined to feel subdued, but not so Scotty. In his home discipline was not so rigid as in that of the other two, and his grandparents had not even heard of his escapade. And his heart was still raging hot against the new master. The man had dared to tell him he lied! The remembrance of it and Monteith's air of calm superiority maddened him. How he longed to knock him down and hear him take back his statement. Well, he could not do that, it seemed, but he would wreak his vengeance in some other way.
So with Scotty in this mood the work of reparation did not go on very steadily. His two companions tried to attend to business, but soon found it impossible. They were alone in the forest with unlimited whitewash; and with Scotty inciting them to deeds of daring, how could they resist? They started by enduring their leader's pranks, and ended by embracing them, and when their morning's task was completed not even McAllister's ghost, could it have appeared, would have recognised its old haunts.
Yet no one could say the boys had not done their work, for they had whitewashed the school with a thoroughness even Store Thompson's wife would never have attempted. The only fault was the lack of discrimination shown by the decorators. Some critics might have considered the coating of the floor and the desks a work of supererogation. But the boys were not stingy; they whitewashed everything with an impartial and lavish generosity; the walls, the ceiling, the blackboard, the furniture. Yes, even the stove and stovepipes were rubbed until they fairly radiated whiteness, and stood out spectrally in their pallid surroundings, like the ghost of some departed heater. Scotty gave the new master's desk an extra coat, and even polished up a stray book and dinner pail, unluckily left behind the day before, just to have them in harmony with their environment.
When at last the work was finished and the three bespattered workmen prepared to depart, Dan declared in an oratorical address delivered from the top of the master's snowy desk, that they had nobly done their duty, for had they not carried out the new master's instructions and whitewashed the school?
And when they turned the white key in the white door and stole off in three directions through the forest, bursting with mirth, they vowed they had not experienced such a season of pure joy since the night Gabby Johnny's waggon had arisen, like Charles's Wain, in the heavens!
IN THE REALMS OF GOLD
Not to be conquered by these headlong days, But to stand free: to keep the mind at brood On life's deep meaning, nature's altitude Of loveliness, and time's mysterious ways; At every thought and deed to clear the haze Out of our eyes, considering only this, What man, what life, what love, what beauty is, This is to live and win the final praise. —ABCHIBALD LAMPMAN.
Upon his return home, Scotty went out behind the house to work off some of his superfluous mirth upon the woodpile. He had flung aside his coat and was swinging his axe vigorously, when, with the quickness of the rural eye which always spies an approaching figure, he noticed a man turn in from the highway and walk briskly up the snowy lane. The boy gave a low whistle; his face grew dark with anger. It was the new master! He had found out the condition of the school then, and had come to report to his grandparents. McAllister at his worst was better than this fellow, for McAllister was no sneak. But even in his anger, he chuckled mischievously when he considered what an exhibition Monteith would surely make of himself if he attempted to lodge complaints with Big Malcolm against his grandson.
But instead of turning up the path to the door, the new master followed the track that led round the house under the Silver Maple.
At first Scotty was of a mind to dodge round the woodpile and escape; but he was too late; Monteith had already caught sight of him; so he waited, sullen and defiant.
The new master lost no time in making his errand known.
"I came to offer an apology, Ralph Stanwell," he said gravely, "for what I said concerning your name. I found out my mistake only this afternoon."
Scotty's defiant air changed to one of amazement; his eyes fell, he felt suddenly ashamed.
"I hope you will accept an explanation, though it does not at all atone for what I said," continued the schoolmaster earnestly. "I am truly ashamed of myself for making such a stupid blunder."
Scotty squirmed in embarrassment. He had never in his life witnessed any such dignified reparation of a wrong, and in contrast, his own late conduct looked childish and almost barbarous.
"Oh, it will not matter, whatever," he stammered abruptly, and in a manner much more ungracious than his feelings warranted.
"But it does matter very much. It was no way for one man to speak to another."
Scotty experienced a glow of mingled pride and shame; the new master considered him a man then, and he had not played the man's part! "But, you see," continued Monteith, "I felt so sure. It was your Highland accent, and your—your general MacDonald appearance that to my ignorance made your statement unbelievable."
The schoolmaster had unwittingly struck the right chord.
Scotty smiled shyly but amicably. "Oh, it will be jist nothing," he said generously.
"Won't you shake hands, then, and let me feel I am quite forgiven?"
But Scotty did not put out his hand; he stood shifting from one foot to the other, looking down at the heap of chips.
"But—I—would you not be knowing?" he faltered.
"That we—that I would be making the schoolhouse worse than ever?"
There was a sudden light in Monteith's eyes that would have surely convinced Scotty, had he seen it, of the new master's ability to smile.
"Well, perhaps that will help to even things up a little," he said brightly. "Come, are you willing to call it quits?"
Scotty put out his big hand swiftly, and felt it caught in a strong bony grip. And as their hands met Monteith's stern face suddenly broke out into an unexpected smile, a smile so brilliant and kindly that the boy felt it illuminate his whole being, and from that moment he was the new master's friend.
"And now," said the man, suddenly becoming grave again, "will you tell me how you come to have two names? How does a Highland Scot like you happen to have such a name as Stanwell?"
Scotty gasped; was he going to ignore the whitewashing altogether?
"It would be my father's," he answered simply, "but I would always be living here with my grandfather, and I was always called MacDonald."
"Ralph Stanwell, Ralph Stanwell," repeated the schoolmaster ruminatingly, "I've heard that name before. Why, yes; I wonder if you are any relation to the Captain Ralph Stanwell I once met in Toronto. The name is not common."
"My father died there, and my mother, too," was the answer.
The new master stared. "Surely, surely," he was saying, half to himself, "it couldn't be possible; but his wife's name was MacDonald too! And Herbert always said the child died!"
Under the man's steady gaze Scotty fidgeted with his axe in combined amazement and embarrassment.
"Was your father's second name Everett?"
"Yes, and that will be mine, too."
The new master stared harder.
"Well, well, well," he muttered, "I wonder if he knows!"
The boy stood lost in a wild speculation. By some queer trick of memory he was back once more in Store Thompson's shop, a little curly-headed fellow, and felt a man's kind, playful hand upon his curls; and at the sound of his name saw a smiling face grow suddenly grave with amazement, fear and defiance chasing one another across it. How was it that, all through his life, his English name seemed always to produce consternation?
Monteith shook himself as though awakening from a dream.
"I beg your pardon," he said hastily, "your name called up some old memories. And now, I must be going." He held out his hand again. "Good-bye, and I thank you for your generosity."
"But—but you will not be leaving without your supper!" cried Scotty aghast.
"Thank you, but your grandparents are not expecting me, and——"
Scotty stared. "But what difference would that be making?" he asked artlessly. "It will be all the better." The new master smiled again at the unconscious hospitality of the remark, and this time accepted the invitation. Scotty instantly flung aside his axe, and led the way around to the door.
Monteith had already learned to expect a warm greeting from the inhabitants of the Oro Highlands, but he had yet to experience a true Scottish-Canadian welcome, and was almost overwhelmed by the one he received in the old house under the Silver Maple.
Big Malcolm met him at the door and made him welcome in a manner that somehow made the guest feel that the old man owned the whole township of Oro and was laying it at his feet. Mrs. MacDonald drew him up to the fire, bewailing the long cold walk he had had, and pulling off his overcoat, calling all the while for Scotty to run and put more wood in the stove that she might make a fresh cup of tea. Hamish came hurrying up from the barn to shake the guest's hand and make him welcome yet again, and even Sport, Bruce's successor, leaped round him, barking joyously, as though he understood that the arrival of a visitor was the best possible thing that could happen.
Then, there was Old Farquhar, still cackling incoherent Gaelic from the chimney corner. Before the visitor had got the snow swept from his feet the old man inquired if he had read Ossian's poems, and finding him in the depths of ignorance regarding that great bard, turned his back upon him in disgust, and for the remainder of the afternoon snored grumpily.
The hostess explained apologetically, as she brought the new master a steaming cup of tea, that indeed poor Farquhar was the nice, kind body, but he had had the toothache all last night and would be terrible set on Ossian.
Mrs. MacDonald was growing too old for the household cares devolving upon her, and Scotty being her chief help, the housekeeping did not at all compare with what Monteith was accustomed to in his boarding place at Store Thompson's. But he was conscious of no lack in the dingy old house. He recognised the inherent refinement of Mrs. MacDonald's nature, and bowed to it; he knew Big Malcolm for a gentleman the moment he spoke; and he saw, too, something of the mystic in Hamish. For in later years there had grown an expression in Hamish's kind brown eyes which the schoolmaster understood—the look of a soul that has longed to soar, but has been kept down by narrow limitations.
Then the supper was spread upon the table, and it was all the visitor could desire; porridge in brown bowls, smoking and fragrant, sweet white bread, and bannocks with plenty of maple syrup. And afterwards, when the supper was cleared away, and Scotty and Hamish had finished the milking, they all gathered about the stove, which now stood in front of the old discarded fireplace. First the schoolmaster had to tell of his life and lineage, during which recital he proved his Scottish blood to everyone's satisfaction. There did not seem to be much to tell of his past doings, though in response to the simple, kindly questionings, he gave it all. He had been born in Scotland and was quite alone in Canada, except for Captain Herbert, who was an old friend, and whose wife had been a distant relative. He had studied law for some years, but his health had failed before his course was completed. Then he had knocked about the world a good deal, and had come north at Captain Herbert's advice to see if the Oro air would not do him good.
"Indeed, and it will that!" Big Malcolm declared heartily. "Jist you eat plenty o' pork and oatmeal porridge and you'll be a new man in no time. Hoots, when we would be coming here first folk would never be sick like now-a-days; and indeed it wasn't often a man died except a tree would be falling on him, whatever."
"Those must have been fine times," said the schoolmaster smilingly; and thereupon his host and hostess launched into long tales of the old days, when the forest came up to the door, and of those older and happier days in the homeland across the sea.
Big Malcolm and his wife lived much in the past now, and, when the guest displayed a kindly interest in their history, they opened their hearts even to speak of Callum, their light-hearted, bright Callum, whose end had been so untimely. The schoolmaster heard also the manner of his death; how it had brought the great preacher, and how in the double grave in the Glen by the river one of the Fighting MacDonalds, at least, had buried all his feuds. And they told him, too, of their only daughter, the beautiful little Margaret, who had been Scotty's mother. Monteith asked many questions concerning her, and Scotty listened eagerly, but his new friend offered no explanation of his interest.
When it was time to depart, Big Malcolm was for insisting that he should spend the night with them; but when he declared that he must return to the Glen, or Mrs. Thompson would be worried, his hostess seized the teapot again, and another supper was spread out, of which the guest had perforce to partake before leaving.
That finished, Big Malcolm reverently laid aside his bonnet, and Scotty brought him the old yellow-leaved Bible. The old man read the 103d Psalm in a triumphant tone that showed he had passed all his temptations and trials, and now in a serene old age his soul blessed the Lord for His guidance.
And then they sang a Psalm, Old Farquhar coming out from his corner to join them. They sang it in English, in deference to the guest's lack of Gaelic, and the brown rafters rang to the solemn old Scottish tune in harmony with the beautiful words:
"Oh, taste and see that God is good: Who trusts in Him is bless'd!"
And listening, the man of the world experienced a vague sensation of something like regretful envy. Had he not, in his broader life, missed some uplifting joy, some great blessing in which these old people rejoiced?
While Monteith was taking a lingering farewell and promising a speedy return, Scotty went to a corner and lit the lantern, and in spite of the schoolmaster's protests, insisted upon accompanying him for a mile to show him the short road across the swamp.
The two walked side by side along the snowy path, the lantern flashing fitfully amongst the bare branches and dark boles of the trees. Monteith chatted away pleasantly, but Scotty answered only in monosyllables. He was employed in making desperate efforts to bring about some allusion to the condition of the schoolhouse. But the new master seemed to have totally forgotten school affairs, and when they came to the end of the forest path and stood upon the Glenoro road, saying good-night, this strange man had not in the smallest way recurred to the shameful subject. Scotty was in despair. "It would be a fool's trick we were doing!" he burst forth, as Monteith held out his hand in farewell, "if we could jist be having another day——" He stopped overcome.
The new master did not seem to need an explanation of this apparently irrelevant speech. "Could you fix it all up in one day?" he inquired in a business-like manner.
"Oh, yes!" Scotty gasped eagerly, "easy."
"All right, we'll take to-morrow; I'll come over and help you. Good-night!"
And he turned away, leaving his pupil standing in the middle of the road amazed and humbled.
Number Nine learned during the following week that for some inexplicable reason the MacDonalds, whose hand had hitherto been against every other man's hand, were on the side of the new master, and that anyone who gave him trouble was courting dire calamities at the hands of Big Malcolm's Scot. As a direct result the fiat went forth that Dan Murphy, and consequently all his generation, also approved of the new rule. Subsequently the Tenth announced its neutrality; and from that time the new era, which had arisen at the building of the church in the social world of the Oro valley, dawned in the schoolhouse too, and the land had rest from war.
To no one did the new dispensation bring greater things than to Scotty. Ever since the days when all knowledge and wisdom could be extracted, by persistent questionings, from Hamish, he had experienced an unslakable thirst for books. He had been much more fortunate in finding reading material than his uncle had been, for Captain Herbert's library was always at Scotty's disposal. Every summer and winter Isabel came to Kirsty's laden with books, and what feasts she and Scotty had reading under the boughs of the Silver Maple or before Kirsty's fire! Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, Macaulay—they devoured them all; and once, by mistake, she had brought some books by a wonderful man named Carlyle, which she declared were dreadfully stupid, but which Scotty found strangely fascinating, though somewhat beyond his understanding.
But Isabel had been away at school for more than a year now, and though she wrote Scotty voluminous letters, which he answered at shamefully long intervals, and only when Kirsty's reproaches goaded him to the effort, she had almost entirely passed out of his life.
So when there had been no more books to read he had turned his restless energies into less profitable channels. But now, here were not only books of all kinds, but a man ready and willing to interpret them. Scotty heard no more of the sentence of expulsion, and with the energy that characterised everything he did, he plunged headlong into a course of study far beyond any public school curriculum. Monteith was first amazed, then delighted, and lastly found he had to set himself severe tasks to keep sufficiently ahead of his pupil.
And in return for his pains Scotty gave an allegiance to his master that had in it something of homage. Not the gay, reckless Callum was his hero now, but this quiet, self-controlled gentleman. Unconsciously the boy copied him in every particular, and unquestioningly adopted his opinions. Monteith had seen the world, had lived in cities, and even in that magic land, "the old country," and surely he should be an authority. Scotty early learned that the new master despised the tavern, not quite in the way Store Thompson and the minister and his grandfather did, as a force of evil, but in lofty scorn of its lowness.
In consequence the boy was never found hanging about its doors any more. And though the teacher said nothing about his religious views, the pupil soon learned and adopted them too. Monteith treated all creeds with a good-natured tolerance. The Bible, he declared, was a grand piece of literature, and he liked to go to church because Mr. Cameron's sermons gave him some intellectual stimulus. Religion he characterised chiefly as an emotion. A man needed only common sense to show him how to live, he declared. Scotty felt that this was the creed for him; he had come under Monteith's control at a period when he was in revolt against all earlier restraint and rejoiced in the feeling of independence which the new belief brought.
The two soon became fast friends in their common pursuit of learning. When the second winter came, and Scotty had become too old for school, he and Monteith studied together in the long evenings, and each month of companionship served to deepen their friendship. But in spite of their intimacy the boy never elicited any explanation of his friend's strange behaviour when he first realised that Scotty's name was Stanwell. Monteith was always careful to call him Ralph, but he forebore from any allusion to the subject; and as the days went happily on the matter dropped from the boy's thoughts.
THE WEAVER'S REWARD
Love came at dawn when all the world was fair, When crimson glories, bloom and song were rife; Love came at dawn when hope's wings fanned the air, And murmured, "I am life."
Love came at even when the day was done, When heart and brain were tired and slumber pressed; Love came at eve, shut out the sinking sun, And whispered, "I am rest." —WILLIAM WILFRED CAMPBELL.
And just as Scotty entered manhood a wonderful thing happened in the Highlands, something that amazed the neighbours and convinced them of the instability of all things, particularly of a woman's resolution, for Kirsty John promised to marry the Weaver. All these weary years, as faithful as the sun and as untiring, Jimmie had been climbing the hills to the Oa to shed the beams of his devotion unheeded at Kirsty's doorstep; but now the long period of Jacob-like service was over, for he had at last won his Rachel.
Some declared that this was only a new method Kirsty had found for tormenting her hapless lover, and that after they were tied up she would lead him a dog's life. But Long Lauchie's girls—there were still girls at Long Lauchie's, though a goodly number of matrons looked back to the place as their old home—declared that Jimmie no longer dodged when Kirsty passed him, and that he even entered her house without knocking. And Big Malcolm's wife would shake her head smilingly at all the dark predictions and declare in her quiet, firm way that indeed they need never fear for Jimmie.
And she was right; the Weaver was not undertaking any such hazardous enterprise as the neighbours supposed. For a change had come over Kirsty the winter she lost the frail little mother, and only Big Malcolm's wife knew its depth. All Kirsty's bold courage, all her fearless fight with poverty, had had for its inspiration the poor sufferer on the bed in the corner of the little shanty, and when the spring of action was removed there went also the daughter's dauntless spirit, and nowhere was the change so strongly evinced as in this promise to marry the Weaver.
Kirsty's grief had no bitterness in it. It had softened her greatly, for the little mother's death had been as beautiful as her patient, pain-filled life. And wonderful it seemed that, like that other woman who had suffered so long before, just eighteen years of pain had been completed when the Master called her to Him and said in His infinite love, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity."
"But you will surely not be leaving me," pleaded Kirsty brokenly when her mother told her the end could not be far off. "Ah've nobody but you."
"Eh, ma lassie, ye'll be better wi'oot such a puir auld buddie, jist a burden to ye a' these years."
"Oh, mother, mother, ye'll surely not be talkin' that way to me," sobbed her daughter.
"Eh, eh, lass! There, there! It's naething but the best Ah could say to ye, Kirsty." The weak old hand was fumbling feebly for Kirsty's bowed head. "For, eh, ye've jist been that guid to yer mither, the Lord'll reward ye; Ah've nae fear o' ye, Kirsty, He'll reward ye." There was a long silence in the little room. The fire flared up in the old chimney, the clock's noisy pendulum went tap, tap, tap, loud and clear in the stillness. "Read it tae me jist once mair, Kirsty," she whispered. Kirsty arose and fetched the old yellow-leaved Bible from the dresser. She did not need to be told what she was to read.
"Aye," whispered the old woman with a gleam of triumph in her eyes, "aye, He called her; an' it's jist eighteen year. Aye, eighteen! Eh, it's been a long time, Kirsty," she continued as her daughter seated herself at the bedside again, "eh, a weary time, an' the pain's been that bad, whiles, Ah wished He would tak' it awa, but Ah didna ask Him. No, no! She didna ask Him, an' Ah jist waited like her, an' it's eighteen year, and Ah think He'll be callin' me.... Read it, Kirsty."
Kirsty opened the Book; her eyes were blinded with tears, but she had so often read that passage that she knew it by heart. She was faltering through it when a timid step sounded, a crunch, crunch on the snow outside the door, and a low tap, scarcely audible above the noise of the clock, announced Weaver Jimmie. Old Collie, lying before the fire, so accustomed to Jimmie's approach, merely uttered a gruff snort, as though to apprise all that he was well aware that someone had arrived, but did not consider the visitor worthy of his notice. But as Kirsty opened the door he thumped his tail upon the hearthstone.
For the first time in his life Weaver Jimmie realised that Kirsty was glad to see him, and his heart leaped. But he choked at the sight of her grief-stricken face, and could only stand and look down at his great "shoepacks" in the snow.
"Will ye bring Big Malcolm's Marget," whispered Kirsty, "mother's——" She stopped, unable to say more, but more was unnecessary, for, eager to do her bidding, Jimmie was already off across the white clearing and was lost to view before she could shut the door.
Kirsty went softly back to the bed.
"Was it Jimmie?" whispered her mother.
"He's a kind chiel, Kirsty. Ye must marry puir Jimmie, ma lassock, he's got a guid hert, an' he'll mak' ye a kind man, an' Ah'll no be fearin' for ye." She paused, and then came the whisper, "Read it." So Kirsty read it to her for the last time, the sweet old story that had comforted the poor, pain-racked woman and upheld her in patience and fortitude for eighteen weary years of suffering. And when at the end of the story came those gracious words bearing a world of love and divine compassion, "And Jesus called her to Him and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity," Kirsty paused. Her mother always interrupted there, always broke in with a word of triumph, a renewal of the firm faith that for eighteen years had forbidden her to ask for relief. But as she waited now there came no sound, and, looking up, she saw that the Divine Healer had loosed this other woman from her infirmity and made her straight and beautiful in His kingdom of happiness.
And so Kirsty, always kind and true-hearted, had been made better and more womanly by her trial; and although she kept her faithful suitor waiting for a couple of years more, she yielded at last and the Weaver received his reward.
As if to be in keeping with the time of life at which the bride and groom had arrived, the wedding day was set in the autumn; the soft vaporous October days when the Oro forests were all aflame.
Kirsty had refused to leave her little farm; so Jimmie, well content, had a fine new frame house built close to her old home; and as soon as the wedding was over he was to bring his loom from the Glen and they would begin their new life together.
Kirsty declared that he might bring the loom any day, for there was to be no nonsense at her wedding; they would drive to the minister's in the Glen by themselves, and she would be home in time to milk the cows in the evening.
But when she saw the bitter disappointment a quiet wedding would be to the prospective groom, she had not the heart to insist. For years Jimmie had buoyed up his sorely-tried courage by the ecstatic picture of himself and Kirsty dancing on their wedding night, he the envy of all the MacDonald boys, she the pattern for all the girls; and though neither he nor his bride were any longer young, he still cherished his youthful dream. And then Long Lauchie's girls came over in a body and demanded a wedding and a fine big dance, and even Big Malcolm's wife declared it would hardly be right not to have some public recognition of the fact that there was a wedding among the MacDonalds.
And so, laughing at what she called their foolishness, Kirsty yielded, and the girls came over and sewed and scrubbed and baked, and Scotty and Peter Lauchie gathered in the apples and turnips and potatoes and raked away all the dead leaves and made everything neat and tidy for the great event.
And the day actually dawned, in spite of Weaver Jimmie's anticipation that some dire catastrophe would befall to prevent it. A radiant autumn day it was, a Canadian autumn day, when all the best days of the year seem combined to crown its close. The dazzling skies belonged to June, the air was of balmiest May, and the earth was clothed in hues of the richest August blooms. The forest was a blaze of colour. The sumachs and the woodbine made flaming patches on the hills and in the fence-corners. The glossy oaks, with their polished bronze leaves, and the pale, yellow elms softened the glow and blended with the distant purple haze. But Canada's own maple made all the rest of the forest look pale, where it lined the road to the bride's house, in rainbows of colour, rose and gold and passionate crimson.
Early in the afternoon high double buggies, waggons, and buckboards began clattering up the lane to Kirsty's dwelling. And such a crowd as they brought! In the exuberance of his joy Weaver Jimmie had bidden all and sundry between the two lakes. And besides, everyone in the Oa went to a MacDonald wedding, anyway. Invitations were always issued in a rather haphazard fashion, and if one did not get a direct call, it mattered little in this land of prodigal hospitality, for one always bestowed a compliment upon one's host by attending.
Long Lauchie's girls took the whole affair out of Kirsty's hands and arranged everything to their hearts' desire. The cooking and washing of dishes was to be done in the old house, while the double ceremony of the marriage and the wedding dinner was to be performed in the new establishment.
This place was gaily decorated with the aromatic boughs of the cedar, dressed with scarlet berries and crimson maple leaves. A table at one end held the wedding presents. This was the work of the Lauchie girls, too, for Kirsty felt it was nothing short of ostentation to put up to the public gaze all the fine quilts and blankets and hooked mats the neighbours had given her towards the furnishing of the new home. But the girls had their way in this as in all other arrangements, and most conspicuous in the fine array were a Bible from the minister and a set of fine gilt-edged china dishes from Captain Herbert's family.
And amidst all this splendour sat the bride, sedate and happy, arrayed in a bright blue poplin dress and the regulation white cap.
Beside her sat Jimmie, his arm about her in proper bridegroom fashion, but loosely, for Kirsty was not to be trifled with, even on her wedding day. He sat up, erect and stiff, strangling ecstatically in a flaring white collar, and striving manfully to keep his broad smiles from overflowing into loud laughter, for poor Jimmie's belated joy bordered on the hysterical. His magnificent appearance almost eclipsed the bride. He wore a coat of black, such as the minister himself might have envied, a saffron waistcoat, and a pair of black and white trousers of a startlingly large check. His hair was oiled and combed up fiercely, his red whiskers waged a doubtful warfare for first place with the white collar, his big feet were doubly conspicuous in a pair of red-topped, high-heeled boots which, unfortunately, met the trousers halfway and swallowed up much of their glory. But as both could not be exposed, Jimmie, evidently believing in the survival of the fittest, had allowed the boots the place of honour.
Scotty drove his grandmother over to Kirsty's early in the morning, for the bride said she must have her mother's old friend with her all day; and when he returned in company with Hamish, his grandfather, and Old Farquhar, it was almost the hour set for the ceremony.
The wedding guests had already gathered in large numbers, many of them standing about the door or in the garden—matrons in gay plaid shawls, with here and there a fantastic "Paisley" brought out, for this festive occasion, from the seclusion of some deep sea-chest; men, weather-beaten and stooped, in grey flannel shirtsleeves, showing an occasional genteel Sabbath coat from the Glen; bright-eyed lasses, with gay touches of finery to brighten their young beauty; youths in heavy boots and homespun clothing, gathered in laughing groups as far from the house as possible; and everywhere babies of all sizes.
Scotty left a crowd of his friends at the barn and went up to the house to look for Monteith. The schoolmaster had spent the preceding Saturday and Sunday with his friends at Lake Oro, but had promised Jimmie faithfully that he would not miss the wedding. As the young man swung open the little garden gate and came up the pathway between rows of Kirsty's asters he caught sight of his friend standing in the doorway of the new house, and gave a gay whistle. Monteith looked up quickly, but instead of answering he turned to someone inside the house.
"Here he is at last," he called, "come and see if you think he's grown any."
And the same instant a vision flashed into the little doorway, a vision that nearly took away Scotty's breath—a tall young lady in a blue velvet gown with a sweet, laughing face and a crown of golden hair overshadowed by a big plumed hat, a lady who looked as if she had just stepped out of a book of romance; a high-born princess, very remote and unapproachable, and yet, somehow, strangely, enchantingly familiar.
The vision apparently did not want to be remote, for it came down the steps in a little, headlong rush, casting a pair of gloves to one side and a cape to the other, and caught hold of both Scotty's hands.
"Scotty! Oh, oh, Scotty, dear!" it cried; and then it was no longer an unapproachable heroine from a story-book, but just Isabel; Isabel, his old chum, and something more, something strangely wonderfully new.
Scotty did not return her welcome with the warmth he would have shown a few years earlier. He stood gazing down at her as if in a dream, and then the red came up under the dark tan of his cheek and overspread his face. He dropped her hands and looked around hastily, as if he wanted to escape. But Isabel dragged him up the garden path in her old way, deluging him with questions for which she never waited an answer. She had seen Granny Malcolm and Betty and Peter, and she had been afraid he wasn't coming. And, oh, wasn't it an awfully long time since she had seen any of them? And didn't he think he was very unkind not to have answered her last two letters? And she had been away at school all this endless time, not home to the Grange even in the summer! And, oh, how glad she was to get back! And how he had grown! Why, he was a giant! And had he missed her? She had missed him just awfully, for Harold was away all the time now. And wasn't it just too perfectly lovely for anything that Kirsty and Jimmie were getting married, and that he and she were together at the wedding?